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Posts Tagged ‘linux’

Debian and Back Again

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

I decided a few days ago that Xubuntu was just too sluggish on my old, ailing laptop. I’d heard that Crunchbang was a bit faster, so I tried it out, but X just segfaulted on startup.  The same thing had happened on Xubuntu 8.10, so I’d been sticking with 8.04.  I tried Arch next, hoping that something not based on Ubuntu would fare better.

Arch seems like a neat distro, but it didn’t solve my problem with X. After much digging (including a couple sessions with gdb), I found out that the newly-rewritten PCI access code in Xorg 7.4 was trying to initialize my laptop’s broken PCMCIA hardware, causing the segfault. Someone on the #xorg-devel IRC channel also pointed out a patch that fixes the problem.  The patch did fix the segfault, but after all that fucking around, I still couldn’t get X to actually start.  Even with the basic VGA driver, it would immediately drop me back to the command line without giving any errors at all.

Yesterday, I finally gave up and decided that Arch was too bleeding-edge for my poor broken laptop.  I ended up going back to Debian, the first Linux distro that I ever used. I’d originally stopped using it because the “stable” version was too conservative (and the “unstable” and “testing” versions too prone to breakage), but in this case that seems like a good thing.

In order to keep the machine running at a decent speed, I’m just using a basic window manager in X instead of a full desktop environment.  I’m giving xmonad a try right now.  I think I’d need a higher-resolution screen to really take advantage of the “tiling window manager” concept, but I do like how it’s almost exclusively keyboard-controlled, and how it lacks space-wasting window decorations.  I’m also trying the Vimperator plugin in Firefox (or rather, Iceweasel), allowing me to cut down significantly on my mouse usage.

I still need to delve into xmonad’s configuration, set up the status bar, find a decent xterm replacement, and install ProFont.

How to get ProFont working in Ubuntu

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve recently started using a font called “ProFont” for my programming and other terminal-related activities.  It’s quite nice, and designed to be readable at small sizes.  I use it at 8 point:

8 point ProFont in an 80x24 terminal

8 point ProFont in an 80x24 terminal

I don’t actually use 80×24 anymore, but you get the idea.

It didn’t immediately work when I installed it on my main machine (which runs Kubuntu), and it took some digging to figure out why.  It turns out that fonts on modern Linux machines are handled by a horrible chimera.  There’s the new font system, “fontconfig”, as well as the old “core X font subsystem”.  The instructions that I had found online installed ProFont into the old font system, but not into the new one.  I also tried using the GUI font configuration tool provided by KDE, but it did nothing.

After much searching and frustration, I discovered that Ubuntu and its variants have fontconfig configured to not use bitmap fonts by default.  ProFont is a bitmap font, and such fonts are usually used by old X applications that use the old font system.  The reason for this configuration is that a lot of the bitmap fonts have the same name as other fonts on your system, and if they’re enabled they may in some instances end up being used instead of the typically better-looking vector fonts that you usually see.

In order to get ProFont working, you’ll need to add an exception to your fontconfig configuration.  I suggest editing the ~/.fonts.conf file, which contains user-specific options.  Here’s mine, with the part that I added in bold: (more…)