Resurrecting my Iomega Zip 100 parallel-port drive – Linux comes to the rescue

Top view of Z100P2 drive with 100 MB Zip disk in front.

Top view of Z100P2 drive with 100 MB Zip disk in front.

Z100P2 drive with disk inserted.

Z100P2 drive with disk inserted.

Rear sockets of Z100P2 drive.

Rear sockets of Z100P2 drive.

Back in 1998 I purchased what was then a state-of-the-art storage medium: an external Iomega Zip 100 drive, which used removable 100 MB ‘SuperFloppy’ disks. Until 2002 I backed up my important files on removable Zip 100 MB disks. Over several years in the 1990s Iomega released various models of the Zip 100 MB drive: internal SCSI; internal IDE; internal ATAPI; external DB-25 IEEE 1284 parallel port; external USB 1.1. I bought the external DB-25 IEEE 1284 parallel port model Z100P2. When affordable CD drives and external hard disk drives started to appear I began using those for backups instead, and the Zip drive and a box full of Zip 100 MB disks had been gathering dust on a shelf at home since I stopped using them in 2002.

Now, I was fairly sure I had copied all the files off those Zip disks all those years ago, but recently I wanted to check the contents and then wipe the disks prior to disposing of them and the drive. The trouble was, I have not owned a computer with a legacy parallel port for many years. This is the story of how I managed to use the Zip 100 drive again after a hiatus of some nineteen years.

Notice that the drive has a second DB-25 port with the icon of a printer above it. That socket is to allow a legacy parallel port printer to be connected (‘daisy chained’) to the computer at the same time as the Zip 100 drive. I have not owned a parallel port printer for many years, so that port is of no interest to me.

By the way, the Iomega Zip 100 drive gained rather a bad reputation because of the so-called click of death, although Iomega stated that it affected less than 0.5 percent of all Jaz and Zip drives. I never experienced this problem with my Zip 100 drive and it is still working.

PART 1 – HARDWARE

Power supply for Z100P2

When I purchased it in 1998, the Zip 100 drive was supplied with a chunky and rather heavy 240 VAC to 5 VDC PSU. However, I gave that away several years ago with an old 250 MB external USB HDD that required a 5 VDC power supply. So my first job was to get a 5 VDC supply for the Zip 100 drive. I decided to buy a USB-to-barrel-plug cable to power the Zip drive from a USB port on a computer. So I purchased a ‘USB to 5V DC power cable compatible with the Iomega Z100P2 ZIP drive’ from Amazon. The LEDs on the drive lit up and the drive briefly made the expected noise when I connected the drive to a computer using this power cable, so I was making progress. If a computer happens to have USB Type-A ports, this turns out to be a much neater approach than having to use a 5 VDC PSU.

5 Volts DC power socket on Z100P2 and barrel connector of the cable that is connected to the computer via USB Type-A at the other end.

5 Volts DC power socket on Z100P2 and barrel connector of the cable that is connected to the computer via USB Type-A at the other end.

 
Failed first attempt: USB to legacy parallel port printer adapters do NOT work with parallel Zip drives!

None of my laptops and desktop machines have the legacy DB-25 parallel port that the Z100P2 drive requires. No problem, I thought to myself, I’ll just buy a ‘USB to Printer DB25 25-Pin Parallel Port Cable Adapter’ – there are umpteen of these adapters available on eBay and Amazon. It wasn’t expensive, but I found out the hard way that these cable adapters usually work with parallel printers but definitely do not work with Iomega Zip 100 drives. So I needed to do one of the following:

  • get a parallel printer interface card for a PCIe slot in my modern desktop machines – and hope it would work with a Z100P2 drive;
  • get a legacy computer with a bidirectional parallel port with a DB-25 socket;
  • get a legacy computer with a PCI slot into which I could insert a legacy parallel printer PCI interface card (assuming I could get hold of one).

Computer with legacy parallel port

I searched eBay and found a second-hand Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF (Small Form Factor) with a legacy DB-25 parallel port (connected to the motherboard rather than to a card in one of its PCI slots), Intel Pentium E5800 CPU (3.20 GHz, 800 Mz FSB), 4 GB of PC3-10600U (1333 MHz) DDR3 DIMM memory and Windows 10 Pro installed with a valid licence. It also has plenty of USB 2.0 Type-A ports, convenient for the USB-to-barrel-plug cable I bought to power the Z100P2 drive. The price was very reasonable indeed, so I bought it in the hope that it would be usable. The vendor assured me that Windows 10 detected the parallel port and no errors were reported, but the vendor had no legacy devices (e.g. parallel port printer) with which to actually test the port. Anyway, as it was so cheap I took a gamble and purchased it, although my research on the Web had already indicated that Windows 10 does not support parallel port Iomega Zip drives. I was thinking I could either try using a virtual machine or just wipe Windows 10 and install Linux on the machine.

The FSB speed of the legacy CPU actually limits the memory speed to 800 MHz, but performance is not too bad. I actually replaced the 4 GB of PC3-10600U memory with 8 GB of PC3-12800U (1600 MHz) memory (Crucial CT51264BD160B.C16FED2) which I purchased for a very good price on eBay, although upgrading to 8 GB of memory was not necessary for the purpose of getting the Zip 100 drive working. I decided to increase the memory because the machine is in a nice condition so I will keep it for future projects, which might need more memory.

By the way, the Dell documentation for the OptiPlex 780 SFF that I downloaded from Dell’s Web site states that the machine can only use 1066 MHz memory modules or 1333 MHz memory modules, and the 1333 MHz memory modules would only be able to have a speed of 1066 MHz. What is not obvious is that the documentation assumes that one of the E6xxx series or E7xxx series Wolfdale-3M CPUs (45 nm) is installed, as the speed of the FSB (Front Side Bus) of those CPUs is 1066 MHz. The earlier Wolfdale-3M CPUs which are installed in some OptiPlex 780 SFF machines have a FSB speed of 800 MHz, so even 1066 MHz memory modules are only going to have a speed of 800 MHz in those machines. The Wolfdale-3M CPU in my Dell machine is an E5800, which has a FSB speed of 800 MHz, so the memory speed is limited to 800 MHz (as confirmed on the BIOS System Setup screen, by the CPU-Z utility program running in Windows 10 (2 x 399.0 MHz), and by the Linux commands ‘sudo dmidecode --type 17‘ and ‘sudo lshw -short -C memory‘). The Crucial CT51264BD160B.C16FED2 PC3-12800 modules work fine in the machine, albeit limited to 800 MHz due to the CPU bus speed. On another note, if you happen to be looking for memory for a Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF, do NOT buy CT51264BD160BJ modules: the ‘J’ stands for ‘high-density’, and high-density modules do not work in this model.

Parallel port settings in the PC BIOS

The refurbished Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF has the following user-selectable options:

  1. Disable = Port is disabled
  2. AT = Port is configured for IBM AT compatibility
  3. PS/2 = Port is configured for IBM PS/2 compatibility
  4. EPP = Enhanced Parallel Port protocol
  5. ECP No DMA = Extended Capability Port protocol with no DMA
  6. ECP DMA 1 = Extended Capability Port protocol with DMA 1
  7. ECP DMA 3 = Extended Capability Port protocol with DMA 3

The BIOS had option ‘PS/2’ selected when I received the machine, which I eventually changed to ‘ECP No DMA’ but I think that was unnecessary.

The BIOS also had the Parallel Port Address set to 378h when I received it, and I left it as that.

Data connection

Fortunately I still had the original parallel cable to connect the Zip drive to a DB-25 parallel port on a computer.

Z100P2 end of cable connected to computer parallel port.

Z100P2 end of cable connected to computer parallel port.

Rear of legacy Dell PC with Z100P2 cable connected to the parallel port, and USB-to-barrel-plug power cable connected to a USB port.

Rear of legacy Dell PC with Z100P2 cable connected to the parallel port, and USB-to-barrel-plug power cable connected to a USB port.

PART 2 – SOFTWARE

First attempt – Failure: Windows XP in a VirtualBox virtual machine

My original intention was to wipe Windows 10 from the Dell machine and install Linux to see if I could get Linux to access the Zip drive. But, on second thoughts, I decided I might have a better chance in Windows because my research on the Web had already indicated that several people had successfully used Iomega Zip 100 parallel-port drives with Windows XP running in a virtual machine under Windows 10. I carefully followed a detailed article on how to do this using VirtualBox (How to use iomega zip 100 with parallel port on a windows 10 computer (so long as you have a free PCI slot)), but the Zip drive would not work with the Dell machine. I tried every BIOS option for the parallel port; I tried allowing Windows XP to install the driver; I installed the last official Iomega issue of the driver for Windows XP. Nothing worked.

Second attempt – Failure: Lubuntu 20.10 in a VirtualBox virtual machine

Then I decided to try installing Linux in a VirtualBox virtual machine under Windows 10. I chose Lubuntu 20.10 because it already has the necessary ppa (for older Zip parallel-port drives like mine) and the imm (for later versions of Zip 100 parallel-port drives than mine) modules built and either could simply be loaded from the command line. But that couldn’t access the drive either. Again, I tried without success every BIOS option for the parallel port.

Third attempt – Success: Live Lubuntu 20.10 on a USB pendrive

I was resigned to wiping Windows 10 and installing a Linux distribution when I had a brainwave: Why not try a Live Linux distribution? I used the mkusb utility to create a persistent installation of Live Lubuntu 20.10 on a USB pendrive (it had to use PC BIOS, as the legacy Dell machine does not support UEFI), booted it and used the command modprobe ppa to load the ppa parallel port driver. Shazam! The drive became device /dev/sdc4 and was auto-mounted as ‘ZIP-100’ in the LXQt file manager window. I can browse all the files on the 100 MB ZIP disks. It’s fast, too. I wish I’d thought of trying that first. I could have reformatted the disks with a Linux filesystem (ext4 or whatever) if I wanted to do that.

I then downloaded from a Debian amd64 repository the binary package for a 1996 Linux GUI utility named ‘jaZip‘ that someone named Jarrod Smith (thank you!) wrote in 1996 for Iomega Jaz and Zip drives, and I installed it easily in the Live Lubuntu 20.10 environment. It works perfectly, allowing me to mount, unmount, lock, unlock and eject Zip 100 MB disks. Linux came to the rescue again. I’m chuffed. Below are details of the steps I took to create a persistent Live USB pendrive with Lubuntu 20.10 with the ability to use my Iomega Z100P2 drive connected to the Dell OptiPlex 780 SFF PC.

By the way, a persistent Live Linux USB pendrive is not essential, it just means you don’t have to manually load the ppa module, re-install jaZip and configure it every time you boot the Live Linux environment.

1. Download the ISO of Lubuntu 20.10 from the official Lubuntu Web site.

2. Use the procedure in the following ‘How To’ article to create a persistent Live pendrive of Lubuntu 20.10 by using the utility mkusb:

Create a persistent Ubuntu USB which boots to RAM

The mkusb windows in that 2016 article are a bit different to those in the version of mkusb (12.3.9) that was installed by following the procedure, but it is fairly obvious what to do. Select the old user interface (Option e: Old User Interface). There is no need to perform the steps in ‘Extra: Boot the Live USB to RAM’ because it is now done automatically for you and added to the GRUB boot menu as an additional option.

3. Once I had created the persistent Live pendrive, I booted it and performed the installation procedure for jaZip, and configured the persistent Live installation. The console output for all these steps is shown below:

lubuntu@lubuntu:~$ sudo apt install libforms2
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  libforms2
0 upgraded, 1 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 327 kB of archives.
After this operation, 975 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Get:1 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu groovy/universe amd64 libforms2 amd64 1.2.3-1.4 [327 kB]
Fetched 327 kB in 0s (807 kB/s)  
Selecting previously unselected package libforms2.
(Reading database ... 240052 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack .../libforms2_1.2.3-1.4_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking libforms2 (1.2.3-1.4) ...
Setting up libforms2 (1.2.3-1.4) ...
Processing triggers for libc-bin (2.32-0ubuntu3) ...
lubuntu@lubuntu:~$ cd ~/Downloads
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ wget http://ftp.uk.debian.org/debian/pool/main/j/jazip/jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb
--2021-04-14 15:09:15--  http://ftp.uk.debian.org/debian/pool/main/j/jazip/jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb
Resolving ftp.uk.debian.org (ftp.uk.debian.org)... 2001:1b40:5600:ff80:f8ee::1, 78.129.164.123
Connecting to ftp.uk.debian.org (ftp.uk.debian.org)|2001:1b40:5600:ff80:f8ee::1|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 81280 (79K) [application/octet-stream]
Saving to: ‘jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb’

jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.de 100%[===========================================>]  79.38K  --.-KB/s    in 0.08s

2021-04-14 15:09:15 (941 KB/s) - ‘jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb’ saved [81280/81280]

lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo dpkg -i jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb
Selecting previously unselected package jazip.
(Reading database ... 240059 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack jazip_0.34-15.1+b2_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking jazip (0.34-15.1+b2) ...
Setting up jazip (0.34-15.1+b2) ...
Processing triggers for man-db (2.9.3-2) ...
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo adduser lubuntu floppy
Adding user `lubuntu' to group `floppy' ...
Adding user lubuntu to group floppy
Done.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo modprobe ppa # Load the parallel port driver for the Zip drive.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo blkid # Check if the Zip drive has now been detected.
/dev/sda1: LABEL="system" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="BCF27E52F27E10BE" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="6da119a3-01"
/dev/sda2: LABEL="windows" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="527280DF7280C8E5" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="6da119a3-02"
/dev/sdb1: LABEL="usbdata" BLOCK_SIZE="512" UUID="347345C33A9B90D1" TYPE="ntfs" PARTUUID="793c91c2-01"
/dev/sdb3: LABEL_FATBOOT="lub201064" LABEL="lub201064" UUID="7EAA-D59C" BLOCK_SIZE="512" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="793c91c2-03"
/dev/sdb4: BLOCK_SIZE="2048" UUID="2020-10-22-14-26-38-00" LABEL="Lubuntu 20.10 amd64" TYPE="iso9660" PTUUID="509643ab-f22d-4d70-8a47-8708c562cbfe" PTTYPE="gpt" PARTUUID="793c91c2-04"
/dev/loop0: TYPE="squashfs"
/dev/sdb5: LABEL="casper-rw" UUID="55459d4d-48f3-4b50-bd9b-3fd71e552bb2" BLOCK_SIZE="4096" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="793c91c2-05"
/dev/zram0: UUID="073aa55f-241b-4deb-b6a0-907676dfff65" TYPE="swap"
/dev/zram1: UUID="692d4cc6-21fa-48b8-8ef7-948dc13dec53" TYPE="swap"
/dev/sdc4: SEC_TYPE="msdos" LABEL_FATBOOT="ZIP-100" LABEL="ZIP-100" UUID="15F9-2C71" BLOCK_SIZE="512" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="726a014e-04"
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo mkdir -p /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo /usr/sbin/jazipconfig
There are currently no entries in /etc/jazip.conf.

Zip devices detected on the system:

  1:  Device /dev/sdc

There are no Jaz devices detected on the system.

Available commands:
 (a)dd an entry listed from detected devices.
 (c)reate an entry from scratch.
 (q)uit without saving.
 (e)xit and save changes.
                           ? a

What mount point? (e.g. /zip) /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100
--------------------------------------------
These are the entries currently selected for /etc/jazip.conf:

  1:   Device /dev/sdc   Mount point /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100

There are no other Zip devices detected on the system.

There are no Jaz devices detected on the system.

Available commands:
 (d)elete an entry from /etc/jazip.conf
 (c)reate an entry from scratch.
 (q)uit without saving.
 (e)xit and save changes.
                           ? e
Creating /etc/jazip.conf
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ cat /etc/jazip.conf
# Configuration file for jaZip
#
# Raw Device         Mount Point                  Read but ignored
  /dev/sdc              /media/lubuntu/ZIP-100                      auto    auto        0 0
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo jazip # Launch jaZip.
ERROR! Couldn't write entry to /etc/mtab.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo jazip # Launch jaZip.
lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ sudo nano /etc/modules # Add ppa so it gets loaded automatically.

4. Add a jaZip icon on the Linux Desktop so that you can launch jaZip easily:

4.1 Create the file /home/lubuntu/Desktop/jazip.desktop containing:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=jazip
GenericName=Manage Iomega Jaz and Zip drives
Comment=
Exec=/home/lubuntu/.launch_jazip.sh
Type=Application
Icon=/usr/share/doc/jazip/icons/jazip1.gif
Terminal=false

4.2 Right-click on the icon on the Desktop and tick ‘Trust this executable’.

4.3 Create the file /home/lubuntu/.launch_jazip.sh containing:

#!/bin/bash
lxqt-sudo nohup jazip &

4.4 Make it executable:

lubuntu@lubuntu:~/Downloads$ chmod +x ~/.launch_jazip.sh
jaZip window open on the Lubuntu 20.10 Desktop.

jaZip window open on the Lubuntu 20.10 Desktop.

What a pleasure to find that the ppa module, which has been part of the kernel distribution since sometime in the 1.3.x series, is still available and working in today’s Linux kernels, and that jaZip, a utility program for Linux originally released in 1996 and last updated (as far as I can tell) in the year 2001, still works in today’s Linux to manage hardware that has been obsolete for almost as long.

Notes on keyboard configuration in X Windows: Keyboard layout, Modifier Key and Compose Key

Before I dive into X Windows, I need to mention Miguel Farah’s excellent and comprehensive Web pages on keyboard layouts and standards:

http://www.farah.cl/Keyboardery/

There are umpteen articles, blog and forum posts available on the Web covering keyboard configuration for X Windows, but my notes below may be of help to someone. I briefly cover keyboard layout configuration (non-persistent) from the command line in a pseudo terminal in an X Windows session, and also how to make the configuration persist. I also cover how to configure a ‘Modifier Key‘ and a ‘Compose Key‘, two different things.

1. Changing the layout

Look in the file /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst to find out what settings are available in X Windows. The file is divided into four sections listing the different keyboard models, layouts, variants and options that X Windows allows:

user $ grep "^! " /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst
! model
! layout
! variant
! option

For example, the following X Windows German-language keyboard layouts are available in the Linux installation I am using now:

user $ awk '/\!\ layout/{flag=1;next}/\!\ variant/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep German
  at              German (Austria)
  de              German
  ch              German (Switzerland)

And the following variants to those three keyboard layouts are available:

user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep "at: German"
  nodeadkeys      at: German (Austria, no dead keys)
  sundeadkeys     at: German (Austria, with Sun dead keys)
  mac             at: German (Austria, Macintosh)
user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep "de: German"
  deadacute       de: German (dead acute)
  deadgraveacute  de: German (dead grave acute)
  nodeadkeys      de: German (no dead keys)
  T3              de: German (T3)
  dvorak          de: German (Dvorak)
  sundeadkeys     de: German (with Sun dead keys)
  neo             de: German (Neo 2)
  mac             de: German (Macintosh)
  mac_nodeadkeys  de: German (Macintosh, no dead keys)
  qwerty          de: German (QWERTY)
  deadtilde       de: German (dead tilde)
user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep "ch: German"
  legacy          ch: German (Switzerland, legacy)
  de_nodeadkeys   ch: German (Switzerland, no dead keys)
  de_sundeadkeys  ch: German (Switzerland, with Sun dead keys)
  de_mac          ch: German (Switzerland, Macintosh)

Let’s say I had a desktop machine with a 104-key Swiss German keyboard. By looking through the list of keyboard models in the models section of the file /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst, I think the following model best describes the keyboard:

user $ awk '/\!\ model/{flag=1;next}/\!\ layout/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep 104
  pc104           Generic 104-key PC

To inform X Windows of the keyboard’s characteristics I could, for example, enter the following command in an X Windows terminal window, which would apply for that session only:

user $ setxkbmap -model pc104 -layout ch -variant legacy

and/or I could configure X Windows permanently by creating/editing a file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/00-keyboard.conf containing the following:

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "system-keyboard"
MatchIsKeyboard "on"
Option "XkbModel" "pc104"
Option "XkbLayout" "ch"
Option "XkbVariant" "legacy"
EndSection

My laptop has a UK keyboard but, depending where I am, I sometimes connect an external US, Brazilian or Spanish keyboard to it.

Left side of HP UK keyboard

Left side of HP UK keyboard

Left side of HP US keyboard

Left side of HP US keyboard

Left side of HP Brazilian keyboard

Left side of HP Brazilian keyboard

Left side of HP Iberian Spanish keyboard

Left side of HP Iberian Spanish keyboard

To be able to switch the layout to the keyboard I am currently using, the following two methods achieve the same effect in X Windows:

Current session only

user $ setxkbmap -layout gb,us,br,es -model pc105 -option grp:alt_shift_toggle

Persistent

The file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/00-keyboard.conf contains:

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "system-keyboard"
MatchIsKeyboard "on"
Option "XkbLayout" "gb,us,br,es"
Option "XkbModel" "pc105"
Option "XkbOptions" "grp:alt_shift_toggle"
EndSection

Either of the above methods will enable me to toggle between UK, US, Brazilian and Iberian Spanish keyboard layouts in X Windows by pressing Alt+Shft. If the laptop had, say, a Brazilian keyboard instead of a UK keyboard then I could change the order of the layouts to ‘br,gb,us,es‘ or whatever order I prefer.

In fact, even when an external keyboard is not connected to my laptop I select the layout using Alt+Shft if I want to type in English, Portuguese or Spanish. For example, to type ‘ã‘ (the letter ‘a‘ with a tilde accent) I press Alt+Shft to switch to the Brazilian Portuguese layout then press the ' (apostrophe) key followed by the A key on the laptop’s UK keyboard. Transparent key-cap stickers can be purchased for various language layouts so that users can see which keys on the keyboard correspond to keys in another layout. However I don’t bother with key-cap stickers because I can remember the layouts for the few languages I use.
 
2. Using a Modifier Key and/or a Compose Key

If you do not connect external keyboards with different layouts, or you want to be able to type letters with accents – or type different symbols – that are not on the keyboard, a Modifier Key and/or a Compose Key can be used. These are two different things. You might use a Modifier Key to add an accent to a letter, for example. If you were to configure, say, AltGr as the Modifier Key, pressing AltGr and the ` (grave accent) key simultaneously then releasing them and pressing the A key could – depending on which keyboard layout you are using – result in à (‘a‘ with the grave accent) being displayed. The ` (grave accent) key is a ‘dead key’ in this case because it is not displayed by itself when pressed in conjunction with the AltGr key; it is only displayed when the next key is pressed, i.e. à, not `a, is displayed on the screen.

You might use a Compose Key to display a symbol that is not on the keyboard. If you were to configure, say, the Pause key as the Compose Key, pressing and releasing the Pause key, then the O key and then the C key could – depending on which keyboard layout you have specified – result in the © (copyright) symbol being displayed.

Let’s say that you want a US keyboard layout with AltGr dead keys, and the Windows key as the Compose key. The setxkbmap command would be:

user $ setxkbmap -layout us -variant altgr-intl -option compose:lwin

Alternatively, the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/00-keyboard.conf to make that configuration permanent would contain:

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "keyboard"
MatchIsKeyboard "yes"
Option "XkbModel" "pc105"
Option "XkbLayout" "us"
Option "XkbVariant" "altgr-intl"
Option "XkbOptions" "compose:lwin"
EndSection

However, the problem with specifying the Windows key as the Compose Key is that the Windows key is usually the key that makes a desktop environment display the applications menu, so an alternative Compose Key needs to be chosen.

You can play around with the XkbModel, XkbLayout, XkbVariant and XkbOptions options to see what works. Look in the file /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst to find out what are permissible/available.

Using the example of a generic US International keyboard layout with AltGr dead keys, let’s check what options for the model, layout, variant, option and Compose Key are available:

model

user $ awk '/\!\ model/{flag=1;next}/\!\ layout/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep Generic
  pc101           Generic 101-key PC
  pc102           Generic 102-key PC
  pc104           Generic 104-key PC
  pc104alt        Generic 104-key PC with L-shaped Enter key
  pc105           Generic 105-key PC

layout

user $ awk '/\!\ layout/{flag=1;next}/\!\ variant/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep "US"
  us              English (US)

variant

user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep dead | grep "us:"
  intl            us: English (US, intl., with dead keys)
  dvorak-intl     us: English (Dvorak, intl., with dead keys)
  altgr-intl      us: English (intl., with AltGr dead keys)
  workman-intl    us: English (Workman, intl., with dead keys)

option

user $ tac /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | awk '/\!\ option/ {exit} 1' | tac | grep ralt
  lv3:ralt_switch      Right Alt
  lv3:ralt_switch_multikey Right Alt; Shift+Right Alt as Compose
  lv3:ralt_alt         Right Alt never chooses 3rd level
  ctrl:rctrl_ralt      Right Ctrl as Right Alt
  compose:ralt         Right Alt
  lv5:ralt_switch      Right Alt chooses 5th level
  lv5:ralt_switch_lock Right Alt chooses 5th level and acts as a one-time lock if pressed with another 5th level chooser
  lv5:ralt_switch      Right Alt chooses 5th level
  lv5:ralt_switch_lock Right Alt chooses 5th level and acts as a one-time lock if pressed with another 5th level chooser
  korean:ralt_hangul   Make right Alt a Hangul key
  korean:ralt_hanja    Make right Alt a Hanja key

Compose Key

user $ grep "compose:" /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/base.lst
  compose:ralt         Right Alt
  compose:lwin         Left Win
  compose:lwin-altgr   3rd level of Left Win
  compose:rwin         Right Win
  compose:rwin-altgr   3rd level of Right Win
  compose:menu         Menu
  compose:menu-altgr   3rd level of Menu
  compose:lctrl        Left Ctrl
  compose:lctrl-altgr  3rd level of Left Ctrl
  compose:rctrl        Right Ctrl
  compose:rctrl-altgr  3rd level of Right Ctrl
  compose:caps         Caps Lock
  compose:caps-altgr   3rd level of Caps Lock
  compose:102          The "<Less/Greater>" key
  compose:102-altgr    3rd level of "<Less/Greater>" key
  compose:paus         Pause
  compose:prsc         PrtSc
  compose:sclk         Scroll Lock

(Not all keyboard layouts have a ‘<Less/Greater>’ key, a single key with both < and > symbols on it.)

The following works for me in LXQt with a US keyboard layout:

user $ setxkbmap -layout us -variant altgr-intl -option compose:paus

With the above configuration, I press:

AltGr+a to get á
AltGr+` then a to get à
AltGr+~ then a to get ã
AltGr+e to get é
AltGr+` then e to get è
AltGr+^ then e to get ê
AltGr+~ then e to get
AltGr+o to get ó
AltGr+n to get ñ
AltGr+c to get ©
AltGr+< to get ç
AltGr+s to get ß
AltGr+? to get ¿

and so on, and I press:

Pause then o then o to get °
Pause then o then c to get ©
Pause then ~ then a to get ã
Pause then ~ then e to get
Pause then ^ then 2 to get ²
Pause then _ then 2 to get
Pause then 8 then 8 to get
Pause then E then = to get
Pause then . then . to get
Pause then then > to get
Pause then < then to get
Pause then < then 3 to get
Pause then CCCP to get

and so on. Notice that some characters are available using either method (©, ã and are three examples shown above). A full list of Compose Key characters can be found in the file /usr/share/X11/locale/<locale>/Compose in your installation. For the US layout keyboard the list is in the file /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose. Various lists of Compose Key sequences and the resulting symbols can also be found on the Web.

To make the configuration in the aforementioned setxkbmap command permanent I would edit the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/00-keyboard.conf to contain the following:

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "keyboard"
MatchIsKeyboard "yes"
Option "XkbModel" "pc105"
Option "XkbLayout" "us"
Option "XkbVariant" "altgr-intl"
Option "XkbOptions" "compose:paus"
EndSection

Let’s say I want to be able to switch between British (gb), US (us), Brazilian (br) and Iberian Spanish (es) keyboard layouts by using Alt+Shft on my laptop with a UK keyboard. I could use the command:

user $ setxkbmap -model pc105 -layout gb,us,br,es -variant ,altgr-intl,, -option grp:alt_shift_toggle,compose:paus

The commas in the -variant option means the ‘altgr-intl‘ option applies solely to the US layout. The Compose Key option in the -option options will work for all layouts.

I could make that configuration permanent in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/00-keyboard.conf:

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "keyboard"
MatchIsKeyboard "yes"
Option "XkbModel" "pc105"
Option "XkbLayout" "gb,us,br,es"
Option "XkbVariant" ",altgr-intl,,"
Option "XkbOptions" "grp:alt_shift_toggle,compose:paus"
EndSection

Note that I would not be able to specify ‘altgr-intl‘ as a variant for the gb, br and es layouts I use because the variant ‘altgr-intl‘ is not available in those layouts:

user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep dead | grep "gb:"
  intl            gb: English (UK, intl., with dead keys)
user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep dead | grep "br:"
  nodeadkeys      br: Portuguese (Brazil, no dead keys)
user $ awk '/\!\ variant/{flag=1;next}/\!\ option/{flag=0}flag' /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst | grep dead | grep "es:"
  nodeadkeys      es: Spanish (no dead keys)
  deadtilde       es: Spanish (dead tilde)
  sundeadkeys     es: Spanish (with Sun dead keys)

 
3. Virtual Terminal (TTY console) keyboard configuration

Although this post is about keyboard configuration for X Windows, I should briefly mention that configurations for X Windows do not apply to virtual terminals (TTY consoles).

If you’re using a Linux distribution running OpenRC, you specify the persistent console keymap in the file /etc/conf.d/keymaps. You can find out which console keymaps are available by examining the directories under /usr/share/keymaps/. For example, the following console keymaps are available for US keyboards in Gentoo Linux:

user $ ls /usr/share/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us*
/usr/share/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us-acentos.map.gz
/usr/share/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us.map.gz
/usr/share/keymaps/i386/qwerty/us1.map.gz

so you would be able to specify one of the following in /etc/conf.d/keymaps:

keymap="us-acentos"

keymap="us"

keymap="us1"

It is also possible to change the console keymap (non-persistent) from the command line. For example, to switch to a UK keyboard layout for a TTY console:

root # loadkeys uk

(notice it is not ‘gb‘ in the case of TTY consoles), or to switch to an Italian Apple Macintosh keyboard layout for a TTY console:

root # loadkeys mac-it

and so on.

If you’re using a Linux distribution running systemd, see my 2020 blog post ‘Reconfiguring the time zone, locales and keymaps in Sabayon Linux‘ for the commands to list and configure TTY console keymaps. The persistent TTY console keymap is specified in the file /etc/vconsole.conf, which can be edited directly and is also edited by the ‘localectl set-keymap‘ command mentioned in that post. The loadkeys command can also be used as described above to change (non-persistent) the keyboard layout for the TTY console.

Work-around in Linux to switch between single-sided and double-sided printing

I use Gentoo Linux on my laptop, and have drivers installed for quite a few printer manufacturers and models, as I work in multiple offices and they have a wide range of printers and MFPs. To date I have had no trouble printing single-sided (‘simplex’) and double-sided (‘duplex’) documents on the printers that support duplex printing. However, one of the offices I have been working in recently has a Konica Minolta bizhub C368, a floor-standing MFP, and the printer in this MFP did not enable me to switch between single-sided and double-sided printing even though Windows users in the same office could. This article explains how I managed to switch between the two printing modes.

A Linux driver for the bizhub C368 can be downloaded from the Konica Minolta Download Centre. I downloaded the tarball KMbeuUXv1_22_multi_language.tar.gz, extracted the contents to the directory ~/KMbeuUXv1_22_multi_language/ and followed the instructions in ‘BEU Linux CUPS Driver Guide.pdf‘:

user $ cd ~/KMbeuUXv1_22_multi_language
user $ su
root # ./install.pl
root # rc-service cupsd restart

I then used the CUPS Administration page in a browser window to set up the printer.

As I wanted the printer to be the default printer while I was working in that office, I edited the system-wide and user-specific lpoptions files to contain the printer name I had specified to CUPS when setting up the printer:

user $ cat ~/.cups/lpoptions
Default Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368
root # cat /etc/cups/lpoptions
Default Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368

I was then able to print from all the usual applications, except that the applications could only select single-sided printing, even though the printer supports double-sided printing and Windows users in the office could print double-sided. I could not find a setting for this in the CUPS Manager’s ‘Set Default Options’ page for the printer, so I edited the PPD file to change the relevant default option:

root # nano /etc/cups/ppd/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd

I changed the default printing option from:

*DefaultKMDuplex: 1Sided

to:

*DefaultKMDuplex: 2Sided

Then I could print double-sided pages, but selecting ‘single-sided’ in applications would still print double-sided. Now, I don’t know if there is a proper fix for this, but I could not find out how to do it. Therefore I opted for a work-around which is fine for my purposes. Here is what I did…

I created the shell script ~/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.sh containing the following:

#!/bin/bash
echo
echo "Konica Minolta bizhub C368 printer"
echo
echo "Select single-sided or double-sided printing as the default"
echo
# Get the password entry over and done with now
echo "Enter your user account password."
sudo ls > /dev/null
echo
CHOICE=""
while [[ $CHOICE != "X" && $CHOICE != "x" ]]; do
    if [[ $CHOICE != "X" && $CHOICE != "x" ]]; then
        echo
        echo -n "[1]-sided, [2]-sided or e[X]it : "
        read -n1 CHOICE
        echo
    else
        break
    fi
    case $CHOICE in
        [1] ) sudo cp /home/fitzcarraldo/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd.single-sided /etc/cups/ppd/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd
              echo "Single-sided printing has been selected"
        ;;
        [2] ) sudo cp /home/fitzcarraldo/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd.double-sided /etc/cups/ppd/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd
              echo "Double-sided printing has been selected"
        ;;
        [Xx] ) echo; exit;;
        * ) echo; echo " Enter '1', '2' or 'X/x'"
    esac
done

I created the Desktop Configuration File ~/Desktop/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.desktop containing the following:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_GB]=Select single-sided or double-sided printing for Konica Minolta bizhub C368
Comment=Select single-sided or double-sided printing for Konica Minolta bizhub C368
Encoding=UTF-8
Exec=konsole -e sh /home/fitzcarraldo/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.sh
GenericName[en_GB]=Select printing sides for KM bizhub C368
GenericName=Select printing sides for KM bizhub C368
Icon=/home/fitzcarraldo/Pictures/Icons/konica-minolta.png
MimeType=
Name[en_GB]=Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368
Name=Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368
Path=
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=true
TerminalOptions=
Type=Application
X-DBUS-ServiceName=
X-DBUS-StartupType=none
X-DCOP-ServiceType=
X-KDE-SubstituteUID=false
X-KDE-Username=

I downloaded a Konica Minolta logo from the Web and used it for the icon for the Desktop Configuration File.

And finally I copied the PPD file to two files and edited them:

~/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd.single-sided

which includes *DefaultKMDuplex: 1Sided

~/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368/Konica_Minolta_bizhub_C368.ppd.double-sided

which includes *DefaultKMDuplex: 2Sided

Now, if I want to switch between single-sided and double-sided printing I just double-click on the icon on my Desktop and a terminal window pops-up allowing me to select the new default:

Konica Minolta bizhub C368 printer

Select single-sided or double-sided printing as the default

Enter your user account password.
Password:

[1]-sided, [2]-sided or e[X]it :

Migrating to libglvnd in Gentoo Linux on a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus

In a 2015 post I described how I configured my Gentoo Linux installation to switch between the closed-source NVIDIA driver and the open-source Intel driver on a Clevo W230SS laptop that has NVIDIA Optimus hardware (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU plus Intel HD 4600 IGP). I did not want to use Bumblebee, preferring to use only the NVIDIA driver or only the Intel driver, switching between them by running a Bash script then logging out of KDE Plasma and back in again. Basically, the scheme a) swapped the xorg.conf file depending on which driver I wanted to use, and b) used the eselect opengl command to select the applicable OpenGL library. The latest versions of the files in my scheme are listed below if you’re interested (I use LightDM instead of KDM these days, as KDM is no more), otherwise just skip to the section after, titled ‘Migrating to libglvnd’.

Previous scheme using eselect opengl

~/Desktop/Select_NVIDIA_GPU.desktop

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_GB]=Run a script to configure your installation to use the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU when you restart X Windows
Comment=Run a script to configure your installation to use the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU when you restart X Windows
Exec=konsole -e sh /home/fitzcarraldo/nvidia.sh
GenericName[en_GB]=Configure your installation to use the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU
GenericName=Configure your installation to use the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU
Icon=/home/fitzcarraldo/Pictures/Icons/nvidia_icon.png
MimeType=
Name[en_GB]=NVIDIA GPU
Name=NVIDIA GPU
Path=
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=false
TerminalOptions=\s--noclose
Type=Application
X-DBUS-ServiceName=
X-DBUS-StartupType=none
X-KDE-SubstituteUID=false
X-KDE-Username=fitzcarraldo

~/nvidia.sh

#!/bin/bash
echo
echo "Your installation is currently configured to use the following graphics processor:"
echo
GPU=`eselect opengl list | grep \* | awk '{ print $2 }'`
if [ "$GPU" = "nvidia" ]; then
  echo "NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M"
  echo
  echo "You do not need to do anything. Please close this window."
elif [ "$GPU" = "xorg-x11" ]; then
  echo "Intel HD 4600 Integrated Graphics Processor"
  echo
  echo "This script will configure your installation to use the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPU all the time."
  echo
  echo "Enter your own password."
  echo
  sudo eselect opengl set nvidia
# See separate configuration of LightDM for NVIDIA GPU and Intel HD Graphics.
  sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf.nvidia /etc/X11/xorg.conf
  echo
  echo "Now you should logout to restart X Windows."
fi
echo
echo -n "Press ENTER to end: "
read ACKNOWLEDGE

/etc/X11/xorg.conf.nvidia

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     "Layout0"
    Screen      1  "nvidia" 0 0
    Inactive       "intel"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    Option         "DPMS"
    Option         "DPI" "96 x 96"
EndSection

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "nvidia"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    BusID          "PCI:1:0:0"
EndSection

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "intel"
    Driver         "modesetting"
    BusID          "PCI:0:2:0"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "nvidia"
    Device         "nvidia"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth    24
    Option         "UseDisplayDevice" "none"
    SubSection     "Display"
        Depth       24
        Virtual     1920 1080
    EndSubSection
EndSection

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "intel"
    Device         "intel"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
EndSection

~/Desktop/Select_Intel_HD_Graphics.desktop

[Desktop Entry]
Comment[en_GB]=Run a script to configure your installation to use Intel Integrated Graphics when you restart X Windows
Comment=Run a script to configure your installation to use Intel Integrated Graphics when you restart X Windows
Exec=konsole -e sh /home/fitzcarraldo/intel.sh
GenericName[en_GB]=Configure your installation to use Intel HD Graphics
GenericName=Configure your installation to use Intel HD Graphics
Icon=/home/fitzcarraldo/Pictures/Icons/intel-hd-icon.png
MimeType=
Name[en_GB]=Intel HD Graphics
Name=Intel HD Graphics
Path=
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=false
TerminalOptions=\s--noclose
Type=Application
X-DBUS-ServiceName=
X-DBUS-StartupType=none
X-KDE-SubstituteUID=false
X-KDE-Username=fitzcarraldo

~/intel.sh

#!/bin/bash
echo
echo "Your installation is currently configured to use the following graphics processor:"
echo
GPU=`eselect opengl list | grep \* | awk '{ print $2 }'`
if [ "$GPU" = "xorg-x11" ]; then
  echo "Intel HD 4600 Integrated Graphics Processor"
  echo
  echo "You do not need to do anything. Please close this window."
elif [ "$GPU" = "nvidia" ]; then
  echo "NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M"
  echo
  echo "This script will configure your installation to use the"
  echo "Intel HD 4600 Integrated Graphics Controller all the time."
  echo
  echo "Enter your own password."
  echo
  sudo eselect opengl set xorg-x11
# See separate configuration of LightDM for Intel HD Graphics and NVIDIA GPU.
  sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf.intel /etc/X11/xorg.conf
  echo
  echo "Now you should logout to restart X Windows."
fi
echo
echo -n "Press ENTER to end: "
read ACKNOWLEDGE

/etc/X11/xorg.conf.intel

Section "Device" 
   Identifier  "Intel Graphics" 
   Driver      "intel" 
   Option      "AccelMethod" "sna" 
   Option      "TearFree" "true" 
EndSection

/etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-opengl.conf

Section "Files"
        ModulePath "/usr/lib/xorg/modules"
        ModulePath "/usr/lib64/xorg/modules"
EndSection

/etc/X11/Sessions/plasma (used by LightDM)

#!/bin/bash
#
# Make sure the following is in /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf
# display-setup-script=/etc/X11/Sessions/plasma
#
GPU=`eselect opengl list | grep \* | awk '{ print $2 }'`
if [ "$GPU" = "nvidia" ]; then
    xrandr --setprovideroutputsource modesetting NVIDIA-0
    xrandr --auto
fi

Migrating to libglvnd

Well, the above scheme worked fine… until the recent decision by the Gentoo Linux developers to drop the app-eselect/eselect-opengl ebuild and switch the x11-base/xorg-server, media-libs/mesa and x11-drivers/nvidia-drivers to using the libglvnd library:

This package is masked and could be removed soon!
The mask comment indicates that this package is scheduled for removal from our package repository.
Please review the mask information below for more details.

Replaced by media-libs/libglvnd. Masked for removal in 30 days. Bug #728286

Affected packages	app-eselect/eselect-opengl

Author/Date		Matt Turner  (2020-08-11 00:00:00 +0000 UTC)

Without the eselect opengl command, my scripts were scuppered. So I decided to bite the bullet and switch to using libglvnd. It turned out not to be difficult, and I took the following steps to migrate:

  1. Deleted the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf
  2. Created the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/01-nvidia-offload.conf containing the following:
    Section "ServerLayout"
        Identifier "layout"
        Option "AllowNVIDIAGPUScreens"
    EndSection
    
  3. Performed the usual ‘emerge -uvDN @world‘ to update and upgrade the relevant packages, which automatically unmerged app-eselect/eselect-opengl

If I had run into trouble with the installed app-eselect/eselect-opengl blocking the upgrade, I could have worked around that by doing the following:

root # emerge -C eselect-opengl
root # emerge -1v nvidia-drivers mesa xorg-server xorg-drivers

I removed all references to the libglvnd USE flag from /etc/portage/make.conf, and the only place libglvnd is declared explicitly now is in the file /etc/portage/package.use/world because I have a multilib installation:

root # grep libglvnd /etc/portage/package.*/*
/etc/portage/package.use/world:>=media-libs/libglvnd-1.3.1 abi_x86_32

The status of the applicable packages in my installation is now as follows:

root # eix -I nvidia-drivers
[I] x11-drivers/nvidia-drivers
     Available versions:  [M]340.108-r1(0/340)^mtd ~390.132-r4(0/390)^mtd 390.138-r1(0/390)^mtd 435.21-r6(0/435)^mtd 440.100-r2(0/440)^mtd 450.57-r1(0/450)^mtd {+X compat (+)driver gtk3 +kms +libglvnd multilib static-libs +tools uvm wayland ABI_MIPS="n32 n64 o32" ABI_RISCV="lp64 lp64d" ABI_S390="32 64" ABI_X86="32 64 x32" KERNEL="FreeBSD linux"}
     Installed versions:  450.57-r1(0/450)^mtd(22:04:56 14/08/20)(X driver kms libglvnd multilib tools wayland -compat -gtk3 -static-libs -uvm ABI_MIPS="-n32 -n64 -o32" ABI_RISCV="-lp64 -lp64d" ABI_S390="-32 -64" ABI_X86="32 64 -x32" KERNEL="linux -FreeBSD")
     Homepage:            https://www.nvidia.com/Download/Find.aspx
     Description:         NVIDIA Accelerated Graphics Driver

root # eix -I mesa
[I] media-libs/mesa
     Available versions:  20.0.8^t ~20.1.4^t ~20.1.5^t ~20.2.0_rc1^t ~20.2.0_rc2^t **9999*l^t {+X +classic d3d9 debug +dri3 +egl +gallium +gbm gles1 +gles2 +libglvnd +llvm lm-sensors opencl osmesa selinux test unwind vaapi valgrind vdpau vulkan vulkan-overlay wayland xa xvmc zink +zstd ABI_MIPS="n32 n64 o32" ABI_RISCV="lp64 lp64d" ABI_S390="32 64" ABI_X86="32 64 x32" KERNEL="linux" VIDEO_CARDS="freedreno i915 i965 intel iris lima nouveau panfrost r100 r200 r300 r600 radeon radeonsi v3d vc4 virgl vivante vmware"}
     Installed versions:  20.0.8^t(22:03:42 14/08/20)(X classic dri3 egl gallium gbm gles2 libglvnd llvm wayland zstd -d3d9 -debug -gles1 -lm-sensors -opencl -osmesa -selinux -test -unwind -vaapi -valgrind -vdpau -vulkan -vulkan-overlay -xa -xvmc ABI_MIPS="-n32 -n64 -o32" ABI_RISCV="-lp64 -lp64d" ABI_S390="-32 -64" ABI_X86="32 64 -x32" KERNEL="linux" VIDEO_CARDS="i965 intel -freedreno -i915 -iris -lima -nouveau -panfrost -r100 -r200 -r300 -r600 -radeon -radeonsi -vc4 -virgl -vivante -vmware")
     Homepage:            https://www.mesa3d.org/ https://mesa.freedesktop.org/
     Description:         OpenGL-like graphic library for Linux

[I] x11-apps/mesa-progs
     Available versions:  8.4.0 **9999*l {egl gles2}
     Installed versions:  8.4.0(13:53:51 02/05/19)(-egl -gles2)
     Homepage:            https://www.mesa3d.org/ https://mesa.freedesktop.org/ https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/mesa/demos
     Description:         Mesa's OpenGL utility and demo programs (glxgears and glxinfo)

Found 2 matches
root # eix -I xorg-server
[I] x11-base/xorg-server
     Available versions:  1.20.8-r1(0/1.20.8) **9999(0/9999)*l {debug dmx doc +elogind ipv6 kdrive +libglvnd libressl minimal selinux static-libs suid systemd +udev unwind wayland xcsecurity xephyr xnest xorg xvfb}
     Installed versions:  1.20.8-r1(0/1.20.8)(22:07:21 14/08/20)(elogind ipv6 libglvnd udev wayland xorg -debug -dmx -doc -kdrive -libressl -minimal -selinux -static-libs -suid -systemd -unwind -xcsecurity -xephyr -xnest -xvfb)
     Homepage:            https://www.x.org/wiki/ https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/xorg/xserver/xorg-server
     Description:         X.Org X servers

root # eix -I xorg-drivers
[I] x11-base/xorg-drivers
     Available versions:  1.20-r2 **9999*l {INPUT_DEVICES="elographics evdev joystick libinput synaptics vmmouse void wacom" VIDEO_CARDS="amdgpu ast dummy fbdev freedreno geode glint i915 i965 intel mga nouveau nv nvidia omap qxl r128 radeon radeonsi siliconmotion tegra vc4 vesa via virtualbox vmware"}
     Installed versions:  1.20-r2(22:05:41 14/08/20)(INPUT_DEVICES="evdev synaptics -elographics -joystick -libinput -vmmouse -void -wacom" VIDEO_CARDS="i965 intel nvidia -amdgpu -ast -dummy -fbdev -freedreno -geode -glint -i915 -mga -nouveau -nv -omap -qxl -r128 -radeon -radeonsi -siliconmotion -tegra -vc4 -vesa -via -virtualbox -vmware")
     Homepage:            https://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/No_homepage
     Description:         Meta package containing deps on all xorg drivers

I can now delete the line display-setup-script=/etc/X11/Sessions/plasma in /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf, and delete the script /etc/X11/Sessions/plasma, as the script no longer works and the xrandr commands in it are no longer necessary in any case. The files and scripts Select_NVIDIA_GPU.desktop, nvidia.sh, xorg.conf.nvidia, Select_Intel_HD_Graphics.desktop, intel.sh and xorg.conf.intel are also redundant now and can be deleted.

After rebooting, the LightDM login screen appears as usual and I can login to the Desktop Environment. I can connect an external monitor to the laptop via either VGA cable or HDMI cable and both methods work, and I can switch between the laptop monitor and the external monitor using KDE Plasma’s ‘System Settings’ > ‘Display Configuration’, so everything appears to be working correctly.

The command xrandr --listproviders (add ‘--verbose‘ to provide more information) lists both the NVIDIA and Intel video devices, so I assume everything is working correctly:

user $ xrandr --listproviders
Providers: number : 2
Provider 0: id: 0x47 cap: 0xb, Source Output, Sink Output, Sink Offload crtcs: 4 outputs: 4 associated providers: 0 name:Intel
Provider 1: id: 0x203 cap: 0x0 crtcs: 0 outputs: 0 associated providers: 0 name:NVIDIA-G0

It appears that the default is to use the Intel IGP:

user $ glxinfo | grep -E 'OpenGL (vendor|renderer)'
OpenGL vendor string: Intel Open Source Technology Center
OpenGL renderer string: Mesa DRI Intel(R) HD Graphics 4600 (HSW GT2)
user $ __NV_PRIME_RENDER_OFFLOAD_PROVIDER=Intel __GLX_VENDOR_LIBRARY_NAME=mesa glxinfo  | grep -E 'OpenGL (vendor|renderer)'
OpenGL vendor string: Intel Open Source Technology Center
OpenGL renderer string: Mesa DRI Intel(R) HD Graphics 4600 (HSW GT2)

unless I use environment variables explicitly to specify that the NVIDIA GPU be used for a specific application:

user $ __NV_PRIME_RENDER_OFFLOAD_PROVIDER=NVIDIA-G0 __GLX_VENDOR_LIBRARY_NAME=nvidia glxinfo  | grep -E 'OpenGL (vendor|renderer)'
OpenGL vendor string: NVIDIA Corporation
OpenGL renderer string: GeForce GTX 860M/PCIe/SSE2

Performance seems reasonable:

user $ __NV_PRIME_RENDER_OFFLOAD_PROVIDER=NVIDIA-G0 __GLX_VENDOR_LIBRARY_NAME=nvidia __GL_SYNC_TO_VBLANK=0 glxgears
27197 frames in 5.0 seconds = 5439.292 FPS
27332 frames in 5.0 seconds = 5466.274 FPS
27857 frames in 5.0 seconds = 5571.184 FPS
27553 frames in 5.0 seconds = 5510.447 FPS
27128 frames in 5.0 seconds = 5425.556 FPS
^C

To run a program such as LibreCAD using the NVIDIA GPU I can do the following:

user $ __NV_PRIME_RENDER_OFFLOAD_PROVIDER=NVIDIA-G0 __GLX_VENDOR_LIBRARY_NAME=nvidia librecad

I need to play around more to understand how to use nvidia-drivers and libglvnd with the NVIDIA Optimus hardware in this laptop, but at least I have managed to migrate from app-eselect/eselect-opengl to media-libs/libglvnd before the former is dropped from the Portage tree in the near future.

That UPS you bought for your home server may not be as useful as you think

Some years ago I decided to install a server at home for use as a NAS (network-attached storage) in my home network, and for an Internet-facing server. I live in a place where blackouts are very infrequent (perhaps a couple per year), but occasionally the mains drops out for only a second or two. I suspect these very short dropouts occur when substation switchgear operates, but have no way of being sure. Anyway, with a server running 24/7 I obviously wanted protection against any loss of the mains supply.

I ended up buying a 700VA APC Back-UPS ES-BE700G-UK, which has four mains sockets that are battery-backed and also have surge protection, plus another four mains sockets that have surge protection but are not battery-backed. Additionally, it has two RJ45 sockets to provide pass-through filtering for an Ethernet connection. It also has a USB port for connection to the server so that it can transmit unsolicited status information to the server (including requesting the server to shutdown) and can also be interrogated by the server using the apcaccess command. The APC UPS daemon works with this model of UPS, and was relatively easy to set up. APC, formerly American Power Conversion Corporation, is a subsidiary of European company Schneider Electric. My UPS was manufactured in The Philippines.

I have three devices plugged into the battery-backed sockets on the APC UPS: the server, an external 6TB USB HDD connected to the server for automated daily backups by the server, and a 5-port Ethernet switch. The battery in the UPS would provide between 15 and 20 minutes of power when the mains fails, although I have configured the UPS to trigger the server to shutdown when 30 per cent of the battery power remains, as battery life is reduced considerably if its power is allowed to drain completely. In case you’re wondering why my router is not also plugged into the UPS, due to the position of the broadband provider’s socket the router is in a different room and I have therefore had to connect it to a different UPS, an iLEPO multi-functional DC UPS (the ECO PLUS 412P, which is tiny but can keep the router powered for several hours). Obviously the router needs to be connected to a UPS, otherwise the server would not be able to send me e-mails when there is a mains power cut. Being able to receive UPS status e-mails from the server is important to me when I am away from home on work trips.

So I thought I had covered all bases, and, indeed, the UPS proved useful on several occasions. I would quite often be on a work trip and receive an e-mail from the server informing me that mains power to the UPS had been lost, then another e-mail soon after informing me that mains power to the UPS had returned. Only once did the power cut last longer than the battery capacity, and the server was shutdown automatically.

Now, the life of the 12-volt lead-acid battery in the APC UPS is supposed to last approximately three to five years. The life will depend on how many times the battery is discharged and ambient temperature.

While I was away from home on a long work trip, suddenly I could no longer connect to my server and I had not received an e-mail from the server informing me of any problem. Luckily it was near the end of my trip so I was not too inconvenienced. When I arrived home I found that the UPS was sounding an alarm and was not supplying power to the server even though there was mains supply to the UPS. It transpired that the UPS battery had suddenly died without warning and could no longer hold a charge, and this had happened while there was mains supply to the UPS, i.e. there had not been a power cut while I was away. Fortunately there was no loss of data on the server; I was able to run fsck during boot-up.

This failure was annoying on two counts. Firstly, the battery was only about thirteen months old (the manufacturing date stamped on the UPS box was only two or three months before the date I purchased the UPS). Secondly, I certainly did not expect the UPS to stop supplying power to the server while there was mains supply to the UPS. The APC white paper on UPS topologies, ‘The Different Types of UPS Systems‘, does not make this behaviour clear.

It turns out that the type of UPS topology (‘Standby’ — see the model’s Technical Specifications) in this model of UPS does not continue to provide power to connected equipment when the UPS battery either fails or is disconnected for whatever reason when there is mains power supply to the UPS. A quick search of the Web showed me that I was not alone in discovering this ‘feature’: an APC Back-UPS 350 owner posted ‘UPS Battery Backup — useless when the battery dies?‘.

From what I have read, the so-called ‘Line Interactive’ UPS topology does not suffer this shortcoming, so, the next time I have to buy a UPS for a piece of equipment that requires power 24/7, I will buy a line-interactive UPS rather than a standby UPS. But, before purchasing, I will be sure to ask the manufacturer what the precise model would do if its battery fails or is disconnected while there is mains supply to the UPS. The APC line-interactive UPSs are more expensive than the APC Back-UPS models; now I know why. It’s a pity I was not aware of the shortcoming of the Back-UPS models, as I would have spent more and bought a UPS that continues to work when the battery dies while there is mains supply. I would also hope the UPS would issue an alarm if the battery has failed or is disconnected while there is mains supply. Be sure to ask the manufacturer all these questions if you cannot tolerate a sudden loss of power to your equipment if the battery dies while there is mains supply.

Anyway, after checking that the dead battery was indeed useless I replaced it with a new Yuasa battery that has lasted nearly three years now. I will be replacing it shortly as a precaution, even though it has not had to be used much at all since I installed it. I have not replaced the APC Back-UPS model but I will be replacing the battery at least every three years just to be cautious, and of course taking the old batteries to my local waste disposal centre to be recycled properly. By the way, it is possible to purchase a 12-volt battery manufactured by one of the reputable battery manufacturers such as Yuasa with the same specification as the APC battery, for a significantly lower price than APC charges for replacement batteries (which I suspect are badged by APC in any case).

Updating the Powerline adapters in my home network

I have blogged previously about a couple of problems with using Powerline adapters in my home network:

As my NETGEAR XAV1301 (200 Mbps) Powerline adapters bought in 2012 apparently do not fully support IPv6, and as my NETGEAR XAV5221 (500 Mbps) adapters bought in 2016 are no longer manufactured either, I decided to invest in some new Powerline adapters that would guarantee IPv6 support. My Web searches did not confirm that the current models of NETGEAR Powerline adapters support IPv6, so I decided to try TP-Link Powerline adapters because the TP-Link Web site states that all current TP-Link Powerline adapters support IPv6. I wanted Powerline adapters for five devices (router, smart TV and three computers), plus the ability to use a mains plug on at least two of those (i.e. so-called ‘pass-through’ adapters). I also wanted to avoid buying different models, in order to minimise the possibility of any problems. TP-Link have a range of 600 Mbps adapters under the name ‘AV600’, so I plumped for two TP-PL4010 adapters (single Ethernet port per adapter), one TP-PL4010P adapter (single Ethernet port and one mains pass-through socket) and one TP-PL4020P (two Ethernet ports and one mains pass-through socket). These all use the Qualcomm Atheros QCA7420 Powerline chipset (which happens to be the same chipset used in my old NETGEAR XAV5221 500 Mbps adapters).

Like NETGEAR, TP-Link does not have a Powerline utility program for Linux, so I had to install TP-Link’s tpPLC utility program in Windows 10 running in a VM (virtual machine) in order to configure the four TP-Link adapters and set the ‘Powerline network name’ to avoid crosstalk with my neighbour’s Powerline adapters that use the factory default network name (‘HomePlugAV’).

Anyway, I got everything set up and working, but soon noticed that there were quite frequent dropouts of the connection to my router and the Internet. Some dropouts did occur when I was using the old NETGEAR Powerline adapters, but I was surprised to find that the performance of the new TP-Link adapters was much worse. The dropouts typically lasted a minute or two. This was annoying, to say the least.

I started searching the Web, and ‘TP-Link’ and ‘dropout’ occur together a lot. I had already disabled Power Saving Mode in the adapters, so knew that was not the cause. I happen to know someone who also uses TP-Link adapters, and he mentioned that he also experienced frequent dropouts. In addition to turning off Power Saving Mode, he had implemented a shell script on his machines to ping an Internet site periodically to try and keep the connection from dropping out, but this did not appear to make any difference. I wrote the script below to try the same thing, and it did not cure the dropouts either:

#!/bin/bash
#
# Script to try to keep the Powerline adapter connected to this machine
# from dropping the connection to the router
#
FIRSTPASS=1
PREVIOUS=2
while true
do
    ping -W 2 -c 1 8.8.8.8 >>/dev/null 2>&1
    STATUS=$?
    if [ $PREVIOUS -ne 0 ] && [ $STATUS -eq 0 ]; then
        logger "Ping successful: connection to Internet is up."
#        echo "Ping successful: connection to Internet is up."
    elif [ $PREVIOUS -eq 0 ] && [ $STATUS -ne 0 ]; then
        logger "Ping unsuccessful: connection to Internet may be down."
#        echo "Ping unsuccessful: connection to Internet may be down."
    elif [ $FIRSTPASS -eq 1 ] && [ $STATUS -ne 0 ]; then
        logger "Ping unsuccessful: connection to Internet may be down."
#        echo "Ping unsuccessful: connection to Internet may be down."
    fi
    PREVIOUS=$STATUS
    FIRSTPASS=0
    sleep 10
done

In my Web searches I came across a a thread in the TP-Link SOHO Community forums with a URL for a new version of firmware for TP-Link Powerline adapters that use the Qualcomm Atheros QCA7420 chipset. I learned from the TP-Link forums that the firmware in NVM (Non-Volatile Memory) depends on the chipset manufacturer’s chipset, not on the Powerline manufacturer’s adapter model, whereas the adapter’s PIB (Parameter Information Block) does change depending on the model (including the country). So I started searching online for a PIB file for the three models of TP-Link adapter that I am using, but I could not find them. However, the Linux open-plc-tools command ‘plctool‘ enabled me to read the PIB from each adapter and store it as a file:

user $ sudo plctool -i eth0 -p TL-PA4010P.pib <MAC address printed on the adapter>
user $ sudo plctool -i eth0 -p TL-PA4010_TV.pib <MAC address printed on the adapter>
user $ sudo plctool -i eth0 -p TL-PA4010_HOME-HUB.pib <MAC address printed on the adapter>
user $ sudo plctool -i eth0 -p TL-PA4020P.pib <MAC address printed on the adapter>

The Ethernet interface in the computer I used is named ‘eth0′, so change it accordingly. You can give any name to the PIB files.

It is also easy to find out the adapters’ MAC addresses and current firmware by using another open-plc-tools command:

user $ plcstat -t -i eth0

The TP-Link tpPLC utility for Windows also shows the firmware version. I was surprised to see that the firmware version was different in the three models I had just bought:

  • TL-PA4010P firmware version: 1.4.0.20-00_401115_191120_901
  • TL-PA4010 firmware version: 1.3.1.2141-00_401013_171025_901
  • TL-PA4020P firmware version: 1.4.0.20-00_402114_191120_901

The command to update the firmware in an adapter using the NVM file I downloaded from the URL in the above-mentioned TP-Link Community forum thread and the PIB file read from the relevant adapter, is as follows:

user $ sudo plctool -i <interface> -P <PIB file> -N <NVM file> -R <MAC address of adapter>

For example:

user $ sudo plctool -i eth0 -P TL-PA4010P.pib -N FW-QCA7420-1.5.0.0026-02-CS-20200114.nvm -R 15:B3:D2:D8:5F:BA

I am fortunate in that the three models of TP-Link Powerline adapter I bought all use the Qualcomm Atheros QCA7420 chipset, so I could use the same NVM file for all four adapters that I bought. I only needed to repeat the command with a different PIB file for each adapter model. The plcstat command can be used to check that the firmware version is different from the factory original version:

user $ plcstat -t -i eth0

Actually, the tpPLC utility in Windows 10 also has the ability to upload an NVM file and a PIB file to an adapter, so, as I have tpPLC installed in a VM, I can use that instead to update firmware in my TP-Link Powerline adapters.

And what difference did upgrading the firmware in my new TP-Link adapters make? A big difference. There are no more dropouts; the connection is now stable and I no longer get interruptions while browsing the Internet. It’s a pity that TP-Link does not supply every chipset’s latest firmware file and every model’s PIB file on their support Web site so that users can update their Powerline adapters.

Powerline adapters and IPv6

My home network includes a number of devices connected via Powerline (HomePlug) adapters. Back in 2015 I blogged about ‘crosstalk’ between my and my neighbour’s home networks, both of which use Powerline adapters (see my post ‘Waiting for 192.168.1.254…’ (Why I could not access a home hub’s management page)), which I was able to resolve by changing the encryption key so that it is different to the default key used by my neighbour. Since then the Powerline adapters have worked well. However, an unrelated network problem recently highlighted another problem with my Powerline adapters…

In November last year there was an external fault with the broadband service to my house, so I had to contact my ISP (the company BT) to fix the problem. BT does not use highly-skilled field personnel to diagnose broadband problems; they tend to use a ‘shotgun’ approach to problem solving. Their first attempt was to replace my router, a BT Home Hub 5, which I knew was actually working perfectly. I was not going to argue, though, because they replaced the router with the newest model, a BT Smart Hub 2. Unlike the Home Hub 5, the Smart Hub 2 fully supports IPv6. BT’s broadband network has supported IPv6 for several years (see ISPreview – UPDATE All BT Broadband Lines Now Support IPv6 Internet Addresses) so I was expecting the computers on my home network to be assigned IPv6 addresses, but ‘ifconfig‘ and ‘ip address‘ showed they were not being assigned IPv6 addresses when connected via the Powerline adapters, only when connected to the Smart Hub 2 via Wi-Fi.

All my computers have IPv6 enabled:

$ sudo sysctl -a | grep disable_ipv6
[sudo] password for fitzcarraldo: 
sysctl: net.ipv6.conf.all.disable_ipv6 = 0
reading key "net.ipv6.conf.all.stable_secret"
sysctl: reading key "net.ipv6.conf.default.stable_secret"
net.ipv6.conf.default.disable_ipv6 = 0
sysctl: reading key "net.ipv6.conf.eno1.stable_secret"
net.ipv6.conf.eno1.disable_ipv6 = 0
sysctl: reading key "net.ipv6.conf.lo.stable_secret"
net.ipv6.conf.lo.disable_ipv6 = 0
sysctl: net.ipv6.conf.wlp2s0.disable_ipv6 = 0
reading key "net.ipv6.conf.wlp2s0.stable_secret"
$ test -f /proc/net/if_inet6 && echo "IPv6 supported" || echo "IPv6 not supported"
IPv6 supported

The fact that the computers on the home network were allocated an IPv6 address when connected to the Smart Hub 2 via Wi-Fi, and that WhatIsMyIPAddress.com confirmed the BT broadband public network was also allocating an IPv6 address, made me suspect the problem of no IPv6 via the wired network was due to the Powerline adapters.

As more machines were added to my home network over the years, I had to buy more Powerline adapters. In 2014 I bought some NETGEAR XAVB5221 (500 Mbps) Powerline adapters to supplement the superseded model NETGEAR XAVB1301 (200 Mbps) Powerline adapters I bought in 2012. Powerline adapters conforming to the HomePlug AV standard work together, so these had no problem communicating. A schematic diagram of my home network is shown below. To keep things simple, only some of the devices are shown. As you can in the diagram, a NETGEAR XAVB1301 adapter was used to connect the BT Smart Hub 2 to the network; some of the computers were connected via NETGEAR XAVB5221 adapters, and others via NETGEAR XAVB1301 adapters.

Simplified schematic diagram of my original home network

I could find no mention of IPv6 for its Powerline adapters in NETGEAR’s documentation and on the NETGEAR Web site. The NETGEAR user manual for the XAV1301 is dated ‘September 2011’ and it lists, under SPECIFICATIONS, compliance with IEEE 802.3 and IEEE 802.3u. The data sheet (no user manual available) for the XAVB5221 is dated ‘2014’ and it lists, under SPECIFICATIONS, compliance with IEEE 1901 and IEEE 802.3.

The Wikipedia page for IEEE 1901-2010 mentions IPv6, so support for IPv6 is relevant to the protocol:

“An IETF RFC Draft address the higher layers of the protocol, namely the specifics of passing IPv6 packets over the PHY and MAC layers of PLC [power-line communication] systems like IEEE 1901.”

I think the following draft Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) document must be the latest version of the IETF Draft mentioned on the above-mentioned Wikipedia page for IEEE 1901:

Transmission of IPv6 Packets over PLC Networks

Anyway, all this lead me to wonder if the NETGEAR XAVB1301 does not fully comply with IEEE 1901 and does not support IPv6. So I decided to try connecting the BT Smart Hub 2 to the network via a NETGEAR XAVB5221 adapter instead of the older model XAVB1301, as shown in the schematic diagram below.

Simplified schematic diagram of my latest home network

What I then found was that any computer connected to the network via a NETGEAR XAVB5221 adapter was assigned an IPv6 address in addition to an IPv4 address, and WhatIsMyIPAddress.com showed public IPv6 and IPv4 addresses in a Web browser on the device. However, any computer connected to the network via a NETGEAR XAVB1301 adapter was assigned an IPv6 address in addition to an IPv4 address but WhatIsMyIPAddress.com displayed ‘IPv6 not detected’ in a Web browser. So it transpired that NETGEAR XAVB5221 adapters can handle IPv6 but the older XAVB1301 model cannot.

Although not essential, I toyed with the idea of replacing the older NETGEAR XAVB1301 adapters with XAVB5221 adapters, but that model is no longer on sale. The latest available Powerline adapter model from NETGEAR for wired networking is the PL1000 (1000 Mbps). However, its documentation does not mention IPv6 or IEEE 1901, and the following question on the Amazon UK Web site about IPv6 support for the PL1000, and NETGEAR’s answer on 5 May 2020 makes it clear that the PL1000 does not support IPv6:

Question: Does this model support ipv6? netgear xav1301 adapters only support ipv4. my router & pcs support ipv6 but can’t use ipv6 with my xav1301 adapters.

Answer: Thank you for your interest in the NETGEAR PL1000.

The PL1000 supports IPv4.

If you have any questions, you can also check out our NETGEAR Community at any time.

Best regards,
NETGEAR Amazon UK

Unlike NETGEAR, the TP-Link Web site makes it clear that all TP-Link Powerline adapters currently on sale support IPv6:

Most frequently asked questions about TP-Link powerline devices – Part3: Other questions about Powerline Device

Q3.12: Can TP-Link Powerline devices transfer IPv6 packets?

A: Yes, all the on sale TP-Link powerline devices can transfer IPv6 packets. Kindly note this is supported by default and does not require any configuration, our powerline products do not have setting entries for IPv6 either.

I also asked someone I know who uses TP-Link Powerline adapters and a BT Smart Hub 2, and he confirmed that the TP-Link adapters can handle IPv6.

Therefore, the bottom line is: if you want to use Powerline adapters and IPv6, avoid buying NETGEAR Powerline adapters and look at other manufacturers’ adapters instead. I have only investigated TP-Link’s adapters, which do support IPv6. A number of other companies also manufacture Powerline adapters, but you would need to check if they support IPv6; if necessary contact the manufacturer to be sure.

Jitsi Meet, my favourite video conferencing platform (and a way to share audio when using it in Linux)

During the current COVID-19 lockdown I have been using video conferencing platforms a lot for family virtual meet-ups, quizzes and multi-player games by Jackbox Games. Zoom seems to be the most popular video conference platform at the moment, although several articles in the media have pointed out some of its security limitations (see, e.g., ‘‘Zoom is malware’: why experts worry about the video conferencing platform‘). Although many people like Zoom, my favourite video conferencing platform is Jitsi Meet.

For an excellent third-party video introduction to Jitsi Meet, watch the video: ‘Using Jitsi: A free, no-registration video conferencing site‘. WIRED Magazine’s recent article on Jitsi Meet is also worth reading: ‘Want to Ditch Zoom? Jitsi Offers an Open-Source Alternative‘.

The reasons I prefer Jitsi Meet to Zoom include the following:

  1. no subscriptions are required to use all the features of Jitsi Meet;
  2. unlike Zoom, Jitsi Meet does not require you to sign up;
  3. unlike Zoom, Jitsi Meet does not require the installation of an application — it runs in Google Chrome or Firefox;
  4. unlike the free version of Zoom, Jitsi Meet does not impose a time limit on the length of the meeting;
  5. unlike the free version of Zoom, Jitsi Meet does not have a limit on the number of meeting attendees;
  6. Jitsi Meet provides end-to-end encryption for one-to-one video calls*;
  7. I find the performance of Jitsi Meet better than Zoom, which seems to be corroborated in basic benchmarking by Jitsi Meet’s developers (‘WebRTC vs. Zoom – A Simple Congestion Test‘);
  8. I find image quality better in Jitsi Meet;
  9. I find Jitsi Meet on a desktop/laptop more intuitive and easier to use than Zoom;
  10. if I share audio in Zoom for Linux, the audio is very distorted**;
  11. I find the UI of the Jitsi Meet app for Android easy to use (the app can be installed via Google Play);
  12. Jitsi Meet is open-source, so anyone can inspect the source code;
  13. if I wanted to, I could download the Jitsi software to my own server and set up a Jitsi Meet server to handle meetings instead of using the Cloud server provided by 8×8, Inc. (the company that develops the Jitsi Meetings software).

* Neither platform currently provides end-to-end encryption for group meetings, although the developers of Jitsi Meet are apparently working on implementing end-to-end encryption for group meetings using a new feature of Google Chrome called ‘Insertable Streams’.

** There is a work-around for this problem in Zoom for Linux; see my answer to the Unix & Linux Stack Exchange question ‘Play audio output as input to Zoom’. In the case of Jitsi Meet in Linux, PulseAudio Volume Control can be used to share audio, as I explain further down.

Jitsi Meet requires no installation; it runs in a browser window. Either Google Chrome or Firefox can be used, although I find it runs better in Google Chrome. Actually, an Ubuntu 16.04 user told me that Firefox hangs when he tries to join a Jitsi Meet meeting, but Jitsi Meet works fine in Firefox in my two Gentoo Linux installations and in my family’s Lubuntu 18.04 installation. When using Google Chrome, to be able to share your screen you need to install the Google Chrome extension ‘Jitsi Meetings’ by meet.ji.si in the Google Chrome Web Store.

One of my family here at home has a laptop running Windows 10. Google Chrome, but not Firefox, displays a ‘Share audio’ tick box when the ‘Share your screen’ icon is clicked (see ‘Jitsi Meet features update, April 2020‘). The ‘Share audio’ feature is needed when, for example, you are casting via the Internet to remote players a multi-user game running on your machine. During the current COVID-19 lockdown we have been having fun playing Jackbox Games Party Pack 6 this way with family and friends in different locations (see ‘(My Solution) Best method for Virtual Couch Multiplayer‘). Each household connects a laptop to their TV via HDMI and joins the Jitsi Meet meeting. The Jackbox Games games are cast via Jitsi Meet from the laptop at my house, and the group of players in each household can view and hear the game on their TV and participate using their mobile phones as per the Jackbox Games paradigm.

Jitsi Meet provides a ‘Share audio’ function in Windows only, but I found a work-around to to be able to share any application’s audio in Linux if I ever want to use my Linux machines to cast games by Jackbox Games or other suppliers. For once, I have found PulseAudio useful! I use PulseAudio Volume Control to redirect the audio output from the desired application (be it a game, music player, video player or whatever) to the microphone input. The precise way to do this depends on the audio hardware your machine has, but an example is given in the blog post: ‘Redirect Audio Out to Mic In (Linux)‘.

My family’s desktop machine running Lubuntu 18.04 uses a Webcam with an integral microphone connected via USB, and external powered speakers connected to the machine’s Line Out green-coloured 3.5 mm jack socket. The contents of the tabs in PulseAudio Volume Control when no applications that produce audio are running are shown in the following screenshots:

PulseAudio Volume Control - Configuration

PulseAudio Volume Control - Playback

PulseAudio Volume Control - Recording

PulseAudio Volume Control - Output Devices

PulseAudio Volume Control - Input Devices

I make sure ‘All Streams’ is selected on the ‘Playback’ and ‘Recording’ tabs, ‘All Output Devices’ is selected on the ‘Output Devices’ tab, and ‘All Input Devices’ is selected on the ‘Input Devices’ tab.

Let us say I have launched Audacious to play some music and I want to cast that music to members of a Jitsi Meet meeting. When I am using Jitsi Meet for a meeting in Google Chrome, the contents of the PulseAudio Volume Control tabs on this machine are as follows:

PulseAudio Volume Control - Playback

PulseAudio Volume Control - Recording

PulseAudio Volume Control - Output Devices

PulseAudio Volume Control - Input Devices

To redirect the audio from e.g. Audacious to the meeting members, I select (click on the square button with the green disc and white tick) ‘Monitor of Built-in Audio Analogue Stereo’ on the ‘Input Devices’ tab, and on the ‘Recording’ tab I click on Chrome input: RecordStream from ‘Camera Analogue Mono’ and select Chrome input: RecordStream from ‘Monitor of Built-in Audio Analogue Stereo’, as shown below.

PulseAudio Volume Control - Recording

PulseAudio Volume Control - Input Devices

With the above settings in PulseAudio volume control, all the members of the meeting will be able to hear clearly the audio from Audacious. To switch back to my microphone to speak, I simply click on Chrome input: RecordStream from ‘Monitor of Built-in Audio Analogue Stereo’ on the ‘Recording’ tab and select Chrome input: RecordStream from ‘Camera Analogue Mono’ again.

Installing and using NeXT OPENSTEP in VirtualBox for Linux


Introduction and some history

My first micro computer was an Apple II+, which I used extensively both for work and leisure. In fact I liked it so much that I bought a //e when Apple Computer, Inc. released that model. I was not tempted by the Apple /// or Lisa when they were released, although I did quite fancy the IIGS but could not justify buying one. The //c was a nice portable, and a family member bought one on my recommendation. I was not at all tempted by the first Macintosh and subsequent models using the so-called Classic Mac OS, but I drooled when Steve Jobs founded NeXT, Inc. in 1985 and launched the magnesium-cased NeXT workstations: the cube-shaped NeXT Computer (Motorola 68030 CPU) in 1989 and in 1990 the second generation (Motorola 68040 CPU) NeXTcube and the NeXTstation (commonly referred to as ‘the slab’) running the NEXTSTEP operating system. The hardware build quality and aesthetic were fabulous, and the machines and NEXTSTEP were way ahead of their time. NEXTSTEP, which was built around Unix and therefore fully multi-tasking, looked amazing when compared to the competition and its performance was superior. Drooling was all I could do, though, because the price of any NeXT machine was totally out of my league.

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM.

By the way, Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, HTML and the first HTML browser using NEXTSTEP on a NeXTcube at CERN: see The Science Museum, London – The World Wide Web: A global information space.

Following Apple’s acquisition in 1997 of NeXT, which by then was only a software company (NeXT Software, Inc.), Apple developed Mac OS X based on OPENSTEP (the successor to NEXTSTEP). Even today some of the features in macOS are the same as in NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP: NeXTSTEP vs Mac OS X – System Demo and Comparison. The final release of NEXTSTEP was NEXTSTEP 3.3, succeeded by OPENSTEP, the final release of which was OPENSTEP 4.2. OPENSTEP was effectively NEXTSTEP 4.

So, even though the NeXT company only sold around 50,000 machines during its relatively short existence as a manufacturer between 1988 and 1993, its impact on modern computing has been significant. Below are a few links to interesting videos about the company and some of its products. You’ll find plenty more videos about NeXT on YouTube.

You can still find the occasional second-hand NeXT computer on eBay, but they are either incomplete or very expensive. As I write this there is a complete and pristine-looking NeXTcube system, including (non-working) NeXT laser printer, in Portugal listed on eBay at US$35,000 plus US$750 shipping! So I will never get to play with a real NeXT computer. But, thanks to VirtualBox, I can at least install the i386 release of OPENSTEP 4.2 in a VM (virtual machine) to try it out for fun. I decided to install the OS and the type of applications I would typically use (assuming I could find packages on the Web, that is). I wanted to find out how usable the OS was, how good the applications were, and whether I could access Unix easily from the GUI. As NeXT hardware and software are obsolete I had to spend a lot of time searching the Web for applications that would actually install and work. Some applications work in both NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP, but plenty of applications have different packages for the two versions of the OS, which made my searches more complicated. Some OPENSTEP packages are so-called ‘fat binaries’ containing executables for some or all the different CPU types that OPENSTEP supported, and I found a few such packages on the Web. I wanted to install and try to use at least a Web browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, an mp3 player and a video player. I also wanted to see if I could access files on a server on my home network using Samba.

There are quite a few tutorials and videos available on the Web explaining how to install OPENSTEP in a VM, but I did not find any on installing applications in OPENSTEP. Also, many of the OS installation tutorials I found are incomplete, for example not covering either audio or networking. I am not going to give a step-by-step explanation here of how I installed the OS and the applications, but I will explain what I installed, how I rated it, and any other information I found interesting or useful. Hopefully the tips I provide will be of some help if you fancy installing the OS and any applications yourself. I should also mention that you will have an advantage if you are a Unix and/or Linux user and are au fait with using the command line. OPENSTEP 4.2 provides the C Shell (csh). I did come across a package for the Bourne Again Shell (bash), but have not tried to install it. Sometimes I had to resort to the Unix command line to change ownership or permissions of a file and to move applications to folders owned by the root user. The pwd, cd, ls, su, cp, mv, chmod and chown commands came in handy a few times. By the way, unlike Linux the ls -la command does not display the group to which a file belongs, only its owner; you need to use the command ls -lag to show both. Also, the chown command accepts the notation owner.group but not owner:group when changing attributes.

Installation of OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for Intel i386 in VirtualBox

‘Mach’ refers to the Mach kernel, a microkernel developed at Carnegie Mellon University. OPENSTEP was available for Motorola 68k, Intel i386 and Sun SPARC CPUs. VirtualBox supports both 32-bit and 64-bit Intel CPUs, so the 32-bit OS can be installed in a VirtualBox 32-bit VM. NEXTSTEP also supported Hewlett-Packard’s PA-RISC CPU, but NeXT dropped support for that CPU in OPENSTEP.

Regarding the spelling of the two OSs, apparently the APIs are spelt ‘NeXTStep’ and ‘OpenStep’, and the OSs are spelt ‘NEXTSTEP’ and ‘OPENSTEP’. Confusing, or what? It’s no wonder these are used interchangeably all over the Web.

I found a reasonable tutorial on the installation of OPENSTEP 4.2, including links to download the image files of the CDROM and floppy disks required. Unlike many tutorials on the Web, it also explains how to get network access working, and I was able to ping other nodes on my home network and the Internet once I had completed the tutorial: ‘Installing NextStep OS (OPENSTEP) in VirtualBox‘. There were only one or two minor differences between the tutorial and what I saw on screen, and installation in VirtualBox for Linux was essentially painless. One of the packages that has to be installed (OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg) includes a Y2K patch for the OS. The tutorial tells you to use the command line to install that package, and I followed the instructions in the tutorial but, having now learned how to install packages via the OPENSTEP GUI by selecting a package and then ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ to launch the Installer, I could have used only the GUI instead of the command line to install OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg (which I have checked). No matter, though, because using the OPENSTEP command line in Terminal.app is a good learning exercise. The tutorial does not mention some other things I had to configure in VirtualBox. To get audio working I had to select ‘SoundBlaster 16’ for the Audio Controller, install a driver in OPENSTEP and reboot the VM (see details further on), and under ‘Network’ in VirtualBox Manager I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ with ‘Promiscuous Model: Allow All’. I also enabled ‘Serial Ports’ and disabled ‘USB Controller’ (USB had not yet been invented back then!).

The OS installer installs US English support and offers the option of installing support for any of five other languages too: Swedish, Spanish, Italian, German and French. I unticked all those and completed the installation. Later I decided it might be useful to have support for those additional languages, and I found it very easy to install them retrospectively: I simply loaded the OPENSTEP-Install-4.2.iso file into the VM’s ‘optical drive’, browsed the CDROM’s contents, selected Upgrader.app and then ‘Workspace’ > ‘File’ > ‘Open as Folder’. I found the language packages (SwedishEssentials.pkg etc.) in the folder ‘NextCD’ > ‘Packages’. I could then select each language package and use ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ and so on to install it, as explained earlier.

To get sound working in OPENSTEP running in VirtualBox the procedure given in a 2009 tutorial ‘Installation of OPENSTEP 4.2 in VMware 3.0 and VirtualBox‘ miraculously still worked for me:

Audio: Alejandro Diaz Infante (aka astroboy) managed to make the OPENSTEP Sound Blaster driver work under VMWare and VirtualBox.
The solution: use the drivers created by University of Glasgow (Thanks, developer(s) of them, wherever you are, for drivers you never imagined would be so useful in the future).

  1. Download SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz and SBMixer.I.tar.gz
  2. Install SBSoundMidi driver for either Vibra16Cpnp or AWE32pnp. Both work great! (I use the default irq and io, but the second DMA I put it on 7, ’cause it was the detected one when used VMWare to test Windoze. Anyway, I didn’t detect any failure when using the second DMA in its default of 5, so I guess it could be up to you. In VirtualBox I didn’t change any default setting, just select the driver “SoundBlaster 16” in VirtualBox audio setting before installing.
  3. Install SBMixer to have better control of your sound card.

That’s it. Put those audio CD’s and multimedia apps back!

After copying SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz to OPENSTEP I double-clicked on it to unpack it, and then double-clicked on SBSoundMidi.config to install the SoundBlaster 16 drivers. I then navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘Configure.app’, selected the loudspeaker icon and specified the driver ‘SBSoundMidi driver for SoundBlaster AWE32 PnP (v3.38)‘.

SBMixer works, and OPENSTEP’s Sound Inspector can play .snd files without having to install additional software, although I found that some .snd files would not play completely. TheNeXTSong.snd (16-bit Linear format) which I downloaded from one of the OPENSTEP software repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) plays perfectly (and is amusing), but the shorter Welcome-to-the-NeXT-world.snd (8-bit muLaw format) stalls. I did manage to install a couple of audio players (see further down).

The only minor problem that occurs every time you login if the floppy disk drive is empty is a pop-up window with the message ‘The floppy disk is unreadable’. You can just click on ‘Eject’ but, to stop this happening, you can change the boot order in VirtualBox Manager and load one of the OPENSTEP floppy disk image files in the VM’s floppy disk drive (‘Settings…’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Floppy Drive’ in VirtualBox Manager). Actually, I copied Driver_Floppy.img to Work_Floppy.img, loaded the latter in the VM’s floppy disk drive and I changed the Boot Order from ‘Floppy’|’Optical’|’Hard Disk’ to ‘Hard Disk’|’Optical’|’Floppy’ (‘Settings…’ > ‘System’ > ‘Motherboard’ > ‘Boot Order’ in the VirtualBox Manager). Furthermore, although not essential, I selected Work_Floppy in File Viewer, then in the Workspace menu I selected ‘Disk’ > ‘Initialize…’ and initialised (formatted) the floppy disk. Its icon disappears momentarily from File Viewer, then reappears after it has been formatted.

The command ifconfig on my VM host computer running Lubuntu 18.04 tells me that the IP address of the host machine is 192.168.1.74 (I had previous configured my router to always assign this address to this machine), the netmask is 255.255.255.0 and the broadcast IP address is 192.168.1.255. My router’s Management page in a Web browser has the DHCP network range configured as 192.168.1.64 – 192.168.1.253, so I decided the OPENSTEP VM would have a static IP address of 192.168.1.63. The router’s Management page also told me that the ISP’s Primary DNS IP address is 81.139.57.100 and the Secondary DNS IP address is 81.139.56.100. Therefore, in accordance with the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I followed, I edited the file /etc/hostconfig in OPENSTEP to have the following shell variables:

# /etc/hostconfig
#
# This file sets up shell variables used by the various rc scripts to
# configure the host.  Edit this file instead of rc.boot.
#
# Warning:  This is sourced by /bin/sh.  Make sure there are no spaces
#           on either side of the "=".
#
# There are some special keywords used by rc boot and the programs it
# calls:
#
#       -AUTOMATIC-     Configure automatically
#       -YES-           Turn a feature on
#       -NO-            Leave a feature off or do not configure
#
HOSTNAME=openstep
INETADDR=192.168.1.63
ROUTER=192.168.1.254
IPNETMASK=255.255.255.0
IPBROADCAST=192.168.1.255
YPDOMAIN=-NO-
NETMASTER=-NO-
TIME=-AUTOMATIC-

I also created the file /etc/resolv.conf as specified in the tutorial, containing the following two lines with the ISP’s nameserver IP addresses I found from my router:

nameserver 81.139.57.100
nameserver 81.139.56.100

It was not specified in the tutorial, but to get NFS working later I found it was necessary to edit the file /etc/hosts to comment out the list of IP addresses and to add the hostname I had chosen (openstep) for the OPENSTEP VM plus the IP address (192.168.1.74) and hostname (aspirexc600) of the VM host machine running Lubuntu 18.04:

#
# NOTE: This file is never consulted if NetInfo or Yellow Pages is running.
#
#
# To do anything on the network, you need to assign an address to your
# machine.  This default host table will get you started.  "myhost"
# can be used for the first machine on the network, and client[1-8]
# can be used for subsequent machines.  You must make sure that no two
# machines have the same address.  If you need to add more machines
# just keep adding entries.  Each digit in the four digit number must
# be between 1 and 254 inclusive.
#
#192.42.172.1	myhost
#192.42.172.2	client1
#192.42.172.3	client2
#192.42.172.4	client3
#192.42.172.5	client4
#192.42.172.6	client5
#192.42.172.7	client6
#192.42.172.8	client7
#192.42.172.9	client8
#
# This is the reserved address for the loopback interface.  Don't muck
# with it.
#
127.0.0.1       localhost       openstep
192.168.1.74    aspirexc600

While setting up networking in the VM I also temporarily disabled the firewall in the VM host to make sure the VM host was not interfering in any way with the network connection of the VM, then enabled it again once I was happy it was not causing any problems. Later, when I configured the VM host as an NFS server and the VM as an NFS client, I had to create the appropriate rules for NFS in the VM host’s firewall (see further down).

You will see NetInfo mentioned in the OPENSTEP networking apps. You should ignore NetInfo unless you are going to network a cluster of machines running NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, as it is an obsolete NeXT networking system configuration database and we don’t want to use it.

Installation of utilities and applications

After installing the OS neither the ‘me’ account nor the root account are password protected. You can use the OS like this if you wish, but I set up a password for the ‘me’ account by navigating to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextApps’ > Preferences.app and clicking on the padlock icon. Then I logged out and logged in to the root account and did the same to set up a password for the root user. If you want to save a bit of time during installation of applications, you could do this after installing all the packages.

OPENSTEP comes with quite a few utilities, such as Terminal.app, TextEdit.app, Draw.app, Sound.app (possibly useful if your host computer has a microphone socket and you enabled audio input in VirtualBox Manager), PhotoAlbum.app, CDPlayer.app, Webster.app (yes, a full dictionary), Librarian.app, PrintManager.app, Grab.app (to grab snapshots of all or parts of the screen and save them to .tiff files), Preview.app (an image file viewer), Mail.app, and others. You can try these and they are reasonably intuitive so I won’t dwell on them here, instead concentrating on how I installed third-party apps and utilities.

I had to trawl the Web to find packages and applications suitable for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for i386. I find the filenames of the files stored on these Web sites confusing. I think.s‘ in the filename of a compressed file means it contains source code, and ‘.b‘ means it contains binary code, i.e. executable. However, some filenames have ‘.bs‘ but only contain source code, so I could be wrong. Also, I’m not sure what the letters ‘N‘, ‘I‘, ‘H‘ and ‘S‘ represent in these filenames; NeXT (Motorola 68k), Intel, Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC and SPARC, presumably? Some OPENSTEP packages are called ‘fat binaries’ as they contain binaries for several or all the supported CPU types, thus enabling the package to be installed in OPENSTEP on different hardware. So my guess about the letters in the filenames could be correct.

Without a Web browser in OPENSTEP, the easiest way to copy files to the OPENSTEP VM initially is to use the Linux mkisofs command to create an ISO file and then to load it into the VM’s optical drive. For example, let’s say I want to copy the file OpenUp-1.01.tar to the VM, I would type the following on the host machine:

$ mkdir ~/ToCopy
$ cp ~/Downloads/OpenUp-1.01.tar ~/ToCopy
$ mkisofs -o ToCopy.iso ~/ToCopy

I then use the VirtualBox Manager GUI (‘Settings’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Choose Virtual Optical Disk File…’) to insert the ToCopy.iso file into the VM’s optical drive. OPENSTEP mounts the ‘CDROM’ automatically and it becomes visible in the OPENSTEP File Viewer window. When I click on the CDROM icon a window opens and I see it contains the file openup_1.tar which I can then drag to the Shelf or to another folder directly.

Packages for installation using the OPENSTEP Installer have a ‘.pkg‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.pkg) and are actually a folder, not a file. Applications have a ‘.app‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.app) and are also a folder, not a file. Some of the compressed files I found for OPENSTEP on the Web are tarballs of OPENSTEP packages (e.g. OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz contains OpenWrite.pkg), others are tarballs of OPENSTEP applications (e.g. mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz contains mpap.app) which require unpacking but no installation, just copying to a folder. The mkisofs command truncates filenames to the Short Filename format (a.k.a. DOS 8.3 format), so if I had any uncompressed .pkg files, .app files and indeed any other files (.pdf, .mp3 or whatever) to transfer to the VM, I compressed them first as .tar files before creating the .iso file. Even though the .tar filename is truncated to DOS 8.3 by mkisofs, the filenames of the packed files are not.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

a) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

b) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Once you get the hang of installing packages in OPENSTEP, it is actually simple. For example, to install the package ParaSheet.pkg, I drag the .tar file from the CDROM to the Shelf, and from there to the folder /me. I double-click on the .tar file which opens a window showing the ParaSheet.pkg inside. I drag that to the /me folder. Then I select the package, and select ‘Workspace’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ and the Installer GUI opens. I then click on ‘Set…’ to specify the folder into which I want to install the application (e.g. /LocalApps/Office, as I had created the Office folder beforehand using Terminal.app) and then ‘Install’, and the Installer takes care of the rest.

In the case of applications that are not packaged and are just .app folders, I do not need to use the Installer, I just copy the .app folder to the folder I wish (/LocalApps/, /me/LocalApps/ or just /me/).

I found that, as-installed, OPENSTEP 4.2 can unpack .tar files from the GUI but does not have a GUI app for unpacking .tar.gz files, so the first thing I did was to install the OpenUp utility: OpenUp-1.01.m.NI.b.tgz which can be found at http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Compression_Utilities/ and works very well. Of course, I could have instead unpacked .tar.gz files in the host machine first and copied the .tar files to OPENSTEP using the mkisofs method I explained above, which the OPENSTEP GUI can unpack when I double-click on the .tar file. But OpenUp is well worth installing. After I had installed OpenUp and the OmniWeb browser in OPENSTEP, I was also able to download .tar.gz files directly in OPENSTEP from the various file repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) and unpack them in OPENSTEP.

By the way, see the links at the end of this post for user documentation. The OPENSTEP GUI is intuitive but I didn’t realise I could rename files from the GUI by clicking on the filename below the icon to get a cursor and typing directly (just like macOS), and I also didn’t know that I could use the ‘shelf’ at the top of the File Viewer as a temporary place to put copies of files to copy files between folders as an alternative to opening another File Viewer window. I also wondered how to select multiple files in a window when they are not adjacent, since using the mouse to select the group of files is not feasible in that case. It turns out the you hold down the Shift key and click on each file you want to select, which is analogous to holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each file in Linux. I also found that I can copy a file between two File Viewer windows by clicking on it and holding down the Alt Gr key then dragging across to the other window.

Installation of a Web browser

This is where things start to get trickier. Bear in mind that NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP were created in the 1980s and 1990s when the Web was in its infancy. As I mentioned earlier, the first Web browser was written on a NeXTcube at CERN, and that machine was the first Web server in existence. The best Web browser I could find for the platform is OmniWeb 3.1 for OPENSTEP. Before installing it, you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. Also, the browser does not support HTTPS, Javascript and Flash out of the box and you have to install plugins. Unfortunately the plugins for these are very flaky, so you are severely limited in which sites and pages you can browse. Note that Netscape Communications created HTTPS in 1994, Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems released JavaScript in December 1995, and Macromedia released Flash in November 1996. I don’t know if the OmniWeb plugins for HTTPS, JavaScript and Flash for OPENSTEP that I found are the latest or best versions for this version of OmniWeb, but they are what I could find online. JavaScript in Web pages results in a lot of pop-up error messages and made opening pages even less likely to be successful, so in the OmniWeb menu I navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘User Preferences…’ > ‘JavaScript’ and unticked ‘Display panel for errors’. I also navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘Administrator Preferences’ > ‘HTTPS – SSL’ and ticked ‘Enable TLSv1’, which seemed to enable a few HTTPS Web pages to load, at least partially.

You have to install OpenSSL before installing the HTTPS plugin for OmniWeb. I installed the package OpenSSL.0.9.5a.m.NIS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Internet/WWW/Web%20Browsers/Omniweb/Plugins/. Then I installed the package HTTPS.1.09b.m.NIS.b.tar.gz from the same site, which installs the file (folder) HTTPS.plugin, which needs to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’).

Then I downloaded and installed the two packages JavaScript-OWPlugin-1999-07-20-OSM-NIS.tar.gz (installs JavaScript.plugin) and Flash-OWPlugin-19990621-OSM-NIS.tar (installs Flash.plugin) which also need to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’ in the File Viewer). I found these two packages via a BetaArchive post [offer] OmniGroup software (NeXTSTEP, OpenStep & Rhapsody), which has a link to a .rar file at http://www.mediafire.com/file/wzyon54l4dt/OmniGroup.rar/file.

Unfortunately, even with the HTTPS and JavaScript plugins installed, almost all Web pages fail to load in OmniWeb, one exception being https://www.google.com. Old HTTP Web sites do load providing they are simple, but any JavaScript seems to cause a problem.

Installation of a PDF file reader

The best PDF file reader I could find for the platform is OmniPDF 3 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

Installation of an image viewer

The best (supposedly) image file viewer I could find for the platform is OmniImage 4.0 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. However, according to the file /OmniImage.pkg/OmniImage.info it is a beta release and, in addition to Omni Frameworks, requires ‘Omni Plugins’:

Title OmniImage 4.0 beta for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2
Version 4.0 beta 4 (1-Oct-1998)
Description This package contains a beta version of OmniImage. This beta release only supports viewing of images, not saving them. This release will not run unless the the Omni Frameworks (version 1998G2) are installed, and will not be fully functional (e.g., images may not be rendered) unless the Omni PlugIns (version 3.0 beta 8) are also installed. This software requires OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2.

I found the file OmniPlugIns-3.0b8-OSM-NIS.pkg.tar.gz in the BetaArchive post mentioned earlier in this post. I downloaded the tarball, created an ISO file containing it, loaded the ISO file in the VM CDROM drive, unpacked the tarball to /me/OmniPlugIns.pkg and installed the package using the OPENSTEP GUI Installer using the procedure explained earlier in this post. The Omni PlugIns were installed in the folder /LocalLibrary/PlugIns/ and I then found that OmniImage can open JPG files, even a 3456×2304 pixel JPG file with the following properties (as reported by the file command in Linux):

JPEG image data, JFIF standard 1.01, resolution (DPI), density 300x300, segment length 16, Exif Standard: [TIFF image data, big-endian, direntries=4, manufacturer=Canon, model=Canon EOS 600D], baseline, precision 8, 3456x2304, frames 3

Installation of wordprocessor and spreadsheet apps

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use.

I created the folder /LocalApps/Office/ and installed OpenWrite from OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /OpenStep/Soft/misc/NEXTTOYOU/97.1-Fruehjahr/APPSTOYOU. If you have not already installed it, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

In the folder /LocalApps/Office/ I also installed ParaSheet from ParaSheet-1.7.pkg.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design/ParaSheet. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

The first time you launch OpenWrite and ParaSheet you will be notified that you cannot use the application until you enter a licence key. Exit the application and use ‘Open Sesame’ (see earlier) to launch the application as root user, and then you well be able to enter the licence. You will find a list of licences for these packages on the Web page Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design.

Installation of audio players

mpap and MMP audio players in action

mpap and MMP audio players in action.

The only audio players I could find that actually worked (partially) in OPENSTEP are mpap 1.0 (download mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz) and MMP 2 (download mmp2.I.b.tar.gz). mpap can play some, but not all, of the mp3 files I have, whereas I could not get MMP to play mp3 files at all, although it can play .snd files. MMP can also play MIDI files, but I had to download the Timidity patches instruments.tar.gz (not so easy to find!) and follow the instructions in the MMP Info Panel in order to install the instruments patch file. It works fine! mpap cannot play an mp3 file which the files command in Linux tells me is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v2.5, 32 kbps, 11.025 kHz, Stereo’ but it can play an mp3 file which is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v1, 192 kbps, 44.1 kHz, Stereo’. mpap has a basic playlist feature, but it is not as sophisticated as any of the modern audio players.

Installation of video players

MPLAY and Movie players in action

MPLAY and Movie players in action.

This is where OPENSTEP is severely lacking in comparison to any modern OS; apparently we’re talking 5.5 or 6 frames per second and e.g. 288×224 pixels on NeXT hardware, and no sound. I only managed to find a couple of basic video players, both at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/video/apps: MPlay 3.0 (MPlay.app unpacked from MPlay.3.0.NIHS.b.tar.gz) and Movie 3.0 (Movie3.0 folder unpacked from Movie.3.0.NIHS.bs.tar.gz). MPlay is only designed to play MPEG (.mpg and .mpeg) files, which I found it can do for the old, tiny MPEG files I downloaded from Web repositories of NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP files. I found that Movie can also only play MPEG files, despite the app’s README file stating it can play (without sound) MPEG, TIFF sequences, ‘QuickTime and other formats’. Movie comes with a couple of demo videos (no audio), the largest of which is hula_full.mpg in the mpeg1video format, consisting of 39 frames of 352×240 pixels, with a desired frame rate of 8 fps which actually plays at between 8 and 9 frames per second in OPENSTEP in the VM, i.e. it plays for around 4 to 5 seconds. In a video player in Linux on my desktop machine it plays for just over 2 seconds at 15 frames per second. These videos and players may have been state-of-the-art in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they certainly are not now!

I could not find an app package to play .avi files. The page I linked to above has a source-code tarball named VideoStreamV1.OSrc.tar.gz for an app named VideoStream, the README of which claims the app can play .avi files, but I have not found an executable package. Anyway, the README file states it cannot play videos with sound, so obviously I didn’t bother trying to install it.

Games

I am not particularly interested in computer games, but a few are installed by default with the OS: Chess.app, Billiards.app and BoinkOut.app (a clone of Breakout). More games for OPENSTEP can be found on the Web (for example at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/). The computer game Doom was originally developed in NEXTSTEP on NeXT computers, and a version for OPENSTEP can be downloaded from the Web, although I have not tried it.

File sharing

NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was designed to use NFS (Network File System). However I don’t use NFS in my home network; I use SMB and have a dedicated Linux SMB server which works well with all SMB clients (Linux, Windows and Android) on my home network. Unsurprisingly I could only find early versions of Samba packages for NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. I also came across ramba, a Unix clone of Samba later renamed to Sharity-Light. I downloaded them both and briefly tried to get OPENSTEP to connect to my network Samba server. I was unsuccessful, which does not surprise me as the version of Samba for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP I found is Version 2.0.7.1 from May 2000, and the obsolete version of rumba I found is Version 0.4 from February 1997. In NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP the Samba configuration file smb.conf is located in the directory /usr/samba/lib/ rather than /etc/samba/. I did not spend much time trying to get Samba/Rumba working as I assume there would be incompatibility between the early SMB protocol used by Samba V2.0.7.1 / Rumba V0.4 with Samba V4.* running in the Linux SMB server on my network. Perhaps I could have made it work, but I decided to try to make the VM’s host computer (192.168.1.74) a NFS server to see if I could get the VM (192.168.1.63) to access it as a NFS client. The Web page OpenStep on Microsoft Windows PC Emulators states the following, which indicates that NFS works:

Device: Network
OpenStep Configuration: AMD PCnet-32 PCI Ethernet Adapter
VirtualBox Configuration: Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II, Promiscuous Mode All
Observations: This works fine. Using SimpleNetworkStarter I was able to give OpenStep an IP address on my subnet, using my real router and real DNS servers. This allowed OpenStep to be ‘seen’ on the subnet. Standard networking facilities such as FTP and NFS work. It may help to run the a command such as the following from the VirtualBox installation directory, where “OpenStep” is whatever you name the virtual machine and “192.168.1.0” depends on your local subnet:

VBoxManage modifyvm OpenStep --natnet1 "192.168.1.0/24"

As I had named the VM ‘OPENSTEP4.2’ in VirtualBox Manager, I used the following command:

$ VBoxManage modifyvm OPENSTEP4.2 --natnet1 "192.168.1.0/24"

However I doubt this made any difference, because I had set the VM’s network adapter to ‘Bridged Adapter’ in the VirtualBox Manager, not ‘NAT’. I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter’ because I could not get the VM to connect to the network otherwise.

I also made sure the adapter in the VirtualBox Manager is set to ‘PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ and Promiscuous Mode is set to ‘Allow All’.

In addition to the network configuration notes in the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I mentioned earlier, for information only see the old tutorial ‘NeXTStep/OpenStep Ethernet-Based Network Configuration For Cable Modems, DSL, LANs, Etc…‘.

Anyway, below is what I did to get NFS working. The crucial thing to note is that OPENSTEP 4.2 uses NFSv2. I spent many hours unsuccessfully trying to get NFS working between the NFS server (a machine with IP address 192.168.1.74) and the NFS client (a VM with IP address 192.168.63) until I realised this. The NFS server is running Lubuntu 18.04, which uses NFSv4 by default. Therefore I had to configure the NFS server to use NFSv2 as well. Not only that, but I had to configure NFSv2 to use static ports, because the ports can change randomly in NFSv2 which would stop NFS working if there is a firewall enabled on the host machine.

In the NFS server (Lubuntu 18.04 running on a desktop machine)

N.B. My NFS server is running in Lubuntu 18.04 on a machine with an IP address of 192.168.1.74, and my NFS client is running in OPENSTEP 4.2 on a VM with IP address of 192.168.1.63. Change the IP addresses below to suit your situation.

1. Install the NFS server software

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install nfs-kernel-server

2. Create a mountpoint for the NFS shared directory

$ sudo mkdir /var/nfs
$ sudo chown nobody:nogroup /var/nfs
$ sudo chmod 777 /var/nfs

3. Configure the NFS export

$ sudo nano /etc/exports

3.1 Choose which of the following types of share you want to have

3.1.1 Less secure:

/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare 192.168.1.63(rw,sync,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check)

If ‘no_root_squash‘ is used, remote root users are able to change any file on the shared file system and leave trojaned applications for other users to inadvertently execute.

3.1.2 More secure:

/var/nfs 192.168.1.63(rw,sync,no_subtree_check)

3.2 Update the current table of exports for the NFS server

$ sudo exportfs -a

You can check the current table settings:

$ sudo exportfs -s
/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare  192.168.1.63(rw,wdelay,no_root_squash,no_subtree_check,sec=sys,rw,secure,no_root_squash,no_all_squash)
/var/nfs  192.168.1.63(rw,wdelay,root_squash,no_subtree_check,sec=sys,rw,secure,root_squash,no_all_squash)

If you wanted to clear the table (unexport the shared directories) you would do:

$ sudo exportfs -u 192.168.1.63:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare
$ sudo exportfs -u 192.168.1.63:/var/nfs
$ sudo exportfs -s
$

4. Load the NFSv2 kernel module

If lockd is built as a module (which it is in Lubuntu 18.04), create file /etc/modprobe.d/nfsv2.conf containing the following:

options lockd.nlm_udpport=4001 lockd.nlm_tcpport=4001
$ sudo modprobe nfsv2

If you want to make that permanent so it happens automatically when booting/rebooting add ‘nfsv2‘ (without the quotes) to the file /etc/modules-load.d/modules.conf (which in Lubuntu 18.04 is symlinked to /etc/modules).

5. Configure the NFS server

See ‘How can I make the nfs server support protocol version 2 in Ubuntu 17.10?‘.

Edit /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server to include NFSv2 and to specify static ports:

$ sudo nano /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server
# Number of servers to start up
RPCNFSDCOUNT=8

# Runtime priority of server (see nice(1))
RPCNFSDPRIORITY=0

# Options for rpc.mountd.
# If you have a port-based firewall, you might want to set up
# a fixed port here using the --port option. For more information, 
# see rpc.mountd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
# To disable NFSv4 on the server, specify '--no-nfs-version 4' here
RPCMOUNTDOPTS="--manage-gids -p 32767"
# -p 32767 above added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the svcgssd daemon? It is only required for Kerberos
# exports. Valid alternatives are "yes" and "no"; the default is "no".
NEED_SVCGSSD=""

# Options for rpc.svcgssd.
RPCSVCGSSDOPTS=""

# All options below this comment were added by Fitzcarraldo
#
# Options to pass to rpc.statd
# ex. RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
#
# Options to pass to rpc.rquotad
# ex. RPCRQUOTADOPTS="-p 32764"
RPCRQUOTADOPTS="-p 32764"
#
RPCNFSDOPTS="--nfs-version 2,3,4 --debug --syslog"
#
# To confirm above mods are in effect after service restart use
#    cat /run/sysconfig/nfs-utils
#  or 
#    service nfs-kernel-server status
#

Edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify static ports for rpc-statd:

# If you do not set values for the NEED_ options, they will be attempted
# autodetected; this should be sufficient for most people. Valid alternatives
# for the NEED_ options are "yes" and "no".


# Options for rpc.statd.
#   Should rpc.statd listen on a specific port? This is especially useful
#   when you have a port-based firewall. To use a fixed port, set this
#   this variable to a statd argument like: "--port 4000 --outgoing-port 4001".
#   For more information, see rpc.statd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
STATDOPTS="-o 32766 -p 32765"
# -o 32766 -p 32765 above were added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the gssd daemon? It is required for Kerberos mounts.
NEED_GSSD=

(I had to edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify the ports for rpc-statd in STATDOPTS because specifying the ports in RPCSTATDOPTS in /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server did not make the status ports static.)

Edit /etc/sysctl.conf to add a static port mapping for lockd:

$ sudo nano /etc/sysctl.conf
[...]
# All lines below added by Fitzcarraldo
# TCP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_tcpport = 4001
# UDP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_udpport = 4001

Modify the lockd kernel parameters now during runtime rather than having to reboot:

$ sudo sysctl -p

Note that it is necessary to specify static ports in the configuration files so that tight rules can be added to the firewall in the NFS server.

6. Start the NFS server

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service nfs-kernel-server start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

sudo systemctl start nfs-kernel-server

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable nfs-kernel-server

7. Start the NSM (Network Status Monitor) daemon

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service rpc-statd start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo systemctl start rpc-statd

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable rpc-statd

8. Check that NFSv2 is running and the ports are the ones specified in the config files

$ rpcinfo -p
   program vers proto   port  service
    100000    4   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    4   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   udp    111  portmapper
    100005    1   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    1   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   tcp  32767  mountd
    100003    2   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    4   tcp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   tcp   2049
    100227    3   tcp   2049
    100003    2   udp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   udp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   udp   2049
    100227    3   udp   2049
    100021    1   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    1   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100024    1   udp  32765  status
    100024    1   tcp  32765  status

9. Configure the firewall in Lubuntu 18.04

I used Gufw (LXDE Menu > ‘Preferences’ > ‘Firewall Configuration’) to add the following two UFW rules:

111,2049,4001,32765:32768/udp ALLOW IN 192.168.1.0/24
111,2049,4001,32765:32768/tcp ALLOW IN 192.168.1.0/24

The above rules permit NFSv2 to function consistently because I had configured the NFS ports to be static. If I had not done that the firewall would sometimes stop NFS from working because NFSv2 ports change randomly otherwise.

In OPENSTEP running in the VM

10. Make sure basic networking has been configured

I navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘SimpleNetworkStartup.app’ and did the following:

  • Unticked ‘Maintain the master copy of network administrative data.’
  • Selected ‘Use the network, but don’t share administrative data.’
  • Entered the Hostname ‘openstep‘ (no quotes) and IP address 192.168.1.63.
  • Clicked on ‘Network Options…’. In the window that opened I did the following:
    • Made sure router IP is set to 192.168.1.254
    • Made sure NIS Domain Name is set to ‘None’
    • Made sure Netmask is set to 255.255.255.0
    • Made sure Broadcast Address is set to 192.168.1.255
    • ‘Limit access to local NetInfo data to the local network’ is unticked.
    • Clicked on ‘Set’.
  • Clicked on ‘Configure’.

11. Create the shared NFS director[y,ies]

N.B. I could probably have created the directory /mnt/nfs/nfsshare and/or /mnt/nfs/var/nfs (whichever you chose to create — see 3.1 above) using ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘NFSManager.app’ instead of using the command line, but I opened a Terminal window in OPENSTEP and did the following:

openstep> su
openstep:1# mkdir /mnt
openstep:2# mkdir /mnt/nfs
openstep:3# mkdir /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:4# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var
openstep:5# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

12. Mount the NFS share(s)

openstep:6# mount 192.168.1.74:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:7# mount 192.168.1.74:/var/nfs /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

Use the df command to check they are mounted correctly:

openstep:8# df

13. Test the shared director[y,ies]

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, copy a file into /var/nfs/ (or /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/). You should see it appear in /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (or /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/) in OPENSTEP in the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘, copy a file into /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (not /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/, as that will not be allowed). You should see it appear in /var/nfs/ in Linux in the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /var/nfs/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

14. If you later want to unmount the NFS shared folder(s)

openstep:9# umount /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:10# umount /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

15. If you want OPENSTEP to mount the NFS shared folder(s) automatically when it boots

I was unable to get OPENSTEP to mount NFS shared folders automatically at boot by adding the appropriate lines in /etc/fstab, but OPENSTEP does mount them automatically if I add the mount commands to /etc/rc.local like so:

#!/bin/sh -u
#
# This script is for augmenting the standard system startup commands. It is 
# executed automatically by the system during boot up. 
#
# Copyright (C) 1993 by NeXT Computer, Inc.  All rights reserved.
#
# In its released form, this script does nothing. You may customize
# it as you wish.
#

fbshow -B -I "Starting local services" -z 92

# Read in configuration information
. /etc/hostconfig

# (echo -n 'local daemons:')                                    >/dev/console
#
# Run your own commands here
mount 192.168.1.74:/var/nfs /mnt/nfs/var/nfs
mount 192.168.1.74:/home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
#
# (echo '.')                                                    >/dev/console

File sharing: Summary

So, I managed to get NFS working, albeit not using OPENSTEP’s NFSManager.app tool. Had I known more about OPENSTEP networking I probably could have used the OPENSTEP GUI utilities to configure NFS, but at least I have proved it is possible to copy files to and from an NFS server (which happens to be the host machine of the VM) running Lubuntu 18.04 and the VM running OPENSTEP 4.2. Mind you, NFSv2 is old. NFSv4 would be the protocol to use had OPENSTEP supported it. Also, bear in mind that NFSv2 cannot encrypt the connection, so it is not secure. Another reason to have a good firewall enabled in the VirtualBox host machine and in my router too.

Conclusions

I have had fun installing and tinkering with OPENSTEP and its applications over the last few days. Getting file sharing to work was by far the most difficult part, but I got there in the end once I had discovered OPENSTEP only supports NFSv2. It is a pity OPENSTEP and the applications for it have not been developed for many years and are all obsolete. If development of OPENSTEP drivers, networking software, productivity applications and multimedia applications had continued, the OS itself would still have been perfectly usable on modern hardware, albeit not as straightforward to use as any of the main Desktop Environments in Linux. But the OS still feels quite modern; it was definitely ahead of its time. Tinkering with OPENSTEP 4.2 has given me a new respect for Steve Jobs, for the talented hardware and software engineers in the NeXT company, and indeed for Mac OS X and macOS. The choice of Unix for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was truely inspired.

In this blog post I have not covered the sophisticated development tools for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, which were also way ahead of their time. I’ll leave you to read the articles, documents and videos available on the Web about the development tools.

Please comment below if you notice any errors or omissions in this post, or if you know a better way of doing something in OPENSTEP, or you know of newer versions of the OPENSTEP software than the versions I have mentioned. I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who has a NeXT machine and/or is still using one; let me know what you have and how you’re using it.

Useful links

These are just a few of the many Web pages and sites I browsed when installing OPENSTEP 4.2 and looking for applications and ways to get various things to work.

Documentation

Software repositories

Sometimes differences between NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP may mean a NETSCAPE application cannot be installed in OPENSTEP or, if it can, may not work. Furthermore, be aware that different revisions of the same application/utility exist online, so you need to try and find the latest revisions.

Replacing the KDE Plasma widget ‘Thermal Monitor’ with ‘Kargos’ in Gentoo Linux

The KDE Plasma widget Thermal Monitor has not been working correctly in my Gentoo Linux installations for quite some time. I notice Thermal Monitor’s repository has not been updated for a couple of years, despite several new versions of KDE Plasma having been released. Perhaps that is the reason.

On my laptop running the Stable Branch of Gentoo Linux, Thermal Monitor displays the GPU and HDD temperatures automatically but CPU temperatures were only displayed if I right-clicked on the widget and selected ‘Reload Temperature Sources’. I managed to get the widget to display the CPU temperatures automatically by editing the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml and commenting out a line as shown in the file excerpt below:

[...]
        onSourceAdded: {

            if (source.indexOf(lmSensorsStart) === 0 || source.indexOf(acpiStart) === 0) {
/*
 *                systemmonitorAvailableSources.push(source)
 */
                var staIndex = systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.indexOf(source)
                if (staIndex > -1) {
                    addToSourcesOfDatasource(systemmonitorDS, source)
                    systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.splice(staIndex, 1)
                }

            }

        }
[...]

The above modification is suggested in a comment to Issue #53 in the widget’s repository.

However, the above-mentioned edit does not fix Thermal Monitor on my laptop running the Testing Branch of Gentoo Linux, and Thermal Monitor no longer displays the GPU temperature either. Actually, the CPU’s four core temperatures and the GPU temperature are no longer listed in the Thermal Monitor configuration window, only a single CPU temperature. Not surprisingly, none of the suggested changes to the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml that I found in Web searches made a difference. However, while researching the problem I came across a Manjaro Forums post by user bogdancovaciu about the Kargos Plasma widget, a KDE Plasma port of GNOME Argos and OSX BitBar. Kargos enables you to create a Plasma widget that runs your own script, which can be written in any language, providing its output adheres to a specified format. I also found a repository named k-argos-plugins containing further example scripts for Kargos. As none of the solutions suggested for Thermal Monitor in that Manjaro thread worked for me, I decided to try the Kargos widget instead. It works a treat.

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel of my Compal NBLB2 laptop

Below I explain what I did to install and configure the Kargos widget on my KDE Panel in Gentoo Linux (see screenshot). The packages lm-sensors and hddtemp were already installed in my case, but if they had not been, I would have needed to install and configure them, so I have included those steps below.

1. Install and configure lm-sensors

root # emerge lm-sensors
root # rc-update add lm_sensors default
root # sensors-detect

In my case sensors-detect created the file /etc/modules-load.d/lm_sensors.conf containing only the following:

# Generated by sensors-detect on Sun Oct 27 03:07:08 2019
coretemp

2. Start lm-sensors now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/lm_sensors start

3. I wanted to use the nc command in my shell script for Kargos, so I installed its package

root # emerge netcat

4. Install and configure hddtemp

root # emerge hddtemp
root # rc-update add hddtemp default

Specify in the config file /etc/conf.d/hddtemp which drives to check:

# Copyright 1999-2012 Gentoo Foundation
# Distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v2

# the hddtemp executable
HDDTEMP_EXEC=/usr/sbin/hddtemp

# various options to pass to the daemon
HDDTEMP_OPTS="--listen=127.0.0.1"

# a list of drives to check
HDDTEMP_DRIVES="/dev/sda"

5. Start hddtemp now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/hddtemp start

6. Install Kargos

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the ‘Desktop’ menu icon (the three horizontal lines in the top right corner of the Desktop) and select: ‘Unlock Widgets’ > ‘Add Widgets…’ > ‘Get New Widgets…’ > ‘Download New Plasma Widgets’. Search for, and install, ‘kargos’ widget.

7. Create the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh containing the following:

#!/bin/bash
temp=$(sensors | grep -oP 'Core.*?\+\K[0-9.]+')
temp0=$(sensors | grep 'Core 0' | cut -c '16-17')
temp1=$(sensors | grep 'Core 1' | cut -c '16-17')
temp2=$(sensors | grep 'Core 2' | cut -c '16-17')
temp3=$(sensors | grep 'Core 3' | cut -c '16-17')
hdd_temp=$(nc localhost 7634 | cut -c '33-34')
gpu_temp=$(sensors | grep -A 2 'radeon' | grep 'temp1' | cut -c '16-17')
echo "<br><font size='1'>CPU1&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU2&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU3&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU4&nbsp;&nbsp;GPU&nbsp;&nbsp;HDD</font><br>${temp0%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp1%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp2%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp3%%.*}°&nbsp;${gpu_temp}°&nbsp;${hdd_temp}°| font=Hack-Regular size=10"
# Uncomment the lines below if you want to be able to click on the kargos widget and display a pop-up TOP
#echo "---"
#TOP_OUTPUT=$(top -b -n 1 | head -n 20 | awk 1 ORS="\\\\n")
#echo "$TOP_OUTPUT | font=monospace iconName=htop"

The script above is specifically for the temperature sensors in my Clevo NBLB2 laptop. To find out which temperatures are available, and which characters to extract, use the following command:

root # sensors

Don’t forget to make the script executable:

user $ chmod +x ~/temperatures.3s.sh

Note that the ‘.3s‘ in the script name is optional but, if included, will override the kargos configuration (see further on) and run the script every 3 seconds. I could have specified another frequency, such as ‘.5s‘ or whatever.

8. Add the kargos widget to the KDE Panel.

9. Right-click on the kargos widget on the KDE Panel and select ‘Configure kargos…’.

10. Configure the kargos widget

In the first box in the configuration window, enter the full path of the script:

/home/fitzcarraldo/temperatures.3s.sh

In the second box leave ‘Interval in seconds’ as ‘1‘. This is overridden anyway if the script filename includes the interval.

In the third box leave ‘Rotation delay in seconds’ as ‘6‘.

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the Desktop menu icon (three horizontal lines) and select: ‘Lock Widgets’.

11. Depending on the font configuration for the KDE Desktop, it may be necessary to edit the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh to change the font name or size, the number of non-breaking spaces between the names displayed on the top line, and the number of non-breaking spaces between the temperature values displayed on the bottom line.