What’s in the (Linux) box

Here’s a bit more information about my chosen Linux configuration. I’m using a Samsung Q35 laptop with a Centrino Duo processor and 2 gig of RAM. It’s partitioned with a 30Gb drive for Vista and the rest given over to Ubuntu Linux 7.10. I’ve installed a number of packages on top of the base install, specifically for:


I wanted to run XP within Ubuntu to access my Outlook email client – though there may be other ways (for example through direct Exchange access). I did have a go with VMWare Player for Linux VM’s, and with Xen as a more general virtualisation platform (no suspend/resume, fwiw) before discovering that KVM worked with the virtualisation features build into the Intel CPU to give a pretty fast and very usable virtual experience.

Having downloaded the KVM package, I’ve set up a number of virtual machines, including a 5 gig one to run XP with Outlook and Word – it’s tight, but it works. If I wanted to run any other Windows apps I’d probably have to roll a new VM – at the moment the only software I lack is Groove and Mind Manager, so perhaps I should do this.

The two commands I need to remember to run each time are:

$ sudo modprobe kvm-intel # to insert the necessary libraries into the kernel
$ sudo kvm -boot c -m 768 -smb windows
-cdrom /dev/cdrom /home/jonno/vm/xpdesk.img

Occasionally KVM will crash on boot – this seems to be a known bug, and I should stress it’s highly repeatable (this is a good thing i.e. it doesn’t happen randomly), which means that once a configuration works, its good to go. Specifically (and ironically) it crashes when trying to load the splash screen from the Ubuntu live CD, for example. The workaround is to run QEMU or KVM with the -no-kvm option, which doesn’t talk directly to the processor. It’s slower, but if this is done for XP installation then it generates a working image that can then be booted normally. Ubuntu server installs OK, but Ubuntu desktop hits the issue every time it boots so for the moment it isn’t an option for a KVM virtual machine.

File access

For the time being, my files remain in the Vista partition, call me old fashioned but this is a pilot test, not a gung-ho let’s-throw-away-the-key epiphany. So I need to be able to access them not only in Linux (easy enough, the partition is mounted by default in /media), but also from inside the XP virtual machine. For this I have installed Samba, which enables files from the host PC to be accessed like they were on a network drive. Hence, by the way, the need for the “-smb” option in the kvm launch line above.

For my own future reference, the IP address of the network drive is the same as the gateway in the XP VM. I had to go through a bit of configuration rigmarole to set up Samba – I recommend just following the standard tutorial to set up a Samba user and smb.conf file, and going from there.

Modem access

This was one of those “cool – it works!” moments. Turns out that the Huawei E220 device that T-Mobile provided me with is a pretty standard piece of kit (who knew?) and that the driver for it is already built into the kernel (how cool is that). Trouble is however with the device, being a la fois a USB thumbdrive and a modem, the OS doesn’t always recognise what its being at the time. To resolve this, some kindly fellow has written a short C program, which needs to be preceded with a modprobe command – at least I think so but I haven’t fully worked out the order yet. This seems to work:

$ modprobe usbserial vendor=0×12d1 product=0×1003
$ sudo /sbin/huaweiAktBbo

For info on the source code, run a Google on huaweiAktBbo, it will also tell you which library to include for the compiler to work (and yes, I popped it into the sbin directory myself). Another couple of tips – use dmesg to see what the latest status is, use lsusb to see whether the requisite 3 USB tty’s have been created, and do check the lights are on on the modem.

I’m using wvdial to connect to T-Mobile in the UK, with the following /etc/wvdial.conf file:

[Dialer Defaults]
Phone = *99***1#
Username = web
Password = web
Stupid Mode = 1
Dial Command = ATDT

[Dialer hsdpa]
Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
Baud = 460800
Init2 = ATZ
Init3 = ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
ISDN = 0
Modem Type = Analog Modem
Init5 = AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”,”general.t-mobile.uk”

Random thoughts

As well as the above there’s some other bits and bobs – like discovering I didn’t need vncserver to get remote access to my Linux desktop (Xvnc works just fine) – incidentally the command line is:

$ x11vnc -usepw -auth /home/jonno/.Xauthority -display :0

Still to be sorted are:

– switching between laptop and external monitor. I have configurations to run either, but I haven’t yet arrived at a point where I can switch from one to the other without any gyp. My Microsoft head says “surely this should just work,” and while I know there will be some clever setup of the xorg.conf file that does just that, the tempting option (kludge) is just to have two xorg.conf files, and to switch between them as necessary.

– installing a decent Synaptics Touchpad driver. At the moment its too sensitive which means that suddenly I will find myself typing somewhere else in the document than where I started. Shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

– installing some network monitoring software. The 3G modem may work, but its not very forthcoming when it comes to telling me signal strength, connection speed etc. There may be something out there or perhaps I will just write something (yeah, right).

– there remains a bug in suspend/resume – or it could be a configuration error, hard to tell. The symptom is that the screen sits there, black and the disk light stays on, even though there’s no activity (or at least, sound). It’s not the same as X failing to load, as ctl-alt-f1 doesn’t show the terminal window either (and ctl-alt-f7 doesn’t bring back the graphics)

– there’s also the occasional difficulty copying a file. Again I don’t want to be quick to leap onto this as something wrong with the system, as often it can be that a previously unknown fault (eg file corruption) can be revealed by trying to access it with a different platform. I’ll report back on this.

– playing multimedia. Given that I’ve handed over a slab of my disk space to install two base operating systems and run a bunch of VM’s, my MP3 collection is feeling the squeeze so I haven’t got round to installing anything here just yet.

Overall though, I have a working system. The Ubuntu forums have been superlatively useful, and there’s lots of other sources of help out there, which is nice to know.

I’m afraid to say however that I share the feeling that Ubuntu 7.10 (aka Gutsy Gibbon) may not have been quite as ready for prime time as it should have been. I had installed Feisty Fawn (the previous Ubuntu version, 7.04) before, and it did seem to “just work” which is of course a major factor with which to judge desktop Linux. First I tried downloading 7.10 as an upgrade, but for reasons I can’t now remember I decided to go the whole hog and replace it with a clean version. Everything seems to be there but there are a few quirks – KDE menu items showing up in Gnome for example, or the fact that every now and then my window manager seems to change – it went from Gnome to Xfce once, and another time from KDE to Gnome. Very strange (though in hindsight it might be associated with installing updates).

Having said that, it is quite usable – I just think if I was installing Ubuntu for somebody else I would default to Feisty. And I’m very, very sorry to say but the arguments “new versions should always be treated carefully” or “with Microsoft it would be worse” just don’t cut the mustard, if mainstream desktop users are being targeted. Once it makes it onto the magazine cover, it’s got to work.

More soon as I work through the other stuff above.

What’s in the (Linux) box

3 thoughts on “What’s in the (Linux) box

  1. Hamish says:

    Hey man! I’ve been going down the Ubuntu road myself….I come from a microsoft mentality and am constantly on the lookout for easier ways to do things in Ubuntu. Like your virtualisation…..I think you may be smashing peanuts with a sledghammer… 🙂 Try Virtualbox, it’s in the ubuntu repository (add/remove programs). It’s completely graphical and just works.

    Also is evolution not working for you? It is the default email app in ubuntu and runs great as an exchange client…..WAY easier that using an XP virtual machine. oh yeah Word works under WINE and there’s a good chance that a simple app like mind manager will too.

    Good luck with it! I’m still figuring it all out myself…..

  2. mnid says:

    Hamish, i think you are not right ,and Linux is not for you my friend.If yo uare saying something or recommending the way around of some specified by someone issue ,I ‘ve got an advise for you,try to do it first,discover what’s working or not ,and then say …
    Stick to Microsoft it’s good for talkers…

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