Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fedora on Macbook Pro Retina

Rationale: I own a lot of Mac hardware, but would now like to use free software as much as possible. That potentially includes the operating system, although I have mixed feelings about this as OS X is pretty finely tuned for its hardware. Is running a generic OS a viable proposition? I'm trialing a toy Fedora installation in odd quiet moments to investigate...

List of installation instructions, updated as I go along. I'm trying this on a 13" Macbook Pro Retina:
  1. Turn off OS X FileVault - encryption causes problems with  rEFInd
  2. Use OS X Disk Utility to create an additional partition - create as free space. Size depends on how much you can spare - I used 60GB.
  3.  Install rEFInd - this is a bootloader - a program that allows you to choose which operating system to use on reboot.
  4. Download Fedora 21 Workstation, and burn to DVD. 
  5. Connect to Ethernet - WiFi does not work out of the box, so plug in a Thunderbolt Ethernet adaptor and use that for now.
  6. Reboot, and run Fedora from the DVD. Note, the DVD can take some time to spin up, so you may need to press ESC until you see it.
  7. [Reinstall rEFInd] - Not sure why this should be necessary, but when I rebooted after Fedora install, rEFInd did not appear. I had to boot to Apple's standard bootloader (press ALT whilst rebooting), go into OS X, and do step 3 again. rEFInd is now back, but I have several boot options. One is obvious (OS X), the Fedora next to it seems to be the easiest way to boot to Fedora. All a bit niggly, but usable.
At this point, Fedora boots fine.

Issue 1: WiFi doesn't work. This is basically down to Apple using a wireless card that does not support Free Software. Here are the steps needed to get it to work (which unfortunately requires some proprietary software):

  1. Enable RPMFusion free and nonfree packages.
  2. Install some packages to support the wireless card:
    sudo yum install kernel-devel akmod-wl
    sudo yum install wl
  3. Update all packages. I found I needed to do this in order to get the WiFi card recognised:
    sudo yum update
  4. Reboot
  1. Firefox displays web pages a little small on a Retina display. Type about:config into the URL bar, then change layout.css.devPixelsPerPx to 2.

Apple Thunderbolt display: Works absolutely fine, no need for modifications. However, Fedora cannot handle the different DPI of this display and the laptop built-in display very well if both are being used - everything is too big on the external display.  Only solution seems to be to disable the built-in display, which is fine as I don't use it with the Thunderbolt display anyway.

Apple wireless keyboard, and wireless trackpad: These work fine with Fedora, but the trackpad seems to have to be re-connected after each reboot (weirdly, the keyboard reconnects automatically). So lid has to be open on reboot so wireless trackpad can be reconnected. Also, they don't work with rEFInd, so you either have to reboot with the lid open or wait a while for the auto-selects.

Apple wireless keyboard mapping: Seems like some mappings e.g. ALT-3, which should be # on a British keyboard, are not working under Fedora. Will need to look into that.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2: This is a pretty good USB audio device that I have plugged into the USB port on my Apple Thunderbolt display. It works fine with Fedora, no issues. Wow!

Next step: Power management. There are various reports that battery life sucks under Fedora. Under OS X I can get a full day's use on the battery. Wonder what will be achievable initially, and after some tweaking, with Fedora?

    Tech specs: Macbook Pro Retina 11,1; 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3, Intel Iris 1536 MB, 500GB flash storage.

    Friday, January 23, 2015

    Free (as in freedom) software

    One of my goals for 2015 is to move completely away from proprietary software, and use free (as in freedom) software instead. If you've not come across this before, Richard Stallman explains it better than I ever could.

    It's turning out to be a bit more complex than expected, but that complexity is, in itself, reinforcing my resolve to do it - because its the deliberately defective design of proprietary software that is at fault. For example, I'm trying to move to a free email client - away from Outlook and Apple Mail, and towards Thunderbird. But getting my 14 years of email archives out of these programs and into an open format is not easy. Outlook for Mac is the worst case - it will only export in an .OLM format, which basically nothing else reads.  It claims to export to MBOX format, but this does not work reliably. Similar problem with Apple Mail - claims to export to MBOX but only actually exports a seemingly random sample of large archives. I'm now in the process of uploading my mail archives to my mail provider, so I can then download them into Thunderbird. Argh! I never want to have to go through this again, and avoiding proprietary software seems to be the best hope in that regard.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015


    In a recent memo:

    *** has been recognised for his thought-leadership on Mission Groups

    Friday, January 2, 2015

    CD to FLAC (OS X, command-line) using abcde

    The Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is an lossless open-source format for music (cf. MP3 which is both lossy and proprietary). abcde is an open-source command line program to convert CDs to FLAC, and auotmatically add metadata (Artist name etc.). The OS X  version is available on MacPorts. Only one command needed:

    abcde -o flac -d /dev/disk2

    If you also want to eject the disk from the command line (rather than Finder):

    diskutil eject -t  /dev/disk2