Category Archives: Linux

Manjaro on Dell Inspiron 15-5568 is flawless.

I’ve been burning ISOs all day with dd, and noticed it runs “silently” with no progress displayed. That’s a real problem when you’re pulling old USB sticks out of the closet. For example, this promotional “Electronic Arts” USB stick I have is so slow, it’s basically unusable. But I didn’t realize how bad it was right away, because “dd” doesn’t show progress.

I Googled for a solution and found “dcfldd” is a drop-in replacement for “dd” and shows the progress just fine. For example, I’m burning Manjaro right now:

32768 blocks (1024Mb) written.

I think Manjaro is ~1607Mb, so we’re making progress here!

I bought a new laptop and long story, the WIFI isn’t supported by BunsenLabs because the Linux kernel there is older, and the laptop doesn’t have Ethernet, and I don’t have a good USB WIFI antenna.

One forum I found said this Dell WIFI hardware is natively supported in the 4.3 Linux kernel. I thought, great, all I need to do is install Debian 9 (Stretch) which has the updated drivers. So I burn the Debian ISO and the installer says that I need a pile of “ucode” files. To make a long story short, Debian Stretch did not recognize my WIFI hardware!

Back to Google, somebody got this Dell Inspiron 15-5568 laptop working with Manjaro. Too bad I didn’t go straight to Manjaro, I would have saved myself hours! Installation of Manjaro was so easy. I even took photos, that’s how beautiful the installation is.

Burning the ISO was easy. I just downloaded the Manjaro ISO from here. I did “ls /dev/” to find my USB stick was “sdb” and to be sure I pulled out the stick to make sure “sdb” was not there. To get the verbose progress, instead of “dd” use dcfldd.

apt-get install dcfldd

dcfldd if=manjaro-xfce-16.10.3-stable-x86_64.iso of=/dev/sdb

Burning the ISO was the hardest part. Turned off the Dell, inserted the USB with Manjaro, turned it on, pressed F12 and selected to boot the USB stick. I’m pretty sure it booted the USB in UEFI mode, I didn’t even have to use the “Legacy” mode.

Then you get a menu. Choose the first option that says something like “Start Manjaro.” It takes a few seconds to boot up.

Here’s the best part. “It just works.” Screen brightness function keys work. Touch screen works. I was able to connect to WIFI no problem. Great!

You’re presented with a menu screen that offers to install Manjaro on your laptop. The process is fairly easy and the interface is gorgeous.

The first time through, I wasn’t paying attention to the options I used because I was distracted by writing this blog post, and the cool graphics. I should have payed more attention because Manjaro did not boot after installation was complete. After booting with F12, it asked for my disk decryption password (which is an optional feature) and my password didn’t work. So I’m trying again, see the next paragraph.

For future reference, this 2nd time through the installer worked fine. I chose the “Erase Disk” option, and for “boot loader location” I chose “system partition”. I also chose to encrypt the disk.

A little criticism: The installer said I’m getting one partition with LUKS and MSDOS. I’m not sure if I’m getting one partition or two. That could be explained better, but frankly I don’t care, as long as it works. It shows “before” and “after” graphic representations of the disk, which is helpful, but the “after” portion is red, which is a little unsettling ;-) For comparison, I like Debian’s “guided” partition suggestions, even if Debian’s installer is not very pretty.

In any case, I pulled out the USB and rebooted. This time it booted fine. It prompted me for my decryption password, which worked fine. No problems.

In conclusion, I have installed tons of operating systems over the decades, and the Manjaro installer is nice. Now to get it configured, so I can get back to work.

February 12th 2017 Update

I will try to keep Manjaro notes here for future reference. So far the Dell laptop is awesome, and Manjaro is awesome too.

– I have a feeling the “encrypted disk” option is incompatible with hibernation. Had the same problem with my Lenovo. I have a theory the encryption causes problems with hibernation. If you need hibernation, just don’t use encryption, it’s a tradeoff. To be safe, stick to “suspend” and avoid hibernation if you want an encrypted disk. I’m on the fence with this one–should I encrypt my disk or not? Because I’m from Florida, robberies are common and that’s why I prefer to encrypt my disk. (Somebody broke into my car in Austin just to steal my jacket, so yeah.) It’s possible hibernation will work fine, but this morning I had a problem and I had to run fsck. Orphaned inodes. It was an easy fix. Pro-tip, if the Manjaro animation just animates forever, you can press ESC to see the error message. Apparently the animation hides all the ugly initialization stuff.

– If you’re going to try different themes in Manjaro, stick to the “Community” versions. The default “vertex” theme is excellent, just stick to that. The only problem is, Google’s web developers are lame and don’t set the “color” of input fields–so you’re going to end up with white-on-white text sometimes. I’m not sure how to fix this yet. It’s a known bug in Firefox. Maybe there’s a plugin that will fix this, or some clever CSS code that can be dropped into Firefox, I’m not sure yet.

– Some fonts can make the system go crazy, stick to the basics: DejaVu or Liberation. By default, sub-pixel smoothing was turned off. Definitely turn this on! “Slight” hinting is the best.

– Pytyle works pretty well with XFCE, which I was not expecting. This makes Manjaro so much better! This requires that you remap some of the keys. I remapped “H” and “L” to “comma” and “period” which is very intuitive with some practice. 99% of the time, all you need is “C” to cycle, “A” to reset, and “H” (high) and “L” (low) to resize, which can map to “<" and ">” respectively. If you’re a Pytyle user, you don’t really need window decorations.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to turn off window decorations in XFCE. No big deal. My recommendation is to make the window title font small and choose slim window decorations. If you want to maximize screen space, make everything slim, use small fonts, and there’s a “thin/slim tabs” extension that makes a big difference too. I definitely recommend Pytyle if you need a good window tiler. The Dell 1080p screen shines if you have good eyesight and can read small text. I can have several terminals and files open in Geany on the screen at the same time, which makes my work easier.

– Unlike Tint, XFCE’s Panel is weird because applications on your 2nd desktop are hidden from the panel. In general though, the XFCE Panel looks awesome and it’s a great way to minimize windows and keep track of what you’re doing.

– I miss dedicated “Home” and “End” keys, but the Dell keyboard is actually great so far. I wish the keys lit up, but what do you expect from a $500 laptop?

I’m very busy today, I will add more later.

February 13th 2017 Update

I joined the Manjaro forum and here’s my first post. I’ll include some of those observations here for posterity, with some additions:

Manjaro’s whisker menu is cool. I like the “favorites” option. Everything is easy to access here.

The XFCE panel is similar to my familiar Tint2. The main difference from Tint2, the tabs for the 2nd desktop are hidden on the 2nd desktop. Other than that, this panel is easier to configure and gets the job done.

I like the included dark “Vertex” theme. It didn’t take long for me to configure everything. I was very happy that Pytyle works with XFCE.

I tried all the dark themes I could find in “yaourt” and none of them are as nice as the Vertex default, in my opinion. However, one of them, I think “darksnow” messed up my system and turned almost everything to black-on-black and I had to delete my XFCE config files and start over from skel. The “Community” options are probably safer to use with Manjaro.

But back to the Dell Inspiron, I was thrilled that my brightness keys were recognized by Manjaro, and my volume function keys work, as well as the hardware volume keys. With Debian and Linux in general, you never know if your function keys will work properly.

The “close lid to lock and suspend” works perfectly and that’s a nice feature. It just works and that saves time.

Dell Comeback?

I’m thinking I should make some videos, both with a camera and with screen recording, to show how cool this laptop is. I would like to see Dell sell lots more of these laptops to Linux devotees like myself. $500 seems like a fair price for what you get. This is my first Dell device in 20 years. The last time I had a Dell was in the 90s. Dell seems to be the new leader in making large, high-resolution screens. This gives Dell an edge over the competition.

I looked at a lot of laptops in this price range and they all had crummy screens. If you have good eyes, you can put your face up to a laptop and you can easily see pixels at 720p, which is what most of them have. 720p is fine for watching videos, but if you’re working with a lot of text, you need 1080p, at least, and this Dell Inspiron delivers.

The hinges look strong. Are they steel or titanium? I can’t tell. They are huge and seamless, and aesthetically nice to look at from any angle. This is important, because hinges are a real weak point for laptops. One of my Thinkpads, a metal hinge just cracked for no reason, and that was it, the whole thing becomes useless. Also if you’re using a webcam, you don’t want wimpy hinges. In terms of design, the laptop looks great. The design is minimalistic, yet functional. The Walmart display was incredibly unflattering.

My only complaint about the physical construction, if you’re using it on a chair arm, and your work surface is not 100% flat, the touchpad gets “tighter” and taps don’t work as well. I’m talking to a friend about inventing a laptop platform that wedges into your chair arm, which minimizes this “flex” issue. I already built a prototype. Who knows, maybe you will see me pitch the idea on Shark Tank ;-)

Like I already said, the screen is great. What I love is, there’s no “non-glare” coating or etching to blur the pixels. I know this infuriates some people, but if you have excellent vision, non-glare screens are horrible. Yes, it’s a touch screen, but I wouldn’t dare touch it because of fingerprints ;-)

I would like to start a movement of people moving from smartphones back to laptops. I’m starting to see my smartphone like a leech. It takes and takes, but gives me nothing back. A Linux laptop offers peace of mind, like more privacy, and the security of knowing a 3rd party isn’t keylogging you, recording your screen, eavesdropping, taking unwanted photos or videos, etc. Also it’s a way to keep work separate from your life.

For a variety of reasons, I think laptops make us more productive, and it takes a conscious effort to uninstall smartphone “apps” that duplicate what we can achieve more effectively by using a laptop.

March 2017 Update

Recently, I noticed some WIFI connections using IPv6, which was confusing my VPN and some apps that expect a certain IP address. Apparently Manjaro enables IPv6 by default. You can disable it at the kernel level, but I didn’t want to go to that extreme. Grepping around in my /etc/ directory, I found that /etc/ufw/sysctl.conf looked particularly interesting. On a hunch, I added the following lines to the bottom of that file:

net/ipv6/conf/all/disable_ipv6=1
net/ipv6/conf/default/disable_ipv6=1
net/ipv6/conf/lo/disable_ipv6=1

It was a lucky guess, based on this post.
I’m not sure if all those lines are necessary, but I won’t argue with success. It turns out, ufw stands for Uncomplicated Firewall. To start the firewall:

ufw enable

Talk about uncomplicated! That was it. I reconnected back to beautiful IPv4. There’s just something really gnarly looking about IPv6 addresses.

Minor Dell Criticism

So far I have only two minor complaints about the laptop.

1. The power button is easily pressed by accident. For example, if you’re booting up and grab the keyboard area, it’s easy to mess up the boot process. Also, I think the power button has been pressed in my bag, because it’s exposed on the side. It’s not a big deal though.

2. As a laptop, it requires a fairly flat surface. If the body bends somewhat, like on the edge of a chair, the touchpad tightens and “clicks” itself.