Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Walking on "The Arch Way"

I had once started down the Arch path before. Back then the intent was to revive old Fujitsu Tablets. As soon as the Live image fired up I abandoned it. It was then I realized that Live CD doesn't mean Live CD with X. Yesterday I found myself research Arch in my quest to find a lean Linux distribution that was on a rolling release. Arch was the answer and it had the latest versions of all software that I needed current.

Having used Linux for over six years, I was still intimidated by Arch because of what I read about it. GUI installers are against "The Arch Way". There was this whole text-file-based configuration editing step that I had read about and was not too fond of. However, the part that scared me the most about the non-GUI installer was the disk partioning. I have 100GB of data on my home partition that I wasn't going to sort through before installing Arch. Also, I was not too thrilled by the idea of running a back up of that data over USB either. Frankly, I felt that "The Arch Way" was frankly getting in my way. But sticking with Kubuntu was no longer the option and I couldn't find any other Linux distribution to be a viable alternative either. I decided to read through the beginner's guide on the ArchWiki and fire up a virtual machine to get a feel for the installation process and to see what the final product might look like.

To my surprise, the installation was not nearly what I had expected. It was very straight forward and methodical. Having already read the beginner's guide also made it a lot easier to follow through. I made sure I familiarized myself with the partitioning utility during the installation. Besides the computer's host name, I did not have to change any of the defaults in the configuration editing step. The defaults were quite sufficient. I was able to follow the steps from the beginner's guide and setup X and KDE and was able to boot into KDE session on the new Arch VM. To be certain, I tried this routine one more time and made some mental notes.

Since I was going to install Arch on my laptop, I decided to not hook up the ethernet cable for Internet and rather do the post installation updates over WiFi. I already had my wpa_supplication configuration file in my home directory. I would come in handy during post installation. I made note of the UID of my user account under Ubuntu. This would surely come in handy once Arch is installed.

During the installation:
1. On partitioning section, I made sure that I didn't reformat my home partition.
2. On the configuration editing step, I changed the HOSTNAME to what I had previously had under Ubuntu.
3. I skipped editing the network configuration as that was needed only for ethernet based Internet updates.
4. On the package selection step, I selected sudo and all the network and wireless related packages.
After the installation, after reboot, I checked to see if my home partition was still intact. And it was. I created a new user for my login and used the UID that I got when I was still running Ubuntu. I fired up the WiFi with the following command:

wpa_supplicant -Dwext -i wlan0 -cwpa.conf -B

I was connected to Internet through WiFi which I validated by issing a ping to I modified the /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist file to uncomment the mirrors for my updates. After that I ran the pacman update command:

pacman -Syu

This updated the pacman database and started the initial update process. Once the update was done, I followed the instructions from the beginner's guide to install X and then KDE. I followed the KDE guide on the Wiki to setup kdm as the display manager. Once KDE was installed, I rebooted. After the reboot, I was presented a graphical login screen. Once inside KDE session, I had to restart wpa_supplicant for WiFi. I also realized that the network daemon was slowing the boot process. I disabled it from the rc.conf file.

The Wiki mentioned about graphical tools for package management and KPackageKit/Apper was one of them. Since I had used Apper with Kubuntu and was familiar with its functionality, I decided to install it. Installation of Apper was probably the trickiest thing to figure out during this entire exercise. But I was able to install it from AUR. Once Apper was installed, installing other software became a piece of cake. I installed all the plasma widgets and plasmoids. This enabled me to use the Network Management plasma widget that I was accustomed to under Kubuntu. Since it needed NetworkManager to function, I installed NetworkManager daemon and enabled it in rc.conf file. On the next reboot, I had networking and I could get on the WiFi using KDE's network management settings.

I did realize that while I had my home folder from previous setup, my desktop and KDE settings had disappeared. Since I knew that Kubuntu stored user level configuration under ~/.kde/share, I decided to take a look. I did find that there was a ~/.kde4 folder under home along with ~/.kde. This was it. Arch was using the ~/.kde4 folder instead of ~/.kde which was why my previous settings had not taken effect in the new setup. I copied the share folder from .kde to .kde4 folder and logged out. After loggin back in, I was in a familar workspace.

With all my software installed under the ArchLinux and with my original KDE settings restored, it feels like I never switched distributions.

One of the things that I had forgotten to do was to create a group by the same name as the user as Kubuntu did. That caused a temporary permissions issue which I was able to resolve without much difficulty.

I hope this information will be helpful to those who are considering to move to a different distribution but my be intimidated by what they might have read about it.

Good bye Kubuntu

I never thought it'd come to this. I was content with what I had. I had been using Kubuntu full time since their 7.04 release. Kubuntu was the realization of my love for the KDE desktop environment as it offered near latest builds of KDE desktop and all of the software that I needed for everyday computing. I was a happy camper.

While I was already familiar with Linux, KDE desktop was what converted me into a fulltime Linux user and Kubuntu was the only distribution that I had found to implement KDE well. So the decision to switch away from Kubuntu to another KDE based desktop was a difficult one. There were three factors that led me to consider an alternate KDE distribution.

Until a few months ago, I used my computer only for regular everyday tasks like for messaging, surfing, e-banking, online shopping, etc. I did some programming, but that was mostly as a hobby. Few months ago I started spending more time doing application development for more than just recreation. I mostly develop using the Mono framework on my Linux machine. Since Mono is integrated with Ubuntu, to ensure stability, Canonical does not offer updates to Mono very often for Ubuntu. Mono packages for Ubuntu lag behind the official Mono releases and recently the gap has only widened. Since, and this is by design, Mono itself lags behind the latest .Net Framework, to be able to utilize the power of the latest release of Mono, I have had to compile it from source on my laptop on number of occasions. I've had to do this after every Ubuntu upgrade every six months since the Ubuntu upgrade would cause some of the dependencies to be overwritten.

Canonical releases Ubuntu on a schedule with one release in April and the other in December. This means that while the system receives regular updates, major features and enhancements are only released with those scheduled releases. These features and enhancements are not only those that Canonical might include in the new releases of Ubuntu, but they might also include enhancements to Desktop Environment and to the Linux Kernel etc. Sometimes, waiting for a full release in order to avail some of these enhancements doesn't seem justifiable.

I would have still continued using Kubuntu, if it weren't for the news that I came across couple days ago. Canonical will be discontinuing funding the development of Kubuntu. Now for some perspective, Canonical had one paid full time developer who is responsible for KDE implementation in Kubuntu who they would no longer fund for the effort and Canonical would continue to provide only infrastructure support to Kubuntu. I am sure that this does not mean the end for Kubuntu. But it might mean that KDE related updates to Kubuntu would become more infrequent over time. Due to the lack of full time developmental resources from Canonical, the effort might even be taken over by the community for KDE related maintenance.

I did some research on different Linux distributions to replace Kubuntu on my laptop. The criteria was set: I needed a distribution that would allow me to easily install and upgrade to the latest versions of software, especially Mono Framework and KDE, along with the latest Linux Kernel updates. After reviewing my choices against the criteria, there was only one clear winner - ArchLinux. I chose Arch over other Linux distributions because of its rolling release and the availability of latest versions of the software that I use almost everyday. I now have KDE 4.8 and Mono 2.10.8 installed under ArchLinux on my laptop. After installing Apper for package management, I've also found myself on familiar grounds again. The transition was as smooth as one could hope for and I am already beginning to enjoy my new distribution.

I will always have fond memories of Kubuntu though, as the distribution through which I first experienced Software Freedom. But it is time to move on.

Friday, February 3, 2012

iPads in Education - Jeff Hoogland's take

I came across this post yesterday from Jeff Hoogland on how he realized his Asus T101MT tablet does so much more than an iPad. It is titled Confused about iPads in Education (