Petter Reinholdtsen

Entries from June 2013.

Automatically locate and install required firmware packages on Debian (Isenkram 0.4)
25th June 2013

It annoys me when the computer fail to do automatically what it is perfectly capable of, and I have to do it manually to get things working. One such task is to find out what firmware packages are needed to get the hardware on my computer working. Most often this affect the wifi card, but some times it even affect the RAID controller or the ethernet card. Today I pushed version 0.4 of the Isenkram package including a new script isenkram-autoinstall-firmware handling the process of asking all the loaded kernel modules what firmware files they want, find debian packages providing these files and install the debian packages. Here is a test run on my laptop:

# isenkram-autoinstall-firmware 
info: kernel drivers requested extra firmware: ipw2200-bss.fw ipw2200-ibss.fw ipw2200-sniffer.fw
info: fetching
info: locating packages with the requested firmware files
info: Updating APT sources after adding non-free APT source
info: trying to install firmware-ipw2x00
Preconfiguring packages ...
Selecting previously deselected package firmware-ipw2x00.
(Reading database ... 259727 files and directories currently installed.)
Unpacking firmware-ipw2x00 (from .../firmware-ipw2x00_0.28+squeeze1_all.deb) ...
Setting up firmware-ipw2x00 (0.28+squeeze1) ...

When all the requested firmware is present, a simple message is printed instead:

# isenkram-autoinstall-firmware 
info: did not find any firmware files requested by loaded kernel modules.  exiting

It could use some polish, but it is already working well and saving me some time when setting up new machines. :)

So, how does it work? It look at the set of currently loaded kernel modules, and look up each one of them using modinfo, to find the firmware files listed in the module meta-information. Next, it download the Contents file from a nearby APT mirror, and search for the firmware files in this file to locate the package with the requested firmware file. If the package is in the non-free section, a non-free APT source is added and the package is installed using apt-get install. The end result is a slightly better working machine.

I hope someone find time to implement a more polished version of this script as part of the hw-detect debian-installer module, to finally fix BTS report #655507. There really is no need to insert USB sticks with firmware during a PXE install when the packages already are available from the nearby Debian mirror.

Tags: debian, english, isenkram.
The value of a good distro wide test suite...
22nd June 2013

In the Debian Edu / Skolelinux project, we include a post-installation test suite, which check that services are running, working, and return the expected results. It runs automatically just after the first boot on test installations (using test ISOs), but not on production installations (using non-test ISOs). It test that the LDAP service is operating, Kerberos is responding, DNS is replying, file systems are online resizable, etc, etc. And it check that the PXE service is configured, which is the topic of this post.

The last week I've fixed the DVD and USB stick ISOs for our Debian Edu Wheezy release. These ISOs are supposed to be able to install a complete system without any Internet connection, but for that to happen all the needed packages need to be on them. Thanks to our test suite, I discovered that we had forgotten to adjust our PXE setup to cope with the new names and paths used by the netboot d-i packages. When Internet connectivity was available, the installer fall back to using wget to fetch d-i boot images, but when offline it require working packages to get it working. And the packages changed name from debian-installer-6.0-netboot-$arch to debian-installer-7.0-netboot-$arch, we no longer pulled in the packages during installation. Without our test suite, I suspect we would never have discovered this before release. Now it is fixed right after we got the ISOs operational.

Another by-product of the test suite is that we can ask system administrators with problems getting Debian Edu to work, to run the test suite using /usr/sbin/debian-edu-test-install and see if any errors are detected. This usually pinpoint the subsystem causing the problem.

If you want to help us help kids learn how to share and create, please join us on #debian-edu on and the debian-edu@ mailing list.

Tags: debian edu, english.
Debian Edu interview: Victor Nițu
17th June 2013

The Debian Edu and Skolelinux distribution have users and contributors all around the globe. And a while back, an enterprising young man showed up on our IRC channel #debian-edu and started asking questions about how Debian Edu worked. We answered as good as we could, and even convinced him to help us with translations. And today I managed to get an interview with him, to learn more about him.

Who are you, and how do you spend your days?

I'm a 25 year old free software enthusiast, living in Romania, which is also my country of origin. Back in 2009, at a New Year's Eve party, I had a very nice beer discussion with a friend, when we realized we have no organised Debian community in our country. A few days later, we put together the infrastructure for such community and even gathered a nice Debian-ish crowd. Since then, I began my quest as a free software hacker and activist and I am constantly trying to cover as much ground as possible on that field.

A few years ago I founded a small web development company, which provided me the flexible schedule I needed so much for my activities. For the last 13 months, I have been the Technical Director of Fundația Ceata, which is a free software activist organisation endorsed by the FSF and the FSFE, and the only one we have in our country.

How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?

The idea of participating in the Debian Edu project was a surprise even to me, since I never used it before I began getting involved in it. This year I had a great opportunity to deliver a talk on educational software, and I knew immediately where to look. It was a love at first sight, since I was previously involved with some of the technologies the project incorporates, and I rapidly found a lot of ways to contribute.

My first contributions consisted in translating the installer and configuration dialogs, then I found some bugs to squash (I still haven't fixed them yet though), and I even got my eyes on some other areas where I can prove myself helpful. Since the appetite for free software in my country is pretty low, I'll be happy to be the first one around here advocating for the project's adoption in educational environments, and maybe even get my hands dirty in creating a flavour for our own needs. I am not used to make very advanced plannings, so from now on, time will tell what I'll be doing next, but I think I have a pretty consistent starting point.

What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu?

Not a long time ago, I was in the position of configuring and maintaining a LDAP server on some Debian derivative, and I must say it took me a while. A long time ago, I was maintaining a bigger Samba-powered infrastructure, and I must say I spent quite a lot of time on it. I have similar stories about many of the services included with Skolelinux, and the main advantage I see about it is the out-of-the box availability of them, making it quite competitive when it comes to managing a school's network, for example.

Of course, there is more to say about Skolelinux than the availability of the software included, its flexibility in various scenarios is something I can't wait to experiment "into the wild" (I only played with virtual machines so far). And I am sure there is a lot more I haven't discovered yet about it, being so new within the project.

What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

As usual, when it comes to Debian Blends, I see as the biggest disadvantage the lack of a numerous team dedicated to the project. Every day I see the same names in the changelogs, and I have a constantly fear of the bus factor in this story. I'd like to see Debian Edu advertised more as an entry point into the Debian ecosystem, especially amongst newcomers and students. IMHO there are a lot low-hanging fruits in terms of bug squashing, and enough opportunities to get the feeling of the Debian Project's dynamics. Not to mention it's a very fun blend to work on!

Derived from the previous statement, is the delay in catching up with the main Debian release and documentation. This is common though to all blends and derivatives, but it's an issue we can all work on.

Which free software do you use daily?

I can hardly imagine myself spending a day without Vim, since my daily routine covers writing code and hacking configuration files. I am a fan of the Awesome window manager (but I also like the Enlightenment project a lot!), Claws Mail due to its ease of use and very configurable behaviour. Recently I fell in love with Redshift, which helps me get through the night without headaches. Of course, there is much more stuff in this bag, but I'll need a blog on my own for doing this!

Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?

Well, on this field, I cannot do much more than experiment right now. So, being far from having a recipe for success, I can only assume that:

I also see some problems in getting Skolelinux into schools; for example, in our country we have a great deal of corruption issues, so it might be hard(er) to fight against proprietary solutions. Also, people who relied on commercial software for all their lives, would be very hard to convert against their will.

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.
Debian Edu interview: Jonathan Carter
12th June 2013

There is a certain cross-over between the Debian Edu / Skolelinux project and the Edubuntu project, and for example the LTSP packages in Debian are a joint effort between the projects. One person with a foot in both camps is Jonathan Carter, which I am now happy to present to you.

Who are you, and how do you spend your days?

I'm a South-African free software geek who lives in Cape Town. My days vary quite a bit since I'm involved in too many things. As I'm getting older I'm learning how to focus a bit more :)

I'm also an Edubuntu contributor and I love when there are opportunities for the Edubuntu and Debian Edu projects to benefit from each other.

How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?

I've been somewhat familiar with the project before, but I think my first direct exposure to the project was when I met Petter [Reinholdtsen] and Knut [Yrvin] at the Edubuntu summit in 2005 in London. They provided great feedback that helped the bootstrapping of Edubuntu. Back then Edubuntu (and even Ubuntu) was still very new and it was great getting input from people who have been around longer. I was also still very excitable and said yes to everything and to this day I have a big todo list backlog that I'm catching up with. I think over the years the relationship between Edubuntu and Debian-Edu has been gradually improving, although I think there's a lot that we could still improve on in terms of working together on packages. I'm sure we'll get there one day.

What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

Debian itself already has so many advantages. I could go on about it for pages, but in essence I love that it's a very honest project that puts its users first with no hidden agendas and also produces very high quality work.

I think the advantage of Debian Edu is that it makes many common set-up tasks simpler so that administrators can get up and running with a lot less effort and frustration. At the same time I think it helps to standardise installations in schools so that it's easier for community members and commercial suppliers to support.

What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

I had to re-type this one a few times because I'm trying to separate "disadvantages" from "areas that need improvement" (which is what I originally rambled on about)

The biggest disadvantage I can think of is lack of manpower. The project could do so much more if there were more good contributors. I think some of the problems are external too. Free software and free content in education is a no-brainer but it takes some time to catch on. When you've been working with the same proprietary eco-system for years and have gotten used to it, it can be hard to adjust to some concepts in the free software world. It would be nice if there were more Debian Edu consultants across the world. I'd love to be one myself but I'm already so over-committed that it's just not possible currently.

I think the best short-term solution to that large-scale problem is for schools to be pro-active and share their experiences and grow their skills in-house. I'm often saddened to see how much money educational institutions spend on 3rd party solutions that they don't have access to after the service has ended and they could've gotten so much more value otherwise by being more self-sustainable and autonomous.

Which free software do you use daily?

My main laptop dual-boots between Debian and Windows 7. I was Windows free for years but started dual-booting again last year for some games which help me focus and relax (Starcraft II in particular). Gaming support on Linux is improving in leaps and bounds so I suppose I'll soon be able to regain that disk space :)

Besides that I rely on Icedove, Chromium, Terminator, Byobu, irssi, git, Tomboy, KVM, VLC and LibreOffice. Recently I've been torn on which desktop environment I like and I'm taking some refuge in Xfce while I figure that out. I like tools that keep things simple. I enjoy Python and shell scripting. I went to an Arduino workshop recently and it was awesome seeing how easy and simple the IDE software was to get up and running in Debian compared to the users running Windows and OS X.

I also use mc which some people frown upon slightly. I got used to using Norton Commander in the early 90's and it stuck (I think the people who sneer at it is just jealous that they don't know how to use it :p)

Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?

I think trying to force it is unproductive. I also think that in many cases it's appropriate for schools to use non-free systems and I don't think that there's any particular moral or ethical problem with that.

I do think though that free software can already solve so so many problems in educational institutions and it's just a shame not taking advantage of that.

I also think that some curricula need serious review. For example, some areas of the world rely heavily on very specific versions of MS Office, teaching students to parrot menu items instead of learning the general concepts. I think that's very unproductive because firstly, MS Office's interface changes drastically every few years and on top of that it also locks in a generation to a product that might not be the best solution for them.

To answer your question, I believe that the right strategy is to educate and inform, giving someone the information they require to make a decision that would work for them.

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.
Fixing the Linux black screen of death on machines with Intel HD video
11th June 2013

When installing RedHat, Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu on some machines, the screen just turn black when Linux boot, either during installation or on first boot from the hard disk. I've seen it once in a while the last few years, but only recently understood the cause. I've seen it on HP laptops, and on my latest acquaintance the Packard Bell laptop. The reason seem to be in the wiring of some laptops. The system to control the screen background light is inverted, so when Linux try to turn the brightness fully on, it end up turning it off instead. I do not know which Linux drivers are affected, but this post is about the i915 driver used by the Packard Bell EasyNote LV, Thinkpad X40 and many other laptops.

The problem can be worked around two ways. Either by adding i915.invert_brightness=1 as a kernel option, or by adding a file in /etc/modprobe.d/ to tell modprobe to add the invert_brightness=1 option when it load the i915 kernel module. On Debian and Ubuntu, it can be done by running these commands as root:

echo options i915 invert_brightness=1 | tee /etc/modprobe.d/i915.conf
update-initramfs -u -k all

Since March 2012 there is a mechanism in the Linux kernel to tell the i915 driver which hardware have this problem, and get the driver to invert the brightness setting automatically. To use it, one need to add a row in the intel_quirks array in the driver source drivers/gpu/drm/i915/intel_display.c (look for "static struct intel_quirk intel_quirks"), specifying the PCI device number (vendor number 8086 is assumed) and subdevice vendor and device number.

My Packard Bell EasyNote LV got this output from lspci -vvnn for the video card in question:

00:02.0 VGA compatible controller [0300]: Intel Corporation \
    3rd Gen Core processor Graphics Controller [8086:0156] \
    (rev 09) (prog-if 00 [VGA controller])
 Subsystem: Acer Incorporated [ALI] Device [1025:0688]
 Control: I/O+ Mem+ BusMaster+ SpecCycle- MemWINV- VGASnoop- \
    ParErr- Stepping- SE RR- FastB2B- DisINTx+
 Status: Cap+ 66MHz- UDF- FastB2B+ ParErr- DEVSEL=fast >TAbort- \
    SERR-  [disabled]
 Kernel driver in use: i915

The resulting intel_quirks entry would then look like this:

struct intel_quirk intel_quirks[] = {
        /* Packard Bell EasyNote LV11HC needs invert brightness quirk */
	{ 0x0156, 0x1025, 0x0688, quirk_invert_brightness },

According to the kernel module instructions (as seen using modinfo i915), information about hardware needing the invert_brightness flag should be sent to the dri-devel (at) mailing list to reach the kernel developers. But my email about the laptop sent 2013-06-03 have not yet shown up in the web archive for the mailing list, so I suspect they do not accept emails from non-subscribers. Because of this, I sent my patch also to the Debian bug tracking system instead as BTS report #710938, to make sure the patch is not lost.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to fix the kernel to get Laptops with this problem working properly with Linux. If you use Gnome, your worries should be over at this point. But if you use KDE, there is something in KDE ignoring the invert_brightness setting and turning on the screen during login. I've reported it to Debian as BTS report #711237, and have no idea yet how to figure out exactly what subsystem is doing this. Perhaps you can help? Perhaps you know what the Gnome developers did to handle this, and this can give a clue to the KDE developers? Or you know where in KDE the screen brightness is changed during login? If so, please update the BTS report (or get in touch if you do not know how to update BTS).

Update 2013-07-19: The correct fix for this machine seem to be acpi_backlight=vendor, to disable ACPI backlight support completely, as the ACPI information on the machine is trash and it is better to leave it to the intel video driver to control the screen backlight.

Tags: debian, english.
Third alpha release of Debian Edu / Skolelinux based on Debian Wheezy
10th June 2013

The third wheezy based alpha release of Debian Edu was wrapped up today. This is the release announcement:

New features for Debian Edu 7.0.0 alpha2 released 2013-06-10

This is the release notes for for Debian Edu / Skolelinux 7.0.0 edu alpha2, based on Debian with codename "Wheezy".

About Debian Edu and Skolelinux

Debian Edu, also known as Skolelinux, is a Linux distribution based on Debian providing an out-of-the box environment of a completely configured school network. Immediately after installation a school server running all services needed for a school network is set up just waiting for users and machines being added via GOsa², a comfortable Web-UI. A netbooting environment is prepared using PXE, so after initial installation of the main server from CD, DVD or USB stick all other machines can be installed via the network. The provided school server provides LDAP database and Kerberos authentication service, centralized home directories, DHCP server, web proxy and many other services. The desktop contains more than 60 educational software packages and more are available from the Debian archive, and schools can choose between KDE, Gnome, LXDE and Xfce desktop environment.

This is the third test release based on Debian Wheezy. Basically this is an updated and slightly improved version compared to the Squeeze release.

Software updates

Other changes

Known issues

Where to get it

To download the multiarch netinstall CD release you can use

The MD5SUM of this image is: 27bbcace407743382f3c42c08dbe8178
The SHA1SUM of this image is: e35f7d7908566cd3075375b3721fa10ee420d419

How to report bugs

Tags: debian edu, english.
Is there a PHP expert in the building? Debian Edu need help!
5th June 2013

Here is a call for help from the Debian Edu / Skolelinux project. We have two problems blocking the release of the Wheezy version we hope to get released soon. The two problems require some with PHP skills, and we seem to lack anyone with both time and PHP skills in the project:

  1. It is impossible to log into the slbackup web interface (slbackup-php) using the root user and password. This is BTS report #700257. This used to work, but stopped working some time since Squeeze. Perhaps some obsolete PHP feature was used?
  2. It is not possible to "mass import" user lists in Gosa, neither using ldif nor using CSV files. The feature was disabled after a major rewrite of Gosa, and need to be ported to the new system. This is BTS report #698840.

If you can help us, please join us on IRC (#debian-edu on and provide patches via the BTS.

Tags: debian edu, english.
Debian Edu interview: Cédric Boutillier
4th June 2013

It has been a while since my last English Debian Edu and Skolelinux interview last November. But the developers and translators are still pulling along to get the Wheezy based release out the door, and this time I managed to get an interview from one of the French translators in the project, Cédric Boutillier.

Who are you, and how do you spend your days?

I am 34 year old. I live near Paris, France. I am an assistant professor in probability theory. I spend my daytime teaching mathematics at the university and doing fundamental research in probability in connexion with combinatorics and statistical physics.

I have been involved in the Debian project for a couple of years and became Debian Developer a few months ago. I am working on Ruby packaging, publicity and translation.

How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux / Debian Edu project?

I came to the Debian Edu project after a call for translation of the Debian Edu manual for the release of Debian Edu Squeeze. Since then, I have been working on updating the French translation of the manual.

I had the opportunity to make an installation of Debian Edu in a virtual machine when I was preparing localised version of some screen shots for the manual. I was amazed to see it worked out of the box and how comprehensive the list of software installed by default was.

What amazed me was the complete network infrastructure directly ready to use, which can and the nice administration interface provided by GOsa². What pleased me also was the fact that among the software installed by default, there were many "traditional" educative software to learn languages, to count, to program... but also software to develop creativity and artistic skills with music (Ardour, Audacity) and movies/animation (I was especially thinking of Stopmotion).

I am following the development of Debian Edu and am hanging out on #debian-edu. Unfortunately, I don't much time to get more involved in this beautiful project.

What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

For me, the main advantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu are its community of experts and its precise documentation, as well as the fact that it provides a solution ready to use.

I would add also the fact that it is based on the rock solid Debian distribution, which ensures stability and provides a huge collection of educational free software.

What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux / Debian Edu?

Maybe the lack of manpower to do lobbying on the project. Sometimes, people who need to take decisions concerning IT do not have all the elements to evaluate properly free software solutions. The fact that support by a company may be difficult to find is probably a problem if the school does not have IT personnel.

One can find support from a company by looking at the wiki dokumentation, where some countries already have a number of companies providing support for Debian Edu, like Germany or Norway. This list is easy to find readily from the manual. However, for other countries, like France, the list is empty. I guess that consultants proposing support for Debian would be able to provide some support for Debian Edu as well.

Which free software do you use daily?

I am using the KDE Plasma Desktop. But the pieces of software I use most runs in a terminal: Mutt and OfflineIMAP for emails, latex for scientific documents, mpd for music. VIM is my editor of choice. I am also using the mathematical software Scilab and Sage (built from source as not completely packaged for Debian, yet).

Do you have any suggestions for teachers interested in using the free software in Debian to teach mathematics and statistics?

I do not have any "nice" recommendations for statistics. At our university, we use both R and Scilab to teach statistics and probabilistic simulations. For geometry, there are nice programs:

I like also cantor, which provides a uniform interface to SciLab, Sage, Octave, etc...

Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software?

My suggestions would be to

Tags: debian edu, english, intervju.
Åpent møte på onsdag om bruken av Microsoft Exchange ved Universitetet i Oslo
3rd June 2013

Jeg jobber til daglig ved Universitetet i Oslo, en institusjon som lenge har vektlagt verdien av åpne standarder og fri programvare. Men noe har endret seg, og for en liten stund tilbake annonserte USIT at dagens fungerende e-postsystemet basert på fri programvare skulle byttes ut med Microsoft Exchange og at Microsoft Outlook skulle bli den best fungerende men antagelig ikke eneste støttede e-postklienten. Annonseringen har ført til flere protester og en underskriftskampanje, initiert av Diana Santos, der så langt 253 personer har signert. Prosjektet NIKE (Ny integrert kalender/e-post) ble initiert for å se på mulige løsninger med utgangspunkt i at en kombinert epost/kalenderløsning var påkrevd, og prosjektet NIKE-implementasjon er igang med å rulle ut MS Exchange ved Universitetet i Oslo.

For kun kort tid siden ble det annonsert at det blir et åpent møte med ledelsen hos universitetet i Oslo med disse planene som tema:

Tid: Onsdag 2013-06-05 kl. 10:00
Sted: 9. etasje i Lucy Smiths hus (admin-bygget)

Det kan være en god plass å stille opp hvis en som meg ikke tror valget av Microsoft Exchange som sentral epostinfrastruktur er et heldig valg for Norges ledende forskningsuniversitet, men at en er mer tjent med å selv beholde kontrollen over egen infrastruktur.

Saken har ført til endel presseoppslag så langt. Her er de jeg har fått med meg:

Tags: norsk, standard.
Educational applications included in Debian Edu / Skolelinux (the screenshot collection :-)
1st June 2013

Included in Debian Edu / Skolelinux, there are quite a lot of educational software. Created to help teachers teach, and pupils learn. We have tried to tag them all using debtags use::learning and role::program, and using the debtags I was happy to be able to create a collage of the educational software packages installed by default, sorted by the debtag field. Here it is. Click on a image to learn more about the program.


audacity childsplay denemo freebirth gcompris gimp hydrogen lilypond lmms rosegarden scribus solfege stopmotion tuxpaint


celestia-gnome gpredict kstars planets stellarium xplanet




atomix chemtool easychem gchempaint gdis ghemical gperiodic kalzium pymol [viewmol] xdrawchem


gcompris [gpsim]


kgeography marble xplanet


gcompris kanagram khangman klettres parley


childsplay drgeo gcompris geogebra [geomview] grace graphmonkey graphthing kalgebra kbruch kig kmplot mathwar rocs scratch tuxmath xabacus


gcompris step


blinken cgoban childsplay gcompris gnuchess gnugo gtans ktouch librecad scratch

In total, 61 applications. 3 of them lacked screen shots on If you know of some packages we should install by default, please let us know on IRC, #debian-edu on, or our mailing list debian-edu@.

Tags: debian edu, english.

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