Manjaro: First Impressions

After last week’s minor crisis, I ended up switching from openSUSE to Manjaro on my PC and so far I am really liking it.

The first thing that struck me was just how nice it it makes my desktop to look at. It may sound like a trivial thing, but if you are going to sit in front of a screen for a couple of hours, then having something easy on the eye to look at does make a significant difference. A lot of attention has clearly been paid to the look of this operating system, not just in terms of the artwork but also the theming and the design — so much so that I am using smaller fonts now than I was, which frees up even more space on my desktop.

Manjaro comes in several desktop editions and, being a long-term Gnome user, I stuck with what I know. There are a couple of extensions installed by default and, having become very used to the vanilla Gnome experience, I immediately switched off the Arc menu.

I am a little more ambivalent about the Dash to Dock extension, which moves the dashboard out of the overview screen and displays it as a permanent dock. It’s not annoying me, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s adding any benefit either. I have kept it switched on for now, but may deactivate it later.

And so to the applications and I am reminded, once again, just how easy it is to add email accounts to Evolution. Enter an email address and password, and you’re done. As with everything else, the fonts and icons have been selected for maximum readability, making it almost enjoyable to answer angry emails.

I’m not so impressed with Lollypop, the default music player, as it’s not much fun to navigate. So this has gone to be replaced with Exaile, my music player of choice. As for as this type of application goes, I have not seen anything that comes close to Exaile. It has the slickest user interface I have seen and this comes with the killer feature (for me) of dynamic playlists. I start it, seed it with a couple of songs and it will continue to select similar songs until I press stop.

Exaile isn’t available in the standard Manjaro repositories, but it is available in the AUR because, with Arch Linux (on which Manjaro is based) everything is available in the AUR. Using this repository comes with a warning, but the Pamac package manager makes it frighteningly easy to do so.

Overall, I am very happy with Manjaro and can see myself using it for quite some time to come.

The Grub menu, which caused me all my trouble in the first place, is still a bit of a mess but I’ve learned my lesson and will never touch this again. Well, not until after Christmas, anyway.

Welcome to Tumbleweed

At the start of this year, I treated myself to a new PC. The first thing I do with any new PC is to scrape Windows off it and replace it with some variation of Linux, and this time I ended up going with openSUSE Tumbleweed.

I like openSUSE: it’s an unflashy and very solid distribution that reliably handles whatever demands I make of it. It comes in two flavours, Tumbleweed being the rolling release version and I’ve been hooked on rolling releases ever since I tried Sabayon way back in 2010. With a rolling release, you never need to reinstall or upgrade your operating system because the constant stream of updates keeps you completely up to date.

And so to Monday evening when a whole bunch of updates came down the pipe, including a fair bit of Gnome-related stuff. So I updated everything (which, I should note, is always a reliably quick process) and, to check that everything was still working as expected, I rebooted my PC.

At which point, this popped up on my screen.

Tumbleweed_Welcome_Screen
Welcome to openSUSE

Obviously, this is not my first time using openSUSE but the welcome screen is a nice touch. It’s a very friendly way of pointing you towards the documentation you are likely to need as well as where to find help if you need it. It’s also very consistent with my experience of openSUSE to date: friendly, helpful and (if I uncheck that ‘show on next startup’ option) completely unintrusive.

And I love the pirate gecko.

Farewell to Antergos

The developers behind the Antergos Linux distribution announced yesterday that, after seven years, they are bringing the project to an end.

As many of you probably noticed over the past several months, we no longer have enough free time to properly maintain Antergos. We came to this decision because we believe that continuing to neglect the project would be a huge disservice to the community. Taking this action now, while the project’s code still works, provides an opportunity for interested developers to take what they find useful and start their own projects.

Although I fully understand their reasoning, it will be a shame to see Antergos go. It’s a distribution that I used for five years — from August 2013 until switching to OpenSuse in December of last year — and I always found it to be a lovely operating system and a great way of getting at the power and flexibility of Arch Linux without having to actually install Arch.

Arch provides a very flexible and very powerful operating system but it does have something of a reputation for expecting its users to know what they’re doing. This is great for systems administrators but can prove a bit time consuming for someone, like me, who just wants the latest and shiniest software.

Antergos comes with a very nice graphical installer which leaves you with a very solid base from which to explore everything Arch has to offer. This also means that if you really mess things up (as I have done a few times) reinstalling is quick, painless and can get you back to where you started before the end of the evening.

And it was lovely to look at. The development team put a lot of effort into the theming of the distribution which contributed no end to its being slick, effective and a pleasure to use.

Over the past couple of months, I have been hesitating over whether or not to return to Antergos. Realistically speaking, this decision has now been made for me but I will be interested to see what, if anything, emerges from the Antergos project.

Gnome, Evolution, Nextcloud and the joy of integration

Way back in the mists of 2007, when I started using Ubuntu, the default email client was Evolution. The thing about Evolution is that it is much more than just and email client and, like Microsoft Outlook, seeks to be a full fat personal information manager with a calendar and task list built in. Back then, I was using it just for email and it always felt a bit cluttered for my needs.

Time wore on and I eventually abandoned Evolution in favour of web based email clients — namely Gmail.

A few years ago, I started to worry about just how much of my online activities were being managed by Google and started stepping away from and reducing my dependence on a single company. I started using NextCloud for my task list and calendar and moved back to a desktop email client.

I did think about going back to Evolution but, remembering how cluttered it had felt over a decade ago, started using Geary instead. And Geary is a very nice, very simple client — if you have several email accounts and want to keep track of them with a minimum of fuss then Geary really is worth a look.

At the start of this year, I replaced my laptop with a decent workstation and a much larger monitor and, on the operating system front, switched from Antergos to OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. Since Evolution is included by default, I thought I’d give it another look.

It’s Superb.

With my NextCloud account set up in Gnome, my contacts and calendars are automatically imported and setting up my email accounts is a breeze. And this means that I very quickly have everything in one place and working together very nicely indeed.

I still wouldn’t want to use it on a laptop because while Evolution is a very powerful piece of software, it does need a decent sized screen to avoid feeling cluttered.

NVIDIA

A quick update to my previous post. The excessive CPU issue returned and, after some poking around the problem proved to be the NVIDIA graphics driver, which doesn’t play nice with Wayland.

Fortunately, the resolution is simple: You simply need to edit /etc/gdm/custom.conf and uncomment the line that says WaylandEnable=false.

And now, everything appears to be working as expected.

The Gecko saves the day

I nearly titled this post I Hate EFI because it really is a pain. But first, some context.

Having gone through several increasingly oversized laptops over the past few years, I took the decision just before Christmas to treat myself to a decent PC workstation. This duly arrived and, this week, I started assembling the system. Once everything was plugged in, I booted into Windows to confirm that all the hardware was working and then, being a Linux user, I set about replacing the operating system. This is where the fun began.

I have been using Antergos for a while and this is the first distro I attempted to install. The install itself when fine and everything seemed to be successful, until I rebooted. It turned out that the PC wouldn’t reboot unless I left the USB from which I had installed the OS plugged in. As far as I can tell, it was still using the EFI partition on the USB stick so I tried to resolve this by reinstalling with a little more care taken with the partitions. After this, it wouldn’t reboot at all.

After several attempts, I gave up and downloaded OpenSUSE Tumbleweed instead. As with Antergos, the install went smoothly and I even managed to reboot the PC. Then Tracker-Store went mad and started sucking up all of my CPU. So I reinstalled again, this time taking care to reformat my home partition. After several reboots and much checking, I’m feeling confident enough to tempt fate by claiming that everything is working. So this weekend I shall be mainly installing applications and restoring data.

I like OpenSUSE. It’s an unflashy, dependable distro that uncomplainingly copes with whatever I throw at it. Crucially, of the various distros I’ve tried, OpenSUSE is the one that best supports very new hardware — if all else fails, OpenSUSE will probably work.

I moved away from it in the past because I much prefer rolling releases. But with Tumbleweed now offering a stable rolling model I may well stick with it, for a while at least.

AZERTY Keyboards: A Rant

[Note: I have deliberately not checked any of the spellings on this post so that you can feel some of my pain.]

Even though I have been in Belgium for the best part of thirteen years and, even though the Belgians qre as fond of their biwarre keyboard layouts as the French, I have managed to avoid using an AZERTY keyboard for any significant period of time. Until noz.

Not all of the keys are in the wrong place, but there are enough of them to keep catching me out. I am not a touch-typist by any stretch of the imagination, but I knoz which keys should be where qnd am (usually) able to type reasonably quickly and reasonably accurately. Now I need to take a great deql more care with the spell checker.

This is all mildly annoying (for me) and mildly amusing (for everyone else) but when I started trying to use Vim with an AZERTY keyboard, things really became painful.

Take the movement keys (H, J, K and L), for exqmple. These are qll correctly positioned relative to each other, but some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to put the M key to the right of the L. Since I instinctively reqch for the rightmost letters on the middle row to navigate around a file, I keep using the J, K, L and M keys to go in randoml directions, or none.

(And who thought it would be a good idea to make you press shift to get at the number keys?)

But the fun really begins when I want to switch from one window to another. This is something I do quite often.

The key sequence to move one zindoz to the right used to be:
CTRL-W L

Noz it’s more like this:

  • CTRL-Z
  • exit the new shell I’ve accidentally started
  • CTRL-W M
  • curse
  • ESCESC
  • CTRL-Z
  • swear
  • exit the new shell I’ve accidentally started
  • CTRL-Z
  • Leave the office in order to fill the corridor with obscenities.

It takes about eight hours to get used to typing in AZERTY (as far as is possible — what bright spark thought it would be a good idea to press shift to get at the forward slash?), at which point I climb into my car, drive home and boot up my QWERTY keyboarded laptop.

If there is anyone out there successfully using Vim on an AZERTY keyboard, how on earth do you manage?

:zq

Footnote

While searching for the image at the top of this post, I stumbled across this article from 2016. It appears that the AZERTY keyboard is so ergonomically disastrous, that even the French want to get rid of it.

Editing RPGLE source members with Vim

I am very fond of the Vim text editor and will use it, out of preference, whenever possible. This includes writing RPG (and, obviously, RPGLE) programs on the IBM i. The only downside here is that, while Vim supports syntax highlighting for a multitude of languages, RPG isn’t one of them.

For a long time, I have relied on the syntax files written by Martin Rowe back in 2014. These, however, are getting more than a little long in the tooth. So, since I have a little time on my hands, I have started putting together a new set of syntax files which, hopefully, will be able to keep up with any new developments.

It’s all very early days so far, but you can find the Vim RPG Syntax highlighter here.

Feel free to download it and use it. And if you have any improvements to make or suggest, I would love to hear from you.

Shotwell ate my photos

I’m not sure what happened, but when I launched the Shotwell photo management application a couple of days ago, it started deleting my entire library of photos and by the time I realised what was happening, they were gone. Fortunately I have a backup, but that only goes as far as the middle of 2016, for he rest PhotoRec proved to be a life-saver (note to self — next time make sure to uncheck all the file types you don’t want to recover).

What did strike me when recovering my JPGs was the number of files that have been sitting on my hard drive that I had never actively downloaded. Clearly these are all images on various websites that I have visited. While I understand that a browser needs to download the contents of a page in order to display it, I was slightly taken aback at just how much of my browsing history was captured in these deleted files.

For now, though, most of my photos are restored and I am continuing with the slow and painful process of going through the recovered photos, removing duplicates and copying them back into my photos folder.

Once this is done, I shall be uninstalling Shotwell and looking for a safer photo management solution. To be fair, it is possible that I did something foolish when launching Shotwell — although what, I have no idea — but even if that is the case, I am not going to trust an application that starts deleting stuff without warning.

And I really should start thinking about a better backup strategy.

Merging multiple PDF files with pdfunite

One thing that using Linux has taught me is to always look for the simplest solution, because it probably exists. As it turned out in this case.

In this case, I was emailed a five page PDF document that I had to print, sign, scan and send back. Printing and signing, of course, was easy enough and I can scan the five pages to get five, separate PDF files. Merging these files back into a single document is where pdfunite comes in, and it really is as simple as:

pdfunite page1.pdf page2.pdf page3.pdf page4.pdf page5.pdf outfile.pdf

You can specify as many source files as you like and the last file is the destination file.

And if I’d known about pdfseperate, I could have probably avoided printing the entire document in the first place.