7 Aug 2012

Taming of (open)mamba - part 1

DarkDuck (Dmitry) has his reasons for testing a Linux distro from a live CD session. However, I prefer to test the installed version of a distribution, even if it's only for a short period of time. When he informed me he was testing openmamba, I looked for some information about it. The Distrowatch page says that it "uses APT for RPM and Synaptic as its package management tools." I felt this was right up my alley, as PCLinuxOS, my chosen distro, also uses APT for RPM and Synaptic. I downloaded the same KDE4 version on DVD that DarkDuck did and installed it to a VirtualBox VM.

After booting to the live DVD session, I encountered my first problem. I received a warning I was running low on disk space on my home folder. In a live session? I have yet to understand the reason for enabling this check on optical media.

If the media is read only, you will always be "low on disk space". I elected to configure the warning.

However, after disabling the warning, I was staring at a black screen. All of the desktop had disappeared. I tried right-clicking along with some other useless maneuvers. I toggled to the first available virtual terminal and issued the reboot command. As a last resort, I could have issued an ACPI shutdown from the VirtualBox controls.

This behavior is reproducible. Allocate 512MB of RAM for the virtual machine. Once the KDE4 desktop has loaded, click the Documents folder on the desktop. In every instance since, a warning balloon has appeared above the system tray, instead. The desktop continues to function normally.

Before rebooting, I allocated 1024MB of RAM to the VM. On next reboot, I clicked the Install icon on the desktop as quickly as the desktop loaded. I did not want a repeat performance. In the first screen of the installation wizard, an data integrity check is automatically run on the medium. Although I was installing from an iso file, and not a real optical disk, I let the check run to completion. I believe this is a nice touch for those who may be forgetful or those who do not normally check their installation media. There is a button to cancel the check.

In the next configuration screen, you are asked to set the date and time on one tab, and your timezone on another tab. As soon as you click the Apply button for the settings on either tab, an authentication window for entering a password pops up. I believed it was asking for the root password, so I entered the generic "root" string as the password. This resulted in dbus error and  system policies error windows.

I believe a new user might give up here. There should be no hindrances to the installation process. If a password is needed to do the installation, it should be included in an easily available document on the desktop, or displayed on the wallpaper of the live DVD. In any case, I left the wrong date and time and timezone as is, because I could not change it, anyway. I did a quick check of openmamba's wiki and forum pages, but they are mostly in Italian.

The next configuration step is partitioning, and the documentation on the screen says that a Linux partition of at least 13922 Mbytes and a SWAP partition of at least 2010 Mbytes are required for the installation. Clicking the Edit disk partitions button brings up the Gparted window. I created a swap partition of 2GBs and the rest of the 20GB drive was given to the root filesystem. I elected to use ext3. You are then asked which partition to install openmamba to and which partition to use as the home "folder". The last question is where to write the bootloader. Then, the installation to disk begins. 7569 Mbytes were copied in 13 minutes. Last, a summary log of the installation is displayed in a window. The buttons available are Reboot, Finish or Cancel. I chose Finish and shut the VM down from the KDE menu.

After shutdown, I checked to be sure the installation disk had been ejected. It was not automatically ejected, so I disconnected it from the VM. On the first boot of the installed distro, a "Welcome to openmamba GNU/Linux!" screen is displayed. Part of the text says that the "Free/Libre/Open Source software … is distributed under the terms of the GNU GPLv3 license." I am not a lawyer and I don't know how the licensing terms apply. But, the Linux kernel is actually still under the GPLv2 license.

The next window shows the text of the GPLv3 license. You have to check the "I've read and accept the licensing terms" box in order to continue. In the next configuration window, you enter your full name, a user name, your chosen password and whether or not you want to automatically login. The first sentence of the user details states that "An user with administrator privileges will be created." This seems counterintuitive to me, because the next configuration window asks you to enter the computer's hostname, domain, workgroup and the superuser's password. Why create the first user with administrative privileges if a root account is also being used? I still don't understand the reasoning for it. The default values already populated in the configuration window are:
Hostname:  openmamba
Domain:      localdomain
Workgroup: WORKGROUP
Next, a "Configuration completed" window is displayed, and you are asked to press the Finish button. The KDE desktop appeared with a Documents folder and a Trashcan icon showing in the upper left of the desktop's wallpaper. No sooner had the systray of the panel filled than the "openmamba base network installations" configuration window appeared! Hmmm. I thought installation had completed. Evidently not. The window states that the program will be run in order to add the minimum recommended set of packages to the system. In all fairness, the window text does say that the program can be run later from the openmamba control center.

I ran the configuration program. I wanted to get this slippery snake fully configured and updated before doing any testing. The system base packages set was checked. What was odd was that there was an option to uncheck it. There was no option to uncheck the office, audio and video players, multimedia editing and production, internet communication and p2p, graphics software, games and emulation and virtualization package sets. The other optional package sets were server and development sets.

I only opted to install the system base packages. I would like to have been able to individually select what packages were being installed. Instead, a large group of predetermined package sets were being installed, without even a choice of which of these sets would be installed. After clicking the Next button, I was presented with yet another installation window. This time, it was for flash plugin, Win32 codecs, MS TrueType core fonts and Skype. All choices were optional. I opted to install the flash plugin and Win32 codecs.

Finally, the packages began installing over an internet connection from the repositories. A grand total of 6619 new packages were installed. Which begs the question, at least for me, what is on that large DVD? The packages were installed, and a popup balloon showed just above the update notifier in the system tray. "You have 7 updates". The packages selected for update were filesystem, hydrogen, postplug,  postplug-sound,  postplugxorg, setup and vlc. Well, at least "setup" was in there. Maybe this was the last of the initial setup. Finally, the updates downloaded and were installed. No more configuration or update windows were showing, so I rebooted, just for good measure.

After logging in and getting to the desktop, I decided that setting the correct date, time and timezone were in order. This was an easy task from the KDE control panel. I next had a quick look at the menu. I then changed the default wallpaper to something a little easier on my tired old eyes. The bright green just wasn't my cup of tea. The Kickoff application launcher is the default menu type. I immediately changed it to the KDE classic type because I can navigate the menu much easier using it. There were many, many packages I would not be using. In particular, nearly the entire games sections would go untouched. Because I was running in a VirtualBox VM, I wanted to get the guest additions installed next. I looked for the Synaptic package manager. Synaptic was nowhere to be found. Instead, I found the KpackageKit and the Smart Package Manager, as DarkDuck has said in the live DVD review of openmamba. I used SPM to locate and install the kernel headers. Gcc and make were already installed. After closing the package manager, I installed the guest additions from the VirtualBox window controls.

After the installation completed and I rebooted, I had full mouse integration between my host desktop and the VirtualBox window. What I did not have is my preferred non-standard screen size of 1152x864 for the guest VM. A quick edit of xorg.conf and another reboot of the guest VM, and I had the preferred screensize. I also had another warning displayed as soon as the KDE desktop was loaded. I was being asked to supply the KdeSudo password for the kactivitymanagerd -session task.

Something's wrong with my Activity selection? I had not made any changes to it. I had simply installed the VirtualBox guest additions. Nevertheless, I supplied my user password. It was rejected. I tried again. Still no dice. I next tried the root user's password. That was rejected, too, but the warning and input window disappeared. Wondering what went wrong, I decided to shut down the VM, get some coffee and try again. It was then that I noticed the VM status was showing as "Aborted" instead of "Powered Off". I started the VM again, logged in and received no warnings. I shut down the machine normally, and VirtualBox was again showing the VM had aborted. The System Tools > openmamba > System start logs section of the menu provides easy access to some system logs. I should have checked the Last reboot and Last shutdown menu entries to see if there were some clues as to what was causing the KDE activity manager daemon errors. But, I didn't. I had already decided that it would be a lot of work to trim down the excessive packages to what I actually wanted in the installation. I prefer to start with a minimal installation, then add what I want.

With that in mind, I downloaded the LXDE "light" version of the CD and rebooted the VM from the live CD.
To be continued...

This is a guest post by Darrel Johnston


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