28 September, 2012

Help the openSUSE Conference Team

At the LinuxDays* conference in Prague we have a 'special' track about the effects of modern Media on our life - think about the risks of not owning your data in the cloud (and what is done against that by awesome people building Free networks and open cloud software), the benefits open source can bring (using open source technology and methods for disaster relief), and more.

I specifically wanted this track because I believe it is important to think about why we do what we do and to introduce people to the 'spirit' behind Free Software.

We've got a handful of really interesting speakers lined up there and we should promote that. The topic is important and of course it'd be good if more people showed up!

A good way of promoting this is by giving people a taste of what will be discussed through doing a few interviews with these speakers. You can find the list of speakers on this page and I have contact details of all of them. As questions, the following would most likely get (and keep) them talking:
  • Tell us about yourself
  • What will you talk about
  • How did you get involved with that and why do you care about it so much, why does it matter?
  • What do you have to say to the (potential) visitors of the conference, what would you say is your message?

It would of course be even more awesome if we could interview some of these folks on video, say via a Skype or Google Hangout session...

Anyway, I need someone to help me with this. It is easy: all you have to do is mail these folks (I'll give you their addresses), ask them if they ware OK doing an interview, if OK either do the skype/google hangout session (maybe together with me?) or mail the questions, collect the answers, maybe do a bit of back-and-forth if things are unclear, and put it all in 1 or a few articles with me.

Upside: you not only get to help a big Linux event in Prague and do a bit of writing with someone who has some experience, but you also get to chat with these very interesting folks!

Who wants to help? Mail me... jos at the opensuse servers ;-)





* and openSUSE Conference and GENTOO miniconf and SUSE Labs conf... If you have a 4-in-one conference, no common name (but a common slogan: Bootstrapping Awesome), how do you call it? Hard, hard... Poor me... need to think about that next time we co-locate :D

25 September, 2012

Help out KDE marketing!

Hi Folks!

The KDE marketeers are gearing up for a new challenge: engage the wider Qt developer community about KDE.

"Now why would they care about KDE?" You might be asking yourself...

Well, our biggest asset is KDELibs! Lots of interesting classes up to full frameworks like Phonon and such ready for the taking and using. Much of these will become far easier to use when we transform KDELibs into Frameworks 5. More rapid application development and less maintenance work are the result.

The question we marketing people have is:
what classes and components in KDELibs/Frameworks 5 do you think are most interesting for external Qt developers and why?
Out of your answers we hope to create a presentation with an overview of the most useful parts of Frameworks 5 for Qt developers. This presentation can be given at events like the Qt Developers Day. and should get people excited about what's coming from the KDE side to Qt.

You can add suggestions and if possible please (links to) explanations, tutorials/documentation and why's in the comments below or on mail to myself or kde promo.

Thanks in advance!

24 September, 2012

Linux and the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3C

So I bought a new laptop, a Samsung series 9: the 13" NP900X3C (review on the Verge). Quite a nice piece of hardware. It is thin, light and has very decent battery life. For all Linux users who decided to buy this really nice piece of hardware or are still deciding, you can find below tips and tricks on getting the most out of it.

Update 22 March 2014: I've finally gotten around to update this post, after finally fixing the last major annoyance after a hint by +Rui Seabra. With the tip below you can get this laptop to reliably recognize the power plug and the screen being closed. Yay!

Also, there is a new generation out (Ativ 9) which honestly does not impress me. It is heavier, has a insanely high resolution screen so its battery life is barely improved and the CPU is slightly slower though the GPU is more powerful. The touch screen makes it thicker. If Samsung would put a Intel Haswell in the NP900X3C chassis combined with 8 or 16GB of ram, they would have improved their top model. Now - it has its plusses and minusses. Too bad.

The Specs of the NP900x3c

You don't exactly select this laptop on performance for the money. But just looking at specifications leads to buying ugly, fragile, heavy pieces of plastic with 20 minutes battery life. This laptop is the opposite.
  • Intel Core i5-3317U CPU 1.7 ghz (turbo to 2.4), 3MB cache and 17watt TDP
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000, 3W stereo speakers and 1.3MP webcam
  • 13.3" 1600x900 PLS super bright (400nits) screen
  • 4GB of ram (soldered on board) and replacable 128 GB Sandisk SSD
  • WLAN (Inel 6235, 2x2 a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. Lan with included dongle
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC cart reader, 1x USB 2 and 1x USB 3 (powered when off)
  • VGA and microHDMI (both need separately sold dongle)
  • 80 keys backlit keyboard and all-button multi-touch touchpad
  • 44 WH battery (rated for 9 hours but count on max 7)
  • Made of aluminum. Weight 2.55 lb or 1.16 KG.

About how it looks and feels: it is as nice as they say in every review. The design makes it (imho) the best looking ultrabook on the market and it feels super solid. The matte screen is the best I've ever seen (awesome looking angles & brightness) and it's perfectly silent due to the overkill of 2 fans (that are off most of the time anyway, surprisingly, even under load).

Comparisions

To save you some research, here a comparison to two laptops with similar specs:
  • Compared to the ASUS Zenbook Prime it feels more solid (I've touched both) and has less Q&A issues (according to online complainers). It also has a ~14% lower weight and better touchpad but slightly worse keyboard according to reviews. The keyboard of the S9 is fine for me - shallow but I have no issues with it. The touchpad is indeed excellent, noticeably better under Linux than under Windows however. Battery life is claimed to be better on the Samsung, too. You do of course pay about 300 bucks more for about the same specs as the Prime...
  • Compared to the Sony Vaio Z - I haven't touched that one but it's certainly less solid (it is made of "carbon fiber"--I've had a "carbon fiber" Vaio Z before and I'd just call it plastic) and has less battery life. Then again, the Z is what you want if you want no compromise in performance vs portability - as in, a Quad core cpu in a Ultrabook chassis. The Samsung has way less crunch power. Also, you can get the Vaio with 8 and possibly even 16GB of ram. So go Vaio if you don't move that often and are OK with a slightly more flimsy device and higher price and/or need the processing power.

The Linux support of the S9 is OK - not perfect, but OK. (Update March 2014: actually, near flawless, but not yet out-of-the-box in most Linux distributions) Getting the most out of it - see below! By the way, I strongly suggest to update the Bios to the latest version first before installing Linux.

Power usage

Let's start with power. As you probably bought this laptop for its portability (I know I did), let me give some info on battery life.

What to expect

I haven't done a full run-down test or anything and I usually use the battery life extender (max 80% charge power) but at the time of writing (sept 2012) the best you can get out of this laptop is about 6 hours of typing work with wifi/BT off, low screen brightness and battery life extender off. And that is provided you enabled silent performance mode, run laptop_mode and have enabled the power saving tips from the powertop tool (install it!!!). At that point, powertop reports 8-10 watt power usage. I have seen it go down as far as 6 but haven't figured out how to keep it there. As the laptop is supposed to do 7 hours under windows (and considering the 6 watt I've seen), there is surely room for improvement and I expect newer Linux versions/distributions to do better.

EDIT: after updating to kernel 3.6-RC6 (from here) I discovered power usage is down significantly. Varying between 6.2 and 7.2 watt, this might bring an additional hour of battery life to this laptop under Linux.

On more modest settings, you'll get more like 4 to max 5 hours - that's with wifi on, screen on a reasonable brightness and battery life extender on (so battery life -20%).

EDIT2: in 2014, you can really expect 5-6 hours, up to 7 if you're not taxing it much.

How to get longer battery life

As I said: install powertop. It can even tell you what's drawing how much energy (although this seems not too reliable). Powertop can enable a bunch of power saving options which must be configurable somewhere else too but I haven't figured that out for each. Start it, go to the right-most page and use the 'enter' key to enable them. They seem to stick mostly across reboots but not all of them do so use it whenever you need the battery life. Make sure especially to enable powersaving on the USB channels, one has the webcam which alone can draw 2-3 watts according to powertop.

Second, use the 'silent' performance_level. Set it by echo-ing 'silent' to '/sys/devices/platform/samsung/performance_level'. See more below. In my experience, the laptop is plenty responsive with the CPU speed capped at 800 mhz - as long as you do nothing too fancy.

Third - as you probably won't use it (much), disable the LAN port. Also uses quite some power according to powertop (although I doubt it's accuracy in this, it won't hurt). You can do this in the Bios of the system.

Fourth, enable power saving for the video card by going to Boot Loader in YaST, edit the boot loader options and add this after"Optional Command Line Kernel Parameter" (or editing grub(2) by hand if you're on a less easy distro):
    i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1
See phoronix for more info on these. I took out acpi_backlight=vendor as it consistently doesn't work for me.

While you're editing boot parameters, you might want to enable zswap (compressed swap). On a 4GB ram laptop, this is, well, helpful. Add zswap.enabled=1 if you want it. Note that it only works from Linux 3.11 onwards and probably only well from kernel 3.13 up.

Linux support: what works

So what works and doesn't? In short, putting in an USB stick and booting from it, then installing openSUSE - works like a charm. You might have difficulty having it boot from a stick - look in the BIOS. Disable "Fast BIOS Mode" under the "Advanced" tab and it should work. Re-enable it later for faster booting! Now, on to the specifics.

Touchpad

Works perfect, better under Linux than under Windows. See under 'tips' for some config ideas.

suspend

to ram: no problems. Very occasionally it hangs the mouse - use Fn-F5 twice to disable and re-enable the touchpad and you should be good. If it still doesn't work, I have had to disable Fast Booting in the BIOS to get it back. After that turning it on again was no problem. Tja, computers.
to disk: works but kernel mentions it's "Dazed and confused, but trying to continue". Apparently "NMI received for unknown reason 2c on CPU 0" and the kernel wonders if "you have a strange power saving mode enabled?". Suspend to disk is pointless anyway as this thing almost boots faster than it resumes from suspend to disk (with a bit of optimization using systemd-analyze, openSUSE goes in 8 sec from grub to desktop, a bit more work and you'll get to ~5sec and I think even less is doable if you really work at it).

wifi, bluetooth

Both work great, no problems. The Fn key to disable wifi doesn't work out of the box.

screen, sound, multimedia buttons

Volume and screen brightness buttons work fine, touchpad disable button works. Keyboard brightness buttons don't work, neither does the wlan button (light in button does turn on/off depending on state of wlan, however). See below on fixing that.

Webcam, microphone, sound

All worked flawless for me. Skype and Google Hangouts work without issues.

HDMI, VGA, Network

All flawless. I'd recommend to disable the network port to save power, however...

'special' stuff you have to configure

The laptop has a few interesting extra features. I'll go over them and how to use them.

Fn keys

Go to this Red Hat bugzilla page to get a number of changes to udev which will allow your function keys to work. Probably not gonna be a problem with any modern Linux distribution 2-3 months from now (sept 2012). A reboot is the best way to get things working after the changes.

EDIT 14 Oct 2012: note that on openSUSE and possibly other distributions you can find the udev rules in /lib/udev/keymaps instead of /usr/lib/udev/keymaps. Also, note that updates can overwrite your changes in the two control files and you might have to re-apply them every now and then.

EDIT 22 March 2014: note that on modern distro's this has moved to /usr/lib/udev/hwdb.d/60-keyboard.hwdb and requires a different fix. My distro (openSUSE 13.1) does not yet have the latest version of that file. You can get the latest here, just overwrite the file. Then execute as root: udevadm hwdb --update. Now reboot and the keys should work properly. By the end of the year I think this will be in most Linux distro's

Below I have a number of tips with scripts and such to get the keys to work. You'll need some scripts and set some permissions and then bind actions to the keys. In a Plasma Desktop, KHotkeys can take care of that for you. To make it easy I created a khotkeys file here which you can just import. Do this by:
      start systemsettings
      go to 'Shortcuts and gestures'
      click 'edit' and choose 'import' ('edit' is found in the middle bottom of the 'custom shortcuts')
      Pick the file you can download above.
      Modify the paths in the shortcuts, they're set on my home directory!

keyboard backlight

enable zswap (comapressed swap)
Check if the keys work out of the box. They might depending on the release of your distribution. If not, follow these tips.

The keyboard backlight can be adjusted by echo'ing a number between 0 (off) and 8 (max) to a special file like this (all on one line):
    echo 8 > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness
You need to be root to do that or use sudo. To ensure you can do this as normal user, add the following to /etc/rc.d/boot.local (on openSUSE) or another place that gets executed at boot on your distro:
    # make it possible to change brightness chmod 0664 /sys/devices/platform/samsung/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness chgrp users /sys/devices/platform/samsung/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness
(note that my blog might put things on a new line which shouldn't be. The chmod 0664 /sysblabla is one line, so is chgrp!)

Of course, you now want to assign the brightnes keys (Fn F9 and Fn F10) to these actions. The easiest way is to go to the KDE systemsettings and open 'Shortcuts and Gestures'. Then follow these steps (or import the khotkeys file I created instead):
      Create a new global shortcut (on the bottom: edit > new > global shortcut > command/URL) and call it 'backlight off'
      As trigger, assign the Fn-F9 key
      As Action, add this (all on one line):
        echo 0 > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness; kdialog --title 'keyboard backlight' --passivepopup 'off' 1
create a second global shortcut, call it backlight on, and give it this Action:
    echo 8 > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness; kdialog --title 'keyboard backlight' --passivepopup 'on' 1
    The keys should now work.

performance mode

The S9 has a nice feature in the 'performance mode' which does work under Linux but has to be triggered specially. I made a script you can bind to the ventilator key to make it work just like under windows.
There are two performance modes on the S9: 'silent' and 'normal'. Silent forces the CPU to 800 mhz max, keeping the fans always off and power usage down to about 8-9 watt), normal is - well, normal... I've seen the CPU go up to 2.4 ghz in 'normal' mode. For my use (text writing, browsing, email, occasional video or music), silent is perfect and I like the fact the laptop stays cold and quiet so I have that almost always on.

triggering it
You can change the performance mode by echo'ing 'normal' or 'silent' to /sys/devices/platform/samsung/performance_level. If you want to be able to do that as user, add the following to /etc/rc.d/boot.local to set the permissions open for the group 'users':
    # make it possible to change performance level chmod 0664 /sys/devices/platform/samsung/performance_level chgrp users /sys/devices/platform/samsung/performance_level echo silent > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/performance_level # set silent (800 mhz) performance as default

If you want the fan (Fn F11) button to take care of it for you, download the file here and follow the instructions in it.

Rf Kill

You can trigger turning off wifi and BT with files also in /sys/devices/platform/samsung under rfkill. The names of the files do change sometimes. Also for this I made a script, which you'll have to allow to be run at root. All instructions are in the file. Get it here.

Battery life extender

The laptop has a function called 'battery life extender'. It's a limit the bios puts on the battery on how full it can charge: no more than 80% if the battery life extender is on. This will increase the life expectancy of the battery significantly. You can enable and disable it in the bios but also from Linux and Windows. I have turned it on and rarely change it.

I didn't bother writing a script for this as I don't change this often: you can enable and disable the battery life extender by echoing either 1 (on) or 0 (off) to battery_live_extender in the already-familiar /sys/devices/platform/samsung folder. A quick command line to remember (you have to be root to do this):

    "echo 1 > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/battery_live_extender" to turn it on and "echo 0 > /sys/devices/platform/samsung/battery_live_extender" to turn it off

I use it when I expect to need my battery life to be maximal, like on intercontinental flights or when traveling to a conference. At home I almost never use the extra ~hour of battery life this gives.

Linux support: what doesn't work

The things which don't work ATM are:
  • recognizing if the system is on battery power or not. this is messy ATM. Usually, after a suspend cycle, it correctly shows the status. I'm guessing a kernel newer than the 3.5 I run now will solve this at some point, or maybe a new udev. It is annoying because it prevents laptop mode (battery saving mode) from automatically kicking in. In my use case it's not a big deal as it's usually charging in the house and when I take it somewhere it sleeps while traveling... Here is the bug on the kernel bugzilla
  • recognizing if the laptop lid is closed. Same story there - I guess a newer kernel version will solve it. For now, the system won't go to sleep or anything if you close the lid - you have to assign a key for sleep. I assigned the power key to sleep by going modifying the button events handling in System Settings -> Power Management. Not a BIG deal, I actually often close the lid while thinking (Yes, I do it, though infrequently) to save power...

And there now is a fix! I was made aware of it by +Rui Seabra, points for him. I am fairly certain the fix will make it into a kernel soon and to your distributions later, but for now you can put in a little work by hand and have it work too. Follow these steps:
  • Get this c file and compile it into a binary. Instructions are in the file, but to help you: gcc -o samsung_fix_ec_events samsung_fix_ec_events.c will do the trick. Yes, you need gcc. zypper in gcc will work on openSUSE. Thanks to Juan Manuel Cabo for creating this!
  • Now copy the resulting binary to /usr/local/bin/samsung_fix_ec_events
  • Download this file and copy it into /home/jospoortvliet/Dropbox/Public and make it executable: chmod +x /home/jospoortvliet/Dropbox/Public/samsung_fix_ec_events
Now, whenever you suspend or come back from suspend, the samsung_fix_ec_events file gets executed, cleaning up the bits that were blocking ACPI.

Tips to get the most out of the S9

A few minor tips to make things nicer on this laptop...

Installation

The laptop has a bunch of partitions and I could give all kind of tips about which to keep and all that - but I just cleaned everything up and installed Linux only so I have nothing to say.


Fast booting

If you'd like to make the laptop boot faster, install systemd-analyze, a tool which can show you what services delayed the bootup procedure most. It works best with the 'plot' function which generates a SVG of the bootup process:
    systemd-analyze plot > test.svg
Then view test.svg with a browser or so and see what seems to be blocking progress and try to fix it. In the pic in my blog (from my desktop, btw) it seems it takes a long time to go on line and the system waits with executing the login until it has connected. See this and this for some on how to do this.

touchpad

Go through the options in Synaptiks or whatever your distro or desktop ships as touchpad tool - a must. First of all, make sure it switches off the touchpad on keyboard activity (I've set it to 0.75 seconds which works without annoying me but I think that this setting is VERY personal) and you should enable the horizontal and vertical scrolling with two fingers under Touchpad Configuration. I have also enabled "continue edge scrolling automatically", which feels very natural if you're trying to scroll quickly.

Under tapping, as Plasma Workspaces are single-click everywhere (by default...) I've enabled "make single taps faster and double taps slower". And I use one finger for left mouse, two for right and three for middle-click (can't live without middle-click-paste in Linux). But you can also use the corners. I don't like the automated dragging - sometimes I DO a double-tab to e.g. maximize a window and it often starts dragging. The dragging with this touchpad works very well, almost perfect: just click (until you get a audible and sensory CLICK) on the bottom-left of the touchpad, then move with your other finger. Works quite OK although it sometimes gets annoying when you drag and have to lift your finger to keep going - sometimes things snap back.

Filesystems and such on a SSD

There are lots of SSD tips and tricks on the net. Most of these are not needed these days as the Linux schedulers are just fine with SSD's and other settings are done with laptop-mode-tools or are standard in openSUSE 12.2. But for the curious: I use btrfs and I have the following options after "default," in my fstab "noatime,compress=lzo,ssd,discard".

Also, I would put /tmp on a tmpfs. Probably not needed on a 2014 distribution but not (yet) standard in older distro's. Do this by modifying /etc/fstab and adding the following line:
    tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults 0 0

That's it

If you've got a NP900X[Something], have fun with it and let me know if this was useful!

20 September, 2012

Presenting openSUSE 12.2?


Note: I've updated the links below as we did a restructuring of our github repository. In case any of the links below don't work at some point in the future: the root of the repository is here, from there you can navigate to the slides. Currently they are under Marketing Materials > openSUSE introduction slides.

If you're going to promote openSUSE somewhere - know that we've got your back. There is an openSUSE 12.2 slide template courtesy of Richard on our github repo, click here for download.

Also, I've created a introduction to the new stuff in openSUSE 12.2 and updated our other standard slide decks about OBS, openQA, Studio and more. Find them on this page.

There's also separate openSUSE 12.2 artwork for presentations available in svg and other easy-to-work-with formats.

Remember, we believe in Doing, Sharing and Merging (see the image on the side, more posters on this page, also almost all in SVG). So if you have any improvements for the slides, translated versions or any other cool artwork or translations, mail me or create a merge request on github!

Have a lot of fun and let us know if you use the slides,

Jos

05 September, 2012

It's green and ready for you...


Heya,

The greenest Linux distro has just released a new version. And a great one it is - solid (though not outdated) and well thought out.

The delay has given us an extra round of 2 months of bugfixing, making openSUSE 12.2 a very stable and dependable workhorse. Moreover, the availability of the tens of thousands of additional packages for openSUSE give developers and home users access to more up-to-date software, development libraries and more than any other distro has (200K is the # to beat).

Check out what's available on software.opensuse.org (courtesy of the openSUSE instance of the Open Build Service).

Get it

You can get openSUSE as usual on software.opensuse.org and upgrading your running system is easy. If you use our rolling release Tumbleweed you don't have to do anything!

KDE and openSUSE

I wrote an Sneak Peek of KDE software on openSUSE yesterday and Will wrote a GNOME one.
I also made a quick video:


Know that openSUSE ships with KDE SC 4.8.4 (update has 4.8.5), not 4.9 as we froze before that came out. The new release is available on OBS already and we'll probably do a re-spin of 12.2 soon.

Delay - and what we do to fix it

This release had to be delayed because of the growth of the openSUSE community and our failure to adopt and change our processes to deal with that. We didn't (and don't) want to introduce the formal bureaucracy & hierarchy most the large distro's have so we're currently looking how to handle things via OBS and in general in our tools.

Talk about the Future of Free Software

If you care about Linux and the future of one of the most important distro's and want to help in setting those future directions, you should join us at one of our two major events this year:
  • Starting only 16 days from now, The openSUSE Summit in Orlando, Florida, following the SUSE Con event. There will be many exciting workshops and talks on cloud computing, handling servers, an LPIC exam and much more.
  • And next month it's already time for the openSUSE Conference in Prague, where we are joined by the local LinuxDays as well as Gentoo and SUSE Labs and have a special feature track with talks by very interesting speakers including:
    • Thijs de Vries from Creative Seeds on Persuasive design & gamification
    • Shane Coughlan from Open Relief on using FOSS and open hardware for disaster relief (includes small guided aircrafts, really!)
    • Ramon Roca from the guifi project about the social implications of owning your network (Build Your Own Internet!)
    • Bas van Abel from Waag Society's Open Design lab on how you don't own something if you can't open it.
    And that's just a part of one day of one track, see a draft schedule here. There's only room for about 1200 people so register in time ;-)


CU there, hugs and have lots of fun!