GNewSense at Work

Here's my older Taruinus X200 with a 4TB GNewSense install at work. The goal is to get the 4TB drive into the new X200 which has a newer version of Libreboot and can take newer kernels. I described the install and migration and my first impression of GNewSense, here. This is my first impression of a few days of GNewSense at work and a few more notes about the migration.

In a nutshell, I'm happy and the move is done. TDE works better on GNewSense than it did on Wheezy. Not running Tracker has made everything snappier. I'm getting my work done as I always have. Where some applications have gone away, alternatives serve the purpose. Software freedom makes everything easier. I like GNewSense's greater commitment to software freedom and I trust them to make better decisions than Debian has.

I found out that I have to be careful about closing the lid to make my laptop go to sleep with a big, bulging hard drive under the keyboard. The laptop bezel makes contact with a few keys and depresses the escape key, "\". If I fool around opening it, or don't let it sleep before fully snapping the lid, I'll find a long line of "\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" in a waiting text box. If I'm careful, that does not happen. My little brother told me that seeing that keyboard bulge hurt him inside. He worried that the keys would wreck the screen. That is not happening, but his obsession with proper placement of things was correct in this small way. To get a 4TB drive without spending way too much money on a SSD, I have to fidget with my lid.

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First day at work for GNewSense

Because I've moved most of my organization to TDE, and because GNewSense is basically Debian Wheezy, the move was not traumatic but it was harder than I thought it would be. I was a surprised by how much I depended on bookmarks and shortcuts in Konqueror and Dolphin. I forgot to copy my printer configuration and this was perhaps the greatest pain. Digging through CUPS lists to find the one free software driver that works for my printer in the haystack of drivers that depend on some proprietary HP junk for ever so slightly different models demonstrates the malice of software owners more than it does some kind of free market abundance of printers or software to drive them.

Mostly, things worked and I was up and running right away. I had all of my PIM working from simple file transfers. My email was all here, my work related records, manuals, etc., were immediately available. I got an error message about the transfer between 3.5 and 14 not being complete. I lost one email password and had to point the address book to a vcf directory and then everything was there. This was a lot easier than "kaboom," the official KDE 3.5 to KDE 4 migration.

TDE actually works better on GNewSense than Wheezy. If I had not been using Lenny and KDE 3.5 stuff for scanning over the last few weeks, I might say that I was just seeing improvement between TDE 3.5 and TDE version 14. Functionality that had slowly gone away in Squeeze was back in TDE on GNewSense. Device state notices in Konqueror happened without manual refresh, as did file and directory changes. Those were welcome changes that made up some for losing the KDE4 versions of Konqueror and Dolphin.

The only real pain in my migration came from Microsoft networking and printers. Software can be difficult but software owners can make some things impossible.

Browsing Microsoft Network Shares with TDE and Gnome

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TDE Konqueror does SMB browsing well enough.SMB browsing eats a lot of CPU

Samba browsing was the first pain point, and Gnome's Nautilus file manager came to the rescue. Because Varian is terminally dependent on Microsoft, and my all time favorite administrator was fired, networking at work is stuck in a mid 90's stone age. I liked TDE's smb network presentation and will be building shortcuts with it, but it eats a lot of CPU. I was able to browse the Microsoft network and move files around at a cost of 25% CPU utilization. The process only died with a "killall konqueror" command. Nautilus handled the network issues better, and worked well with Konqueror.

I'm not sure that I've ever used Gnome tools to browse a Microsoft network before. I've always used ftp, OpenSSH, and web servers to share files, and outside of work places I don't know anyone who uses Samba. The kind of places that generally use Microsoft networking also force people to use Windows on their desks and forbid attachment of anything else to their network. My work here at UOSPC is the first place I can remember that both allowed me to access Samba and SMB machines that had files I had any interest in browsing. I used KDE tools the whole time and would keep using TDE if it had worked. I also have to admit that the way Gnome file managers work has always turned me off.

So, I'm happy to report that Nautilus did the job well enough. I was able to make a few bookmarks to the places I need to visit. If I can figure out how to nest bookmarks, I can say that Nautilus is almost a replacement for Konqueoror. I used Dolphin in a similar way and Nautilus will take it's place.

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Browse NetworkGnome view of Windows networks

The both TDE and Gnome view Windows networks is superior to Microsoft's own view. Windows hides machines that are not part of the user's "Domain." While I see "MCC" and "W8667DOMAIN" in both TDE and Gnome, Windows hides the other domain from me and overwhelms me with a list of 21 other computers. Windows does show me more printers and scanners, but it's also hiding many of those too. CUPS, discussed below, finds more of them than Microsoft wants me to know about.

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I like "Remember Forever"I like Gnome's Icons

Gnome's "Remember Forever" option was a welcome surprise. Dolphin and KDE seemed to forget my Microsoft username and passwords. Not having to type passwords all day is one of the blessings of free software. Microsoft loves to make people do this, perhaps to collect unrelated passwords typed by accident. It's evil and design. Typical Windows users soon type their passwords into any old box and click through anything just to make their computers work.

Gnome's presentation and organization of SMB shares is straight forward. Nautilus tells me that I've got the shares "mounted," though they don't show up in disk free. I was able to bookmark a few directories that I consider important.

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One of the locations I needMounted Samba shares

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Adding a bookmarkThe added bookmarks

As usual, I was able to drag and drop files from Nautilus to TDE's Konqueror. This kind of drag and drop has always worked between Gnome and KDE applications. It's good to see it still working. KDE's Move, Copy, Link, or cancel has also been nice forever. I do not like file managers that take a default action without asking.

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Drag and drop from Nautilus to Konqueror

Printing, Never Fun to Set Up

The next pain point was HP printing. I forgot to copy my CUPS config and found myself doing the point and click of printer set up. The big color, postscript printer was easy and this brought back pleasant memories. The little printer I have to use all day was a royal pain. Debian and GNewSense display all the printers you might use if only you would beg HP and suck down some non free software. This brought back days of prior frustration and hatred.

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Wow, look at all the printers CUPS found. Awesome, I'm on top of the world.

Having made my printer work in the past did not immediately end my suffering. I knew the driver was there but not where I should expect it to be, so I wasted some time looking for it. As I remembered how difficult it had been to find before, I took a few screenshots and gave up.

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This printer was easy.This printer was a pain, again.

GNewSense should simplify the task by hiding the drivers are not fully functional out of the box with free software. Finding the one driver that does not require non free software is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I don't know how to make the browser search text boxes like this and plowing through the list by hand is dreadful. The list is at least three times as long as it needs to be for someone who's not interested in doing HP's monkey dance. This is one place removing non free software reconsecrations would be immediately useful.

It was easier to give up. I printed on the easy, postscript printer all day and spent five minutes making and unpacking tar files the next day. All my old printers were there after I copied out my old CUPS config files, /etc/cups/ and /etc/cupshelper/, and restarted CUPS. I could have spent half a day looking through the lists.

Being able to copy config files and have things work is just one way a device that works with free software is easier than non free software monkey dances are. With non free software, you are stuck with a specific version of software. That makes upgrading and migration a painful choice of what things you want to surrender to gain the benefits of what you would otherwise be free to do. Eventually, the software owner forces you buy another piece of hardware. It's easier to take the hardware back to the store right away until you find something that just works.

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