Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

PC-BSD Day 14: GNOME snags

Working with KDE for the last two weeks was enjoyable enough. I even decided to use KDE on my Debianized iMac. What I realize is that I have become pretty agnostic when it comes to the graphical desktop. I hardly care whether it is Windows, GNOME, KDE or Mac OS X. I do care about applications and what i can do with them. So, why bother with installing GNOME right now? I have installed all applications I need, including the ones closely related to GNOME and all dependencies have been taken care of. Well, do we ever need an excuse to do things that the average Microsoft customers would find weird? Now you know why I decided to run #pkg_add -r gnome2. And join my wife for diner.

After diner I was greeted by a message that everything had installed fine. Some dependencies were more recent than the ones required, but other than that it seemed fine. Logging off and logging in again after selecting a GNOME session revelead the new GNOME desktop in all it’s dull and bare glory. Really, once you see the default GNOME desktop you immediately understand the rational behind the gnome-look website and the amazingly easy way to install new themes. Just download the theme and drag the package to the theme selector.

The first order of business was firing up Firefox and typing in the location bar. At least, that is what I wanted to do. The system did not accept any input from the keyboard. Weird. I went for a complete reboot (I know, old Windows habits die hard, but sometimes it really works).

Then came the second surprise. I am used to GDM or KDM asking me whether to permanently change the default session. In this case my box booted into GNOME by default, which was not what I wanted. It didn’t change a thing about the keyboard input though. Still no luck.

The third surprise was the fact that new windows wouldn’t have window borders. The application would load in the upper left corner, covering the GNOME menu, but I couldn’t drag it to another place. This leaves me with two problems I need to solve in order to get a fully functional GNOME desktop. Tempting challenge, but it will have to wait. It’s kind of busy right now and I prefer to spend my time on other experiments with PC-BSD.

I can say one good thing about the new GNOME desktop. The KDE applications are all neatly organized under one menu heading called KDE. The other way around is not as neat. The applications are scattered over the menu tree and for many programs the icons are lacking. It would appear that the desktop implementation under FreeBSD doesn’t yet adhere to the free desktop guidelines. Ubuntu uses that and that makes sure that -no matter the desktop- all applications are loaded under the same menu entries with the proper icon set.


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10 thoughts on “PC-BSD Day 14: GNOME snags

  1. Heb je sommige specifieke PC-BSD tools geprobeerd onder Gnome? Veel scripts zijn speciaal voor KDE gemaakt, dus als je Gnome installeerd, heb je eigenlijks een gehandicapt systeem.

  2. De enige specifieke tools die mij zo voor de geest komen zijn de installatie tools en de PBI’s. Ik heb GNOME geïnstalleerd in de virtuele PC waarbij vrijwel alle extra software via pkg_add is geïnstalleerd.
    Het probleem heeft zich ook voorgedaan bij Jos Herni ( die GNOME heeft geïnstalleerd bij een vrijwel verse PC-BSD installatie.

  3. It sounds like the window manager (Metacity) did not load for you. You can check for that with ps. If it is not running, just enter “metacity” in a terminal window and all should be well.

    Ask me how I know…

  4. LOL DrJ. This sounds like a sane explanation, but how did you find this out? 😉

  5. I had exactly the issue you describe after playing around with Wine. I tried nearly everything — deleting the kernel source and rebuilding (there were kernel patches), updating xorg to 7.3 (and including a lot of patches and driver incompatbilities), recompiling metacity, updating Gnome to 2.20, and always I got the same problem.

    I then entered Gnome as root for the first time, and everything was as it should be. “ps -aux | grep metacity” showed it was running. I checked the same as a regular user,and it was not. So I just executed metacity from a termial window, and everything was right.

    The FreeBSD Gnome list was without any explanation.

    But that seemed to do it: metacity has crashed a couple of times on loading, but ps shows that it is running. And it works.

    I’ve never seen anything like this in all the years I have usd Gnome, and that is since the 2.4 days.

  6. I should add that the big clue was that the console window showed some error messages about not being able to read the window size, and that Gnome was making its best guess about the desktop coordinates. That has to be handled by the WM. That’s what lead to the suspicion about metacity.

  7. Good explanation and one that will be eternalized on the net now. The idea that it might have to do with metacity did cross my mind, but solving it was left to another time. And there still is the second problem: no keyboard input possible. Once I am in GNOME the system won’t respond to the keyboard.
    But I am impressed by what you went through to find the problem and the solution. Tops.

  8. I had no choice, really — I *had* to figure this out. This is my main workstation, and it has nearly everything that I have done for the last four years on it. That inlcudes 2GB of email, contacts, passwords, experimental data and its reduction, proposals, plots, images, two VMs, and so forth. I could not work until it was fixed.

    On they keyboard issue, I’d guess you are using a USB one. If so, try a USB->PS/2 adapter, or plugging it in after you have booted. I’ve never had any issues with either USB or PS/2 mice.

    Then again, I don’t know how PC-BSD sets things up. I use straight FreeBSD.

  9. FreeBSD is on the experiments list for this year (first DesktopBSD though). I forgot to mention I use a PS/2 keyboard, but a friend of mine has the same issue with a USB keyboard (which would rule out the freak accident theory). Don’t worry, we will find a solution sooner or later.
    Which leads me to the next question? What VM are you running under FreeBSD? I was under the impression that using FreeBSD as a host wasn’t really supported (according to the FreeBSD handbook) apart from an older version of VMware. Since I need a Windows VM regularly that is of particular interest to me. Thanks.

  10. On the keyboard/mouse issue, I’ve no idea. I have never had any issue with either, and that is over a dozen or so computers.

    I use VMware 3 and the qemu-derivative Win4BSD. Vmware works very nicely, but it is quite out-of-date. For example, it works only on single CPUs, so I have to disable one to use it.It alsoonly works with Linux 2.4 kernels; it is fine for Windows up to XP. Sadly, it is the best there is right now for stability and guest-machine responsiveness.

    Win4BSD works, but is not nearly as responsive. I also have had more guest OS stability issues than with VMware.

    If you want to try a VM, look into qemu/kqemu; there are instllaiton methods in the RTFM section of The main issue with the qemu-based VMs is that the screen, audio and mouse response are pretty poor. The VM itself (CPU speed, and memory and disk access) is quite good. It just needs something like VMware tools.

    A port of VirtualBox is progressing but it will take some time yet before it works.

    There is also an effort to port VMware 5/6 Workstation to FreeBSD under Linux compatibility mode. The fellow doing the port is responsible for the VMware 3 work; he recently accepted a community bounty to do the work. He is a good man, and I do have hopes that he will succeed. The hang-up is that VMware is not that responsive to requests for information on exactly what goes on inside their Linux kernel module.

    Don’t be spooked by raw FreeBSD. It really is a pretty simple and straight-forward system, though it will take much more work to install than either PC- or Desktop BSD. I can install the basic system in about 10 minutes; doing the custom kernel, updating the kernel and userland and installing the thousand or so ports I use usually takes a day or so.

    The flip side is that you will learn it a lot more quickly if you work directly with FreeBSD amd dpon’t use the training wheels. There is also a port of DesktopBSD in ports.

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