Using the ASUS ZenBook for Fedora

I recently decided that I’d had enough of the refurbished laptop I bought four years ago. It’s big and heavy and slow and sometimes the fan doesn’t work. I wanted something more portable and powerful enough that I could smoothly scroll the web browser. After looking around for good Linux laptops, I settled on the ASUS ZenBook.

Installation

The laptop came with Windows 10 installed, but that’s not really my jam. I decided to boot off a Fedora 26 KDE live image first just to make sure everything worked before committing to installing. Desktop Linux has made a lot of progress over the years, but you never know which hardware might not be supported. As it turns out, that wasn’t a problem. WiFi, Bluetooth, webcam, speakers, etc all worked out of the box.

It’s almost disappointing in a sense. There used to be some challenge in getting things working, but now it’s just install and go. This is great overall, of course, because it means Linux is more accessible to new users and it’s less crap I have to deal with when I just want my damn computer to work. But there’s still a little bit of the nostalgia for the days when configuring X11 by hand was something you had to do.

Use

I’ve had the laptop for a little over a month now. I haven’t put it through quite the workout I’d hoped to, but I feel like I’ve used it enough to have an opinion at this point. Overall, I really like it. The main problem I have is that the trackpad has a middle-click, which is actually pretty nice except for when I accidentally use it. I’ve closed many a browser tab because I didn’t move my thumb far enough over. That’s probably something I can disable in the settings, but I’d rather learn my way around it.

The Bluetooth has been flaky transferring files to and from my phone. but audio is…well I’ve never found Bluetooth audio to be particularly great, but it works as well as anything else.

One other bit of trouble I’ve had is with my home WiFI. I bought a range extender so that I can use WiFi on the back deck and it to use the same SSID as the main router. The directions said you can do this, but it might cause problems. With this laptop, the WiFi connection becomes unusable after a short period of time. Turning off the range extender fixes it, and I’ve had no other problems on other networks, so I guess I know what I have to do.

One thing that really stood out to me is carrying it around in a backpack. This thing is light. I had a few brief moments of panic thinking I had left it behind. I’ve held lighter laptops, but this is a good weight. But don’t worry about the lightness, it still has plenty of electrons to have a good battery life.

Around the same time I bought this, I got a new MacBook Pro for work. When it comes to typing, I like the keyboard on the ZenBook way better than the new MacBook keyboards.

Recommendation

If you’re looking for a lightweight Linux laptop that can handle general development and desktop applications, the ASUS ZenBook is a great choice. Shameless commercialism: If you’re going to buy one, maybe use this here affiliate link? Or don’t. I won’t judge you.

KDE immediately returns to the login screen: one explanation

Earlier this week, I bought a new laptop. More on that once I’ve had a little more time to use it. But I wanted to share two things that I learned while setting it up. The first is straightforward: I really regret not putting effort into getting key configs (like users) into Ansible so that I didn’t have to do stuff by hands. The second requires some storytelling.

I installed Fedora 26 (KDE spin) and everything seemed good. I created accounts for my wife and me and then called it a night because I was tired. The next day, I wanted to get a little more configuration done, so I tried to log in. My password was accepted, but it immediately returned me to the login screen. So I logged in to a text console. That worked fine. I tried logging in to KDE as root. It worked. It had to be something about my account.

So I asked the trusty journal what was wrong. I saw messages like this:

Oct 05 18:04:44 holton sddm-helper[2770]: Starting: "/etc/X11/xinit/Xsession /usr/bin/startkde"
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton audit[2787]: AVC avc: denied { write } for pid=2787 comm="sddm-helper" name="bcotton" dev="dm-3" ino=5242881 scontext=system_u:system_r:xdm_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023 tcontext=unco
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton sddm-helper[2787]: Could not open stderr to "/home/bcotton/.cache/xsession-errors"
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton audit[2787]: AVC avc: denied { write } for pid=2787 comm="sddm-helper" name="bcotton" dev="dm-3" ino=5242881 scontext=system_u:system_r:xdm_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023 tcontext=unco
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton kernel: sddm-helper[2787]: segfault at 0 ip 00007fc1e8f97b1e sp 00007ffc7a29d1e0 error 4 in libc-2.25.so[7fc1e8f25000+1c7000]
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton audit[2787]: ANOM_ABEND auid=47703 uid=47703 gid=500 ses=5 subj=system_u:system_r:xdm_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023 pid=2787 comm="sddm-helper" exe="/usr/libexec/sddm-helper" sig=11 res=
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton sddm-helper[2787]: Opening the Xauthority file at "/home/bcotton/.Xauthority" failed
Oct 05 18:04:44 holton sddm-helper[2770]: pam_unix(sddm:session): session closed for user bcotton

I checked to make sure my home directory existed. It did.

I checked to make sure I could write to it. I could.

I turned off Selinux. No help.

A forum post suggested removing the sddm package and using kdm instead. It didn’t help.

I created a new user. It could log in. What was going on?

Well at one point, I noticed that when I did an ls -l on /home, my home directory showed a numeric group ID instead of a name. Ah ha! When I created the users, I used KDE’s user management GUI. It auto-created a group with a GID that matched the UID of the account. But I didn’t want that group, so I deleted it and made another group my default. But by that point, the home directory had already been created, so it was owned by the group that no longer exists.

After I changed the group ownership, it worked just fine. I should have just used the useradd command to begin with since I could have made it work the way I intended. Or I could have used a configuration management tool to do it for me. Maybe that will be my next project…

Fedora 24 upgrade

Fedora 24 was released last week, so of course I had to upgrade my machines. As has become the norm, there weren’t any serious issues, but I hit a few annoyances this time around. The first was due to packages in the RPMFusion repos not being signed. This isn’t Fedora’s fault, as RPMFusion is a completely separate project. And it was temporary: by the time I upgraded my laptop on Sunday night, the packages had all been signed.

Several packages had to be dropped by using the –allowerasing argument to dnf. Mostly these were packages installed from RPMFusion, but there were a couple of Fedora packages as well.

The biggest annoyance was that post-upgrade, I had no graphical login. I had to explicitly start the desktop manager service with:

systemctl enable kdm
systemctl start kdm

kdm had previously been enabled on both machines, but the upgrade nuked that in both cases. It looks like I’m not the only person to hit this: https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1337546

And now, my traditional meaningless torrent stats!

Here’s my seeding ratios for Fedora 23:

Flavor i686 x86_64
KDE 16.2 35.6
Security 10.3 21.1
Workstation 30.9 46.7
Server 17.5 25.0

The “ratio ratio” as I call it is a comparison of seeding ratios between the two main architectures:

Flavor x86_64:i686
KDE 2.20
Security 2.05
Workstation 1.51
Server 1.43

So what does all of this tell us? Nothing, of course. Just because someone downloads a torrent that doesn’t mean they use it. Still, if we pretend that it’s a proxy for usage, all of the seeding ratios are higher than on the last release day. That tells me that Fedora is becoming more popular (yay!). 64-bit architectures are continuing to be a larger portion of the pie, as well.

Now that I’m starting to build a record of these, I can start reporting trends with the Fedora 25 release.

Changing my text editor

The great editor wars are over. Emacs is dumb and stupid and vi is the One True Editor. Well, actually, I use vim. Or I use gVim if I’m using a desktop environment. But still, I’ve staked out my position.

Until recently. I was getting really frustrated with the Markdown highlighting in gVim. It was usually good, but sometimes it would get confused. Plus, the fact that Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+S, etc. didn’t work in a GUI was just jarring.

So I decided to give Kate a try. Kate is the “KDE Advanced Text Editor”, and since I already use KDE on my Linux machines, it seemed like a good place to start. I liked it so much that I installed on my MacBook Pro via MacPorts on a hotel WiFi connection (that was an overnight operation).

The better Markdown syntax support and word count features have made it my go-to for writing Opensource.com articles and other non-Blog-Fiasco content. I haven’t given it a try with LaTeX or DocBook yet, but I should. I still tend to use vim/gVim for code, in part because of inertia and in part because it’s often done over an SSH connection. I do like how Kate visually distinguishes between hard tabs and soft tabs when I work on Perl code, though.

Odd touchpad behavior in Fedora 22

A few days ago, the touchpad on my HP 2000 Notebook PC began acting up. It would jitter around a lot and insert phantom mouse clicks. My desktop ended up with approximately Avogadro’s number of Notes widgets. At first, I thought the touchpad was going bad. I resigned myself to a life of using a USB mouse, at least until I could buy a replacement.

As it turns out, though, it appears to be a software problem. On a whim, I opened up the KDE System Settings. When I selected “Touchpad” from the “Input Devices” menu, I saw a warning message that the saved settings did not match the current settings. Clicking “Apply” fixed…the glitch. Hopefully this helps if someone else comes across the issue. I didn’t file a bug because I don’t know what changed or how to reproduce it.

Using bookmark synchronization on Google Chrome for Linux and Mac

For a long time, I blamed the sluggish performance of the web browser on my Linux machine at home on the ancientness of the hardware.  However, when my much nicer Linux machine at work showed the same problem, I began to think maybe it was just Firefox.  I’ve been an avid Firefox user for many years, but my loyalty wavers when my browser can’t keep up with my keyboard.  Based on the advice of strangers on the Internet, I decided to give Google’s Chrome browser a try.

Chrome is still a maturing browser, but it is fast and capable.  There’s only one real drawback: bookmark synchronization.  With Firefox, I had been using Xmarks to synchronize my bookmarks, but that’s not currently available for Chrome.  In the “Early Access” builds of the Linux and Mac versions of Chrome, the bookmark sync that the Windows version has is available.  This syncs the bookmarks to your Google Docs account, which makes it rather handy.  However, synchronization is not enabled by default.  To enable it, you have to pass the –enable-sync option at launch time, which is easier said than done.  Fortunately, it’s not too terribly difficult.

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Upgrading through yum, and how I feel about KDE 4

The Fedora Project wiki says that it’s possible to update to a new release using the Yum package manager, but that it isn’t recommended.  Normally, I’d heed the advice of those wiser than me and do an upgrade from DVD media.  Unfortunately, when I set up my desktop/server at home, I didn’t think my partitions through very well, so I figured a live upgrade was my best shot at not nuking /home.  My first step was to do a full backup of everything onto an external drive.  Protip: 28GB tarballs are awful — find a better way to do your backups.

After a few deep breaths, I started following the instructions at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/YumUpgradeFaq.  The instructions are well-written, and I was able to follow them with nearly no problem.  When I got to the actual upgrade part, I got a few dependency errors, related to the redhat-artwork package.  Seriously?  Artwork is the holdup?  Well redhat-artwork refused to be anything but what was currently installed, so I figured I’d just un-install it and see what happened.  Normally, dependency hell prevents you from installing software; this time it prevented me from un-installing the package.  Well that’s just plain unacceptable.  After trying a few different combinations of packages to uninstall, I finally surrendered with `rpm -e –nodeps redhat-artwork`.  From there on out, the upgrade went smoothly.

So what’s so great about going from Fedora 7 to Fedora 9?  Well the main driving force was the fact that Fedora 7 was no longer getting new software, so if I wanted yum to automagically get Firefox 3 and Wine 1.0, then I needed a newer release.  I considered going to 8 and then to 9, but that seemed like a whole lot of extra work.  As it turns out, it didn’t really matter (although that may have helped my redhat-artwork issue, but maybe not).  Apart from that, there are two things I noticed right off the bat.  First, sudo now gives a more verbose prompt:

[1016 bcotton@boone /var/log ]$ sudo echo "wow Check out that informative prompt."
[sudo] password for bcotton:
wow Check out that informative prompt.

Have you ever been typing along and then you go to sudo and you forget what you need to do?  Now you get a friendly reminder.  It’s the little things like that, you know?

Of course, there’s also the second thing I noticed:  KDE 4.  When KDE 4 was released a few months ago, it was rather loudly touted on the internets.  I was interested to try it, but not interested enough to install it by hand, so I was initially rather excited to see KDE 4 when I logged in. The excitement didn’t last very long.  I am not a fan.

KDE 4 represents a significant change from KDE 3, including a much more eye-candyish look.  It is certainly a snazzy desktop, but the default UI settings aren’t all that great.  The default K-menu requires several more clicks to get to the application you want.  Toolbar widgets can’t be dragged into place, you have to right-click, select “Start Move of $widget”, lead it where you want it to go with the mouse, and then right-click and select “Stop Move of $widget”.  There are also fewer widgets (which will probably change as more people start using and developing for KDE 4), but it does support OS X widgets (at least the HTML ones).  It also seems to be less configurable than KDE 3.  This is apparently on purpose, since the code base isn’t as mature, so hopefully future releases will improve things.  I’m not displeased enough to switch to Gnome, but this will take some getting used to.