This Linux thing

Volume 17, Issue 6; 15 Mar 2014

Two months in: the good and the ugly.

Our hero (you remember him, right?) felt like he'd found success, at least relatively speaking.

After a couple of months here's the ugly:

  1. No effort (there haven't been that many more) to get the NVIDIA drivers to work has proved successful. The Nouveau drivers are fine, I guess, except that VMWare barks about them and Photoshop is apprently not really happy. (Photoshop, I hear you ask? More on that in a moment.)

  2. You can run the laptop with just its built in LCD display. And you can connect it to an (actually one or more) external display(s). But you cannot disconnect it. If you do, the LCD goes all wonky and you have to press Ctrl+Alt+F1 then type your username then your password then “sudo shutdown -r now” then your password again. All completely blind.

  3. Although suspend and resume work, hibernate (suspend to disk so you can switch batteries) apparently does not. I was sure it did when I first tested it, but it has failed the last couple of times that I've tried.

  4. Running WebEx, the corporate preferred group meeting/desktop sharing environment, requires 32 bit Firefox and 32 bit Java. (FFS, could you get with the program, please, Cisco?) In theory, I think I could make this work with a chroot jail, but I haven't been successful. I have installed the 32 bit versions of Firefox and Java in /usr/local/webex so that with the right environment variables, I can get it to work.

    Except Firefox insists on looking in /usr/lib/jvm/ for Java even when I've told it where to find Java. So before I start WebEx, I have to sudo mv /usr/lib/jvm /usr/lib/xxx and I have to remeber to put it back afterward.

  5. Wireless is unreliable. This is a new development. Over the last couple of weeks, Linux has disconnected from the wireless and decided that it wasn't availble anymore. No amount of poking (networking restarts, etc.) that I've done have proved useful. Rebooting fixes it, but WTF?

In fairness, there's good:

  1. It's fast. Rarely do I push it hard enough to make it swap at all. Compiles of big programs (like MarkLogic server) take a single digit number of minutes instead of tens, several tens, of minutes.

  2. It reboots really fast. Emacs remembers my editing state, Chrome remembers my browsing state. It's really not that big a deal to reboot.

  3. At the risk of repeating myself, I really like the pointing stick. I have to admit that this is mitigated slightly by the fact that I also really like two-finger scrolling on the trackpad. But that means I have to leave the trackpad enabled. And that means my palm brushing on it is a real PITA.

  4. Also repeating myself: focus follows mouse. Really. That's what $DIETY intended. Though it's a bit awkward in the Windows VM because it's not what Windows intended.

Coming back to the aforementioned Photoshop comment. I confess, I resorted to running a few applications (Outlook for work, Photoshop, Lightroom, and sometimes Evernote) in a Windows VM. That's sort of ok. I created a VM with 16GB of memory for photography and I run Lightroom and Photoshop in there. VMWare notices that I don't have hardware accelerated video (because I'm running the Nouveau drivers) and barks. Photoshop also barks. Not always, but I'm occasionally warned that one feature or another isn't available because the drivers aren't up to snuff.

I'm not sure I'd recommend what I've done. I like fiddling. (I'm “adorkable” as one of my friends likes to say.) But the wireless thing could break me. And Tim Cook did make me smile recently.

One possible course of action is to hold my nose and run Windows on the hardware, moving all of my actual work into a VM that I just run in “full screen” mode. Maybe I could live with that.

Maybe I should just get one of those MacBookPro 15”ers with the retina display.

I dunno.


I've had a fair amount of experience running Linux in a VM on top of a corporate Windows PC, and I consider it overall more successful than the other way around: corporate support won't give you grief, you can run things like WebEx without a problem, etc. I will mention two problems I've had with doing this in the past:

1) The clock running fast in the VM. I solved this one by running an RFC 868 server on the Windows side and running rdate in a cron job once a minute. You can't use NTP for this because it's not meant to cope with huge discrepancies.

2) When you suspend or hibernate Windows, the VM falls down. This may have to do with the X server on the Windows side not surviving hibernation: I never was able to diagnose it.

When I do this, I go ahead and run most GUI apps (browser, etc.) on the Windows side to minimize their overhead. I also install Cygwin (which now has a 64-bit build), as I do on all Windows systems I get my hands on. You can share your home directory between Cygwin and Windows (just make Cygwin's /home/nwalsh a symlink to /cygdrive/c/Users/nwalsh), but not between Cygwin and Linux (the .dotfiles are incompatible).

—Posted by John Cowan on 16 Mar 2014 @ 05:05 UTC #

My thinkpad does scrolling by holding the middle mouse button and using the pointing stick. Maybe yours does too? I have the trackpad disabled. I hate it.

And webex works for me with 64 bit firefox. Not sure what the issue is there.

—Posted by Erik on 17 Mar 2014 @ 07:41 UTC #

Kudos, Erik! The middle mouse button + pointing stick trick is fabulous!

And you're right, WebEx does seem to work in 64 bit Firefox! Awesome! Not sure how I came to the conclusion that it didn't; mislead by Chrome perhaps?

I hereby confer one free beer token!

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 17 Mar 2014 @ 11:14 UTC #

Norman, VirtualBox takes care of both issues 1) and 2).

—Posted by Nicholas Sushkin on 21 Mar 2014 @ 08:36 UTC #