Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OpenSuse 10.3 + Nvidia Driver for Geforce 6200 = CRAP

Sigh. So I followed the instructions you gave me for installing the nVidia driver for my 6200 with YaST. The installation process was very simple, but the after installation process not so much.

I'm curious as to why exactly you'd want to set my monitor refresh rate to 71.0KHz : 88.4Hz? Seems a little odd. Thankfully my monitor can still display this rate, but I get a big "OUT OF RANGE" box in the center of my screen. Nice.

Ok, so the obvious place to start is the "Graphics Card and Monitor" utility from the YaST2 Control Center. In other words, SaX2: X11 Configuration. (BTW, your multi-case meaningless acronyms are sweet. Sweet indeed.) Working around the giant "OUT OF RANGE" message, I'm able to limit the range of my monitor and I do so. No go. Neither changing the monitor nor reducing the frequencies has any effect. The card insists on driving the monitor at 71 : 88.4.

I check the xorg.conf file and verify that the correct frequency ranges are there. They are. I change a few things and break the config. Ok, restore the old file.

Aha! Wipe that evil grin off your smug face, because you haven't beaten me on this April morning! I found a workaround:

  1. Get into the YaST Control Center (e.g. Administrator Settings), and choose the Hardware tab from the left.

  2. Click Graphics Card and Monitor and click the Options button for the video card.

  3. There should be a VertRefresh option. Set it to 60 (or some other safe value for your monitor, but 60 should almost always be safe).
Voila. Not the best, but at least it works.

If you can't get into X at all, then manually edit your xorg.conf file:

  1. Login to your shell as root, or `su -` to become root.

  2. Enter `emacs /etc/X11/xorg.conf` (Unless you have a simpler editor installed, but my install only had Emacs and vi.)

  3. Hit enter once if you get the Emacs "welcome / help" screen. You should now see the contents of the xorg.conf file. Scroll down to 'Section "Device"' and add the following line before 'EndSection':

    Option "VertRefresh" "60"

  4. CTRL+X then CTRL+C to quit Emacs. Hit 'y' on your way out to save.

  5. Restart (or test by running `startx` from your shell).

  6. I'm not sure if SaX will freak out on you for manually editing the file, so follow the first procedure above to make sure it sticks.

Happy Wasting-Your-Time,

Year of the Linux Desktop


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Vista "Run As" Support

Thanks ever so much for changing the behavior of the "Run As" context menu item to better fit your broken User Access Control feature which broke certain vertical apps that run from GPO-mapped network drives thus forcing me to disable UAC. Very clever.

But I can handle it -- I'll just use the runas command from the shell!

Oh, I see you also "fixed" Explorer so that I can't use runas to launch it as a new process. Hm. No problem, let me try using IE to browse the file system. Dag, yo. I see you "fixed" IE in version 7 to launch an Explorer window to browse the file system.

Ok, whew, there's a registry value for Explorer called SeparateProcess which has to be set for the user that I want to run the Explorer process as. Alright, let me add that to my script and verify that it's run it...... .... .... .... .... .... you bastard.

Haha. Ok ok. Good one, seriously. What really gets me is that you had me all excited about the new security features in Vista, but I already had to disable UAC and now I'm looking at running as an administrator just to do my job? Yeah, it's cool that you fixed fast user switching so that we can use it on our domain machines, but who wants to completely switch to an administrator environment just to find a file for someone? Lame.

But you haven't won. I did find a solution.

To anyone who is trying to launch Explorer on Vista from an elevated account, just stop trying. It's a waste of time. Here's what you do:

Instead of trying to get Explorer to work, grab a copy of FreeCommander. FreeCommander is a file manager for Windows and, as its name implies, is free. You can launch FreeCommander with runas successfully, and you'll be able to browse your local file system or network as an administrator or domain administrator.

To make things easier, you can launch FreeCommander with runas from a simple shell script (batch file). Despite what you might think, you do not have to put your password into the runas command to make it work. Simply leave the password out and when you run the batch a command shell will appear asking for your password and once you've entered it, FreeCommander will fire up. All nice and safey safe.

To make things even easier, it's Sysinternals to the rescue once again with ShellRunas v1.01. Run `shellrunas /reg` to register it as a context menu entry, and you'll see a "Run as a different user" item on the menu when you right-click an executable. Basically, this restores in Vista the runas functionality we had in XP. You'll still see the worthless "Run as administrator" entry in the menu, but the world can't be perfect.

(Thank Blod for Mark Russinovich and Sysinternals. Note that Microsoft bought Sysinternals so you'd better grab everything you can now just to be safe.)

Wondering why I chose FreeCommander as my file manager? No? Well read on. Of all the free file managers I found in a quick search, FreeCommander is the only one that didn't puke when run under a secondary login. All of the rest either didn't work well on Vista period, or died horrible deaths when trying to browse the network. None of the programs will recognize Vista's awesome new way of handling mapped network drives, but at least FreeCommander keeps chugging along instead of freezing up and can do UNC just fine.

Here is a list of the programs that I tried on 04/10/08. None of these worked well enough:

Ac Browser Plus (ACB) (trouble on the network when started with runas)
ExplorerXP (blank context menus on Vista)
FileAnt (great program, but freezes on network when started with runas)
UltraExplorer (great looking program, but freezes too often)
muCommander (Java, very bad network support on Vista)

Off all these, only muCommander is GPL. Drag. FreeCommander wasn't my favorite of the five I tried, but it's the only one that doesn't puke when I run it this way.

Anyhow, I added a link to my batch file on my RocketDock (a MUST HAVE application for Windows) and everything is once again golden...or sort of brown anyhow....well, there's a little green in there...

*note: I can already hear the question in my own mind: well this solution works great from my own machine, but what about from my users' machines? Thankfully, my users all run XP with un"fixed" runas, explorer, and yeah, I've stuck them with IE6. When the Vista changes happens against my will, then fast user switching and runas from the shell will get most jobs done just fine.*

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Settling on OpenSUSE 10.3

That's right, I've finally found the least annoying Linux distribution to run on my Thinkpad R32: OpenSUSE 10.3.

I burned through the following distros on my quest for non-suckage:

Ubuntu 7.10 & 8 Beta
PCLinuxOS 2007
Kubuntu 7.10 & 8 Beta
Fedora 8
Freespire 2.0

...and none of them were stable enough to survive initial updating and configuration. I was most disappointed by Ubuntu and Kubuntu because these are the distributions I really wanted to use. I actually use Ubuntu as a desktop OS on one of my machines, and have been for years, but I only use it for a few tasks. I'm running Ubuntu Server 6.06 LTS on a machine as well and am very happy with it (aside from its adaptec driver support being broken out of the box).

I didn't have much hope for OpenSUSE when I began installing it. I was certainly disappointed by the lack of a LiveCD with an installer. However, the "old school" installation went very smoothly and in no time I had a functional installation that ran well and looked very sharp. OpenSUSE is a very polished distribution by comparison to everything else that I've tried so far, aside perhaps from PCLinuxOS.

I was also a little bit leary of using KDE, because for years I've always been a Gnome "fan." Years ago I tried KDE and it was seriously flakey and irritating beyond belief. Plus, putting a "K" in front of all of your software names is Ketarded. Well, I realize now that Gnome hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, but KDE has really grown during my time away from it. I'm not missing Gnome at all.

OpenSUSE is not without its shortcomings. Firstly, it's an RPM-based distribution and I'm much more comfortable with debian based installs. YaST is a usable packager but is terribly, terribly slow and in typical RPM fashion (in my experience), occasionally doesn't grab necessary dependencies and vomits all over your lap. Secondly, the configuration tools are much better than the mess you get with Ubuntu, but even after a few days working with SUSE I'm still having trouble finding the right icons to click on. Too much ambiguity and poor naming. This is a common theme in all Linux distributions. Thirdly, I had to grab madwifi drivers "manually" and SUSE refuses to shut down when I have my PCMCIA wifi adapter plugged in. And lastly, I'm able to crash the entire system all over the place while trying to get Kerberos and LDAP working in a Windows domain. This isn't completely SUSE's fault, it's a pretty typical Linux kludge of half working services where getting a fully working system is akin to solving a jumping puzzle in Half Life.

(Here's a fun one: if you happened to follow recommended practice and use a .local TLD for your Windows domain, then mDNS freaks out. If you disable mDNS, then LDAP and/or Kerberos freak out. The result is some very interesting crashes, including DBUS, kpowerd, and knetworkmanager. Fug it. To give credit where credit is due, this may actually be Apple's fault. It's their spec. Anyhow, it turns out you don't need to configure Kerberos or LDAP clients if you just use the Windows Domain tool)

The last time I tried to push myself into migrating my desktops completely to Linux, about five or six years ago, I had a very similar experience. Half-baked, poorly glued together software that requires constant babysitting. I am very disappointed with the state of Linux on the desktop today. I know that it can work, especially if you limit yourself to a basic install and don't mess with anything. Otherwise, it's still a mess and its fan base is either poorly informed or in serious denial.

Shortly I'm going to be proposing my latest IT plan at the office, and a portion of the plan is an "Open Source Initiative" in which I'm going to lay out a procedure for migrating our proprietary software to open source alternatives. My primary objective is to limit or eliminate vendor lock in, which is a real sore spot for me. I also hate Microsoft and the BSA. Anyhow, the last step in my plan is going to be moving our desktops from Windows to Linux, and I'm still going ahead with it. However, I'm much less enthusiastic about it now. Despite its many shortcomings, I fail to see how Windows is inferior to any Linux distribution aside from licensing and cost. Thankfully Vista sucks eggs, because that might make the transistion a little easier for my users to swallow.