Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Enabling the brcm80211 driver in Fedora 15

[Update: As pointed out by Dean Brettle and, subsequently, by AM in the comments, rpmfusion added the kmod-staging package. The steps below may be useful if I ever need to compile a single module again.]

The driver for the wireless on the Lenovo S10-3 is included in the staging directory of the kernel. Fedora 15, unfortunately, did not enable it and wl.kmod or brcm80211.kmod were not available from rpmfusion repository either.

So, the best option was to download the source and enable it. The instructions to download the source of the kernel and prepare the source tree were available at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Docs/CustomKernel. The kernel source was now in the rpmbuild/BUILD/kernel-2.6.38.fc15/ directory.

The following steps helped to build only the desired module
  1. Modify the .config file to include
  2. Make sure that the following details in Makefile are as per the running kernel, e.g.
    VERSION = 2
    SUBLEVEL = 38
    EXTRAVERSION = .6-27.fc15.x86_64
  3. Run the command
    $ make drivers/staging/brcm80211
    This step prompted me to enable the additional option -
  4. $ make M=drivers/staging/brcm80211/
  5. $ sudo make modules_install M=drivers/staging/brcm80211/
  6. Looking at the OpenSuse's /lib/firmware/brcm, I created two softlinks:
    $ sudo ln -s bcm43xx-0-610-809-0.fw bcm43xx-0.fw
    $ sudo ln -s bcm43xx_hdr-0-610-809-0.fw bcm43xx_hdr-0.fw
  7. Add the driver:
    $ sudo modprobe brcm80211
The wifi card was now recognised and working. It took just a few minutes instead of hours for compiling the full kernel - even if it took a few days to understand and reach this point!


  • If step 2 was not done, modprobe failed to load brcm80211 - invalid module format. The log reported a more meaningful problem - version magic mismatch and the driver was unloaded.

  • If step 6 was not done, the driver was loaded but the log reported an error that failed to find firmware /lib/firmware/brcm/bcm43xx-0.fw.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fedora 15 Upgrade - NetworkManager and rsyslog need to be enabled

The NetworkManager and rsyslog services were failing to start after the upgrade of the systems from Fedora 14. The workaround was working so well that I did not get around to looking into the issue till today.

A quick search for the error:
Unit dbus-org.freedesktop.NetworkManager.service failed to load: 
No such file or directory.
The solution appeared to be that I needed to enable the service:
$sudo systemctl enable NetworkManager.service
It created symlinks in /etc/systemd/system and /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/ folders.

Since this was likely to be the solution, I also tried
$sudo systemctl enable rsyslog.service
This also created a symlink in /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/.

I removed the workaround script in /etc/rc.local. As expected, the system worked fine.

If I come across any more services which fail to start at boot time, e.g. nfs, I know what to try first.

I am, though, still curious - why is the ethernet device still eth0!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

LibreOffice Page Style - Not a bug, works as intended :(

I had used page styles several years ago in OpenOffice. I must have followed a tutorial because I do not remember having a miserable time of it.

Yesterday, I decided to rely on what seemed obvious. Since the obvious did not work, I thought that LibreOffice had  introduced a bug. This is what I thought was obviously buggy:

  • Take a document with more than 3 pages. Insert a manual break (Ctrl+Enter) before the last page.
  • First try: Go to the last page, use "Styles and Formatting", select Page Styles and apply Landscape style. ALL pages in the document now had Landscape style. Not what I intended.
  • Second try: Go to last but one page. Choose Format -> Page option. Change the Next Style to Landscape. Now the first page remains Default but all the other pages are Landscape! Also, not what I intended.
Next, I searched for bugs on Page Style and then for tutorials on Page Style for OpenOffice.

The solution was simple. One has to use Insert -> Manual Break (and not Ctrl+Enter). This gives an option to specify the page style to be chosen for the next page. An explanation of how to use page styles for self-publishing may be seen here.

So far this is the only case where OpenOffice/LibreOffice GUI has left me thoroughly confused and very dissatisfied.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Will my 82 year old mom be able to handle Gnome 3?

As I had been expecting, Arch Linux update now includes Gnome 3. I updated my Lenovo netbook first and tried Gnome 3 though I am normally using KDE Plasma Netbook profile.

My initial reaction was, "Oh, no! I will no longer be able to keep my mom's computer current." There was no way that I could get my 82 year old mom to use the empty screen. My experiment with a rolling distribution was about to end.

On Arch Linux, the classic Gnome display was shown - nearly blank panels and no desktop. It was easy to fix the classic Gnome issue as I needed to install gnome-shell.

Now, I had a blank desktop with the Activities action only. There was no way I could inflict the mouse movements needed to get an app to run on my mother. Had the favourites been always visible as in Ubuntu's Unity display, I may have considered that option.

I would have to use the Gnome classic display for her. I should be able to get her accustomed to two panels. For many years, her desktop is configured to use only one panel at the bottom. An alternate option would be configure KDE plasma to look like her current environment. My mother's needs are very simple and few. She uses Thunderbird for email, Rhythmbox for playing music and AisleRiot to play Freecell. Occasionally, she may use Firefox, OpenOffice or Image Viewer if somene has sent a link or an attachment. (In the case of attachments, she now often needs our help.)

It is unfortunate that I needed to use gnome-tweak-tool to get the file manager to manage the desktop. Given the controversy KDE4 developers had faced, I would have expected that this option would have been enabled by default.

Suddenly, Gnome 3 looked much closer to the familiar environment.

The classic Gnome did not seem to have a 'favorites' dock. A little playing around led to the discovery that I could drag a menu item to either panel. Now, the desktop is far closer to the familiar. I can add a script to shutdown the system so that she is not confused by the status menu or, even the alternate status menu.

So, in principle, I can continue with the experiment. But I will save the current setup in a partition so that I can fall back to it in case my expectations are belied.

I still have to consider whether to stick to Gnome or switch. LXDE may be the best option if I can customise the theme for large fonts, high contrast which are needed for my mother to be able to read emails with greater ease. But in all my efforts, I have to make sure that I do not frustrate her.

It is going to be a tough call!  Drop the experiment and stick to what works or take a chance with one of the three options. Which one? Decision taking is hard :(

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gnome 3 - Where's the Desktop?

The initial reaction to Gnome 3 is understandably negative. It does not look anything like what we were using. Getting started is not easy.

The major shock is the empty desktop - no icons. My wife had organized her desktop the way it suited her. So, she was at a complete loss. For a moment, I panicked and was contemplating reinstalling Fedora 14. However, a little search led to the existence of gnome-tweak-tool. It has an option to let the desktop be managed by the file manager. It would have been much better to enable it by default if the desktop was upgraded from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3. The shock of change would be far less.

The next issue was the missing favorite applications which had been saved on the panel. This was a minor issue. A new favorites list was recreated with a little effort. It was a relief to see that the icon sizes decreased as more favorites were added.

One disappointment is that the favorites list should be visible all the time on a large screen. One first has to move the mouse to the upper left corner or click on Activities to get the list. It may be hidden only on a smaller screen device like on a netbook, where the screen real-estate is precious. The latter approach is followed by the Unity interface on Ubuntu 11.04.

The minimize option was missed by my wife and so was the absence of the applications on the task bar. She found switching between applications much harder.

However, she is willing to live with the system and I do not have to revert to Fedora 14!

The presence of Suspend option on the desktop(which does not work on my hardware) and the absence of Shutdown option from the desktop is somewhat irritating. I have not yet had a chance to explore if these options can be customized.

Upgrading the Desktop to Fedora 15 Beta

I decided to take the risk of updating the desktop to Fedora 15 beta after trying it on the Lenovo netbook. My wife uses Gnome desktop so the risk of upgrading was very high!

I was keen to see how delta-rpms work across distribution versions. So, after installing the fedora release rpm for Fedora 15, instead of upgrading the system, I upgraded only rpm and yum packages. The dependencies resulted in upgrading of about 60 packages, some of which surprised me. Had I followed the instructions in http://lists.fedoraproject.org/pipermail/test/2011-February/097009.html and installed xz-compat-libs first, it would have reduced the number of packages affected.

The next step was to upgrade the entire system. I copied the cached rpm's from the netbook to save some download effort. Even then 1.5GB of additional downloads were needed. However, this time the delta rpm packages could be successfully used. This resulted in 94% saving on half a GB of downloads. I wish delta-rpms were available for the remaining 1GB of packages!

Aside from having to uninstall some packages, the upgrade was smooth.

As I had experienced on the netbook, the network was not working. For reasons not yet identified by me, systemd fails to start rsyslog and NetworkManager at boot time. A simple workaround was to explicitly add the following lines to /etc/rc.local
/etc/init.d/rsyslog start
/etc/init.d/NetworkManager start
The system was now usable, even by my wife, subject to the Gnome 3 concerns.