Sunday, 28 March 2010

Identifying a 64-bit CPU - the one step easy guide

This old computer I've had for a while, I've always run 32-bit systems on. A couple days ago, I happened across something that I wish I'd known before - it's 64-bit capability.
So, here's the simple way to identify whether your CPU is 64-bit capable. Note this only works on Linux, but then, why would you want to run anything else? (BSD might also work, but I don't know for sure. Can anyone confirm?)

You'll need a terminal. Enter the following command:
cat /proc/cpuinfo

Read the output, and look for the section on Flags. For my CPU, it looks like this. The bolded part is the one to look for.

processor : 0
vendor_id : AuthenticAMD
cpu family : 15
model : 44
model name : AMD Sempron(tm) Processor 3000+
stepping : 2
cpu MHz : 1000.000
cache size : 128 KB
fpu : yes
fpu_exception : yes
cpuid level : 1
wp : yes
flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush mmx fxsr sse sse2 syscall nx mmxext fxsr_opt lm 3dnowext 3dnow up rep_good pni lahf_lm
bogomips : 1999.70
TLB size : 1024 4K pages
clflush size : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes : 40 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management: ts fid vid ttp tm stc

Notice in that the list of flags, there's 'lm'?
If you see that in your CPU's list of flags, you have a 64-bit capable CPU.

Simple, innit?
And all this time I've been running a 32-bit system on it. To think I never knew.
To be fair, switching from 32-bit Ubuntu Karmic to 64-bit Ubuntu Karmic hasn't been entirely smooth. I've yet to manage to get Skype to work, and a few of my other applications don't seem to have amd64 packages, only i386 ones. This is inconvenient, but on the other hand, gets me experimenting with alternatives I don't normally consider, thus allowing me to learn more.

So next time you're sat wondering if you can run a 64-bit system... fire up a terminal (Or if you're not on Linux, grab a Linux LiveCD and use that instead) and run that command, and lo and behold, definite proof.
Rock on.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Desktop Environments and Window Managers

It seems like I revisit this all too often. But for those of you interested in Gnome Topaz aka Gnome Shell, you might find parts of this interesting. And if you like Gnome Shell, be ready for some unpleasentness.

Go back a few days. I'd finally decided to see what all the fuss was about, and use Ubuntu Tweak's Gnome Shell testing repository, and install it.
No problems there.
Everything advised me to shut down Compiz, and revert to basic Gnome/Metacity, before opening a terminal to enter the command 'gnome-shell --replace'
This is the first big glaring mistake.
When you run any window manager with the --replace operative, the current one is remembered and shut down. Remembered, because if the new window manager is killed, it'll be reloaded.
So you don't, it seems, need to shut down Compiz - it'll do it for you.
Now, that aside, I let it spend a few minutes starting up. I admit my computer isn't recent, but it's fairly robust, and can handle KDE with only a few problems, but more on that later.
Gnome Shell, however, brought it to slower than a snail's pace. As I'd lost the CPU applet on my Gnome panel,I couldn't tell how much of that it was hogging, but evidently the hard drive wasn't doing anything.
Then finally, things started to appear. The new bar (It's not a panel until it can support Gnome panel applets) my normal Gnome desktop, and the Avant Window Navigator that I keep running.
Then after a few more minutes, the terminal reappeared. Slowly.
I figured it was now ready to use. Boy was I wrong.
The mouse is perfectly fine, but to actually interact with anything, you have to mouse over, and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
I tried to launch Firefox from AWN. I tried to write this post. I gave up after 30 minutes, summoned back the terminal (Eventually) and killed Gnome Shell with Ctrl-C.
I will not be using Gnome Shell again until it runs far better than this. If this is what the so called future of Gnome is going to be, then expect to lose your users, Gnome. Gnome Shell is worse than Windows. Any incarnation of Windows. Even Vista.
Fix it. Oh, and while you're at it, since we can't use Compiz with the Gnome Shell, at the very least, offer your own implementation of it, so you're not cutting out chunks of things that people actually want.

With that bitter taste left, I decided I didn't want to run Gnome any longer, and went off to look at other things.
Of course, for a start, there's the other two Desktop Environments, KDE and XFCE, both familiar to me.
KDE came first, and though as said my system isn't exactly good, it performed respectably. I couldn't have many desktop plasmoids, but I don't really mind that.
What's a big let down in KDE, however, is the high resource requirements. I can't run Firefox in KDE at all. Everything slows right down, though it's far faster than Gnome Shell.
So KDE disqualified itself, after trying to run other Window Managers with it caused it to crash and reset my session.
XFCE lasted a little longer, it's XFApplet (The one that allows you to import Gnome panel applets) making up for a lot of missing things that I have in Gnome, and it performed relatively well.
What was wrong with XFCE? Several things.
There's no way to edit the menu. Gnome has Alacarte, KDE has it's own too, but nothing for XFCE.
Compiz doesn't play nice with it. It's usable, but not ideal. This isn't a necessity, but I prefer it.
No GlobalMenu. The Gnome GlobalMenu mimic's Mac OSX's universal menu bar for all apps, though some (Firefox, Openoffice, aMSN) don't work with this, and continue to use their own.
There is an XFCE applet for it, but it didn't work, and using the XFApplet to import it didn't work any better. Again, it's not a necessity - but it'd be nice.
Long login time. Now, I have several apps I like to start with login, Qwit for monitoring Twitter, my journal app, AWN, and the Guake terminal. But even KDE handled these small requests fine. XFCE, even with the options to launch Gnome and KDE services disabled, slowed right down and took a long while to get to usable.

This leaves me looking for alternatives.
Openbox has long been a friend of mine, and I did, for a time, have an Openbox session on this currently Karmic box - however, Dropbox refused to launch, and as I make use of it a lot, this is a major downside.
Blackbox and Fluxbox are in the same boat as Openbox here, though each acts differently. Still neither could launch Dropbox.
IceWM is nice, but doesn't have the right feel or touch to me. Same goes for JWM.
There are others, of course, some of them I've even tried, but none of them measure up.
So, I'm back with Gnome again. I don't want the Gnome Shell, and if they don't give users the choice between current Gnome and the Shell... well, it looks like I'll be moving to a distro that doesn't have it - and I'll keep having to do that until there isn't a distro left without it.
Then, I'll probably save up and buy a Mac. Despite everything bad about them, in my books, they still beat Windows, and it'll be a better option than running a Desktop I don't want, just to keep Gnome around.

In summary? Gnome Shell needs tons of work.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Statement

It's very rare that anyone will ever hear me so much as comment on political or even legal matters. Some might say it's because I don't care, don't know, or don't have an interest. I simply choose not to comment.

This, however, is different.
I honestly admit I have used BitTorrent. Who hasn't these days? There are some Linux distros you can only get through it these days, and it's generally more reliable.
But now, if I understand things correctly, the RIAA, MPAA, and others, or whatever their names are, are trying to change copyright laws through courtroom judgements, and make it illegal to share anything.

What the fuck?

Not sharing didn't get us this far. Who knows how much less advanced the world would be if people never shared?

Here's an related observation I made recently.
Look at Windows. Any Windows. Compare it to a Linux distribution at the time. Assume you know how to use both equally, and have no bias (Impossible, I know, but it's a hypothetical situation).
To my point of view, I have Windows, closed source, with a great deal of applications being developed for it, but an unstable and difficult system.
On the other side, Linux, open source, also with a great deal of applications being developed - a good number because there's a need for them where there otherwise only exists an alternative in Windows. Linux is far more stable.
Which would you choose, sensibly? Linux, I have little doubt.
Now think about this. Why does Linux excel? It does so because anyone can look at the source, examine it, and submit ideas, patches, or even a re-written source file to improve it. Linux lets people do this to all parts of it.
Windows doesn't. People complain. Nothing happens.
But wait! Here come the RIAA! You're not allowed to share things like this. Linux is illegal. It looks like Windows, therefore it's not legal. I'm sure many of you have heard of the case where a misinformed teacher thought it was illegal for a student to be handing out CDs of Linux.

What is the world coming to?
At this rate, one where we pay to do as we are told.
If you're writing code for anything at all, regardless of who it's for, where it'll be used... put it under a creative commons or GNU license, and make the world a better place for us all.
Down with the recording industries misinformed and pointless fight to make everything theirs and to make us pay to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.
Down with them. Out with them. The Pirate Bay has the right idea. Fight them. Bring common sense back to them, and make them see why they are wrong.

/end statement. And now a disclaimer. The views expressed above are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of anyone or anything else. Somewhere out in the deepest depths of space there might be a many-tentacled green slime oozing bloblike life form that shares these views, but he/she/it will have to make it's own statement. This one's mine.
And if any of you people from the RIAA and Co read this - go find yourselves a brain. You clearly don't have one.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Distros and End Of Life

Now, call me weird, but last time I checked, when a distribution reached End of (supported) Life, the repositories and such for it didn't just vanish, right?

Unfortunately, that's what's gotten into some people's heads locally. For example, on my home network, there's three PC's running Ubuntu Jaunty, and everyone's telling me they MUST be upgraded come April (Which might be when Lucid is released, but I've never really paid attention to that) or they'll cease to work, or you'll never get updates, and other such doomsday prophecies.

The truth is, I couldn't care less.
Let's examine my network as it stands:
There are four laptops. One for each of us. The parents are running Vista and 7, because they came with the laptops. I've given up trying to suggest Linux might be worth trying on either laptop.
My own laptop and my brothers, both ancient Dell Latitude C400s, are both running Ubuntu Jaunty alone. While mine is ailing and dying (Though *still* hasn't died yet - it's persistant), his is still happily plugging away.
Then there's the two desktop PCs.
One dual boots Jaunty with Windows XP, because unfortunately we still find need for it from time to time. It seldom gets much use.
The other, this one, has Fedora 12 on it alone. This has the interesting effect that no one else will use it. At all.

Now, Fedora 12, despite some time ago cursing it off as the worst thing I ever saw, I've learned a bit more about, and it's not quite the big bad ogre I once thought it was, and truth be told, I'm considering upgrading to Fedora 13 as soon as the stable is out.
Ubuntu Jaunty, is, in my opinion, the last good Ubuntu there ever was. Some say Intrepid, some (mistakenly to my mind) say Karmic, but I say Jaunty. Karmic it far too buggy and unstable to be considered, and Lucid... I won't even go there.
So what am I to do, with three Ubuntu Jaunty installs that everyone thinks I'm going to have mayhem with come April?
There's all kinds of possibilities.

I like Jaunty. I might decide to stick with it. Given that the truth is that it'll still be perfectly fine, with only security updates and anything 3rd party repositories provide, I don't really see much wrong with it. But if I have to change it, there's only a few options.
I've gone off Debian and Ubuntu based systems. the DEB package format isn't bad, but Debian and Ubuntu, along with most of their derivatives, seem to make things too easy.

There's the possibility of going into Gentoo, Source Mage, Sourcer or Lunar, all of which are source-based distros. That's nice, but I'd like to have a graphic desktop now, rather than compile it myself, which is where Sabayon comes to the rescue.
Sabayon is based on, and maintains compatibility with, Gentoo, which as you may know, is an ongoing fascination of mine. (Incidentally, I remember seeing someplace that you can add Portage to other distros. I've no idea of the consequences, but for the adventurous among you, see what a search turns up.)
Sabayon provides binary packages, which is perfect for those in a hurry, but who also don't mind going back to good 'ol Gentoo's compiling. It gives you a KDE environment, and like most distros, a small suite of applications, then leaves it all up to you.

Alright, so what's the more flexible possibility?
Arch I've never got along with before. 'The Arch Way' is something that used to give me no end of trouble.
But then, that was before I realised that like Gentoo suggests reading the handbook as you install, so does Arch suggest reading the wiki, and I learned more.
Arch is nice in that it gives you the core system, and a command line, then essentially says 'Ok boss, what now?'
I can choose literally everything. No more installing and finding applications that I'll never know the purpose of or never use, because 99% of them will be ones I selected.

What other options are there, you ask?
Without going into much detail, Fedora, as mentioned, has my attention (The Yum package manager beats the pants of APT, and I really wish someone would port it to DEB)
Also in favour at the moment are Wolvix and Slackware. While I have had a few issues with Slack and Slack based systems, I'll grant I mananged to milk a great deal more out of my systems than on most other distros - something I hope to rival with Arch someday.
There's a pair of BSDs that have garnered my interest as well, GNOBSD, the only one I know of that provides Gnome on BSD out of the box, and PC-BSD, one of the few with a graphic installer - something useful for those who don't get the BSD naming schema.

As usual, there's a lot of choice. But since everyone's complaining I shouldn't be keeping Jaunty around, and I refuse to let Karmic on my network, it's looking likely that I'll just branch out my knowledge a bit.