Saturday, December 10, 2011

My openSUSE 12 Journal - 5: Desktop Bits & Bytes

This is week 3 of using 12.1 and still lovin' it.  This journal entry covers a few disparate topics, from wifi to graphics cards, as I go about my daily routine in the office (stuff I actually get paid doing) with openSUSE 12.1 on my Lenovo Thinkpad.

Can't locate your hidden Wifi access point?
Here is a neat command (as root) that you can execute to help NetworkManager connect to a hidden wireless access point OR when NetworkManager is unable to detect your desired wireless point fast enough in a wifi-saturated environment.

iwlist wlan0 scanning essid MyWifi

where wlan0 is usually your default wifi device, if you are unsure, execute ip add to verify.
MyWifi is the name of your desired/hidden wireless access point.  For ease of use, you could wrap this into a nice little script.

LibreOffice fonts doesn't look quite right?
After using Writer, Calc and Impress for a few days, I finally figured out why the documents doesn't look quite right on screen.  Working in a team, I had to look at my colleagues' screen where (Yep, you guessed it) they are using the ubiquitous MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

To install MS fonts so that LibreOffice documents looks closer to those on my colleagues' screen, execute the following (as root):

zypper in fetchmsttfonts

Once it completes, simply close and re-open all your documents and you will notice the difference.

Need to access applications hosted with Citrix?
Does your job require access to some application that is so "top-secret and highly-sensitive" that management feels safer having it hosted on a secure server and all you get is remote-access via a viewport of sorts from your laptop/PC?  A typical solution vendor is Citrix.  The remote access viewport is the Citrix Receiver (previously known as the ICA Client).

As my American friends would say, "Your Mileage May Vary" or YMMV, but the latest and greatest Citrix Receiver v12 did not work for me.  It installed alright but when I used it to connect to the host, it just died.  Googled and found a bugzilla entry that matches exactly what I experienced HERE... and no, the recommended workaround documented did not work for me... it still died but it died quietly instead. LOL!

Thankfully, Citrix Receiver (ICA Client) v11 worked for me, click this link to download - ICAClient version 11. It does require OpenMotif v2.3.1 but that's easily resolved using zypper.

zypper in ICAClient-11.100-1.i386.rpm

Just in case, should you need to manually install the required OpenMotif packages, they are openmotif-libs and openmotif-libs-32bit (if you're on 64-bit openSUSE 12.1).

[Update on 12 Dec 2011]: Today, Citrix 11 died (segfaults) on me.  Must have been an online update that affected the gcc libs.  Out of desperation, I uninstalled 11 and installed the latest Citrix Receiver 12 and it worked!  So, if you have a vanilla 12.1, use Citrix 11.  If you have updated your 12.1 with the latest patches, as of 12 Dec 2011, you can safely use Citrix 12.  Click HERE to download Citrix Receiver v12 for Linux.

Video driver madness with Nvidia Optimus
Nvidia Optimus adoption is gaining momentum and we find these energy-saving hybrid graphics cards in many of the newer Laptop models, including my Thinkpad W520.  Unfortunately, Nvidia's proprietary Linux drivers does not work with their Optimus technology:

"Some designs incorporating supported GPUs may not be compatible with the NVIDIA Linux driver: in particular, notebook and all-in-one desktop designs with switchable (hybrid) or Optimus graphics will not work if means to disable the integrated graphics in hardware are not available." - taken from their website where you usually download their proprietary Linux drivers.

Unofficially, there are a few projects that aims to bring Optimus capabilities to Linux.  My opinion is they are not quite ready, no seamless switching and too much work for an average lazy user like me.

On my Thinkpad W520, you can adjust the Optimus settings in the BIOS.  It is set to Optimus by default and the other two options are Discrete and Integrated.  In Optimus mode, the graphics card has both an Integrated Intel and Nvidia VGA interface.  In Discrete mode, you get the full power of Nvidia graphics.  In Integrated mode, you only get the Intel graphics (still capable of 3D but not as sophisticated as Discrete mode).

The deal breaker is when you need to video out to a projector or an external monitor.  Only the Nvidia card can do that and not the Integrated Intel graphics.  On Linux, without a true Optimus seamless switching driver like those on Windows, you have to set Discrete mode in the BIOS.  The implication is battery life is now only 2 hours (moderate use).

In Linux, to figure out which mode you are in, simply execute: lspci | grep VGA

If you see 2 entries (Intel and Nvidia), you are in Optimus mode.  If you only see Integrated Intel or Nvidia as a single entry, you are in Integrated and Discrete mode respectively.

On 11.4, irregardless of using the default open source drivers (i915 & nouveau) or the Nvidia proprietary drivers, I could not find an acceptable configuration and it is a constant thorn in my side.  In the end, I set it to Optimus mode (in BIOS) and used the open source drivers with 3D Desktop Effect turned OFF.  Yuck.

On 12.1, things are alot better and it is probably down to newer versions of Xorg and the open source drivers (i915 & nouveau).  After some experimentation with the three different modes, open and proprietary drivers, the optimal setting is Integrated mode (Optimus is a close second choice) with the open source drivers.  I get the full 3D Desktop Effect, nice smooth accurate graphics rendering in both KDE4 and Gnome3.

I have found the Nvidia proprietary drivers to be "heavy" these days but it is just a feeling through usage.  I do not have any numbers to substantiate it.

From this experience, I learnt it is so important to get your desktop graphics right or you will feel very handicapped and unproductive.  If you want to avoid all these challenges and, at the same time, send a message to Nvidia, vote with your feet (ie money) and NOT purchase any Laptops with Nvidia Optimus technology... at least until they develop a driver for Linux.  Instead, stick with Intel graphics card (unless you are an avid 3D gamer) because Intel is open source friendly and that means most Linux distributions will just work and do not require additional graphics-related configuration on your part.

Suspend/Resume/Shutdown faster than your cow-orkers' Win Laptops
Finally, something fun as we delight in the little things in life.  Smile! Your Thinkpad will boot up, shutdown, suspend (Fn+F7) and resume alot quicker than your colleagues' machines.  After a full day at work, challenge your colleagues to shutdown their machines at the same time and see who is first out of the office.  :D

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