First Time Linux

Why upgrade

It seems a little keen, to want to upgrade to a new version of an operating system, merely a few weeks after installing the latest version of it. Repeated upgrades and patches was not something I expected to have to do so soon after a current fresh install. But I was having so many gripes with the Mandrake 10.1 system, that I was quite keen to upgrade, and as chance would have it a new version of Mandrake had just been announced. And as chance would have it, a copy on DVD was thrust into my hands with the recommendation to try it.

Highest on the list of reasons to upgrade were the screen problems, the USB freezing problems, and the wacky boot problems. It will be interesting to see how much gets fixed and how much gets broken with the upgrade.

Upgrading to 10.2

Firstly the name. This OS seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. Is it Mandrake, or is it Mandriva? Is it 10.2 or LE2005? Official Community or Limited Edition Download? Well, a bit of each. Just before 10.2 came out, Mandrake changed its name to Mandriva, and a lot of URLs changed from mandrakewhatever to mandrivawhatever. But this was too late for a lot of the content on the already prepared release, so it still refers to Mandrake a lot. And even after they've changed all the text, graphics, icons, links and references, they're still stuck with the abbreviation mdk and there are lots of programs using the 'drake' suffix, like harddrake, rpmdrake, and others. Things may be confused for a while. Apparently the proper title is "Mandriva Limited Edition 2005", although it's a bit ambiguous whether "limited" is supposed to mean limited functionality or special.

It also seems that there are multiple versions of this release, at least 3-CD, 4-CD and 6-CD versions, and also multiple DVDs with either 3 CDs of content or all 6. I have a DVD with 2.1 GB of stuff on it, so I guess this is 3 CDs. Apparently on the other 3 CDs you get non-free stuff like graphics drivers, java tools and so on.

Update: this LE2005 edition is now available for free download from the download section of

First of all I made sure I saved everything useful onto CDR just in case the upgrade went a bit wobbly. Alas I still haven't figured out how to get the temperamental K3b burning application to recognise that there's a writable CD in the drive, so embarrassingly I had to resort to a certain other operating system to write the stuff. But we won't dwell on that too much now.

And then with the upgrade. Expecting a detailed process of determining which packages to upgrade and which not, which to add and so on, I intrepidly booted from the DVD. I got the text installer again instead of the shiny graphical one, as expected, but I got asked virtually no questions at all, apart from whether I wanted to upgrade (yes please) and what's the time zone and keyboard and such locale stuff (same as it was for 10.1, actually). And... that was it. Upgrade successful, ready to reboot.

Effects of the upgrade

The first thing noticed after the boot (apart from the now rather garish boot selection screen) was the very welcome sight of a non-mangled login screen - a very welcome improvement over 10.1. The screen resolution was wrong, due to the late calling of the 855resolution patch (see later), but at least the screen was readable without the F6-F7 nonsense. Unfortunately, the next thing noticed after login was that the start menu was now totally knackered. None of the applications appeared any more, although fortunately they were actually still there on the hard drive. Only the start menu had got itself corrupted somehow, rather a nasty state of affairs.

I guess that the install corrupted the user profile, because when I created a new user, that user's menus and settings were fine. So I resorted to a bit of a drastic measure - I copied all the home stuff across from my now sadly corrupted user to the new, pristine one, and then deleted the old user and the associated home directory (including all the settings, preferences and corrupted menus). Then I recreated the old user again and copied the home files back again - and hey presto crisis resolved.

One excellent (and hoped-for) effect of the 10.2 upgrade was a fixing of the USB drive / Konqueror problem, so no more freezing or CPU-hogging when I plug the USB drive in. Yay.


Late call of 855resolution

With the upgrade, the dodgy screen at login is fixed, so it no longer needs a Ctrl-Alt-F6 Ctrl-Alt-F7 to reset the screen. However, this is replaced by a new gripe - it now appears that the call to 855resolution (the patch to the BIOS for the screen resolutions) is being called after X is started, so the patch is not effective. That means that it needs a Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to restart X before the first logon after a boot. Annoying.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a fix - instead of placing the 855resolution call in the file /etc/rc.d/rc.local, where it gets executed after X startup, I moved it to the end of the file /etc/rc.d/rc.sysinit where it gets called before. Hooray! Clean start!

Explicit java path

After installing java to 10.1, I used the ln command to make a link to the executable at /usr/share/j2sdk1.4.2/bin/java and put that link in the directory /usr/bin where it could be found by the path. However, this didn't work, and when I just typed java -version it complained that it couldn't load the objects and couldn't find the Java Runtime environment - same for javac. So I resorted to calling it explicitly each time as for example /usr/share/j2sdk1.4.2/bin/java -version - this works, but it's annoying, even with the tab auto-complete.

Now, I set the environment variable PATH with the command
PATH = $PATH:/usr/share/j2sdk1.4.2/bin/
which appends the java bin directory to the path. Then I can just call java -version which now works (and similarly for javac and jar).


I never did quite get the infrared working on either Knoppix or Mdk10.1, but gave it another go with 10.2, and found a way to at least get a response out of holding a mobile phone nearby. I haven't transferred any photos yet, but it's an improvement!

Initially, after a clean boot, none of the modules irda, ircomm or ircomm-tty are listed by the command lsmod because they're not installed. (This is a bit like the parallel port modules for the card reader runaround). Also, in the directory /proc/net/ there's no irda directory. Yet. But let's see.

modprobe irda
modprobe ircomm
modprobe ircomm-tty
ls -l /proc/net/irda/

So now I've got a directory irda and inside it 6 files: discovery, ircomm, irias, irlap, irlmp and irttp. I'm most interested in discovery so I can see if any devices are detected. I've also got the command dmesg but all that tells me is that the IrCOMM protocol has been loaded.

Now I try with a mobile phone - in this case an old Nokia. I select "Infrared" from the menu and it says "IR reception activated", but nothing happens to the discovery file.

Next I try the command irattach /dev/ttyS1 -s where /dev/ttyS1 selects the second serial port (in the BIOS the infrared port is set to COM2) and the -s switch sets it to "start discovery of remote IrDA devices" (according to man irattach). And lo and behold, starting the IR reception on the mobile now gives an entry in the file /proc/net/irda/discovery as follows:
nickname: Nokia 6310i, hint: 0xb125, saddr: 0x30839b2b, daddr: 0x00008854
and running the command irdadump to dump the data from the infrared port gives the following:
xid:rsp 30839b2b < 000074ee S=6 s=4 Nokia 6310i hint=b125 [ PnPModem Fax Telephony IrCOMM IrOBEX ] (28)
So although we're not quite transferring photos and synchronising address books yet, we've at least got as far as recognising that there's something there on the IR port. Investigations are ongoing...

Internal modem

I've been doing a little investigation on this, although haven't got it working yet. There's an app called scanModem which attempts to diagnose what kind of modem you have. Here it comes up with messages about a "Conexant" codec (CXT) and a controller "8086:24c6 82801DB ICH4", also mentioning "AC'97" and "hsfmodem". It even explicitly recommends to "use the hsfmodem software from to support this Conexant subsystem soft modem".

It turns out that Linuxant, having paid Conexant for the licences to their device driving software, develops and sells Linux versions of these drivers for USD 15. Whether this is worth it or not depends on whether you want to pay around half that amount for a second-hand, already Linux-compatible external modem. scanModem also mentions Smartlink, another source of driver software, and these, although also non-free, don't appear to cost any money. Their docs also encouragingly mention "Intel ICH4", so once some compilation issues have been resolved this could be a promising line of enquiry...

Update: this faffing with the modem was abandoned in favour of a cable internet connection. Free modem, plugs into the network socket, works straight away without any messing around. Bonus!


There's only a couple of gripes outstanding at the moment. The upgrade to Mandriva cleared a lot of things up!

Sound was not an issue at all with 10.1, but since the upgrade it's been extremely temperamental, intermittently just refusing to work and at other times sounding really awful. Haven't managed to track this one down yet but it could be to do with the configuration of ALSA. As to why it works sometimes and not others, well that's still a mystery.

Update: After running alsaconf (which didn't do anything obvious), it no longer seems to complain about not being able to start the sound server - however the sound is still pretty poor and occasionally (like for the system notifications) non-existent.

CD burning works, but only if the CD is blank. K3b is unable to add files to a multi-session CD-R (although XP can to exactly the same disc), and it is also unable to add files to a CD-RW (although it can erase the whole disc and then add all the files back on again). This makes it fairly inconvenient to use.