www.malak.ca is hosted by myself on an old desktop computer in my bedroom, using my home internet connection. The general specs are:
Dell Vostro 420 Series (64bits) — BIOS date of October 24, 2008
Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Quad CPU @ 2.66GHz (with hyperthreading), with a clock speed of 333MHz; L1d cache 128KiB (4 instances); L1i cache 128KiB (4 instances); L2 cache 6MiB
8GB (4 x 2GB) memory, clock speed 800MHz
HD: 240GB SSD (OS and blog)
External USB hard drive: 1TB (static website data and other stuff)
Currently, it is running Fedora Linux version 37 Workstation Edition. Using the Server Edition for such a small, home-grown vanity project seemed unnecessary given a comfort level with the Workstation Edition and, since at its core, the two editions are subsets of the same OS. Ultimately, missing packages from one edition compared to the other are a “dnf install” command away. (As for a longer-term distro, I have always been a Red Hat user, so Debian or an Ubuntu LTS release aren’t interesting to me, while the new community respins of RHEL have neither captured my imagination, nor do they hold sufficient appeal anymore on a technical level.) Hence, I started from the Edition with which I and my brother (the technical heavy-lifter) are familiar, which allows for the (admittedly rare) use of a GUI as needed.
The filesystems are with ext4 on the boot partition of the SSD, as well as on the external USB hard drive; I use ext4 because I’m used to it, but can’t truly say I know, or can recommend, one filesystem from or over the next. UPDATE: I checked the filesystems and … the boot partition is ext4, and the SSD’s data portion seems to have defaulted to BTRFS; there you go, proof I don’t know much about the differences between various filesystems and their comparative advantages and disadvantages. 🙂
But to wit, since hosting www.malak.ca myself, it has always been on my home internet service, a DSL line with a (now-)paltry 6.05MBit-ish down and, what, 0.67MBit-ish up capacity, which for reasons beyond the scope of this post had not been upgraded for (best I can remember) over 20 years.
Time marching on and the increase of devices in the household meant that while still minimally usable and just functional, the internet connection regularly became inadequate for daily use, and barely usable for things like weekly simultaneous videoconferences (and with slightly-more-than-tacit rules of “no other internet usage during said weekly dual videoconferences” and the like.) The slow internet access, especially the slow uplink, affected a blogging project started in late 2020 showing pictures of the preparation of my recipes from my collection by limiting photo sizes not only as a good idea for reasons of netiquette, page layout and formatting, but as an outright necessity given the limited upload capacity (thank you WordPress for lazy-loading!)
Well, last week we finally upgraded the internet package to cable with 120MBit down and 20MBit up. Interestingly, we had had a cable modem for a few years in the late 1990’s until it became quite unusable and made a switch to DSL; as a side note, a box, some equipment inside it, and some cable wiring from that period were still attached to the outside of the house, not having been removed at the time, and were still compatible and usable when we got the install last week.
As such, www.malak.ca now has decent upload speeds!
This is a quick note (mostly to myself) to say that the computer hosting www.malak.ca — the website hosting this blog — has been switched out and replaced.
Last night, I was able to access the site normally and remotely while out to dinner at the home of some friends. This morning, in trying to ssh into the machine to do a routine manual software update, the connection kept timing out and disconnecting. Some quick diagnostics along the lines of “is the machine plugged in?” and a few reboots to watch was what happening — about as much as it would allow me to do, in fact — revealed that for reasons unknown, it was rebooting, going through a grub page, booting up, showing the Fedora logo, and, after the logo disappeared but before the login prompt appeared, a bios message came on the screen indicating a signal loss, and a reboot would begin again.
I tried a few past kernels in the grub menu, including the rescue kernel, and checking the bios, to no avail. Bringing up the text display of what was going on during the bootup was hard to access since I was scratching my head wondering “What’s the keystroke to do that again?”; same for getting the console. No matter, other things needed attending to in the moment, and I moved on.
Fortunately, my brother-in-the-know was coming within the hour, and I sent him some messages about it. He offered to bring an old junk-computer-which-wasn’t-quite-junk-yet I had given to him a while back and which he wasn’t using, at least not yet. After describing the problem to him and offering my rough diagnosis — either there was a corruption somewhere in the software, causing the reboots, or, during the reboots software commands invoke a (presumably faulty due to old age) physical hardware system or circuit, which caused a problem leading to the reboots — both of which, particularly the latter, he thought may have had merit.
My brother brought the old machine. Before installing anything, he first checked the OS SSD from the server (which also contains this blog’s database) in a USB caddy, then he checked the external data drive holding the rest of the static website and my backups, again by USB. Data on both units were in good condition. We finally went straight to replacing the machine by transferring the SSD and external drive to the new old machine, and here I am typing up this memo to myself.
The machine’s specs?
Dell Vostro 420 series; 8.0 GiB; Intel Core2 Quad Q9400 x 4; Mesa Intel G45/G43 (ELK) video card, with lots of USB ports, a networking card, and other things many people including myself take for granted.
And since the 240.1 GB SSD is the drive from the previous machine, it is still running the same instance of Fedora and the LAMP stack with WordPress, suffice it to say that I’m up to Fedora Linux 37 (Workstation Edition) 64-bit on it, and running up to date LAMP and WordPress software.
In fact, as I am finishing up this post, the machine is being updated!
This post is a translation of and (somewhat of an) adaptation, as well as slight update, of a presentation I gave in November, 2021, at a meeting of my local Linux Meetup. This adaptation includes some extra limited mockups of demonstrations performed live during the presentation.
The presentation was put together using Fedora Workstation (a general purpose version of Linux, in this case specializing in being a desktop workstation), highlighting some software either installed by default, or available in the Fedora Linux and rpmfusion software repositories (“App Stores”). It is therefore not intended to be a complete exposé on all available open source / free software options for PDF, even under Fedora Linux, let alone GNU / Linux in general, or other systems.
It should be noted that the presentation’s original target audience was a French-speaking group of Linux enthusiasts, Linux professionals, and other IT enthusiasts and professionals familiar with Linux. Most of the listed software would typically be available in standard or easily accessible Linux software repositories (“App Stores”). Beyond the world of GNU / Linux, free software is generally available for use on other systems, and, barring instances of a specific given package offered with paid warranty support, are usually also free of charge to download, install, and use.
In the case of the software highlighted in this post, all are either free-of-charge, or represent the free-of-charge version.
The Value of a PDF File
Context / Situation:
Take the case of the exchange of a document between two computers — such as between one running Linux, and another running Windows (or vice-versa) — and each computer is endowed with a different office suite, such as LibreOffice (cross-platform) on one, and Microsoft Office (Windows / Mac) on the other. (Of course, other possibilities exist, such as Calligra Suite (cross-platform), Pages / Numbers / Keynote / etc. (Mac), Corel Wordperfect, Google Docs, etc.)
LibreOffice, and in days gone by, OpenOffice.org, have long been touted as being “compatible” with MS Office; this purported compatibility, however, is disappointingly nowhere near as good as I and many others would like to believe.
As such, each user will open the shared document, which will be displayed according to each suite’s interpretation of the file, and may find that the actual displayed content on their screen could be different — sometimes substantially so — from the intended original display of the document. Text lines may be cut off; fonts may not be available on one or more of the systems, causing font substitution; font sizes may be changed, or text size may be different while substituting a different font due to the lack of the specified font; certain symbols may not be available on some systems; table effects may not work, or objects inserted into tables may not function or be displayed as expected, such as the insertion of a spreadsheet.
Unfortunately, I would estimate that said disappointing lack of “complete and perfect” “drop-in replacement” compatibility is a very common experience in comparing many well-known pieces of proprietary software and their open-source counterparts — not just LibreOffice and MS Office. Personally, as a Linux user, I have experienced this lack of complete compatibility a number of times since beginning to use OpenOffice.org in 2005 and Linux in 2006. Since then, I have also seen the incompatibility in action on a number of occasions during varying presentations under completely unrelated circumstances in which the presentation files were produced in one suite, and attempts made to show them in another were met with varying degrees of disappointment, sometimes leading to complete failure.
The following four images are jpeg images of the pages of the PDF document linked to above, and which I created in LibreOffice Presentation. It should be noted that, for the sake of argument, the pages could have been created in another format, such as a word processor, a spreadsheet program, or a drawing program, for instance.
Page 1 — Song lyrics to be displayed for a Karaoke Night
Page 2 — Expenses list for a Luncheon
Page 3 — TV Listings
Page 4 — Flea Market Poster
The above document — represented here in jpeg format directly produced from a PDF of the document — was originally prepared in LibreOffice Presentation, and therefore correctly represented the original document.
However, the following four images are jpeg images of the pages of the PDF document I created in Microsoft PowerPoint (you will need a PDF viewer) into which I imported the original LibreOffice Presentation, in order to demonstrate the relative lack of compatibility between, at least in this case, LibreOffice Presentation and Microsoft Powerpoint.
Page 1 — Song lyrics to be displayed for a Karaoke Night
Changes: Text fonts and font sizes, causing text to be cut off the page
Page 2 — Expenses list for a Luncheon
Changes: Text fonts, and improper translation of symbols
Page 3 — TV Listings
Changes: text fonts, font sizes, and lack of background colours in the various cells
Page 4 — Flea Market Poster
Changes: Text fonts, font sizes, corrupted translation of spreadsheet table in the centre of the flyer
The value of a PDF:
PDF files are generally well supported across multiple platforms and software, generally regardless of platform, and will usually be displayed in a virtually identical fashion on all systems; in the case of discrepancies, they are usually inconsequential.
There exists a certain perception that, short of having Adobe Acrobat Pro (a commercial, closed source piece software), PDF files are difficult to edit and modify, allowing for a certain view that PDF files are more secure. This is a case of “security by obscurity”, since editing and modification may be performed by many pieces of software, besides but of course including Adobe Acrobat Pro.
PDF files may also benefit from a perception of being less susceptible to viruses and malware, such as through macros. Suspicious files, regardless of format, should always be checked when there is reasonable doubt, particularly under certain environments.
Be careful when using some PDF software downloaded from random websites on the internet, or websites which advertise PDF modification: The may add watermarks to the resulting file — this may be undesirable, and embarrassing, particularly if the software, website, or their output aren’t vetted prior to distributing the resulting file.
Further, websites providing PDF editing services may have very reasonable terms of service for editing your document, limiting their responsibilities toward you. By submitting a document to an external website, it may may not be able to protect personal privacy, nor be able to guarantee to not divulge commercial or industrial secrets or confidential personal information contained in the submitted document: They may become the victim of a hacking, or become the target of legal proceedings, not to mention potential dubious or unscrupulous intentions operators might have to begin with. Or, they may simply be unwilling to formally engage in such responsibilities in the absence of a paid service contract.
This article’s objectives therefore are:
Firstly, presenting the utility of PDF as a useful format for distributing documents to a wide audience, without having to concern oneself with what software individual audience members may or may not have access to, if at all, and regardless of reason(s);
Secondly, presenting safe, free software and open-source software options for using and editing of PDF files;
Thirdly, beyond the general promotion of free and open-source software and PDF editing, this article is not about promoting nor deriding particular OSes or software packages, or strictly speaking their strengths or weaknesses.
As such, if a particular system or software package suits your needs and / or purposes, you should use it.
However, if a given preferred solution is costly software, perhaps your organization (or your family) may find it to be financially worthwhile to only purchase a minimum number of licences and only install it on a minimum number of designated computers, instead of needlessly on every computer in your organization (or family).
A simple cost / benefit analysis would be worthwhile: You should consider whether you wish to pay $5, $10, $15, or more, on a recurring basis (perhaps monthly), per computer on which such software would be installed. The costs, be they one-time costs or recurring, should be considered against how often the software may be used, perhaps in some cases only once or twice monthly — perhaps overall, let alone for each individual instance, depending on your organization’s size, needs, and other considerations. Further, it should be considered what operations are typically executed, especially if they simple operations such as joining multiple PDFs, or extracting a page or two, which can be easily performed by many, using any of a multitude of software packages you can get without cost, as opposed to perhaps more technical tasks which may justify costly specialized software.
Creating PDFs from an established document
To begin with, most software which create documents will have an option in the File menu or elsewhere to Print, or Print to Document, or an Export function, which will offer PDF as a format:
At the risk of skipping ahead to the PDF splitting section below, note that it is a common option to be able to selectively output some, instead of all, pages to the resulting PDF, thereby avoiding the question of having to later split the PDF to get only the desired page(s).
Overview of PDF Software
Perhaps (or perhaps not) to the surprise of many, there are many software packages and suites which will:
Display PDF files
Combine, divide, and export PDF files, as well as reorder pages within a PDF;
Edit PDF files, such as the overall files and the file metadata, as well as the PDF file content
Import and display PDF files according to particular strengths (The Gimp, Inkscape, e-readers)
Displaying PDF files:
Here are some examples of software which will display PDF files directly:
Evince Document Viewer (Gnome Project)
Okular (KDE Project)
Firefox and Chromium (Web Browsers)
PDFSam (limited free version; there is also a commercial version with more capabilities); a version for Debian derived Linux systems is available on their website
Here is a very short list of software which will open and display PDF files and allow editing, each according to their strengths, but whose primary function is not PDF display:
LibreOffice (Office Suite)
Calligra (Office Suite)
The Gimp (Image Manipulation)
Inkscape (Vector Graphics Editor)
Evince Document Viewer
Chromium (web browser)
Software to Combine PDF files
A relatively common activity is to combine multiple PDF files into one file — such as, separately scanned pieces of paper, or PDF files produced separately, perhaps by different people.
Here are some examples of software which will combine PDF files:
PDF Mix Tool
Combining PDF files in PDFArranger
Software to Divide PDF Files / Extract Pages
Another relatively common activity is to divide a PDF File, or extract one or more pages from a PDF file.
Note that if you are the creator of the document, as shown earlier, the software you used to create the document likely allows for you to selectively export individual or multiple pages to PDF in addition to exporting the entire document.
Here are some examples of software which will divide PDF files / extract pages:
PDF Mix Tool
LibreOffice — allows to print and / or export one or more pages
Calligra Suite — allows to print and / or export one or more pages
The Gimp — allows to print and / or export one or more pages
Splitting a PDF File with PDFMod
Here are some examples of software which will edit PDF files to varying degrees:
LibreOffice permits the possibility of creating a hybrid PDF and .odt / .ods file (word processor or spreadsheet files), which will allow for the PDF to be more easily edited by any suite that is able to edit .odt and .ods files; create a document with LibreOffice, and in creating a PDF, choose Export — General — PDF Hybrid (incorporating .odt / .ods file)
In my personal experience, PDF editing — and ease of doing so — can vary wildly according to what one wishes to do, as well as wildly according to the nature of the source PDF. I have had excellent experiences editing a PDF created from a CAD software drawing (presumably created using commercial CAD software such as AutoCAD), and whose individual elements could be manipulated in LibreOffice Draw. I have also used LibreOffice Draw to insert text zones, arrows, and scanned signatures into PDFs. Conversely, documents composed primarily of scanned images — including text and forms — may require more image manipulation skills to edit, modify, and manipulate individual and specific elements of the document, depending on your objectives.
What you can do will also be dictated by which software package you choose and its strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, it should be noted that the phrase “Editing a PDF” can be a nebulous thing which can mean many and different things to many and different people. For instance, actually editing document text directly in the PDF may be what one understands and expects, while the strengths of a given piece of software may lay elsewhere.
LibreOffice has some PDF import functions, as well as imperfect document layout functions. Depending on the source PDF document, it can be quite effective at editing text directly.
Note from the closed-source world: I once had an excellent experience with a moderately-difficult-to-edit PDF using Microsoft Word, which included being able to edit the text — and presumably save in MS Word’s native file format.
Importing and editing a PDF in LibreOffice Draw (note the imperfect import):
In the case of my example PDF, LibreOffice Draw allows for some direct editing of the text (Notice the word “MODIFIÉ” with a brick-red text colour replacing some of the text):
Importing and editing a PDF in Scribus, a desktop publishing programme:
The Gimp can insert text zones into a PDF, and which text zones themselves may be edited within The Gimp; however, its strengths lie in dealing with a PDF as an image, and editing image characteristics, while editing the text as one might in a word processor might be more challenging.
Importing a PDF file into The Gimp, image manipulation software:
Adding a text zone to a PDF in The Gimp:
Exporting Text, Cut & Paste, and .odt File Creating
Depending on the source PDF and its nature, “cut & paste” may work (as opposed to not working at all), and may even “work well”, although this may be wildly variable according to the source PDF document. However, even in the best case, this method will normally only copy the actual text, and some of the images, from your PDF document; it may not usually be particularly useful in actually replicating the PDF document formatting.
As for other document and content formats, such as drawings, pictures, and text rendered into images, other sections of this post should be consulted (ie. using LibreOffice Draw or The Gimp for drawings; optical character reading (OCR), including OCRFeeder, etc.)
In addition to the mention of LibreOffice above, OCRFeeder is software that acts as a front end to optical character recognition software, and is able to import PDF files, and then export in HTML, plain text, OpenDocument (.odt) format, and of course PDF. Again depending on the source file, results may be variable, although the results are usable.
… and here is an image of the exported .odt file (word processor file) of the page viewed and created in OCRFeeder, then opened in my word processor (LibreOffice):
Ironically, as this case shows, the changes (or lack of adequate recognition and / or translation of the original layout) can be as great or even more as can occur by simply sharing documents between not-fully-compatible-though-similar software suites. However, though far from perfect, it is arguably usable, depending, of course, on how much effort you are willing to devote to replicating the original document layout — and then making your desired changes, and finally creating a new PDF document.
Exporting to other file formats:
As has been (indirectly) demonstrated several times throughout this post, PDF files can be imported into software that isn’t specifically dedicated to PDFs, and then allow for the resulting imported file to be exported into other formats. For example, The Gimp was used to create most of the working images for this post: In the case where PDF files were to be displayed, the PDF files were imported into The Gimp, and then exported in jpeg or png formats. This type of conversion — from PDF to another given format — can often be done by other pieces of software (to varying degrees) according to their strengths or weaknesses.
Photo Editing with PDFs
The Gimp is fully functional image processing software, very similar to — but, unfortunately, not fully compatible with nor a perfect drop-in replacement of — Photoshop. Using The Gimp, you can import a PDF and edit the image(s) directly, or extract photos and other images through a variety of means, such as selecting the area of the photo, copying the selected area, and creating a new document from the clipboard.
Here is a The Gimp having imported a PDF of a photo of myself on a cruise:
During the live presentation, I gave the hypothetical example — for the sake of levity — of a barber who particularly likes sideburns, and seeing mine in a PDF, decided to clip out one of my sideburns from the photo …
… and then notice on how I was starting to go grey at the time :
It is taken as an understood that use of The Gimp to manipulate the photo can be continued at this point — such as how my sideburns might look after a colouring, or to compare side-by-side against other people’s sideburns — and then the result exported as a PDF.
PDFTricks allows for resizing of images in PDFs, principally compressing and reducing the file size to the order of “large”, “medium”, “small”, and “extra-small”, as well as image exporting to .jpg / .png / .txt formats, and file merging and splitting.
During the presentation, the PDF document above composed of the photo of myself on a trip was run through the software’s “extreme compression” option. The following is a clip from a screenshot from a file manager, showing the size difference between the the original file, and the newly created compressed file:
LibreOffice Draw allows for some image manipulation.
In this particular situation, the night sky drawing in the karaoke page of the example PDF I created was selected, and the various options directly available were shown. However, as mentioned earlier, I have imported PDF documents of building plans and modified them to include notes showing were works were performed, or to add signatures to documents.
PDF Form Creation
LibreOffice Writer and Calligra Suite are fully-featured for the creation of forms. Unfortunately, I am not particularly adept at creating forms.
Filling PDF Forms
Evince — if the PDF form was designed to be interactively filled
Okular — if the PDF form was designed to be interactively filled
The Gimp — allows for text areas to be inserted, as well as photos, drawings, and the like
LibreOffice Draw — allows for text areas to be inserted, as well as photos, drawings, and the like
Viewing / displaying PDF files : User’s choice (usually a system’s default PDF viewer is adequate, or a web browser)
Combining and splitting PDF files : PDFMixTool
Editing PDF files : User’s choice (depends on objectives and source file; The Gimp and LibreOffice Draw are good contenders)
Adjusting PDF file size : PDFTricks
Form creation : User’s choice
Form filling : User’s choice (usually a system’s default PDF viewer is adequate, or a web browser)
Exporting PDF to other formats : OCRFeeder (for .odt); LibreOffice Draw (Photos and images); The Gimp (photos and images)
Note on Linux availability of the above software:
Here are some screen shots from my system’s installed repositories (Fedora Stable; Fedora Updates; rpmfusion.org — free and non-free)
PDF software easily accessible from my computer’s software repositories (“App Stores”):
As this list suggests, there is lot of software available which have varying PDF abilities, ranging from being dedicated PDF software of various kinds, to other pieces of software with other principal functions but with PDF functions ranging to simple importing from and exporting to the format, to being useful within the limits of the software’s main functions to manipulate PDF files in some way(s).
This presentation’s goals are to highlight:
how PDF files are well supported most of the time on most systems, while the various pieces of software, between two versions, typically a well-known closed source project and an open-source counterpart, for document production, are not as compatible with each other as we may want;
free software while avoiding the security risks inherent to using unknown and potentially dangerous websites, as well as software which is easily available for routine tasks as well as to reduce costs;
the possibility of editing PDF files with various pieces of free software which are easily available in most Linux distributions’ repositories — as well as often easily available for other platforms — albeit occasionally with variable success.
Questions taken during the presentation:
A question asked midway through the presentation expressed a certain surprise that The Gimp can be used to edit PDFs. As mentioned earlier, The Gimp is able to import PDF files, and perform various functions on the file according to its strengths (image manipulation).
A participant asked at the end during a question period about a recommendation for software to affix signatures to documents. I replied that I was not aware of any open source official signing software with digital traceability, simply because that I had not done any research on that subject; however, an image of a scanned signature can usually be inserted in a document using The Gimp or LibreOffice Draw, or as a document is being created in a word processor.
A final comment recommended the use of LibreOffice Draw, based on the commentor’s frequent use of it to perform a number of the functions listed here, to which I’d commented that I had asked my employer’s IT department to install LibreOffice on my work-issued Windows-based laptop computer in order to be able to perform some drawing-modification functions as part of my employment.
Enjoy sharing and editing PDF files!
Signing PDFs can be performed with jPDF Tweak.
JPDF Tweak can also encrypt and add passwords to a PDF.
This is just a little note to mention that malak.ca has been down for the past 28 hours or so for an upgrade only planned as of a few days ago, when the site had been hanging for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and diagnostics suggested that the hard drive may have been on its last legs.
A backup of the blog database was created, and saved on an external drive;
The external drive, used as a backup for my other computers and the location of the static parts of my website, was separated from the machine, which was then powered down;
The old hard drive was physically removed;
The SSD was connected;
Fedora 34 workstation, which had been previously downloaded and installed on a USB key, was installed on the SSD yesterday evening (I’m currently still running on F33 for my desktop, laptop, and one of my worldcommunitygrid.org nodes)
The desktop for F34, on the core 2 duo, is faster, although some of that is due to the SSD, of course;
Interesting to see the dock moved from a vertical position on the left to a horizontal position at the bottom;
I find it interesting that at bootup, the activities screen appears to be the default;
This evening, the web server was installed;
Although we had planned to use php-fpm to separate permissions, but since this is a single domain box, we used a simple virtualhost;
MariaDB was installed;
The re-registration of my redirections for things like www.malak.ca with noip.com to account for the dynamic nature of my IP address was done;
The re-registration for my Let’sEncrypt was performed;
Various linux kung-fu tricks were performed, and magical linux incantations were uttered, and the setup was complete;
The external drive was reconnected;
The blog was restored from a backup.
The system is peppy, and this blog, which is hosted on the SSD instead of the external drive (as is the rest of malak.ca), loads somewhat more quickly.
As usual, great thanks go to my brother whose herculean efforts were at the core of the setup. Thank you!
I have used Fedora on my desktops since 2008, and on my website server since at least 2018.
I have found CentOS very stable but, through my brother, somewhat limiting as each given version ages. My brother provides invaluable technical support and often does the heavy lifting on my servers and computers when it comes to, well, technical support and setup, for which I am very grateful. He has humoured me over the years in my use of CentOS, but has been frustrated with CentOS for years given its upstream source’s conservative development cycle and the difficulty in maintaining such systems over time.
In the meantime, over the years while using Fedora, I typically use a version for roughly its full lifecycle of 12 to 13 months, and I normally skip a version in the process. Previous to somewhat recent experiences, I would perform a full new install every year from a downloaded image; I was acting on advice from the Fedora website, increasingly old and out of date each time I performed a reinstall, to not use the dnf upgrade function on the grounds that it wasn’t ready yet. This further gave me reason for the occasional use of CentOS and its long term stability on some computers, which I might want to not want to bother reformatting yearly, let alone reinstall software. However, while I was performing another fresh install from Fedora 27 to Fedora 29 in the fall of 2018, I observed a command line upgrade of a Fedora system, and was intrigued. In the fall of 2019, when upgrading from Fedora 29 to Fedora 31, I used the command line upgrade path instead. (Here’s my archive.) This resolved, at least in my mind, my longtime concerns about the short lifespan of Fedora.
Unfortunately, this proved to be a matter of famous last words, since it was merely a convenience for upgrading, something that could be easily done on a weekday evening, instead of setting aside a Saturday afternoon and a (wholly pleasant) visit with my brother.
For me, this isn’t so much an opportunity to complain; as I said, my brother did the real work in performing another iteration of setting up my website in April, 2020, only to do it once more in November, 2020, for which I’m grateful, under a fresh, baremetal install (which I performed.) Instead, the second comment to come to mind — initially, privately, and tongue-in-cheek! — after my gratitude that he would do the job yet again, was that my brother at least got to hone his skills on “the new method”.
After that, a few other things came to mind. As such, risking being a back-seat gratuitous commentator on the process:
It occurs to me that Fedora, while an excellent desktop operating system, arguably has risks associated with it as a medium-term and long-term server, given its mission to showcase and test new technologies as they are introduced while “old” technologies are deprecated;
And, since CentOS (and RHEL) grow old long enough before their 10 year EOL, but Fedora’s approximately 13 month lifespan is too short, how long is ideal?
The actual process itself of upgrading Fedora versions remains smooth, polished, and easy;
Could the upgrade process itself have included:
At least a warning that certain major changes were literally about to occur or were occurring?
An opt-out option for some changes?
Or involve as possible actually upgrading settings and/or other setups such that a neutral net effect on existing functions is effected, ie. change things properly, not just literally changing things without regard to any possible detriment to functions?
Or, make changes, but in separate, neutered files, and a notification that some potential conflicting changes have been made, requiring attention?
With regards to general version upgrading of my server, I should do some research into the new technologies to be installed before upgrading, so as to prepare for any major changes, just as any sysadmin should when upgrading versions to another of any long-term distribution such as CentOS, RHEL, Debian, Ubuntu LTS versions, or any other such system.
20210203 Update: It would seem that another victim of the change toward php-fpm was an inability to use the WordPress upgrade tool when it was time to change to v.5.6. It seems that using some file ownership settings on my machine, which facilitated my administration of the website on a larger scale than just WordPress, was at issue, and how php-fpm handles files and the required permissions, vs. the way mpm-itk and php-cgi would handle similar tasks.
And, at the same time, it seems to me that an additional question is raised, following my musing of “And, since CentOS (and RHEL) grow old long enough before their 10 year EOL, but Fedora’s approximately 13 month lifespan is too short, how long is ideal?”: The literal answer may well lie in “well that depends on individual packages and how they evolve over time, especially regarding the “real world” and other pressures which may shape the project’s evolution”, meaning that things may change more swiftly than Fedora’s 13 month lifespan, and others may outlive RHEL / CentOS’ (at least old) lifespan of ten years.
Which leads to my asking: “How to deal with change management?” and “How to choose a distro, and deal with change in a selected platform which has gone in a different direction from decisions leading to its original choice?”
Dell desktop (main system): Intel® Core™ i5-4460 CPU @ 3.20GHz — no Hyperthreading, 1 TB 7200 HD, 8gigs memory; screen upgraded separately to an Acer widescreen, and old screen relegated to a “new to me” computer setup as a node on the World Community Grid.
Acer laptop (secondary system): Intel® Core™ i7-5500U CPU @ 2.40GHz (Hyperthreaded), now 500gig SSD HD, 8 gigs memory.
Two of the equipment upgrades are the screen on the desktop, which is now a used Acer widescreen, and the laptop’s 5200RPM 1TB drive was upgraded to a 500gig SSD. The laptop went from interminably slow to incredibly fast! The comment from my brother: “SSD’s are one of the few things that actually lives up to the hype.” In my experience — under linux, anyway. Under a corporate controlled windows box? Well I’d say that my work computer, with an SSD, needs the SSD speed just not to be unusable!
The upgrades were incredibly easy this time, and fast, the new SSD installed on the laptop probably being the big factor. In fact, I was able to do the basic install in about 15 minutes, and the rest of my list (made for Fedora 23, but the basic list is still valid) was easy to complete while on a business trip in the motel room during off hours. In fact, one of the things that took a couple of days to realize: Fedora has had difficulty with the UEFI on this machine in the past — it would install, and then not work, and I’d have to reinstall under legacy BIOS. Note that I have a BIOS password, so perhaps in the past I just figured out how to make it persistent. As for restoring the data, once home, I managed to easily copy all my data files from my desktop overnight.
As for the desktop, having just gone through the process a couple of days earlier with my laptop, I was able to easily update, and then re-transfer my data from the laptop overnight, as well as update my data backup on my home server.
The “big” thing this time? The hardware upgrades. The almost un-noticeable thing this time? The installs, which were incredibly easy, quick, routine, and almost easily forgotten. Sheesh, I’ve lost track of how many installs I’ve done over the years …
Just watching 60 Minutes on CBS this evening, and the piece is on “hackers and cell phones”, air date 17 April 2016.
At one point, the reporter is calling, from Berlin, a person to whom she’d sent a cell phone. You see them switch to the hackers being interviewed for the piece, and their computer screen. On it, a command line shell with a bunch of code and output were displayed, and, whaddya know, in the upper left hand corner, there was a Fedora Linux logo. Offhand, because of the positioning of the logo, I’m guessing that they use XFCE.
In 2011 a new hire at work was assigned to join me on a few field jobs in order to expose them to the kinds of things we do at the office.
At the time, I enthusiastically told him about my use of linux. Suffice it to say his reaction was “What is this communist stuff anyway?!?!” Harrrummmpphh. “Red Hat is in line to have $1 billion with a big fat capital B in revenues this year alone. Doesn’t sound very communist to me at all.”
Back in mid-December of 2015 — after countless times of telling him about linux in the meantime, hopefully a bit more toned down — he sent me a message: “Here’s a modest budget; set me up, I’d be interested in trying it out.” I was practically beside myself in my pleasure.
I came back from the Christmas holidays and announced that I’d tracked down a used computer for free, and just needed to get it into my hot little hands. I explained that I wanted to give him a relatively risk free introduction. In the meantime, the computer in question, I’m told, proved to be dead and not usable. I’m promised another computer, and this week, when it looks like I’ll indeed be getting it in time for an install day this weekend, I further explained to my colleague: “The computer is probably about four or five years old but it’s supposed to be a dual core with 4 gigs of memory. It won’t be the best performing computer in the world, and some things it just won’t be able to do, at least not spectacularly, not because of linux, but because of the computer itself; however, it should still be good enough for videos, games, and day to day stuff, and you’ll be able to explore all the software available for it and see what can be done with linux, and you can add a few things like a bluetooth dongle if you like.”
He cautiously tells me all along that I’m building up anticipation; the caution suggests to me that he is mildly tongue-in-cheek meaning “of the disappointing variety”.
I then start asking him very specific questions, like what he wants as the computer name (I give him examples of current and past computer names I’ve used, and advise him to choose carefully since using the name of a pet or relative could backfire in case something goes wrong, and in the process of relating the experience to family or friends they may be confused or even become upset), the user name and password to use, the root password he wants, and things like which email client he uses at home. Pleased that he’ll be able to use a GMail interface, he begins to apparently genuinely say “Oh now you’re *really* building anticipation!” instead of the cautious insinuations from before.
Therefore in anticipation of the build this coming weekend, I put together this list of the main things I’ll need to install on his computer, especially since I’ll be helping my brother-in-the-know again with another desktop install, and try to get in some of his under the hood expertise at getting my server to be a bit more useful than a rarely used ftp server, a backup server for my data which depends on my remembering to back up my data on it, and consuming electricity.
In Part I, I talked about installing Fedora 21 on a new Dell desktop, and promised a Part II, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But wait folks, I was serious. 🙂
I have an Acer Aspire One which I received new out of the factory sealed box as a birthday present in 2009, and immediately converted it to linux after receiving it – Fedora 11, to be exact. It has used, as I recall, Fedora 11, 12, 14, 15, possibly 16, 17, and 19, all without any trouble. Well, ok, none that can’t be attributed to “whaddya expect out of a notebook vs. a full horsepower machine” and errors stemming from somewhere between the keyboard and the chair. ?
However, time is starting to march on with this machine, and while it was great under roughly 18 months of Fedora 19, it was clearly starting to slow down a bit, but … well, Fedora keeps releasing new versions, and, well, while CentOS 7, which is based on Fedora 19 and which I’d be happy to install on my netbook, unfortunately is only available under 64bit while my netbook is only 32bit. So my options were to either keep Fedora 19 unpatched, upgrade to Fedora 21 workstation, which I wanted to do, upgrade to Fedora 21 with XFCE, which would probably make it peppier, or explore other distros, which I don’t wish to do.
When Fedora 21 Workstation came out in December 2014, I downloaded the 32 bit version, and the fun began. Within a couple of minutes of booting up the live DVD and before the desktop loaded up, the machine went into hibernation. This didn’t feel right, but I hit a key and things came back to life. Then, within about a minute, the machine went into hibernation again. I hit a key again, got a minute of performance, and it hibernated again, ad nauseum, and ad infinitum, literally.
Despite this, I decided to continue with the F21 Workstation installation anyway, and I ended up babysitting the install, hitting a key to wake up the system every minute or so during the installation. On a single core atom processor running at 1.5 GHz, this took a good long while and a lot of keyboard wakeups. Finally, the system was installed, but it kept on hibernating after roughly a minute.
As a reference, I proceeded to install Fedora 21 XFCE Spin, and, except for hibernating once during the initial booting up of the liveDVD, it worked like a charm.
One solution I tried was to do a “yum install fedora-release-workstation” or somesuch from an installed XFCE spin, hoping to then do a “yum groupremove XFCE” and repeat “yum install fedora-release-workstation” just to reinstall any packages which may have gotten removed, but it bricked the install and I had to reinstall XFCE yet again.
For a variety of reasons which are now lost in the winds but which probably included having gone through the following suggestions from ask.fedoraproject.org, I managed to install and re-install the XFCE spin several times again after probably having reinstalled the Workstation a few times in between.
“You can do tests and get logs without interference with systemd-inhibit – ie sudo systemd-inhibit bash. The system won’t suspend or hibernate until you end the process invoked with systemd-inhibit.” This didn’t work; hibernation continued as before.
The next response was “I’m just guessing, but it feels like the system thinks that the battery is almost empty and because of that does the right thing in that situation. I’m not sure which software component is handling this situation but anyway, there seems to be a bug that happens to manifest on your particular environment.” This could have been ruled out immediately – mostly – because at the time the battery was physically out of the machine when I tested, and I was running on mains electricity out of the wall. Nonetheless, I did check, with a fully charged battery in, to be sure I wasn’t being a fool; no such luck, under both cases, the machine kept on hibernating every minute or so.
All through this, I learned that at least one user with a Toshiba Satellite Pro without a CD player had this same problem, and worked just fine up till Fedora 20.
“Try setting ‘HandleSuspendKey’ and ‘HandleLidSwitch’ to ignore in /etc/systemd/logind.conf” “Scimmia” further claims that this problem appears to be caused by systemd/logind. This all means that somewhere, signals are being sent out, rightly or wrongly or otherwise, that are being interpreted as “the clamshell lid is being closed, so it’s time to hibernate.”
To wit, my brother and I, after I’d installed Fedora 21 Workstation for the probably at least third time, then boot up an XFCE liveDVD (but do not install it), and through some of my brother’s linux kung-foo, he mounts the hard drive, using Thunar in the XFCE spin as a facilitator, and we edited the appropriate file.
… And Bingo was his name-OH. (Translation: Yup, that worked and the machine now works.)
Here are the instructions to correct the problem, at least for an Acer Aspire One, and which are also findable through ask.fedoraproject.org:
1) install F21 32bit workstation, by babysitting the system throughout the whole install to keep waking it up every minute or so (literally!)
2) reboot using a live-dvd that works on the system, such as the F21 XFCE live-DVD
3) mount the hard drive (not really sure specifically how my brother did it but using Thunar seemed to help out a lot)
4)open a terminal session and make sure the hard drive is mounted
5) edit the file /etc/systemd/logind.conf (such as using nano)
6) uncomment the settings for “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch”
7) set the “HandleSuspendKey” and “HandleLidSwitch” options to “ignore”
8) save the file
… and, it seems, my instructions, posted on ask.fedoraproject.org, helped at least one other user with an Acer Aspire one. I’m pleased. ?
Disclaimer: I am musing on the challenges I faced while trying to secure reliable internet I required during a recent set of business trips, and the process of developing various solutions to these challenges. These challenges are, in a general fashion, typical of the routine logistical challenges I face when in-the-field, and no doubt of other field technicians. In no way am I trying to reflect negatively on my employer, who for the purposes of this entry shall remain nameless.
I was recently on a couple of business trips, depending on an iPad as a critical part of the execution of the contract. This trip was to a small city of 25,656 (according to Wikipedia), big enough to have plenty of internet access points, cell phones, and cell phone data. As far as I was concerned, in fact, I was in a mini-mini version of Montreal, home for me, to those who haven’t figured it out yet.
The way the iPad is set up, wifi internet access is required to transfer building plans needed to do the work to the iPad, and transfer back files and data collected from my field work. I have made no bones mentioning to some key people heading the overall project that this is a potential Achilles’ Heel to the execution of the project, since, at least in the overall project’s fringe locations sufficiently beyond population centres, internet access would be a spotty luxury at best. My trips were at least symbolically close enough to the edges, underlining the potential problem.
One of the first challenges I found was that the iPad didn’t seem to play well with the internet supplied in the motel (DataValet); although I did manage to get it to work once, it proved a bit too frustrating to get working reliably. A colleague confirmed that he’d had similar problems getting Apple products to connect to DataValet. I had no trouble getting my personal computer running Fedora 21 Workstation to work with DataValet: In fact, besides not recalling having trouble over the years connecting to wifi that wasn’t specific to Linux or Fedora, I would actually say that the experience was even easier than in the past, since the daily leases seemed to automatically renew, although it seemed to insinuate itself by a “convenient” automatic popup window. In parallel, my work Windows-based machine also worked flawlessly throughout with DataValet, although if I remember correctly, I may have had to occasionally open up a browser in order to renew the leases.
Add to this challenge, my employer’s local office didn’t seem to have wifi, or at least, assuming that it *was* there as a hidden network, my work computer didn’t automatically connect to the corporate wifi when not plugged in to the corporate network, which it normally does at my home office.
My first solution was to fulfill a purpose of my having asked for a company smart phone in 2014: Create a hot spot using the data plan on my work phone to do data transfers when not in a wifi zone that works well for the iPad. However, it seemed, between the picture-heavy data and the fact that the iPad seems to do automatic background backups when hooked up to internet — a feature to which I initially had a (negative) knee-jerk reaction that nonetheless actually was useful at one point and since — my phone appeared to run out of my data plan for the month, as evidenced by the sudden stop of internet connection through the phone while still operating just fine as a phone. Having quickly checked the phone’s data usage logs and determining that I’d certainly gotten to the neighbourhood of the limit I believed I had (2 gigs), I assumed that the phone’s contract had a limit set by my employer to turn off the data plans until the month rolls over in order to avoid overage charges. I later learned, upon my return home and standing in front of the IT tech responsible for the corporate cell phones, that the problem was presumed to be an unusual set of settings probably set by some esoteric app (of which I have have very few, esoteric or otherwise, on my work phone), or possibly a SIM card problem, which turned on off the phone’s data capabilities, and that in any case the company has no such policy to ask the cell service provider to turn off a phone’s data access when it reaches the limit of “included data” in the plan, until the rollover date. The lack of internet on the phone is “solved” by resetting the phone to factory settings; I should get instructions on how to do it in the future should I be faced with the problem again. 🙂
This led to a second solution: I used my personal phone to create a hotspot and consumed a bit of my personal data plan, which didn’t bother me too much, at least until it were to involve overage charges. Not that I checked, but based on the little amount of time I used it, I’m sure I never got into that area.
The next solution also created another challenge due to a flub on my part: My client finally gave wifi access to the iPad at her various locations; however, I should have requested that she also enable my work computer, since I had a secondary need for internet given that I developed a need to produce or modify extra plans several times once arriving at some sites, and as such a need to transfer the plans off the computer and onto the iPad.
Finally, I realized that when I have wired access, I had yet another solution available to me: I could set up my linux laptop to create a wifi hotspot. This was rather easy, at least under the current gnome version in Fedora 21 and I believe has been for quite a while under the gnome 3.0 series, and probably before too. Unfortunately, this was wasn’t a solution at the motel since it only had wifi and no wired access, and I didn’t have an external wifi receiver with a cord to provide the wired internet and free up the wifi card.
Here are some screenshots of how easy it is to setup a wifi hotspot under Gnome 3:
Feeling a bit curious along the lines of “shouldn’t this be relatively easy under Windows, too?”, I checked on my work computer, and while it seemed possible, and indeed my brother once did it for me with his Windows computer, it was not obvious at all; in fact, I gave up after about four or five click-throughs with little end in sight.
Hence, at the local office and having set up my laptop to create a local wifi hotspot, I’d created a mildly-amusing-to-me setup on my temporary desk, plugging in my personal laptop to the corporate network, running a hotspot using its wifi card, and using my work computer normally over wifi as well as doing data transfers from the iPad.
Back at home and at my home office, I mention my difficulties in getting internet access to my supervisor (who isn’t a computer techie type), who thought that creating a hotspot under Windows couldn’t be done, or at least he didn’t realize it could be.
Further discussing this with him, I explained the situation saying “I don’t mind trying to find other solutions — that *is* my job — but after not having two A Plans (the motel internet not working for the iPad, nor having wifi at the office), then suddenly not having a plan B (the company cell phone internet not working), having to depend on my personal phone’s data plan, then having to depend on the client’s internet access but not having enough access for all devices, and finally coming up with a part-time solution to replace one of the A-plans — using a second of my personal resources in the form of my personal laptop — there’s a problem here,” to which he agreed.
Jovially, he did however suggest that “in the next leg of your travels, I happen to know that if you can go to the local library, they have free wifi”. This made me realize that if necessary and if possible, I could also try the free wifi at the local Tim Hortons (a popular Canadian chain of coffee and doughnut shops), assuming that there is one in the remote town where I’ll be visiting next.
Which has me really thinking about the problem:
– not all the field techs in the company have smart phones with data plans, and as such not able to create a needed hotspot in order to enable the execution of a project;
– not all the field techs have personal smart phones with a data plan, nor should field techs in general be required to use their personal data plans, let alone go into overage charges, in order to enable the execution of a project;
– at least at first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a quick and easy thing to turn a windows machine into a hotspot in order to enable such work — and I don’t want to hear from the peanut gallery on this one, since I *know* that it *can* be done; my point is that at first glance, even a moderately savvy user such as myself shouldn’t have to say “It’s easy under Gnome 3, why isn’t it about as easy under Windows? Boy it’s a good thing that I had my personal laptop with me!” (On a side note, usually the stereotype is that “Windows is easy, and Mac easier, but isn’t Linux hard?” 🙂 )
– and, only a limited number of computer users are using Gnome 3, where it is easy to set up a hotspot if you either have a wired connection to the internet, or two wifi cards on your computer. (I’ll have to check with my brother, who uses XFCE on one of his laptops, which is on a technical level identical to mine, to see how easy it is under that desktop; obviously, it’s technically possible; I imagine it’s just a question of how easily different desktops enable the functionality.)
Which leads me back to the above-mentioned problem of “what do you do in remote, small villages where you don’t have a corporate office with wifi, motel / B&B internet access is spotty at best, there’s no cell phone coverage, and there are few if any public wifi spots like a restaurant or a public library?”
I just hope that the library’s free wifi isn’t provided by DataValet. 🙂