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Old 10-08-2017, 08:55 PM   #1
Registered: Oct 2014
Distribution: Void
Posts: 203

Rep: Reputation: 60
Partially back on Linux after five years, solving a WiFi issue... and it's not Slackware, sadly.

(This might well be in the wrong subforums. Please move this topic as you wish.)

So, as some of you had probably already thought, I didn't really fit here initially, having got rid of stubborn GNU/Linux on both my servers and laptops in 2012. There were severe problems even with so-called "stable" distributions like Debian (which was what powered my servers back then), leading to systems that would have required serious work to boot again.

I finally got fed up and pulled the plugs, replacing my Debian servers by FreeBSD (later, OpenBSD) and purging my Fedora laptop partition, leaving my Windows intact.¹

But, as I randomly travel to congresses and other conventions, I like to take a more dumbed down laptop with me, preferably encrypted, so I can take notes, write blog articles, surf the web, process my e-mail and brag about not using GNU/Linux.² Over the past few years, an ancient(ish) 32-bit ThinkPad with OpenBSD served me well for this, but it does indeed start to show its age: it is slow and loud and just not nice anymore. As the next convention will be in two weeks, I talked myself into getting a new machine for "surfing, e-mails et cetera", this time 15 instead of 14 inches. (I find 14 inches to be too small, especially on Ancient ThinkPad³ resolutions.) A cheap Acer Aspire ES15 should do, or so I thought. This machine is not really built to run something else than Windows from UEFI, but somehow I found out how to get into and modify the BIOS; my, these boot firmwares are damn fast these days.)

My initial plan to take the chance to dig into illumos was shiny (Tribblix does seem to be a rock-solid no-frills desktop system), but one of the most relevant pieces of hardware in the laptop, the WiFi chipset, is unsupported. It happens to be some newer Atheros (ath10k), which sounds easy enough. "Well then", I said, "illumos is probably not staffed with WiFi maintainers. Let's try something else."⁴ So I tried the battle-tested OpenBSD, proven to be compatible with anything that remotely resembles laptop hardware, and - no WiFi.


After some DuckDuckGoing, I found that this particular chipset is mostly unsupported by anything except Windows and Linux with FreeBSD support coming "soon" (probably FreeBSD 12); thus, given the narrow time frame, my only real choices were Windows and a Linux, and I still don't intend to run Windows on my portable web machines. But which Linux?

Coincidentally, I randomly recommend Slackware to people who insist on trying Linux. My exact words are usually: If I'll ever need to choose a Linux again, I'll choose Slackware. Now there was the time to live up to my decisions. Hooray... well, good thing there's ##slackware. (Hat tip to the great greybeards who seem to reside there and randomly leave their caves to answer stupid questions.)

The WiFi worked out of the box!

But I did experience problems on my Slackware trip:
  1. lilo didn't want to be installed. Multiple times. Repeating the Slackware installation five times in the exactly same way finally worked. Please don't ask me why.
  2. The touchpad doesn't work (Advanced Mode) or only works with left-click (Basic Mode) which would be fine for me if I hadn't preferred to run Window Maker on it⁵ which does make use of right-click menus.
  3. The package ecosystem is confusing, to say the least. slackpkg+ is really helpful, but it still excludes SlackBuilds. Also, regularly missing dependencies make it harder to keep track of installed software while keeping the overhead low. (Installing dependencies for dependencies of software which you just want to try once is not really something I would recommend to anyone if I had the choice.)
  4. Even respecting third-party repositories, some of my preferred software (e.g. qutebrowser and neomutt) wasn't officially ported to Slackware yet. Compiling much of my userland myself would probably lead to serious issues for Slackware 15.0 or 14.3, whenever the libraries would become incompatible next. I knew that, at least, from my FreeBSD servers.

While the first issue somehow fixed itself and I - coming from the BSDs - am perfectly fine with finding my ways around the package-related ones, the touchpad problem broke Slackware's neck for me. There were a couple of hints both on the IRC and on the web, none of which really solved my issue; one even disabled my trackpad completely. This was a frustrating experience for me. As I didn't have anything important stored on this laptop yet, I decided to start all over again. Maybe some other distribution would be less frustrating?

I had very few requirements for that: I'd prefer a system (well, Linux was the only real choice here) that
  • comes without systemd (even with NixOS being an adorable systemd distribution, I was not interested in sharing the mostly negative experiences of other people),
  • has a decent set of available packages and a package manager that is sophisticated enough to get out of my way,
  • is unlikely to be abandoned soon (the systemd fiasco sew quite some one-hit wonders; Devuan, anyone?),
  • comes with a small base set of applications (I mostly know what I need and I usually don't need more than that),
  • is not based on Slackware (sorry, but I'd still prefer the original ... if the hardware works with it, that is).

That left me in the end with one choice: Void Linux.

I decided to install yesterdays's musl variation of Void Linux because I always wanted to have a good excuse to try how musl performs on an actual machine. I failed to install it in UEFI mode ("No bootable device", I guess I'll blame Acer), but good old legacy boot still works wonders.

Void Linux is lovely: No systemd, bleeding-edge software⁶, a decent set of available packages, no preinstalled bloat (I chose the base installation, not sure about the desktop spins) and - whyever - a working touchpad with two keys on X. The only issues I found were a missing ed(1) (seriously, why do people think that something as small and essential like ed should be packaged externally?) and missing dependencies for a very small subset of the applications I intended to use.

Now Void Linux is really different: No crontab, no iwconfig and the fastest boot I've witnessed on any machine I own. runit seems to be worth being read about. So, well, I'm back on Linux again, at least until FreeBSD 12. I'll try to enjoy the time, I promise.

Final thought: I would totally post this to the Void Linux forums, but their forum software sucks, so I rather won't register there. I still hope you enjoyed reading it.

---------[ LEGEND ]---------

¹ Yes, I'm very happy with that.
² Depending on where I go, this is something special. Don't take me too seriously here, neither do I anyway.
³ Is that a valid product name yet? If not, why not? Your chance, Lenovo or whatever your next name is!
⁴ You still should really try Tribblix unless you need Atheros support.
⁵ I switched to StumpWM on the same day, noticing that Window Maker works best with a mouse and attempting to work around the touchpad issue. I still like it a lot.
⁶ I am well aware that this will hurt me one day. Badly.

Last edited by YesItsMe; 10-09-2017 at 09:04 AM. Reason: forgot minor things
Old 10-10-2017, 11:56 AM   #2
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Followed the sig link to here. I understand about flavors of ice scream and druthers and being pragmatic and all that. Nice success story. I enjoyed the diversion.
1 members found this post helpful.


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