Sunday, 17 January 2010

Squeeze sound nit

After installing alsabase in Squeeze on my Intel/AD soundcarded laptop, sound didn’t work. I finally got it working thanks to this.

In particular: I ran:

# alsactl init

Didn’t work.

I installed:


Didn’t work.

I reran:

# alsactl init

It worked.

Squeeze nits

I’m starting to play around with Squeeze. I installed a minimal CLI system with the netinstall CD, then added some minimal bits to do GUI development. In the process, I made a few interesting discoveries:


Squeeze is using GRUB2. The post-install didn’t register the Ubuntu install that was alongside the Squeeze install, but

# update-grub

fixed the problem.

I have not yet figured out how to configure the default entry. grub-legacy was so much easier to configure. :-(


gsynaptics wasn’t able to enable vertical scrolling (I didn’t try horizontal scrolling.) The UI says it’s enabled, but it isn’t. I don’t know if this is a bug with the particular hardware on the lappy I used or a general bug in gsynaptics.

The workaround is to call synclient directly after executing gsynaptics-init with the line:

synclient VertEdgeScroll=1

Also, gsynaptics has sort-of been superseded by gpointing-device-settings — except the latter doesn’t have a gsynaptics-init equivalent, i.e., there’s no easy way to make changes persist between login session.

Network Manager

Currently, network-manager in Squeeze does not manage the default wired connection. The issue is discussed to some extent here. This discussion points out that Ubuntu makes it work by commenting out the lines

(auto,allow-hotplug) <device>
iface <device> inet dhcp

in /etc/network/interfaces. I tried it. It worked.


Wicd works as expected (without the tweak needed for Network Manager above). What’s news with Wicd is that it only lets you have one active network connection at a time. 99% of the time this won’t be an issue. But that one time when you need to connect to two different networks at the same time might find you cursing your decision to use it.

Smarter sudo

The way Ubuntu handles sudo makes some sense. Rather than adding the name of each administrator to the sudoers file, they first create a group called ‘admin’, which can be done via the command line:

# groupadd admin

and then in the /etc/sudoers they create an entry:

# Members of the admin group may gain root privileges
%admin ALL=(ALL) ALL

Finally, add administrators to the admin group. This can be done by the command line thus:

# usermod -a -G admin <username>

To revoke someones administrator privileges, get them out of the admin group:

# deluser <username> admin

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Mulling over login screen options

The removal of old GTK-based stuff from Debian means that the beautified XDM used up to now won’t work for future Debian releases. skinny-xdm-beautify uses xmessage, and that is one of the casualties in the cull. So here are a few alternatives worth considering:


The big issue here is that it will require some kind of replacement for the functionality of xmessage. gxmessage comes to mind, but the main problem with gxmessage is that its windows are always drawn in the center of the screen—in other words, you can’t place it in a corner. A custom python UI may do the trick.


  • It’s light.
  • It’s a standard (the standard, in fact).
  • Apart from the xmessage issue, it’s done.


  • The xmessage issue.
  • There is an unsolved problem with XDM and XFE when you try to open a root manager from XFE.
  • There is some strange behavior when gksu and gksudo are run the first time in the present Skinny. This may be attributable to XDM.
  • XDM does not source ~/.profile, etc. This is a bit of a problem if you want to add to the PATH at login and may be responsible for the goofiness noted above.


Bite the bullet and take the resources hit?


  • May solve the gksu and gksudo problem.
  • Lets users choose sessions with no config.
  • It’s reasonably standard.
  • It’s pretty out-of-the-box.
  • May offer as-yet unknown additional functionality.


  • It’s heavy.
  • No signature root-window beautification.


It looks as though a fork of SLiM is being used by the LXDE project.


  • It’s light.
  • It’s pretty out-of-the-box and can be themed.
  • Lets users choose sessions (but requires tweaky admin config.)


  • Shutdown/Reboot is really funky.
    • Unclear whether additional “buttons” can be added (ala XDM beautification).
  • Least standard of the available options.
  • Is development stalled?
  • May not support root-window beautification.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Mulling over WM options

Skinny’s window manager for the last two releases has been IceWM. IceWM packs a lot into a little space, is kind of standards compliant, isn’t anguishing to configure, and is fairly reliable. It’s worst sins are: its looks will never win any awards, its system tray is a bit buggy (esp. with the Network Manager applet), and development seems a bit stalled.

In what follows I muse over other lightish WM options, in no particular order. I’ll probably edit this entry as I think of/discover new stuff.


A good many people really like Fluxbox. I’ve always sensed great potential with FB but have also always had issues with it. In its current incarnation, the biggest problems are:

  • When you right-click on the taskbar for the first time, the resulting menu doesn’t show up completely on the screen. Subsequent right-clicks work fine though.
  • Raising windows from the taskbar right-click menu doesn’t work. It brings the window up for a split second, and then everything returns to the prior layering.
  • The toolbar doesn’t have a “raise on drag” feature. By this I mean the following: Let’s say you have two file manager windows open. You grab an icon in one of the windows and drag it over the taskbar entry for the other window. Many taskbars will raise the window corresponding to the entry on the taskbar that you have dragged over. FB’s doesn’t. Such a feature is really useful once you start to use it even a little.
  • FB doesn’t catch all icons for apps that other WMs do and (unlike IceWM) doesn’t seem to have a way to manually set the icons for given apps. This problem can be overcome by using an fbpanel and specifying icons there, but fbpanel adds a lot of weight to the setup.
  • The toolbar is not covered by (at least) VLC when in fullscreen mode.
  • I’ve had occasional problems coming out of hibernation … though this might not be FB’s fault.
  • Like IceWM, development seems to be stalled or at best sporadic.

Things I like about it are:

  • It packs a decent punch for its size.
  • The root menu has icons—which makes it easier to navigate.
  • It’s not a total pain to configure. There are decent GUI-ish apps to help you configure (but at the moment the keybinding editor is broken).
  • It can be made to look really nice pretty easily.


Openbox seems to be the inheritor of the *box throne (BlackBox -> Fluxbox -> Openbox). It’s the WM used by LXDE and Crunchbang Linux. It has a lot going for it, but there are few things about it that are problems for Skinny:

  • It doesn’t have a built-in taskbar-ish anything. The idea here is sound—you can choose whatever you want—but this results in quite a bit more weight. Openbox by itself clocks in at about the same size as FB or IceWM; adding fbpanel adds about double that, perlpanel scads more. tint2 may be lighter than fbpanel (I need to check), but its behaviors seem strange to me: in particular there is no menu on right-click on a taskbar item and there again is no raise-on-drag.
  • The root menu doesn’t allow icons, making things harder to navigate.


  • It seems to be well-behaved.
  • It works better with xcompmgr than either IceWM or Fluxbox (but I’ve had problems with xcompmgr in all three eventually).
  • It is actively developed.


JWM is used by both Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux. It is very light, comprehensive, and configurable. It’s major downsides are that the config file’s syntax is a bit confusing and you must configure application icons manually for each and every app that you run. The latter is a deal-breaker for me.


I need to spend more time with this one.