Saturday, 30 January 2010

A possible roadmap

First do a SkinnySqueezey, then do a SkinnyLucy.


SkinnyDebbie off Squeeze (alternate names: SkinnyLGM. SkinnyGreenie). This will probably have a slightly different motive than SkinnyLenny. Whereas earlier SkinnyDebbie versions had a “the absolutely lightest alternative for getting things done” motivation, it’s probably safe to assume that really old (i.e., RAM-limited; i.e., less than 256MB) hardware for which the above makes the most sense will be essentially nonexistent by the time Squeeze is released. This gives the project a bit more leeway to be nicer. So the new motivation may be, “Light, standard, effective, with as little Gnome as possible.” Probably something based on Openbox+fbpanel — and therefore resembling Crunchbang Linux, but with even less Gnome dependence and easy config for newbies.

Potential wins:

  • Debian is more solid in more places than Ubuntu.

Potential fails:

  • No PPA-ish alternative for newer packages.
  • Font rendering not as nice as Ubuntu.
  • Mixed su and sudo may confuse some interface issues.


Adapting SkinnySqueezey to Ubuntu Lucid should be pretty easy once Lucid is released. This could start now, except the current Lucid installer doesn’t seem to work for command-line systems.

Potential wins:

  • Ubuntu’s PPAs
  • Lucy is an LTS
  • Ubuntu’s lovely font rendering
  • sudo only simplifies some interface issues

Potential fails:

  • Ubuntu’s sort-of odd/arbitrary maintenance habits for non-mainstream packages
  • Identical basic config in Karmic and Squeeze leaves Karmic many tens of MB larger

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Mulling over distribution bases


  • Solid, reliable, community oriented.
  • apt+synaptic is super.
  • 2 year release cycle.
  • Long release cycle is good because it simplifies Skinny maintenance issues.
  • Long release cycle is bad because s/w gets old, meaning that if the user wants updated s/w he/she will have to compile from source most of the time, deal with dependency issues, deal with XDG integration, etc. is a good idea but doesn’t seem especially active.


  • Hugely popular, Debian-based, corporate.
  • 6 month release cycle with 2 year LTS releases.
  • PPAs make installing newer s/w fairly easy in many cases w/o resorting to user compilation.
  • Better font rendering than Debian for some unknown reason.


  • Originates good ideas, community-oriented but with profit-driven associations.
  • Package mgmt is not as good as apt+synaptic.
  • I have installed one system that refuses to update for some unidentified reason … scary.

Right now I think the best options for the next Skinny are Debian and Ubuntu LTS. Ubuntu’s PPAs are really attractive. There has been talk of doing something similar for Debian (or even incorporating Debian into Ubuntu’s PPA system) but it hasn’t happened yet.

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