Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Enlightenment

I don't remember the date, but it was just a day before my Humanities end semester examination, which was sometime in the last week of April '08 that I installed Enlightenment which technically is, I just found out, a window manager (Unlike KDE or GNOME, which are complete Desktop Environments ). I should have been preparing for my Indian Economic Development exam but I was totally blown away by the sights and sounds of ( efficiency is a totally different issue altogether) the window managers and desktop environments that the Linux world had to offer.

I don't remember why I started installing different managers in the first place; but once i started to explore the variety .... I just decided not to bother about the exam anymore. I immediately made an entry in my diary. I was finding it difficult to keep all the words in a straight line. The joy of discovery. The 'newness'. Like, as they say, a 'breath of fresh air'.

Enlightenment is ".....Radically Different and takes a bit of getting used to....". Radically Different is the key. KDE and GNOME tend to mimic Windows. An unwritten rule in the Linux world is that user-friendliness is getting closer and closer to the MS-Windows model. So what really grabbed me when I started E (as Enlightenment is generally called) was it's departure from the beaten track. Beryl ( now called Compiz-Beryl Fusion or something like that) was the only thing on Ubuntu that 'grabbed' me. But with E, that is the rule. It is a real tragedy that people in the insti miss out on the opportunity to install and see these WMs at work.

The other WM that greatly impressed me was Fluxbox. Fluxbox is cool ( supposed to be light-weight too ). It is simple and most importantly, it is different from the other WMs we have. That's the best part about Linux- so much of variety and the freedom to choose. And it is free. Ah! Utopia!! But it's kinda surprising that people at IITM rarely experiment with stuff. Not that they have to, but its kinda weird when folks don't when the institute hosts India's only (as of now) Debian mirror. They're just too happy to have a working Linux system! That itself is one hell of an achievement for most, I guess :PThat was a bit wicked on my part :D.

Talking about wickedness, Ratpoison and dwm take wickedness to whole new level. Ratpoison does away with the need for a mouse (hence the name). Whereas, dwm is unabashedly elitist -
"Because dwm is customized through editing its source code, it's pointless to make binary packages of it. This keeps its userbase small and elitist. No novices asking stupid questions."

Talk about being wicked! I kinda liked Ratpoison, but it's anti-mouse stance limits the way I use the system. It is convenient to have a mouse. In short, Ratpoison wasn't for me. But dwm certainly rocked!! I asked Sree Sree about what it might have in it to have a non-programmer to use it. "Sheer Simplicity," he said. All in all, I am really happy with the way dwm works. Its super fast, and comparing it with KDE or GNOME will only evoke n00b!! LOL!! from people. (You have been warned! ). And the whole thing was written in under 2000 LOC ( Lines Of Code, that is). That's what suck less is all about.
And here is a link that'll help you get started with dwm.

I tried a few others too. Xfce was too ordinary. Nothing that 'grabs' you. Ion was kinda strange and requires a bit of an effort to go along. It has got a very good man page. A very good man page :-| . I said 'No Thanks!'

And, in case you still remember, I scored a lowly 'B' in that course.

Monday, August 4, 2008

PCBSD Install - GRUB issues

Installing PCBSD was a breeze. It is based on FreeBSD, with focus on ease of use for the newbie. There is just one point where the install can go bad , and this entry contains a solution to that problem. Now, I had Debian on a logical partition and Windows on the only Primary Partition on my harddisk. Since I had just one Primary partition and PCBSD will install only on a primary. I was forced to delete my Windows partition (which I hadn't touched since its install ) .

1. Make sure that you have a Primary Partition.

2. Once you have a primary partition ready, just put in the installer disc and follow the instructions. All the steps are simple with explanations and tips. (And oh! I forgot to tell you that PC-BSD is not for CLI addicts :-| ). Everything went fine till it came to the "Install PCBSD Boot Loader" part.

3. The PCBSD Boot Loader: This is the tricky part.
If you check this option, the install process will go on and install the PCBSD boot loader, which wipes out GRUB (much like Windows) (And the installer wont warn you about this!!). So, you cant boot into your other OS anymore . It is better to leave it unchecked. ( Or maybe, there is a way to edit the BSD boot loader menu, but if you're trying BSD for the first time, it makes more sense to leave the option unchecked, doesn't it?) This will preserve GRUB, and after BSD has successfully installed itself, you can boot into Linux and add a line in the boot loader file (which is /boot/grub/menu.lst in Debian). See this for details on what to add and why they are that way.

GAG: GAG is a graphical boot loader. Refreshing and different. But if you want it to display the Linux entries on the loader page it is necessary that the original boot loader be still present (i.e. if you installed the PCBSD loader instead, GAG would be helpless about your Linux or any other OS).

Now, what if you, like me, checked the "Install PCBSD boot loader" option? (see how important RTFMing is?!!) What ll happen is , you ll just keep booting into BSD, and for some reason it takes very long to start up, not less than twenty minutes(on my computer). But once X is up and running it seemed faster than Debian on Gnome/KDE.

OK, now that you screwed up GRUB, how do you restore it?
i)With a Debian or Ubuntu CD in rescue mode, which will reqiure you to get familiar with the GRUB's device naming conventions and do strange nerdish stuff, which went way over my head.

ii) The easiest way to restore GRUB is using "Super Grub Disk" (SGD) . It has a simple user interface which ll just require to specify your root directory, and viola!! GRUB is back! Now, that was super sweet! ( It took me two days to figure that out though :-|)

And finally, thanks to Sreeharsha for his fiery pro-BSD speeches that drove me to try this OS
and to SV Vikram for the SGD suggestion.

and to Shiva and MAK for their patience (and their computers ) with my experiments. :)