Friday, August 31, 2007

Pick a linux distro...

There are many ways to chose your distro of choice. I suggest try as many as possible (within reason). CD's are cheap, but they still cost money - don't go crazy. You need a smart with your plan.

First, understand that there are not that many "original" distributions - the ones all the others are based on. These include Gentoo, Debian, Slackware, Red Hat/Fedora, Suse, and Linux from Scratch. Each of these have their own derivatives for example:
Gentoo --> Sabayon, SystemRescueCd
Debian --> Ubuntu (and its derivatives), Knoppix, Xandros, Lin(Free)spire, PCLinuxOS, and many more!
Slackware --> Vector, Zenwalk
I suggest downloading and trying out each of these main distros. They all have a notorious reputation of being difficult to install. I have no computer science background and when I was just starting out, I successfully installed these 3 distros mentioned above. Not everything worked, but I was able to do it and I learned a lot in the process.

That said, in my experience I have run derivatives more than the originals themselves. I have been installing Ubuntu for friends and family who are willing to try Linux as it seems so easy for them to use without the fun configuring that I enjoy so much. Their systems then are variants on a theme, while mine is in a world all its own - the benefit of learning configuring yourself. It takes a while, but you can tweak your system so it is unique, functional, productive, stable, and fun! Before you download a cd, research the community, how it's different from its parent distro, and don't waste time on distro's you won't use.

I have found myself settling on 2 distros of opposite backgrounds, that way I learn to use and configure more than just one type. I do not have much experience with rpm based distros (Red Hat) except for a short stint with opensuse so I cannot seem to be more help to people using them than for general issues. For Gentoo, Slackware, and Debian things I am continuing to become well rounded. That is my goal with distro's. I have picked 2 to use on my daily machines, and am continuing to use the others in different ways from rescue systems, to test boxes.

Conclusion - Download all distro's that look interesting to you, and try them out!

Happy tinkering :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ubuntu on a Toshiba a215-s4747

This is a new computer that has dual AMD 64 cpu's with an ATI Mobile x1200 graphics card and an Atheros AR5007EG wireless card (those are the specs that matter - all else works out of the box).

The computer comes with Vista Home Premium on it, so as soon as I could I repartitioned using the partitioning software that comes in Vista. It can only shrink the drive so far (because of how Windows writes to its filesystem), but with such a large disk, I was able to create an 80Gb free space partition. I then rebooted back into Vista just to make sure it still worked (You never know with Microsoft products!), then rebooted into the Ubuntu Feisty 7.04 Alternate x386 cd.

I decided on the alternate because I previously attempted the normal live cd and the wonderful ATI mobile Radion x1200 graphics card creates an error for X (ok, I know it is not the cards fault but...). I performed the install using the text installer, and installed grub on the root partition (/dev/sda4) not the MBR (This I think is very important). The partitioning for linux was done using the alt. live cd, selecting manual partition, and then making a 1Gb swap partition (/dev/sda3) and the rest for root (/dev/sda4). I am sure you could get fancier and have a /home or /usr partition but me not comfortable AT ALL with Vista and its antics, I decided not to press my luck with logical partitions (at least until the people who I was installing this for decide they really want me to just wipe the harddrive and use only linux).

On boot, I was pleasantly suprised to be presented a grub menu, but I chose Vista to see if it would still boot (it did) then rebooted into Ubuntu. Of course X dies, but I expected that. I quickly connected the laptop to my network via my LAN, and entered the following commands I had collected via Google (I used ati's latest driver I could find 8.40.4):

apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

apt-get install module-assistant build-essential fakeroot dh-make debconf libstdc++5 gcc-3.3-base linux-headers-$(uname -r)

chmod +x

ln -sf bash /bin/sh && ./ --buildpkg Ubuntu/feisty && ln -sf /bin/bash /bin/sh

dpkg -i xorg-driver-fglrx_8.40.4_i386.deb
dpkg -i fglrx-kernel-source_8.40.4_i386.deb
dpkg -i fglrx-amdcccle_8.40.4_i386.deb
dpkg -i fglrx-amdcccle_8.40.4_i386.deb
dpkg -i xorg-driver-fglrx-dev_8.40.4_i386.deb

cd /usr/src

m-a update
m-a prepare
m-a build fglrx
m-a install fglrx

aticonfig --initial
Rebooting then allowed me to see X! I logged in and got to work on wireless. Here is the disappointment - Atheros cards require madwifi drivers (which are partly closed source) to work. At this point in time, I could not find anyone who had been successful with this particular chip and felt it worthless to think I would be different. I decided to use ndiswrapper and make use of the Windows XP driver for this card. I downloaded the driver from Acer (I think - I don't remember because Toshiba only offers the Vista driver and ndiswrapper does not work with Vista drivers yet). Google for "net5211.inf" and you will find it eventually :) I downloaded it in a zip file, extracted it and followed these instructions which I also collected from my friend named Google:

sudo -i
echo "ath_pci" >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist
rmmod ath_pci

apt-get install ndiswrapper-utils-1.9 ndiswrapper-common

ndiswrapper -i Desktop/Wireless\ Lan\ Driver\ 802abg\ Atheros\ Ver.\(Negative-Pole\)70510/net5211.inf
(or wherever you place your net5211.inf and extraceted folder at - I put them in a hidden folder)

ndiswrapper -l
- look for something like this:
net5211 : driver installed
device (168C:001C) present (alternate driver: ath_pci)

modprobe ndiswrapper
echo "ndiswrapper" >> /etc/modules
On reboot, I had wireless choices in my Network Manager!!! I chose mine and it worked!

If you are trying this on your new Toshiba a215-s4747, then you might right now be saying, "hey, this is nice but I have no sound." Well, go to System>>Administration>>Update Manager and check to see if you need to update anything. It had me update the kernel (which had me in almost a kernel panic as I thought my ndiswrapper or ATI driver were going to have to be reinstalled), but I was happy to hear the Ubuntu entrance sound after the required reboot (I have this eiree feeling I have rebooted too much for a linux install :) )

So - Sound works, Wireless works, Graphics work, LAN works, Modem works, USB's work - what doesn't work you might ask. Well, I the little bit of time I messed with this, I could not get the new compiz-fusion to work :( It was not compiz-fusions fault, the instructions (which I will therefore NOT link or explain here) did not give me a recognizable xorg-xgl screen.

It does not matter, the people are happy with it as it is, it is fully functional and I can help them remotely now because I also installed openssh-server. I hope this is a benefit to someone, I had a difficult time finding anyone who had attempted linux on this laptop, I was worried about it, but it turned out ok in the end.