Friday, February 12, 2016

One Week with NetBSD 7.0: LibreOffice! Working audio! OpenBSD?

Things are humming right along with this NetBSD install, and so this dispatch is of the odds-and-ends variety, so let's get right to it.


I managed to get LibreOffice installed, which you'd think is no biggie, but nevertheless I was initially flummoxed by variations on the install commands:

# pkgin install libreoffice


# pkgin install libreoffice4


# pkgin install loffice

(Really, Jim?)

And on and on it went.

Finally, a web search or two later, I hit upon something workable:
# pkgin install libreoffice*
And with that I'm now up to full productivity capabilities and have no need to boot any live cd to simply Get Stuff Done Other Than Tweaking the System. The successful install command above was found on a website that gives step-by-step instructions on installing Xfce on NetBSD 7.0. (My previous NetBSD 7.0 install was short-lived due to general impatience at things not coming together, and one of the big pieces was Xfce 4. While it certainly installed, something just didn't seem right. In fairness, though, I had been following instructions for getting it on NetBSD 6.x, so my problem may have been a faulty chair-keyboard interface.)

All that just to say that my next major task before the next post will be to get Xfce installed for no other reason than the availability of up-to-date instructions, and with any relevant notes or observations posted here.


Lack of audio was another pain point during my previous NetBSD install. This time I took a deep breath and consulted the Internet. One person who posted a comment yesterday said I may need to install GStreamer, and so after ending up at a page on that plugin, I installed it as follows:

# pkgin install p5-GStreamer

(To be honest, I may have entered the package name as "p5-GStreamer*".)

The audio still wasn't working, so my instincts told me that perhaps installing Flash might tie it all together into workability, and so I followed the instructions listed at (of all places!), and found success but with two minor caveats:

  • Where the NetBSD wiki says to cd to /usr/pkgsrc/multimedia/adobe-flash-plugin, you actually need to cd to /usr/pkgsrc/multimedia/adobe-flash-plugin11. (Wildcards are your friends: for more efficient keystrokes and the smug feeling that comes with being a seasoned console jockey, cd to /usr/pkgsrc/mult*/adob*.)

  • And where said wiki says to add ACCEPTABLE_LICENSES+=flash-license to your /etc/mk.conf file, just know that the build will sprain its ankle in mid-stream and tell you to also add ACCEPTABLE_LICENSES+= adobe-flashsupport-license. (Let the software licensing flame war begin...)

Once I completed all of the above, I could finally watch YouTube videos with sound, and had full-functionality on, a music composition site with playback capabilities. (The latter is one of my benchmarks for how well a browser implementation works.)

I'm now a happy guy!

What do mean twm and mwm are ugly?

One of the readers of yesterday's post commented that twm and mwm are "ugly" as far as window managers go. I suppose there's no accounting for taste, and with having enjoyed more than one screening of Pink Flamingos, I waive the right to judge anyone. I may adore twm and mwm (and boy, do I ever!), but I don't begrudge anyone who sees them differently. Part of the beauty of any minimal window manager, however, is that they tend stay out of your way and let you get down to work.

Which leads me to the following digression on window managers vs. desktop environments.

If someone is truly wanting to learn Unix, they should think of it as being as much of a language as it is an operating system. The main reason why I don't just turn off my brain and settle for some Ubuntu-based Linux distro that despite the wealth of available packages, whenever I use Linux Mint (for example), I always feel like I'm losing my Unix skills by the minute due to the temptation to accomplish things the GUI way.

Sure, in Linux Mint (or any BSD or other distro configured for maximum GUI reliance) you can always open a terminal window. But in such an environment, particularly if your attention span is as sickly as mine, trying to exercise your Unix skills on a regular basis is like trying to read an engrossing novel while hanging out on Las Vegas' Fremont Street during the evening lightshow. Who can concentrate on text while simulated fighter jets are screaming overhead?

(I have nothing against Linux Mint or any distros of its ilk - it simply isn't for me beyond its utility as a live cd. I like to visit it, but I'd never want to call it home.)

And so if you're wanting some peace and quiet while you "think" in Unix, any minimal window manager worth its salt will respect the Do Not Disturb sign.


Yesterday's drive-by reference to OpenBSD (vis-à-vis the NVIDIA issue) was, in retrospect, written in too much of a cursory and offhand way, and justifiably triggered some comments after I posted a link to that article in the Google+ OpenBSD community. Part of the problem with writing rambling pieces like this is that sometimes the printed word is too much of a transcription of my in-the-moment thoughts, and so my subconscious default assumption is that of course all of the outside world understands the larger context of what I'm talking about.

What didn't come through in the quick reference to OpenBSD having "choked" on the NVIDIA card is that OpenBSD is far and away my favorite operating system, that up until last June I had used it for three years with no distro-hopping (a personal record), and that it kills me that I can't run it on this machine. I am aware of and respect the project's ideals, and the principled stance it takes on NVIDIA's non-cooperation with the free software community makes me respect it even more.

Although I'm often a pouty little baby over not running OpenBSD on this machine, I realize it was my own fault for not doing a bit more research before making the purchase, and so this should serve as a cautionary tale for those in the market for a new or refurbished laptop. Do your homework!

My apologies to the OpenBSD community for doing it a disservice by not putting the NVIDIA issue in its proper context. If the rest of the industry had as much integrity as these people, we computer users would all be in a much better place.