Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Tagged / Debian

  • Aug 25 / 2014
  • 5

The Magic Of USB Flash Drives

Soon I will go to a meeting where I might have to install Debian GNU/Linux without an Internet connection. To do the job, I made up a USB drive with everything I will need:

To test out this rig, I created a virtual machine and booted it from the USB drive. The default installation was routine, hardly different from any other. When I booted the minimal system, though, the repository in the CD would not work for me and debpartial-mirror didn’t have Debian’s signing keys… so I just used dpkg to install what I wanted.

The local repository I created on the USB drive had all the .deb’s on a single level so dpkg -i debian/pool/*/*/*/*.deb got everything there. It worked very well except that it thought three packages were broken. One was a discrepancy between versions on the CD and in the repository. Another was irrelevant because the package wasn’t likely to be used. One was a missing package. We missed one. Then I started up the GUI and saw this, in all its glory:

So, it’s not exactly like XP. It’s configurable and it fit in 4.3gB on the virtual hard drive. ;-) This is a lightweight setup which should give new life to an old notebook sagging under Vista.

One problem was that I had left out gksu to run synaptic, so I had to download the packages to put in a directory on the USB drive. If I want to offer remote support, I can get openssh-server off the CD. I can mount the CD on a local directory to get at the .deb’s there: mount whatever.iso some_dir/ -o loop,ro.

The entire configuration for debpartial-mirror?
cat /etc/debpartial-mirror.conf
;; debpartial-mirror configuration file.

;; Show debug information?
;debug = DEBUG
;; Mirror destination directory
mirror_dir = /home/pogson/debpartial-mirror/
;; Which architectures should I download?
architectures = i386
;; What should I look for, by default?
components = main
distributions = wheezy
;; What should I get?
get_suggests = true
get_recommends = true
get_provides = true
get_sources = false
get_packages = true
;; Here is our first backend. It mirrors a subset of packages from the
;; Debian official repositories.
;; Where do we get the packages from?
server =
;; Since we specify components and distributions in this section, what we
;; specify here overrides the settings in [DEFAULT].
components = main contrib non-free
distributions = wheezy
;; Only get a subset of the packages in this source.
filter = name:xorg|xfce4|wifi-radar|wicd|iceweasel|libreoffice-writer|libreoffice-calc|gnumeric|vlc|gimp|xfce4-weather-plugin|lightdm|xfwm4|xserver-xorg-|xpdf|ristretto|aptitude|synaptic|gufw|xfburn|net-tools|glib-networking-services|python-numpy|gnome-icon-theme|dconf-service|liblapack3|gksu|openssh-server
;;resolve_deps_using = wheezy
;; And get the source packages as well for this backend.
get_sources = false

Yes, gksu, and openssh-server are in there. I must have messed up my versions as I converged on a solution…(I do need a secretary but can’t afford to pay one)… debpartial-mirror is wonderful because a short list like that pulls in the dependencies too. I can concentrate on what the user needs rather than ~1000 details.

Anyway, Debian GNU/Linux is a powerful operating system with powerful tools to use whether on or off the web and with or without a CD-drive. M$, eat your heart out.

UPDATE At the meeting, the lady had not brought her laptop but we did exchange e-mail address for follow-up. She often travels near my neighbourhood. Interestingly, another participant of the meeting, an active teacher, reported that her school’s secretary uses GNU/Linux on her desktop. Amazing. Usually school secretaries are the most difficult to convert because they have a huge inventory of documents and don’t want to risk upsetting the flow of information.

I even found there is at least one person in that town who does GNU/Linux but he does not provide training, just setup and networking support, exactly the backup we might need. I can provide training if e-mail is working.

UPDATE I redid the filter for debpartial-mirror to include the things I missed before and flashplugin-nonfree too.
"/media/usb1/debian/pool# ls */*/*/*.deb|grep "gksu\|ssh\|flash"
All in all there are 1050 packages drawn in. Not bad for a few minutes of my time and 25 minutes downloading automatically with dependencies. Great. It makes for a speedy installation of a very usable system.

"filter = name:xorg|xfce4|wifi-radar|wicd|iceweasel|libreoffice-writer|libreoffice-calc|gnumeric|vlc|gimp|xfce4-weather-plugin|lightdm|xfwm4|xserver-xorg-|xpdf|ristretto|aptitude|synaptic|gufw|xfburn|net-tools|glib-networking-services|python-numpy|gnome-icon-theme|dconf-service|liblapack3|gksu|openssh-server|flashplugin-nonfree"

I hope she drops by so I can try this out “in the wild” so to speak. I have no idea what hardware she has except it’s a notebook with Vista and running at a snail’s pace…

  • Jul 31 / 2014
  • 24

The Remarkable Rise Of Android/Linux, The Distro of 2014

While Debian, Ubuntu and other GNU/Linux distros jockey for a meagre few percent of page-views according to StatCounter, Android/Linux has a dramatic ramp upward. There are many causes of this but chief among them are a low cost licence, $0. You can’t beat that. M$ is now trying but is years too late to market and it’s not a good business-plan for them. Google, on the other hand, wins every time someone gets online with a Free OS. Probably second to price is the fact that anyone who knows Java programming can develop software for Android. That’s a huge plus as Android/Linux can run new and old applications causing a huge ramp up in available apps. Put these features on small cheap computers and they sell just about everywhere.

See StatCounter, India – legacy PCs, tablet PC and smartphones.

  • Jul 24 / 2014
  • 8

Choosing Debian GNU/Linux

Here’s a guy who like me chose Debian GNU/Linux. His tastes are a little different but he gets what he needs because Debian is reliable and diverse.“all the hardware and related software updating works insanely well, even better than at first, which wasn’t bad at all anyway with a minimal amount of research. Easier and far less time (and bandwidth) consuming than Windows with its constant reboot, check for more updates, reboot again, ad infinitum thing, not to mention having to update all the non-native software separately in a piecemeal manner. With Debian (or any Linux really) I can leave the machine running for months, and do, with no issues at all, updating all throughout that uptime. Maybe I’ll reboot for a kernel update just to see if the video driver thing’s been mildly futzed, but as I said, even that’s not been happening for months and months now. It’s rock solid stable and reliable.” It appears that Ubuntu GNU/Linux is more popular but that’s a result of Canonical actually having salesmen and major OEMs helping distribute their product. If Debian had such salesmen, it would not be a clone of Ubuntu GNU/Linux but quite a different fish.

For me, APT, the Advanced Packaging Tool, their “release when ready” approach, and their huge repository are the key features that make Debian GNU/Linux so attractive. I can get almost any PC to do my bidding with it. I too, usually start with a minimal installation, not even one box checked from the installer programme. I then add what I want in a computer system: X, XFCE4, my favourite applications and my favourite servers and databases. That turns any PC with a bit of RAM and CPU into a miniature version of the Internet with powerful nodes and great web applications. I use the browser for most things except polishing stuff for presentations. Debian GNU/Linux works for me.

See the other guy’s view at Two Years With Debian GNU/Linux – An Average Guy's Verdict.

  • Jul 21 / 2014
  • 9
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools In Geneva Switching To GNU/Linux

“All primary and secondary public schools in the Swiss Canton of Geneva are switching to using Ubuntu GNU/Linux for the PCs used by teachers and students. The switch has been completed by all of the 170 primary public schools, and the migration of the canton’s 20 secondary schools is planned for the next school year. Ubuntu GNU/Linux offers powerful services to the teachers, is easier to maintain, faster, safer and more stable than the decade-old proprietary operating system it is replacing, the canton’s school IT department concludes, based on several four-year long pilots.” These guys took four years studying the matter and it will only take two years to switch their schools to GNU/Linux. It shows the Munich decade was some sort of aberration in terms of time taken to switch. The difference is the number of applications locked in to that other OS. Munich had hundreds. Geneva has only one or two. LibreOffice takes care of one…

Anyway, I think the migration in Geneva is remarkable because the Swiss are thorough. If they could be convinced in just four years, most of the rest of us should be convinced in a matter of hours. Get on with it folks. Take a look at Debian GNU/Linux and see what you’ve been missing: the freedom to use the hardware you own to its maximum capability, freedom from malware and freedom from paying about twice what IT should really cost you. In schools where I used GNU/Linux we easily had twice as much IT for the same cost and the cost of maintaining the larger system was less than the cost of maintaining the smaller system running that other OS. Freedom from the EULA of M$ which enslaves you rather than enabling you is the killer however. With FLOSS and GNU/Linux you can run, examine, modify and distribute the software to your heart’s content. Go with it. Seize the opportunity.

SeeGeneva class-rooms switching to free software | Joinup.

  • Jul 16 / 2014
  • 4

Broken? My Debian GNU/Linux Desktop Is Not Broken

“I didn’t realise just how broken the F/OSS desktop is. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the file manager replacing type-ahead find with a search but (to seemlessly switch metaphor) it turns out I’d been cut a thousand times already. I’m not just on the other side of the fence, I’m several fields away.” This is a strange comment coming from a Debian Developer. I use Debian GNU/Linux for my desktop and it’s not broken. Typeahead works for me but then I use XFCE4 desktop and the Thunar file-manager. So, why is this guy saying he’s going to MacOS because GNOME doesn’t work for him? Wouldn’t it be easier to switch to XFCE4 than to switch to MacOS (having to buy a new machine and all)? Well, he writes that he already had a Mac for work. I guess he didn’t need to buy one but it’s still silly that a Debian Developer feels he needs to stick with GNOME. There are a bunch of desktop environments in Debian GNU/Linux.
task-desktop - Debian desktop environment
task-gnome-desktop - GNOME desktop environment
task-kde-desktop - KDE desktop environment
task-lxde-desktop - LXDE desktop environment
task-telugu-desktop - Telugu desktop
task-telugu-gnome-desktop - Telugu GNOME desktop environment
task-telugu-kde-desktop - Telugu KDE desktop environment
task-xfce-desktop - Xfce desktop environment

The Debian desktop is not broken just because the GNOME desktop is broken. Further, if I need/want to search for stuff, I have a bunch of ways of doing that in Debian. I love to search for data with Swish-e or Recoll and I like to know exactly where to find an icon for my favourite applications.

See jmtd → log → Mac.

See also Bug 680118 – Triggering directory search by type-ahead breaks keyboard navigation

  • May 12 / 2014
  • 3

Chuckle. Debian Won’t Freeze Jessie Until November 5

OMG! I’ve been using Debian Testing for months and it’s near perfect for what I do. Still, Debian announced, “We are happy to announce that we will freeze Jessie at 23:59 UTC on the 5th of November 2014.” Amazing. They are down to a couple hundred known bugs and they have six months to go before freezing the package-lists. Surely Goodness and Mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. Isn’t it great that Debian releases when the product is ready rather than worrying about catching some wave in the market or beating a competitor? I’ll take solid software over marketing-hype any day. Thank you, Debian.

See Bits from the Release Team (Jessie freeze info).

  • Apr 25 / 2014
  • 99

GNU/Linux Gives Real Savings In Education

I chuckle when I recall M$ claimed GNU/Linux cost more and when mud-slingers commented here that GNU/Linux would be too hard for teachers/students to use or that GNU/Linux lacked necessary applications.“Switching to Ubuntu has let the school tick many items off its list. It allows it to stay within its IT budget. They are no longer forced to buy licences for proprietary office suites or operating systems, and no longer have to study price lists for other proprietary solutions. The Linux PCs are perfectly compatible with the two common proprietary computer systems. The school PCs are very easy to maintain, all applications are up to date and all PCs run the same versions of software solutions. Moreover the flexibility of the free software licences allows the school to install PCs whenever they want, for example when they receive a hardware donation from the local administration.” Just ask schools that use GNU/Linux joyfully, freed from the EULA, malware, re-re-reboots, top-down IT people and whittling down the budget for IT and other things to afford more IT…

I worked in schools for many years and was able to gain much more IT for fewer dollars and a lot less effort than using that other OS and some people’s favourite applications. GNU/Linux works, LibreOffice works, GIMP works, Audacity works, etc. FLOSS works for education.

Consider a school librarian wanting a cluster of PCs for customers. Typically, the concept would be raised in a staff meeting or annual plan and have to percolate upwards through the chain of command where no budget for the request exists. That means either fundraising or “next year” in the budget. What is lost by teachers and students traipsing around the community raising a few $thousand for PCs? What is lost by shifting limited funds from salaries or other supplies to PCs? It’s all a disruption from the desired goal of preparing students for the future.

Send a memo home asking for donated PCs or acquire castoff PCs from businesses on the Wintel treadmill and skip the EULA by re-imaging with Debian GNU/Linux and the problem is solved in a few days from concept to execution. A few $dollars scraped from petty cash for cabling/power/switches is the entire budget. I’ve often been in schools where the necessary bits were just laying around unused, because some cluster was shut down or equipment died. I travelled for years in the North carrying a thousand feet of CAT-5 around because the government ordered a lab not up to specs be shut down. The cables were just dumped out back. I went out with a knife to fix the Gordian Knot. I bought my own crimping tool and RJ-45 plugs. A side-effect is that I was able to teach students how to do this at no extra cost to my employers. Using FLOSS does have synergies with hardware. Any school can get better performance out of 8 year old PCs used as thin clients using a few good machines as terminal servers. No CALs. No server licences. No special hardware. GNU/Linux is that flexible.

See Swiss school invests open source savings in education.

  • Apr 11 / 2014
  • 0

GNU/Linux For Everyone

The New York Times is at it again, suggesting GNU/Linux as a worthwhile alternative to M$ and Apple’s stuff.“Linux did revolutionize computing. If you own an Android phone or a Kindle e-reader, you are a Linux user. Linux is at the core of those popular devices and is found in a variety of other places, from the world’s most powerful supercomputers down to the tiny Raspberry Pi device that is a favorite among electronics hobbyists.” Good for them. They are helping their 2 million readers escape slavery.

This is a great day. Even my marigold seedlings broke into bloom, ready to face the bright future.

See The Many Alternative Computing Worlds of Linux.

  • Apr 08 / 2014
  • 25

OEMs Aren’t Going To Replace XP With GNU/Linux. Real People Have To Do That

The death of XP is an opportunity for GNU/Linux but only on the huge installed base. Folks who have XP gasping its last breath on a PC or organizations with a whole department“Unfortunately, while Linux does represent a lifeline for Windows XP users, I suspect it will be one that is not taken. The simple reality is that many of those users who are still with Windows XP simply just don’t know enough to care. Yes, I know there are lots of XP machines running cash machines that banks do care about, but there are also many machines sitting in libraries, schools and homes around the world where people simply don’t know any better.
The challenge for Linux is the same as it always has been. Linux desktop vendors need to more aggressively push the message of Linux as widely as is necessary. Linux can provide a freely available, safe option for Windows XP users, but only if the choice is clearly explained and promoted.”
running XP on desktops have to make the choice to install GNU/Linux or to convert those old PCs to GNU/Linux thin clients.
The severely locked in and the ignorant will keep XP until it can no longer work for them and replace their machines with what OEMs/retailers offer. The opportunity lies with those millions of still-good machines that can browse the web, play some multi-media or check the e-mail. There, millions will have cheap desktop PCs or people will recycle the machines using GNU/Linux to make them purr. The OEMs can’t help GNU/Linux do that. There’s no money in shipping a PC back to China just to change the OS… There is lots of money to be made “fixing” PCs by installing a proper current and supported OS like Debian GNU/Linux. Go for it.

See Death of Window XP Is a Golden Opportunity for Linux.

  • Mar 19 / 2014
  • 0

Debian Installer Jessie Alpha 1 release

Debian announces the first “alpha” release of the installer for their next release. “The Debian Installer team is pleased to announce the first alpha release of the installer for Debian 8 "Jessie".”It’s wonderful to have some good news in this week of rumours of war and missing airliners. It worked for me. Just 15 minutes from download to a working system and there was only one tiny error message with a checkbox offering to let me ignore it… ;-)

See Debian Installer Jessie Alpha 1 release.

  • Mar 07 / 2014
  • 9

If Beast Died Tomorrow, Chromebook 2 Could Be Its Replacement

Beast is fine. It’s old, but still kicking. It boots. It edits. It searches. It networks. Beast’s CPU is way over-sized for what I do and I do a lot. 99% of the time it idles. Every few weeks I open it up to full throttle to build the next Linux-3.10.x kernel, but what’s the rush? If it took twice or thrice as long I would still be happy.“The Samsung Chromebook 2 Series offers users nearly instant access to everything they need. It wakes up in less than one second and cold boots in less than ten. Samsung’s energy-efficient Exynos 5 Octa processors allow for effortless multitasking and rapid rendering of graphics and videos, so multimedia content never misses a beat.” The Chromebook 2 is so much smaller, has so much longer battery-life (Beast only has a CMOS battery…), and is portable. I could hook a USB keyboard and mouse up to it and get an HDMI monitor going. In fact, we already have 3 but they are called TVs for some reason. There’s plenty of RAM for Beast’s 200 processes and I can add USB storage galore, meaning I can ditch the big box that has travelled thousands of miles in Canada’s North and barely survived (the sides no longer fit…). I don’t use CDs or floppies any longer. I don’t need that box. Heck, I could even use a wireless keyboard/mouse and sit in an easy chair…

So, if Beast dies, I would be perfectly happy with a machine like this. Check out the specs:

Category Details 11.6-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 13.3-inch Samsung Chromebook 2
Display Size 11.6″ 13.3″
Resolution HD LED Display (1366×768) Full HD LED Display (1920×1080)
Performance OS Google Chrome Google Chrome
Processor Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (1.9Ghz, 2MB L2 Cache) Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (2.1Ghz, 2MB L2 Cache)
Memory 4 gB DDR3L 1600Mhz 4 gB DDR3L 1600Mhz
Storage 16 gB Flash Drive 16 gB Flash Drive
Camera 720p HD Web Camera 720p HD Web Camera
Battery Life Battery Life Up to 8h Up to 8.5h
Dimensions Dimensions 11.40″ x 8.06″ x 0.66″ 12.72″ x 8.80″ x 0.65″
Weight 2.43 pounds 3.09 pounds
Jet Black, Classic White Luminous Titan Gray
Ports Ports 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, MicroSD Multi-media Card Reader, Headphone out/Mic-in Combo, DC-in 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, MicroSD Multi-media Card Reader, Headphone out/Mic-in Combo, DC-in
Availability MSRP $319.99 $399.99
Availability Date April 2014 April 2014

See Samsung U.S. News.

  • Mar 03 / 2014
  • 5

Debian’s Next Release Takes Shape

According to Debian, the release-critical bug count of their testing distribution is now better than the Wheezy relase I now use… Is it time to apt-get dist-upgrade? I’ve already done that a couple of times in a virtual machine with no problems. It will likely work for me in a real machine.

See Release-critical bugs status.

UPDATE I did it. I upgraded to Jessie. There were a few messages on the screen but I didn’t even write them down. The system is running smoothly and I’ve checked all my usual applications. Now to see if it will reboot. It should. I installed a Debian kernel just in case the one I have been building is somehow incompatible with Jessie.


Well, that was interesting. The Debian kernel did not boot but the one I built locally did… I’ve also found that the XFCE4 weather plugin is not working. Nope. It just needed reminding where I live. It’s prettier than ever. How about those temperatures? It surely beats the 20 degrees lower than normal that we’ve been having. I’ll take it.

Oops! On the server side I had lots of breakage. PHP was missing entirely… Several web applications don’t work or had data missing. I have backups…