Monday, October 25, 2010

Fedora 14 preview

You may have noticed that Fedora 14 makes its release next week. Curious to see what was going to be in the new version, and on a suggestion from pyxie, I grabbed a copy of the beta and installed it on my USB flash drive.

I have been booting into this, off and on, for a few days now. And it runs great! One thing I noticed right away (aside from the new desktop artwork, typical for a new release) is that Nouveau now supports my nVidia graphics card (GT218 / NVS 3100M). I get full features, too, including dual-monitor support. All without having to install the nVidia proprietary driver.

That alone is enough for me to upgrade to Fedora 14 next week.

But there are other new features, too. A quick list of some features that interest me:

Faster JPEG handling
These days, I have a huge collection of personal digital photos. I post some of them to share with friends and family, but I keep the original versions as a sort of digital portfolio. Flipping through the photo albums should be noticeably faster in Fedora 14, with the replacement of libjpeg with libjpeg-turbo. You should get about 25% increased performance when dealing with JPEG photos. And since many applications rely upon libjpeg, this should be a global improvement.

Remote desktops
In my role, I may not manage servers anymore. But whenever I see a new remote desktop tool, I have to see what's up. Remmina is a remote desktop client written for GNOME, aiming to be useful for system administrators and travelers, who need to work with lots of remote computers in front of either large monitors or tiny netbooks. Remmina supports multiple network protocols in an integrated and consistant user interface. Currently RDP, VNC, NX, XDMCP and SSH are supported.

Integration with GMail
I've commented previously that I no longer use a desktop email program, such as Thunderbird or Evolution. Both of those applications are great and all, but I've grown very fond of checking my email via a web browser, using GMail. All my email lives on the server, so if I go on vacation, or visit some remote office, I can just hop on a web browser to read my email. And it's all in once place. Now, GNOME can integrate with GMail using Gnome GMail. It allows GMail to be selected as the default mail application for the desktop. Unlike other solutions on the net, Gnome GMail supports "To:", "Subject:", "body", "CC:", and "BCC: fields

Support for Amazon's MP3 Music Store
I'll admit it, I have a Mac Mini at home. It's hooked up to our TV, and we use it to watch videos from the Internet. But mostly it's there to act as a gateway to my iPod, which I also own. And here's another secret: I haven't bought much from Apple's iTunes Store in the last year. I've kind of switched to Amazon's MP3 Music Store. By volume, the vast majority of the content on my iPod is MP3, purchased on CD and ripped, or purchased online through Amazon's Music Store. So I'm excited to see Clamz in Fedora 14, a little command-line program supporting Amazon's Music Store. It is intended to serve as a substitute for Amazon's official MP3 Downloader, which is not free software (and therefore is only available in binary form for a limited set of platforms.) Clamz can be used to download either individual songs or complete albums that you have purchased from Amazon.

Music player
Sure, Fedora has had music players for a while: Amarok, Audacity, etc. But I am interested in the new Clementine music player. It is a multi-platform music player. It is inspired by Amarok 1.4, focusing on a fast and easy-to-use interface for searching and playing your music. You can copy songs to your iPod, iPhone, MTP, or USB mass storage device. If it works as advertised, I wonder if I'll need that Mac Mini anymore as an iPod music manager appliance.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Windows 7 is still slower

I've run this comparison before, Windows v Linux boot times. The deciding factor is: how long does it take to boot, login, get a desktop, launch Firefox, and view my first web page ( And every time, Windows boots slower than Linux: two minutes slower (Win 7), a minute slower (Vista), about a minute slower (XP). But there's always been that small, but important, difference in how they boot up. Does Linux have an advantage by booting from a USB flash drive, with lower latency on reads?

Now that I've moved to a new organization where running Linux on the desktop is not just okay, but common, I'm running Windows and Linux on the same laptop. This seems like an excellent opportunity to re-compare the boot times for each operating system, on the same hardware, both booting from the hard drive.

First, let's talk about the system. This is a Dell Latitude E6410 laptop, our standard model for laptops at this organization. It has these specs:
  • Intel Core i5 CPU
  • 4GB memory
  • 160GB hard drive
  • nVidia graphics card GT218 [NVS 3100M]
  • Intel 82577LM Gigabit ethernet
  • Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 wireless

Not a bad system, as laptops go. I mentioned in my last post that the only thing I don't like about this laptop is the nVidia graphics card, since I have to use nVidia's proprietary driver for graphics to work reliably. Windows is also running nVidia's driver, so both operating systems are running with the same configuration.

My last post covered the installation details pretty well: over 6 hours to get Windows working from a fresh install (not including applications such as Office), about 20 minutes to install Linux (including bundled applications, like OpenOffice.) What I failed to note in that post, and it's important here, is that the Windows side is not encrypted, but the Linux side is (you can select that at install-time.)

So for the purposes of this test, Windows will have a slight advantage in that none of its operating system files are encrypted. Windows can just read the data from disk, and go. But Linux will have an extra step to decrypt each bit of data. Finally for you Windows fans, if there's any question of one side having an advantage over the other, it's Windows that gets the benefit of the doubt.

Since I'm running a dual-boot configuration, it's easy to be consistent about when to start the timer, when booting the system. After the laptop is powered on, it goes through a Power On Self Test cycle. The time to complete the POST may vary slightly. After the POST, the multi-boot screen comes up. I select the operating system to boot, press Return, and simultaneously start my stopwatch. I keep the stopwatch running while the system boots, until the front page comes up in Firefox.

Let's get to the numbers:

I booted each system twice, to make sure my timings were consistent.

Windows 7
Total: 1 minute, 55 seconds (115 seconds). And 1 minute, 52 seconds (112 seconds).

Linux (Fedora 13)
Total: 48 seconds, and 44 seconds.

It's hard to argue with numbers, people.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Windows v Linux on a new laptop

So I've moved on to a different organization. Once at the new office, I received a new laptop: a Dell Latitude E6410. This is a pretty nice machine. A bit heavy and bulky for my tastes, but more than enough power for the things I need to do (write documents, edit spreadsheets, read e-mail, browse the web, etc.)

It came from the factory with Windows Vista Basic pre-installed, but of course I wanted to put Linux on it. Our standard here is Windows 7, so it needed to be re-installed anyway.

What a perfect opportunity to compare the ease of installing Windows on a new laptop, versus installing Linux!

Knowing that Windows would try to clobber any pre-existing Linux installation, I let my tech support team install Windows first. I'd install Linux afterwards. All I asked was that they leave about half the hard drive space unallocated, so I could install Linux later.


We haven't ordered very many laptops before this (most of our users have desktop PCs) so our tech support team didn't have a Windows 7 image to lay down. Instead, our tech person had to install from scratch - and experienced a nightmare in getting Windows to run on this laptop.

First, the Windows 7 installer refused to recognize the nVidia GT218 [NVS 3100M] graphics card, and would only drive the system in standard VGA mode. Not exactly easy to use. The solution should be simple, though - right? Just download a new driver from nVidia's web site, and you're up and running. Except that the Windows installer also failed to recognize the Intel 82577LM Gigabit network adapter.

So he had to use another machine to download the network driver from Intel's support site, copy to my new laptop via a USB flash drive, and install it. A few reboots later, he was finally on the network.

Only then was he finally able to download the nVidia driver, to get video working on my new laptop.

From start to finish, installing Windows 7 (from scratch) on this laptop took over 6 hours. And that was just for Windows 7. I still don't have Microsoft Office installed, but since I rarely boot into Windows (and use Google Docs for most everything anyway) I doubt I'll bother.


Installing Linux was pretty straightforward for me. First, I used my bootable USB flash drive to boot the laptop into Fedora 13, to verify that everything worked. I immediately got on the network, and had access to full resolution via the Nouveau driver (an experimental open source software driver for nVidia cards.)

Satisfied that everything was compatible, I rebooted the laptop using a bootable USB live installer (thanks to LiveUSB Creator) and immediately proceeded to install Fedora 13.

Installation took about 20 minutes from start to finish. And that includes all the bundled applications, such as OpenOffice suite, too.


Easily, I'd say Linux "won" this one. But it would be dishonest of me to ignore that I've had some issues.

To be honest, I'm not all that impressed with the graphics on this system. I have the nVidia graphics card. The free Nouveau driver gives me video, and it drives my second just monitor fine. But very occasionally it has problems initiazing itself during boot. My temporary solution has been to reboot, and that seems to work. I sort of blame nVidia for that; the error message indicates the card wasn't ready for use by the time Nouveau loaded itself.

Eventually, I installed nVidia's proprietary driver. Actually, that was painless, but I did need to install the C compiler. Reboot your system into text mode, then run nVidia's install script. It does everything for you, and sets up the configuration for graphics to display properly.

The only thing you'll need to do is disable the Nouveau driver. The easiest way to do that is by passing these options at boot time:

rdblacklist=nouveau nomodeset

Unfortunately, this has the side-effect of disabling the graphical boot. Rather than seeing the nifty Fedora "F" logo at boot time, you'll see a text-mode multi-coloured progress bar at the bottom of the screen. It's a decent compromise for working video.

You may need to re-install the nVidia driver whenever you update your kernel package, but that's pretty rare. Aside from that, it's worked out pretty well.

I'll add that all this would be completely unnecessary if nVidia would wake up and support open source software. Release the specs, and let the Linux developer community write their own free driver. The Nouveau driver is a great effort, but they'll never be able to support all the features of the hardware without knowing how to program for them.