Linux Switching Problems – Just Ask Matt

Linux Switching Problems – Just Ask Matt

Today James asks,

Hi I am trying to make the the switch from windows to Linux I watched you and I found you and bryan via YouTube and thus decided I would try open Suse Tumbleweed as my first distro. I downloaded the .iso and burned the DVD I went to install it I can make it through the installer just fine but when it goes to apply the packages the install just hangs. I have a message saying it found a Linux console terminal on /dev/ Console (80 columns x25 lines) starting yast 2 and the message would read found duplicate at line 592 ignored and another one at 652 ” vendor I’d”. I looked around on line and everyone says it is a no mode set issue but once I reach this point my keyboard and mouse locks up as well. I tried nomodeset and modeset=O but it did not change anything. Any thoughts or ideas of how to resolve this. I should tell you now I wiped windows now windows nor Suse will install currently. So I have to make one of these work might as well b e linux.

Thanks for your help!

Links:

GeckoLinux – https://geckolinux.github.io/

PCLinuxOS – http://pclinuxos.com/

Ubuntu MATE – https://ubuntu-mate.org/

Linux Mint – https://www.linuxmint.com/

 

Linux Backlight Brightness Keyboard Shortcuts

Brightness

Today Joe H. writes,

Hi there, really enjoy your site. I love using Linux and have tried various distros but still consider myself a newbie. My problem is that when I log on, no matter what OS, I have a dull screen on my laptop and have to adjust the brightness button. Ok no big deal with the likes of Mint, Ubuntu, etc, but with the lesser used distros I can’t find the brightness button, and so stops me using these distros. I am guessing this is the fault of the laptop (Acer). Is there a permanent fix? Can it be done in the bios or in a terminal? Would love to solve this problem but so far cannot find the correct answer, (having tried various wrong ideas). Thanks for any reply, Joe. (Liverpool, England).

Hi Joe! This is a frustration point, as each laptop seems to take a different approach to setting the brightness. Because it sounds like you’re wanting to keep the screen bright as it can go for better visibility. The first approach I will show you is an older technique but will provide you with full brightness upon every reboot.

Full Linux backlight brightness even when idle

The first tip I’d recommend is to go into your power management preferences, make sure your settings for “on AC” and “on battery” are set to not dim display when idle. This is usually a checkbox found for both AC and battery tabs. Also, do the same with the option for “Reduce backlight brightness” in the battery section. To make sure the changes take immediate effect, be sure to restart your computer.

Doing this right away will help the additional tips below to stick and not create new headaches.

Full Linux backlight brightness with GRUB edit

The second tip is my recommended approach for Joe. This will enable the laptop to have full backlight brightness enabled at each boot.

  • Advantage: Full brightness at every boot, even after upgrades to the system.
  • Disadvantage: This brightness technique renders your backlight function keys non-functional. This is reversible by restoring your original grub settings.

1) Open a terminal window. Backup your existing grub bootloader settings. This allows you to restore to the original settings should you decide this approach isn’t a good fit for you.

sudo cp /etc/default/grub /etc/default/grub.bak

2) Edit grub to detect and handle your backlighting better. Remember, this will render your backlight brightness function keys non-functional unless you restore your original grub settings.

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

3) You’re going to look for a section of the file that looks like this:

GRUB_DEFAULT=0
GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT=0
GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT_QUIET=true
GRUB_TIMEOUT=10
GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR=`lsb_release -i -s 2> /dev/null || echo Debian`
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX=""

The section we’re interested in is this one:

 GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"

4) We need to change this line’s “____” section to look like this:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendor splash"

5) Now type Ctrl+X, save when prompted and you’re done.

6) Reboot your laptop. It will likely remain dim at first, but will be bright at the login screen.

Full Linux backlight brightness with a new systemd service file

If editing grub didn’t work, the next step is to try creating a systemd service to set the brightness at the level you want at each boot.

  • Advantage: Full brightness at every boot, even after upgrades to the system.
  • Disadvantage: On some laptops, this may not work at all. It won’t break anything. Rather, this systemd service might fail to work at all.

1) Open a terminal window and change directories to the one described below to create the new service.

cd /lib/systemd/system

2) Still in the terminal with the changed directory, we’re going to create the following file.

sudo nano brightness.service

3) Enter the following into the nano document in your terminal.

[Unit]
Description=Lower default brightness

[Service]
ExecStart=/usr/bin/zsh -c "echo 100 > /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness"

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

4) Save the nano document with a Ctrl+X and save to the name suggested at the prompt.

5) Enable the new service from the terminal with the following:

sudo systemctl enable brightness

6) Reboot and see if it works. This was tested working on Ubuntu 16.10, so your success may vary on other distros or releases of Ubuntu.

Full Linux backlight brightness with an xbacklight alternative

This last backlight brightness tip is my favorite. It’s been tested on multiple distros running the GNOME or MATE desktop. Best part is, it will almost definitely work for any laptop using a modern Linux distro. So why not use xbacklight? Because in some newer distro releases, it’s not working. So we’re going to use a workaround called “bright” instead.

  • Advantage: Full brightness at every boot, even after upgrades to the system.
  • Disadvantage: A specific command will have to add this to your Startup applications. The sudo users settings will need to be adjusted as not to prompt for a password when using the command at the system startup.

1) Download and extract “bright” from Github.

2) From the directory containing the extracted files, copy the “bright” file to a new directory as outlined below using your terminal. If you ran git to download the program, then your source directory may be /home/username instead.

sudo cp ~/Downloads/bright-master/bright /usr/local/bin

3) Test bright to make sure it works with your laptop.

sudo bright 100

Your display’s backlight should be at its brightest. Now let’s reduce the brightness.

sudo bright 50

If you’re seeing backlight brightness changes, this means bright works.

4) The next step is to stop using sudo to run the bright program. To do this, we’ll edit your sudo settings. First you will need to switch to the root user in your terminal window. This will have its own password setup when you first installed your distro.

su

5) Now it’s time to edit the sudo users settings with the following.

visudo

6) From inside your sudo settings, add the following to the bottom of the file. As an aside, the yourusername is YOUR username.

yourusername ALL=NOPASSWD: /usr/local/bin/bright

7) Save the file and then type exit to jump from root back to your regular user. I also like to reboot just to clear everything out.

Mapping new Linux brightness backlight keys for your keyboard

Now that we have the bright settings working, let’s make them work like function keys. Now, you might be tempted to simply remap your existing backlight function keys. I highly recommend NOT doing this as it may simply mess things up on your laptop.

Instead, we’re going to set up two new keys combinations instead. One for brightness up and another for brightness down.

1) From your control panel (some desktop environments called this the control center), click on the keyboard shortcuts.

2) Click on Accessibility, then head down to the Add button and click that.

3) In the name box, Brightness Up. In the command box, “bright 100” without the quotes. Click Apply.

4) Click Brightness Up, then right click Disabled. When new shortcut appears, type Ctrl+1 (number key).

5) Repeat steps 2 through 4, naming the next two entries Brightness Middle (set to bright 50) and Brightness Down (set to bright 30).

After do this and clicking “Close”. You now have a reliable means of changing your Linux laptop’s backlight controls. Even better, you’re able to do this without messing with the default function keys.

How I control backlight brightness on my Linux computer

Now you might be wondering how I run the backlight controls on my computers? Well, I have access to one laptop that has great function key support and doesn’t require anything in this article. However, I also have an old netbook that requires the grub tweak above in order to have a consistent level of brightness for the screen.

The trouble with the grub fix by itself is that the default function keys controlling the brightness keys simply won’t work. This is why I use the “number key mapping” described above in conjunction the “grub tweak” for sustained brightness at each boot. Allow me to break down the benefits:

1) Using backlight brightness with GRUB ensures that my netbook starts up with the brightness turned all the way up on each boot. This saves me from having to do so later, which can be annoying.

2) Adding number key mapping set to turn up or down my brightness provides me with de facto control of my netbook’s display while maintaining a working brightness control environment. Remember, some older laptops and netbooks still need the grub tweak…which renders the default brightness controls unusable. The number mapping for brightness reintroduces this capability and best of all, it should work on any newer Linux distribution.

The end result of combining these two things is fantastic. I’m able to take a broken display experience and turn it into a win by taking control of how my display backlight brightness works thanks to the tips above.

For Windows users out there – food for thought

Even today, I still find myself supporting Windows systems. And today, surprisingly, there are still Windows admins that honestly believe that Windows 10 has better hardware support than today’s modern Linux distros. Some of the more outspoken among them may even attempt to use this article as a shining example of Linux lacking said hardware support. Allow me to pour some cold water on this train of thought.

1) The netbook of mine in question is a unit that came with Windows 7. It’s not officially supported by Windows 10. Despite this, for testing purposes, I tried to install Windows 10 on it because it’s a working portable and still has value in my eyes. With Windows 10 installed, the WiFi chipset, the touchpad and yes…the function keys that control the brightness won’t work.

2) After exhaustive searching, it seems that ASUS deemed the device unworthy of any driver support for Windows 10. This isn’t me pointing a finger at Microsoft, this is me pointing out because of planned obsolescence, oodles of perfectly good computers end up being recycled because companies that make them aren’t in a position to support their drivers for every new Windows release. I can totally respect that. Makes economic sense to me.

3) This is the part when Linux really sets itself apart from other operating systems. Instead of waiting for some random update that will never happen, Linux provides us with the raw materials to make a folding brick into a working notebook again.

Even though the tips above may seem like a lot of work, the same could be said for the generation of people who used to work on their own TVs, radios and changed their own oil in their cars. Linux isn’t for everyone and that’s completely fine with me. But don’t kid yourself, dear reader, into thinking that Linux has less driver support than its proprietary counterparts. In terms of retroactive device compatibility, it blows Windows out of the water and into another time zone. I’d also point out that newer hardware compatibility is rarely more than a few months off with the latest kernel releases. Just something to think about before leaving negative comments regarding hardware support and Linux. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a statement of proven fact.

As for Joe, the person who wrote me asking for advice on addressing this issue. He should find that one of these tips provides him with the results he’s looking for without waiting on a multinational company to fix it for him.

Do you have Linux questions you’d like Matt to help with? Hit the link here and perhaps you too, can Just Ask Matt!

Software to Record Linux Tutorials

tutorial-software

Today Dan writes:

Matt I have long wavered between Linux Mint/Ubuntu/Windows. With the onslaught of privacy invasion from Windows 10. The decision has been made to run desktops from Linux Mint and keep my headless Ubuntu Servers. My question: what apps do you use to record/stream your desktop while using your camera to insert your face live on the bottom right of your screen. As you are a podcast guru, I would like your suggestions on apps and any tips as I am planning on creating a few how to’s for my family in Linux Mint because they have all decided to go that route as well. A few how to’s will save me time in repeating things over and over and enlighten me in an area I’ve wanted to explore for some time. Keep up the good work, your team’s articles are very appreciated and well written.

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the kind words. And congrats on moving your family over to Linux. Once you have a distro setup and keep it maintained, it’s so much easier in terms of avoiding malware or junk software. Getting to your question.

I like to use SimpleScreenRecorder, Audacity and then I edit stuff with Kdenlive. There are a few different approaches you can take here. For example, if you’re doing tutorials with a less than powerful PC, you can record the audio on another PC while capturing video demonstrations from the more powerful PC. My PC is thankfully powerful enough to capture everything on a single box. This allows me to achieve the desired result without skipping a beat.

The approach I use to capture my webcam video is a bit unusual. And since this will likely come up in the comments, I should point out that you can achieve the same effect using FFmpeg. In my case, I prefer to use MPlayer without a window border. I do this by using the following command from a hidden Tilda window.

mplayer -cache 128 -tv driver=v4l2:width=640:height=360 -vo xv tv:// -noborder -geometry "95%:93%" -ontop

The above command launches MPlayer using v4l2 with a width/height of 640/360. The positioning is handled by the “geometry” option. If you find this slows your PC down too much, you can use Kdenlive in post production to add a composited window over the main video footage. This would allow you to record the webcam footage using software like Cheese or Guvcview. Speaking for myself, I recommend the MPlayer, VLC or FFmpeg method.

Remember, you can play with the above MPlayer variables to find the positioning and size you want. The variables I recommend testing out are width/height and geometry.

When recording audio and video separately, I like to clap loudly so I can match the clap audio with the webcam video. This provides a poor-man’s syncing option. In terms of how to best capture the audio, I recommend any typical noise-canceling USB headset with a microphone. Unlike a microphone, you will have full head mobility which will make it a more relaxed experience when you make your recordings.

The last thing I recommend installing is pavucontrol. This volume control tool is far more robust than the default on any popular desktop environment. It allows you to go farther than simply defaulting output and input settings. With a device playing or recording, you can better control what is playing or capturing the audio with the Playback and Recording tabs.

At a later date, I will provide a complete walk through the process I use. But if you’re comfortable using Linux, everything above will get you going just fine in creating your family tutorials.

Do you have Linux questions you’d like Matt to help with? Hit the link here and perhaps you too, can Just Ask Matt!

Nitrogen on the MATE Desktop

Nitrogen on the MATE Desktop

Today Kai writes:

Hi there,

Maybe you can help me. I’m running Linux mint mate 18 and very new user. I downloaded nitrogen to change wallpapers on dual screens. Every time I try to change wallpaper, nothing happens. the old wall paper is still there. but when i turn off my system, I see a glimpse of the wallpapers I changed. went on the forums and they told me to run this gsettings set org.mate.background draw-background false

I ran it and nothing happens…usually it would prompt some kind of execution message. went on the forums again and they said it turned off caja background draw. I’m sure it did..but nitrogen still is not changing wallpaper. do u have any suggestions on what to do?..

Hi Kai,

As you’ve found out, setting up draw-background to false does absolutely nothing of value in this instance. What does however, is a sleep timer and xrefresh -none in a startup script.

Nitrogen

Here’s what you’re going to want to do. From Preferences (Preferences>Personal>Startup Applications on Ubuntu MATE), you’ll want to add the following script as follows:

sh nitrogen-fix.sh

Notice that I added ‘sh’ to the command in Startup Applications. I’ve tested it with and without absolute paths. The above approach works and other approaches don’t.

The script itself needs to contain the following:

#!/bin/bash
sleep 30
nitrogen --restore
xrefresh -none

The sleep timer allows the desktop to fully load up, then Nitrogen can run and override the desktop drawing with xrefresh. If you have x11-xserver-utils installed, xrefresh is installed already.

Once your nitrogen-fix.sh file is created in your text editor, save it to your home directory using that file name (nitrogen-fix.sh). Now open a terminal and let’s make it executable. You can also do this by right clicking on the file, going to the permissions tab and making it executable. Otherwise, just do this in a terminal:

chmod +x nitrogen-fix.sh

Now that the file is executable, you can test things out by rebooting your PC. Remember, you setup the script to run previously. Just reboot the computer, wait the 30-something seconds post-boot and then you’ll see the desktop revert to the Nitrogen set choices.

Do you have Linux questions you’d like Matt to help with? Hit the link here and perhaps you too, can Just Ask Matt!

Buying Your First Dedicated Linux PC

Linux PC

Today Cheryl writes in,

Hello Matt,

I’m wondering about buying computers for Linux. I have had Macs for the last ten years, and I know folks like to bash them, but I have had zero problems running Linux with them. I’m now totally committed to Linux, and it doesn’t matter to me if it runs the Mac OS or not, so I’m wondering about the best approach for finding an affordable machine for photo editing, video editing and noodling around. I mainly use Linux Mint, but I’ve been known to distro hop and currently have partitions with Manjaro, Solus and Ubuntu Mate too.

I’m a non-rich, if not starving, artist, so I need to learn how to approach affordable hardware that will run well (which translates to how to have the best possible machine for $600-700, laptop or desktop, either way). I’m all in favor of the folks like System 76 who build for Linux, but they are a bit out of my price range at the moment. I know there are lots of cheap windows machines, but most of those specs aren’t as good as my 2011 Macbook Air… And I hear stories about Windows hardware locking things down so Linux can’t be installed, which is pretty scary too.

Any advice about places to buy from or resources to use for system building?

Thank you, good penguin sir!
Cheryl


Hi Cheryl,

I totally hear you on the Mac front. My spouse is a Mac user and it suits her desire to “just get things done” quite well. It’s not for me, but I understand the desire to use Apple products. Heck I’m typing this article on my wife’s Macbook Pro running Ubuntu MATE (it’s set to dual-boot). You own a 2011 Air – you could potentially dual-boot Linux and OS X on it.

Now getting back to your main point about finding an affordable Linux PC, let me ask you this – do you still own any of those Macs? Are any of those Macs Intel-based? If you can answer yes to both questions, then perhaps the solution is to consider re-branding these older Macs into working Linux machines. Even a Mac with two GB of RAM could be used to give you a fairly decent Linux box. The more RAM however, the better.

The above option is the most cost-effective choice. However, if you’re starting off from scratch and wish to build your own desktop PC then I’ll share my opinion as to the best approach.

If you’re interested in building your own, I highly recommend the experience. It’s fantastic and in the end, you will end up with vastly better hardware than you would if you were to buy a cheap pre-installed Windows box from Dell.

The first thing I’d do is go to NewEgg.com and price out some motherboard/CPU/RAM combos. You can get a pretty decent setup for under $200. Next you’re going to want to find a PC case with a decent power supply. By decent, I mean one that offers both enough power to run everything while also providing stable power for your components. Price is usually reflective of quality in this space.

By doing a bit of shopping around, you can build a solid PC for $400 that will blow away a pre-built PC from most major sellers.

Before taking the leap, I recommend you look into YouTube videos demonstrating PC building. This will help you decide if it’s worth it or not. I suspect you’ll find it to be perfectly duplicable and that brings us to the next step – buying the components. I highly recommend buying your PC components from NewEgg vs some random website.

With regard to specific resources for pre-built stuff to purchase, that’s a tough one. Pre-built desktop PCs of any variety should run just fine, even pre-built for Windows. Just make sure you’re running with either Intel or NVIDIA graphics and you’ll be fine. I again, recommend buying pre-built (complete) PCs from NewEgg as they’re a highly-trusted seller.

As to the scary lock-in you expressed concern about, not to worry – most distros provide support to work-a-round that problem. Ubuntu, Linux Mint are just a few with ways to work around UEFI issues.

Do you have Linux questions you’d like Matt to help with? Hit the link here and perhaps you too, can Just Ask Matt!