Sunday, May 6, 2012

Friday Fun and Failures: This Week's Experiments

Quick note: I like the alliterative title too much to get rid of it. Also, this is a blog for Slackers. If you don't like that my Friday blog took til Sunday night, maybe you're not a true Slacker.

This week, I've done plenty of complaining about my attempts to get Xfce 4.10 running, but I'm not done yet. I also complained about my inability to compile the GIMP 2.8. I'm not done trying there either. But that doesn't adequately sum up all the Slackware-related things I've tried at and royally screwed up this week.

Also, hey, success!

Believe it or not, I've had a great deal of fun at all this, in spite of the failure. Aside from the freedoms using Linux affords me, the thing I love most about it is the feeling of exploration. All this hands-on time is as good as it gets. I'm learning more about Linux than I have since those first few months. I doubt that any Windows or Mac user can claim to know their computer's brain so well.

I can't get Xfce 4.10 to build and after a little more experimentation with Ralvex's builds, I reverted to Pat's 4.6 build. I stuck with Xfce for a few days, and during that time, I preferred it to my usual Gnome setup, but Gnome has and probably always will draw me back in the end.

In spite of Gnome Shell's alien appearances, there is a distinct Gnome feeling that ties it to Gnome 1, where I started out almost ten years ago. Someday I may try to articulate precisely what that is.

Why didn't I stick with Ralvex's Xfce 4.10 once I got it installed?
  • Ralvex's build omits Thunar. With all the other libraries and base packages pre-built, it is no trouble at all to build Thunar from source. However, I think this fact alone will make it unsuitable for users looking for a pre-made solution.
  • It has a screwed up desktop. My desktop background isn't shown, and the file manager doesn't handle putting up file and folder icons. I didn't investigate the cause of this one too thoroughly, but I imagine Xfce-desktop is missing. That's another non-trivial omission.
  • It seems to rely on Qt widgets even to the point that Xfce's settings manager doesn't change their theme but KDE's does. This one has me totally befuddled. Part of why I feel so at home in Xfce is that it uses the GTK+2 widgets. I've never been a fan of the Qt look-and-feel. To add to that insult the (resource) injury of starting KDE services just to change the appearance of my controls totally defeats the two main purposes of running Xfce (namely the familiar looks and light memory/CPU needs).
That said, the parts of the Xfce 4.10 desktop I used were promising. I can't wait to try it once Pat's official packages come out. There's been a lot of activity in Slackware-current's changelogs lately, with KDE on pace with the latest 4.8.x software set and the entire X stack being upgraded Saturday. It sure feels like there's been a great push forward on the Slackware desktop front and I can't help but be hopeful that Xfce is next.

One striking quirk I've noticed due to my recent desktop hopping is that Alien's VLC 2.0.1 looks better in GTK+ environments (Gnome and Xfce) than it does in a Qt environment (KDE). For those who don't know, VLC is most commonly seen in its Qt4 form. That is, it is built from Qt widgets and should look most at home and integrated on a desktop that's also built on Qt. Instead, running VLC on KDE in fullscreen mode leaves the controls looking a right mess.

In this case, I'm glad I'm a Gnome user.

Kernel 3.x
One big complaint I've had since switching to Slackware is that I was having daily crashes. On average, it had been once a day. Sometimes it wouldn't happen at all; sometimes it would be two or three times a day. The kernel panic message onscreen indicated a problem with the wifi driver. Also, there seemed to be a correlation with heavy wifi traffic and the crashes. That is, the longer I ran Deluge, the more problems I would see.

How did I fix it?

First, I tried upgrading to the 2.6.38 kernel from /testing on the Slackware64-13.37 servers. In my use over about two weeks, that didn't seem any different from 2.6.37. Failing a fix when I reinstalled my card's microcode, I tried building the latest kernel myself.

Kernel 3.3.4 builds, installs, and boots using Pat's configuration from the 2.6.37/38 series. Most everything  works but I have to turn off the firewall to use the Web (yes, it's configured properly for normal use). It feels faster than 2.6.3x, but the interference with the firewall is a showstopping bug and I would worry about other troubles in the future.

Finally, I decided to grab the kernel from Slackware-current (3.2.13), and I've been running that for a couple days without any trouble at all. Best of all, there are no more panics. However, I don't feel the improvement in speed I saw from 3.3.4. That said, keeping all the functionality from previous kernels and adding in the stability they were missing is more than good enough.

If I feel it necessary, I'll try building the latest kernel again. This time, though, I'll use the configuration from the 3.2 kernel. It will probably work better.

Goodbye, crashes. Hello, famous Slackware stability.

gtkmm compatibility fixes
This item will be of interest to Gnome Slackbuild users who also use packages from Salix or For those who don't know, gtkmm is the C++ binding to GTK+.

Earlier, I had complained that I had to choose between gtkmm2 and gtkmm3 programs, as installing the GSB package kept other programs working and installing gtkmm2 kept gtkmm3 programs, including Gnome's System Monitor, from running. I've found a workaround.

Since the files in GSB's packages are fully separate from Salix's package's files, there are two ways of going about it.

(1) You can alter one of the packages' names to trick your package manager into installing both. Ordinarily, it will see gtkmm3 as an upgrade when in reality it is no more an upgrade than GTK+3 is over GTK+2. As with GTK itself, most users will want both versions side-by-side. Simply unzip gtkmm2's txz, change the slack-desc file, zip it back up, and instal it.

(2) Alternatively, you could repackage both gtkmm2 and gtkmm3 into one file. I chose the first option for its simplicity, but this is just as viable. Just keep your eyes open for upgrades upstream.

For maximum fun, and since at least one Slacker is a fellow Deadhead, I'm going to name a Grateful Dead performance of the week. I've really been enjoying the concert captured on One From the Vault this week. I hope you will, too.

Please feel free to comment with questions, concerns, and requests for future posts. And follow me on Google+ to hear about new posts as soon as they come out.


  1. Hi i'm Ralvex,

    new Xfce-4.10's package include Thunar in