Posted by: duskfire | October 5, 2013

elementary OS 0.2

Elementary OS is a fairly new distribution, still a distance from version 1.0. It is a lightweight distro intended to use few resources, and is based on the Ubuntu 12.04 LTS distribution.

This is my review of elementary OS 0.2, the 32-bit edition. I installed it on my main laptop, a Gateway M460 with 2 GB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, and an very old integrated video card.


elementary comes as a 662 MB .iso file, the install takes around 15 minutes and asks the usual questions. If you entered a wireless password it gets carried over to post-installation, a feature I wish every installer included.

One drawback, however, is that this version of Ubiquity (the Ubuntu installer) is an older one, and does not include support for disk encryption or Logical Volume Management, so if either of those is important to you, this is not the distribution for you.


Although it is based upon Ubuntu’s Precise Pangolin, elementary OS has some customized apps. “Scratch”, the installed text editor, seems pretty good once you get used to the fact that the default behavior is to save-on-close rather than let you save at any point. This can be changed in the preferences section.


elementary uses a couple of UI features that remind me of early Unity – the close button is on the left hand side of windows, there is no “minimize” button, and the overlay scroll bar is used in many windows (which can be removed if it annoys you). The desktop environment is called Pantheon, and is custom built using GNOME 3 technology. Ubuntu doesn’t really encourage or support the use of Unity in other distros, so this is typical. The top panel (Wingpanel) reminds me strongly of GNOME 3, but with a light look to it. It’s quite good. Right-clicking on the main desktop is disabled.

Adding an app to the dock isn’t difficult; right-clicking on an open app will let you select “Keep in Dock”. Right clicking any dock item will allow you to uncheck the “Keep in Dock” if you don’t want it there anymore.

elementary uses the “super key+s” combination to let you add another virtual desktop to your current set. Just as with GNOME, these virtual desktops are created as needed rather than using a preset group of 2 or 4. “Super+a” will display all open windows in the current desktop. (The “super” key is the one with the Windows or Linux penguin icon on it)

There is a System Settings tool for you to change wallpaper, add drivers or a printer, and most other preference related functions.

Changing settings is done here

Changing settings is done here


elementary is one of the minimalist distributions, only installing 17 applications plus the hplip printing wizard. The list can be found under “Default Applications” on this webpage, as part of their Technical Specifications.  Adding new software is easy with the Software Manager from Ubuntu that is included:

the Ubuntu Software Manager used in elementary

the Ubuntu Software Manager used in elementary

The music player (“Noise”) seemed to play a CD fine, although no information about the CD was listed, I’m not sure why. Totem, the movie player, lacks the 3rd party codecs to play regular movies, but I am guessing that it would play .ogg files easily.

Playing a live album by Thursday.

Playing a live album by Thursday.


No games are installed by default. The repositories are for Ubuntu 12.04 so most games that are available can be installed – just keep in mind that they are likely to not be the most current versions (for instance, Crawl is version 0.9, not 0.11).

Help and Support

Elementary doesn’t have a dedicated forum yet, but some answers can be found in the support section here. In addition to a Q & A section, a fairly decent user guide discusses “Migration”, “Learning the Basics”, and other topics.


- elementary includes a Guest session by default.

- the custom look and feel is quite pleasant and the wallpaper choices are very nice.


- The control panel seems sparse, and things such as disabling the touchpad were impossible or extremely difficult to find.

- The choice of Midori as the main browser means that for Flash to work properly, a second browser will have to be installed.

- help and support options could be improved.

Final Thoughts

Your enjoyment of elementary will primarily depend on whether or not you prefer to build your system up with your own choice of applications. The minimalist ethos is likely to frustrate people who wish to have all the best Linux programs ready to go immediately after installation. I don’t plan to use elementary as a day-to-day operating system for this reason. But in the time I’ve used this distribution, it seems quite steady on its feet. I will definitely check back with elementary in the future to see how it improves.

Posted by: duskfire | September 16, 2013

a first look at Bodhi Linux

Bodhi Linux describes itself as “If you are the kind of person that likes to make your own choices, this might be the distribution for you”. It is based upon the latest LTS release from Ubuntu (12.04), while using the Enlightment window manager instead of a more full featured desktop environment such as GNOME or Xfce. The website cites two ideals: Minimalism and User Choice. This is my review of Bodhi Linux 2.4.0, the 32bit edition.

I am using a Gateway M460 laptop with 2 GB of RAM and a 40 GB hard drive and an integrated video card from Intel.


The installer is the same as Ubuntu’s (for obvious reasons) and provided a clear, trouble-free installation. It took less than 15 minutes to complete the installation. There are a couple of extra questions, where you choose from 7 configurations and 5 themes.

my desktop after installation

my desktop after installation

Going from left to right, the top “shelf” provides the menu button, then the wireless indicator, the cpu usage, the 2 virtual pagers (which you can add to), the volume control, the battery/power indicator, the clock, and finally the power off button. In this setup, there’s a bottom shelf that hides until you hover over the center area. Then it pops up to provide you with launch buttons. At the start, only the Midori browser is here, however just as with Xfce, you can add any number of additional launchers.


This is a very minimalist distribution – little is installed at first, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your expectations. It gives you much more control over what you have installed on your computer, but then you must remember that convenience items such as a print wizard aren’t installed right away. In addition, the only folder created in your home directory is “desktop”. If you want separate folders for documents or downloads or pictures you must create new ones yourself. Java, mp3 and Flash support, and a way to play DVDs are all not supported out of the box.

Bodhi gives you the following applications from the install:

Accessories: an archive manager, and Leafpad (a text editor)

Preferences: the eCcess system tool, a login configurator, the network connections tool, and the Synaptic graphical package manager

Internet: the Midori browser (both regular and “private” versions)

Software Tools: the eDeb package installer, the Enlightenment file manager, and a terminal (Terminology)

There are a number of user settings available from the main menu, 14 categories in total.

I should also note that I needed to add my WiFi SSID manually both during the install and the live session when I was checking it out. Bodhi doesn’t intially include a way to see what WiFi networks are within reach, although I was happy that I didn’t need to add any extra firmware in order to have wireless capability.

Obviously, learning the ins and outs of the Enlightenment window manager is the key to getting the most out of Bodhi Linux. Although it uses few resources, it’s apparently very powerful and in the short time I used this distribution I barely got the sense of all you can do with it.


Bodhi Linux installs no games by default, but since it’s based on Ubuntu’s Precise Pangolin you should be able to get most of your gaming needs supplied easily. There’s no Software Manager, but you can of course search in Synaptic, or even add the getdeb extra repositories. Just keep in mind that you aren’t always getting the most recent versions.

I don’t know how well Bodhi supports dedicated video cards from Nvidia and AMD.

Other Software

Terminology seems to be a decent console app, with a bit of bling on the cursor. eDeb, like GDebi, allows you to install .deb packages obtained from outside the system. The Screenshot program available from the main menu is a basic one, with no opportunity to only choose a window or delay the screenshot by a few seconds.

In addition to using Synaptic to install more applications, Bodhi also has an AppCenter web page, an alternative source to install many common programs. Take a particular look at the first two “bundles”, Nikhila and Pratibha, which will install a number of your more desired programs at one go (including Flash and mp3 support.)

The repositories should supply you with the tools and programs for viewing DVDs and listening to CDs, if you so desire.

Help and Tips

Bodhi does come with an illustrated Quick Start guide that is the home page for Midori when you first start up. In addition, the forums for Bodhi Linux should be your first stop when seeking help, or you can browse the wiki.


- Bodhi uses an established base with Ubuntu’s LTS releases. You should be able to get many answers via the Ubuntu forums in addition to Bodhi’s own.

- This also means that you really only have to re-install it every two years.

- the Quick Start guide is up to date and quite useful.


- there’s no printing capability installed by default that I can see. Even for a minimal distro that’s surprising.

- some defaults that Enlightenment uses are difficult to get used to, and trying to find where to change them is not clear. (Ex: when you close a window, the cursor moves around to center on the next window thus exposed)

- Some of the entries under “preferences” seemed better suited for “system tools” ( the eCcess tool for users, groups, and time/date, and the Synaptic package manager)

Final Thoughts

I think that Bodhi Linux will appeal to you under two conditions: (1) You prefer starting from a very small base set of programs and deciding exactly what’s installed, and (2) You enjoy using the Enlightenment window manager.

Unfortunately, for me neither of these seems to be true. If I want to start small, I probably would prefer to use Arch Linux, because at least I will learn a lot about the underlying system in the process of adding the programs I intend to use.

Bodhi certainly has its fans, and they have legitimate reasons for preferring it. But I don’t expect to use it on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t recommend it to people who aren’t sure that it’s what they will want. I could actually envision it being used in a small business environment, though – the LTS base provides stability, while the minimal install would let the system administrator control exactly what applications employees are given to use. This is one of the few distributions where it would be fairly simple to set up such an environment.

Version 3 of Bodhi Linux should come out soon after April of 2014, when Ubuntu’s next LTS version will be released.

Posted by: duskfire | September 2, 2013

Peppermint OS Four

Recently I acquired another old Gateway laptop, an M460 model from 7 years ago that was using Windws XP. I was able to upgrade the RAM to 2 GB, and decided that it would be just right to try out the latest version of Peppermint OS, a lightweight version of Linux that I like a lot. Here is my review of Peppermint Four, 32-bit version.

This laptop has a 40 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM (originally came with 512 MB), a Pentium processor, and has an Intel integrated graphics card.


As it was with Peppermint Two last year, installation went smoothly and took less than half an hour. Peppermint is based mostly upon Lubuntu and uses the Ubuntu installer as far as I’m aware. There is an option in the beginning to install updates, and you can also choose to install restricted files such as support for mp3s and Flash. I chose to do so, but declined to install updates until the entire process was done. Java is not installed by default in Peppermint OS.

Luckily for me, the M460 BIOS fully supports booting from a USB thumb drive, so there was no need to chainload GRUB in order to install Linux on this laptop. The useful utility UNetbootin allows you to make a bootable thumb drive in 4 easy steps.

Peppermint uses the Ubuntu 13.04 repositories, so you will always be kept up to date.

the default desktop, showing the menu

the default desktop, showing the menu


Peppermint OS is heavily cloud-focused, so although you have a decent selection of applications, many assume that you have internet access. Here’s the full list of main apps:

Accessories: the archive manager, calculator, character map, disk visualizer, file manager (PCManFM), file search, screenshot, the LXTerminal, and the Gedit text editor

Games:   Chess, Entanglement, Mah Jong, Solitaire, Tetris (first person). All are online web-based versions.

Graphics:  Evince pdf viewer, Pixler (online image editor), an image viewer, and Simple Scan

Internet: Bittorrent cliet, Chromium web browser, a Dropbox link, the Ice utility, Xchat client, the Peppermint online user guide, and the forums for Peppermint OS.

Office:  Evince pdf viewer, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive. If you are signed into Google on Chromium, the Google apps will also be logged in when you run them.

Sound and Video:  Gnome MPlayer (for media), the Guayadeque music player, and a sound mixer.

Playing an EP from the band Thursday

Playing an EP from the band Thursday

System Tools:  package installer, ibus, printer wizard, software manager, software updater, Synaptic package manager, task manager, time and date settings, and User/Group settings.

Preferences: over 15 different areas in which you can set up and customize your workspace appearance and keyboard.

Although the initial selection of software seems sparse, it all works well and the <700 MB size means that you don’t need to burn a DVD or have a large USB thumb drive. Additional software can of course be installed as desired via the repositories. Unlike some lightweight distributions, Peppermint installs Chromium (the open source version of Google Chrome) instead of the Midori web browser. This is because of the main killer feature that is exclusive to Peppermint – their “Ice” technology that allows you to make dedicated menu items, called Site Specific Browsers. You can install web-based games, your Facebook or Twitter web page, or any other website you care to use. These are separate from the main Chromium browser and stay signed in if you want.

I haven’t heard of Guayadeque before, but this nice little music player includes intergration, lyric lookup, and the Shoutcast radio listings.

New in this release of Peppermint OS are two other features: the use of the mintInstall Software Manager (includes ratings for applications) and within it, a small set of software bundles (found in the “Featured” section of the Software Manager). These are packs of related programs for such activities as programming/packaging, kids edutainment, photography tools, office, and networking. I hope that Peppermint will be able to add more such packs, since only 6 are currently available.

Gaming is easy of course. All the games and emulators found in Ubuntu 13.04 are here as well. If you have a laptop suited for it, the Linux version of Steam will work here.

My wireless printer was detected but the correct driver was not installed at first. Once I added the “hplip” additional software for HP printers (22 files, 39 MB space), I had no problems adding it and did not have to choose the correct one from a list.


According to the Release Notes, Peppermint uses the mintInstall Software Manager (including reviews), and the Xfwm4 window manager rather than Openbox as it did in the past. There’s a very minimal selection of wallpaper, but you can easily add more.

Things I liked

- Peppermint Four adds five games to the menu, so you can have fun immediately after installing it.

- The issue I had in version Two with the outdated flash plugin no longer occurs.

- The virtual desktop switcher is visible on the taskbar this time, unlike in Peppermint Two. You start off with 2 desktops by default.

- The website for PeppermintOS features a User’s Guide that I recommend you read over.

- Unlike Ubuntu, Peppermint includes the Synaptic package manager in the menu in addition to the Software Manager from Linux Mint.

Things I didn’t like

- The only things I found frustrating were due to the limited optons in LXDE, not to Peppermint itself. Customizing the menu by adding or removing things manually takes some research to learn, and configuring the clock on the taskbar could be a bit confusing for someone not used to it.

- I don’t like the default wallpaper this time around.

Final thoughts

Once again I can highly recommend this distribution of Linux. I still don’t own a netbook, but the specs on this laptop are pretty close to one, and Peppermint OS just works fine. I’ve encountered no bugs at all. Being based on a solid distribution like Ubuntu and focused on the more light weight applications, it will serve you well.

If LXDE isn’t a desktop you are happy with, you can always install one of the other ones available – Xfce would also work well on a lightweight system, and you can choose GNOME or KDE if you have more RAM available.

Posted by: duskfire | August 3, 2013

Compiling Nethack 4

Nethack is a classic dungeon crawler (specifically in the “rogue-like” genre of games). You choose from one of 14 character types, each with different starting equipment and abilities, and work your way through a harsh dungeon fighting off monsters, keeping your pet(s) fed and friendly, and bargaining with shopkeepers, in search of better armor, weapons, and special equipment so that you can eventually obtain the Amulet of Yendor in the bottom levels, work your way back to the top, and offer it up to your deity (and so win the game).  If you die, you don’t get to reload – you must start from the beginning, with all the dungeon levels created anew.

It’s been ten years since the official version has had a new release, and several fans have created new variants to make the game still fun and different for players. Nethack4 is one such variant, which seeks to stick very close to the original gameplay, but adds built-in play over a network and many improvements in interface to lessen the more aggravating elements of the game.

Samurai are one of the easier classes...

A Samurai is one of the easier classes…

[EDIT, 9/20/13: the compiling instructions below are obsolete. Nethack4 no longer uses cmake to build, it only uses aimake. Check the README for current build instructions once you have unzipped the latest source archive.]

Getting Nethack 4 compiled so it runs on Linux is extremely simple, and you should definitely do it if you are a Nethack aficionado and have a machine that runs Linux. At the present time, Nethack 4 can only be played in one of two ways – (1) on their public server, or (2) by compiling the source code on Linux for local play. No Windows version exists, and so far attempts to compile on Windows have not met with success.

I’m running Crunchbang Linux 11 using Debian testing/Jessie sources. Ubuntu and Mint Linux users should find the files below listed in their repos. If you run Fedora, openSUSE, Arch, or some other distro, you’ll need to find the equivalent files in your repository.

Step 1: install the following files if they aren’t on your system already.

- cmake and cmake-data

- libjansson4

- libncursesw5

- postgresql-server-all (also pulls in 4 dependencies)

- build-essential

(the FAQ for Nethack 4 mentions AIMake as an alternative to cmake, but it’s still in beta and I recommend cmake at this time)

Step 1.5 if “flex” and “bison are not installed on your system at this point, install them as well.

Step 2: Navigate to the Github repository page for Nethack4 and download the “nicehack” file on the right hand side. It’s directly under “Source tree” and says “Download nicehack as tar.gz”.

Step 3: in a terminal, cd to the location you downloaded it to and execute the following command: tar xvfz nicehack

Step 4: cd into the newly created directory.

Step 5:  Execute the following commands for a regular installation (from the Nethack4 FAQ):

- mkdir build

- cd build

- cmake ..

- make

- make install (using sudo for root powers; installs into $HOME/nethack4 if you didn’t edit the target paths)

and you’re done!

(EDIT 8/12/13:  I discovered that the above will set the score list (the “record” file) to root owner with no write permission for anyone else. Go into the /nethack4/nethack4-data/ directory and change the permissions for the file, otherwise your scores for play will not be kept at all.)

When running the game, I recommend that you open the terminal up to maximum size beforehand.

Some other advantages of Nethack4 over vanilla Nethack are -

1. If you have no number pad the game lets you use arrow keys for regular up/down/right/left movement in addition to hjkl.

2. You have the option to view your previous games move by move

Died after bashing down a shopkeeper's door.

Died after bashing down a shopkeeper’s door.

3. Easy to configure options for play that persist between games.


4. Your inventory is shown at all times.

5. Death by typos are reduced – this version asks to confirm if you are attempting to eat tainted food, poisonous food, or when already satiated, for instance.

6. Options menu allows you to rebind keys to different commands.

7. There is auto-explore, and you can #annotate levels.

Posted by: duskfire | May 27, 2013

Still using Crunchbang

I haven’t put up a post in awhile so here’s what’s new:

I still am using my old Gateway machine with Crunchbang, although since Waldorf is the current stable version of Crunchbang, I’m using mostly Debian Testing (Jessie), which is eventually going to become the new Crunchbang 12 codenamed Janice.

Crunchbang uses Muppet names for their releases based on the first letter of the equivalent Debian release codename. Thus Debian Squeeze was Statler, Wheezy is Waldorf, and Jessie will become Janice (the lead guitarist of the Muppet band “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem”.)

This practice of using codenames is widespread in Linux – Linux Mint’s upcoming 15th release is named Olivia, Ubuntu Linux has Quantal Quetzal, and Fedora’s most recent was named Spherical Cow – just to name a few.

I have been taking a 9 week course on Interactive Python via the Coursera online teaching site. The course is one from Rice University and the professors are really good. It is pretty compressed, though and there are days when I wish the projects had a few more days before the deadline hits. But it’s a lot of fun, and challenging.

I’ll probably end up installing Pygame and a few other related files onto this laptop so I can continue my Python learning and practice after ths course ends.

For games, I have set up Angband, Brogue, DoomRL, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (with tiles), Freeciv, Freecol, Frogatto (which you can buy on the iPhone and I recommend!), Solitaire, Mahjongg Solitaire, Nethack, and Pingus (a Lemmings clone using penguins). I also have emulators for Sega Genesis, NES, SNES, and the Gameboy Advance, with several games for each. I haven’t gotten around to installing a Nintendo 64 emulator just yet.

I also use DOSBox to play a few games from the 90s – currently I have installed Darklands, Master of Magic, Master of Orion, Might and Magic 1, Sword of Aragon, and Sword of the Samurai.

I’m not really sure just how soon I will be able to get a new laptop, but at least I’m not missing out on anything – I have the LibreOffice suite to write with, all those games, and many other applications for programming and graphics. All my video and music streaming has been no problem. I gotta say, this Gateway machine has lasted far longer than I ever expected it to when I originally stopped using it in 2009!

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