Debian-based SteamOS. Wait… what? Debian? SRSLY?

A few days ago, several sources reported that SteamOS, the long-announced game-oriented OS has been released by Valve. Steam is a gaming platform currently available for Ubuntu, and it has been a major reason of advertising for the Ubuntu community. Actually, SteamOS was expected to be built on top of Ubuntu itself.

Quite surprisingly instead, SteamOS is Debian-based. Yes, you read that well. This is quite impressive, given the amount of testing that has been done on Ubuntu so far, where quite a big number of users has been piled up.

I don’t know the reasons why Valve made this choice. Looking at their FAQ, I can read that “building on top of the Debian core is the best way for Valve to deliver a fully custom SteamOS experience to our customers.” Which is quite odd, given that Ubuntu looked the perfect platform up to just a few days ago. I really would like to know what made Valve change their mind.

Another bizarre thing I noticed is the complete black-out of news on Planet Ubuntu. I can remember the great excitement when Valve announced Steam for Ubuntu. The release of SteamOS has passed silently instead. Maybe someone is quite upset by this choice, or maybe we are no more interested in Steam after this “treason” 1.

In any case, I’d say this is one more blown away opportunity for our community. One more after a long series of other incidents happened in the years. The number of people who quit for not feeling part of the project anymore has reached an impressive value. Several (both technical and non-) decisions has caused puzzlement and conflicts in the community; some of them are unanswered, many of them have been badly-answered. Ubuntu is more and more under the eyes for its privacy concerns 2. This time, we just lost quite a big opportunity to land in millions of houses, and we had wide open doors, a chance we could not have again for some time ahead.

First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. Ubuntu has a problem, and we should find a solution. Or at least be more sincere with regard to what this project really aims to.

  1. Just kidding, I am intentionally exaggerated
  2. which are quite exaggerated IMO, but still.

Salvatore’s Open Source Cure for brain cancer

Salvatore Iaconesi is an italian guy who lives in Roma and had a couple of illnesses in a few days. Doctors found the cause in a cancer that is growing within his brain. When Salvatore got his medical records from the hospital, he noticed that the data (CT scan imagery among them) was delivered in a closed, proprietary format, preventing him to do whatever he wants with his own data.

After noticing all this, Salvatore decided to crack the data and publish everything on a website. You can find his whole records there, without any censorship or limitation. Salvatore thinks that this will help sharing the data with the (probably many) doctors he will need to consult to fight the cancer. And he thinks too that somebody can help him finding an “Open Source Cure” for his cancer:

“Grab the information about my disease, if you want, and give me a CURE: create a video, an artwork, a map, a text, a poem, a game, or try to find a solution for my health problem. Artists, designers, hackers, scientists, doctors, photographers, videomakers, musicians, writers. Anyone can give me a CURE. Create your CURE using the content which you find in the DATA section here on this site, and send it to

There are several points of interest in the whole story. First of all, I find both incredible and repugnant that personal data like CT scans are delivered in a proprietary format. AFAIK, Italy has laws stating that Public Administration must use open, standardized formats. It would be worth investigating how many agencies regularly use closed formats (my guess: a lot of them).

Further, I believe this is the first time such an effort is deployed in this way. I am so pleased when FLOSS (in the most extensive reading of the word “Software”) can help people and spread awareness about important topics. Not to say about what incredible virtuous cycles can be started: it’s just 1 day this website has been launched, and lot of sources are already speaking about it.

Also, I like the extensive definition of the word “Cure” that Salvatore is promoting. Cancer is a disease with a severe impact on the psychological side of a person, and curing of it is not just chemotherapy and ionizing radiations: it’s also improving the quality of life day by day. I hope that Salvatore will get many cures on his website, and I hope those cures might help other person as well. Again, it’s amazing how the FLOSS “philosophy” can apply to so many different fields of the life.

Finally, I really look up to Salvatore for his great idea. This is a tremendous show of mettle and clear head. I wish him all the best for the future, and hope that website will soon become just the memory of a bad period.

Dennis Ritchie, 1941-2011


A friend of mine said: “I owe him everything I am in my job”.

Today is Oneiric Release Day. I guess we really should dedicate Ubuntu 11.10 to Dennis Ritchie. Most of what we are now couldn’t be possible without his own work.

NVIDIA Optimus on Dell XPS 15z: performance and battery consumption comparison

I recently bought a Dell XPS 15z notebook, with a Sandy Bridge i5, 1366×768 display1  and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M video card. This graphic card support Optimus technology, a mechanism to switch from integrated Intel graphic to discrete GPU to deploy full horse-power when needed, and save precious battery life when 3D is not required. Unfortunately, Optimus is not (yet?) supported by Linux. Anyway, a project called bumblebee promises to achieve similar results. Although switching is not (yet?) automatic, looks like bumblebee keep the word: I deeply tested my notebook with each available driver, and bumblebee + nvidia proprietary2 driver is the best solution so far, definitely.

Test methodology

Tests have been run on a fresh oneiric install, updated to august 23rd. I wasn’t able to use jockey to install drivers due to crashes of the software a few seconds after launch, so I managed drivers installation manually.

Test was aimed to evaluate battery consumption and performance. I used “grep rate /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/state” to check battery consumption immediately after boot; I run glxgears in fullscreen3; further, I run nexuiz for a more realistic test, in full screen, maximum resolution and full effects. FPS value has been averaged after a 20 secs run of glxgears and a few minutes of playing first nexuiz level4

Test #1: Intel driver (with nouveau blacklisted)

lsmod reports only intel drivers loaded
Battery rate: 1800mW
glxgears: 282 FPS
Nexuiz: average 20 FPS, ranging from a minimum of 13 FPS to a peak of 27

Nothing to comment here.

Test #2: Intel driver (without nouveau blacklisting)

lsmod reports “nouveau” and intel drivers loaded
Battery rate: 2100 mW
glxgears: 283 FPS
Nexuiz: 19 FPS, ranging from a minimum of 12 FPS to a peak of 29

Performance was identical to Intel driver without nouveau loaded, altough battery rate was higher. I suppose nvidia video card is activated, but it doesn’t help at all with 3D rendering. Looks like this solution has only downsides compared to the previous one.

Enabling nouveau should have added /sys/kernel/debug/vgaswitcheroo/, witch allows to manually enable or disable the nvidia GPU. At least, this is what happens on Natty. Instead, this doesn’t work on Oneiric. If someone has a reason for this, please feel free to comment.

Test #3: NVIDIA proprietary driver

lsmod reports “nvidia” and intel drivers loaded
Battery rate: 2100 mW
glxgears: N/A
Nexuiz: N/A

I purged xserver-xorg-video-nouveau and installed nvidia-current due to the jockey crashes, and it was an epic fail. 3D was not available at all (glxgears reported “extension ‘GLX’ missing”) and Nexuiz didn’t started as well. I tried to reconfigure graphic with nvidia-xconfig, but it caused X not to start at all (I had to delete the autogenerated /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to fix it). I never had a NVIDIA card and my experience with NVIDIA-related stuff is zero, so maybe I made something wrong or should tweak something else. Suggestions are welcome.

Test #4: Bumblebee with NVIDIA proprietary drivers

lsmod reports intel drivers only loaded (unless optirun is executed)
Battery rate: 1600mW
glxgears: 284 FPS
optirun glxgears: 79 FPS
nexuiz: 21 FPS, ranging from a minimum of 9 FPS to a peak of 29 FPS
optirun nexuiz: 43 FPS, ranging from minimum of 33 FPS to a peak of 57 FPS.

I purged nvidia-current and installed bumblebee from PPA. Actually, bumblebee reinstalled nvidia-current but it worked quite well right now. During installations, bumblebee needs a configuration suitable for your machine. Several configurations are already available for many systems (bumblebee will download and suggests you good ones for your box). I choosed what was listed as “Profile 7: Dell System XPS 15z: Age (working)”, then choosed “XV (Default)” as Image transport. Further, I had to blacklist nouveau to avoid weird issues like lightdm freezes and optirun not properly working.

optirun is your friend here. You launch it passing as argument the program you want your nvidia card to be enabled for, and it loads nvidia driver, enables your card, then launches your software. Once done, it disables the card and rmmod’s nvidia, leaving every graphic duty to Intel integrated CPU. Results are quite different now: altough optirun glxgears reported a great performance loss 5, the NVIDIA GPU made quite the difference playing nexuiz. Interestingly, battery rate is a bit lower than with Intel drivers only . It could be an artifact, or maybe this poll was particularly lucky.



  1. FullHD display has been made available a few weeks after I bought my notebook, dammit!
  2. I know, proprietary stuff stinks and I don’t like it so much, but open source solutions don’t work, at least currently
  3. I exported vblank_mode=0 to get a vsync-independent value
  4. I noticed a lengthening of playing time during test. I suppose nexuiz is quite addictive 🙂
  5. I’m not sure why this happens, but I suppose this is a kind of artifact or such. Explanations are welcome

Five good reasons to take an holiday in Italy right this month.

  1. There are lots of nice places to visit…
  2. …and food is fantastic (yeah, you are right: the usual, boring stereotypes).
  3. No, I won’t talk about the dolce vita here too, sorry.
  4. A lot of Ubuntu {Members, Developers} are from Italy…
  5. and you will have the great chance to meet some of them if you join us at Ubuntu@Fermo!

Ubuntu@Fermo is a meeting dedicated to our favourite distro, that will take place on Saturday, January 22th in Fermo, a gorgeous, small city in centern Italy. The event is organized by FermoLUG, the local Linux User Group, that invited several members from the Italian LocoTeam for a day of talks about Ubuntu.

Paolo Sammicheli will welcome the audience with a talk about Free Software, then Flavia Weisghizzi and Luca Ferretti will present their new book about Ubuntu 10.10. Then, it will be my time for a talk about common, wrong myths around Ubuntu. After the talk, the dynamic duo Flavia Weisghizzi & Silvia Bindelli will introduce Ubuntu-it-women, an important, appreciated project about women partecipation to Free Software. The day will be closed by Andrea Gasparini, from the Italian Ubuntu Developers Mafia Famiglia (cit. Daniel Holbach) with a talk about Opportunistic Development with Ubuntu, and later Milo Casagrande & Luca Ferretti, with their GNOME hat on, with a long awaited talk about GNOME 3, Unity and all that jazz.

Further details are available on this page on the ubuntu-it wiki. Have you bought your plane ticket already?

Resolutions for 2011

  • Improve my English
  • Upload more packages into Ubuntu Archive.
  • Close all my ITP in Debian
  • Code more.
  • Muck around less.
  • Read less pixel, more ink.
  • Less TV, more music.
  • Write more on this blog.
  • Take more exams (as it doesn’t hurt).
  • Stop deferring 2010’s resolutions.

In the meantime, I wish you all a serene and fulfilling 2011.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley