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.

Talks at ConfSL

Last weekend I went to Ancona to attend the sixth edition of ConfSL, one of the most important Italian conferences about Free Software. It has been a great opportunity to meet old friends, get acquainted with new ones, and share some thoughts about FLOSS.  I also delivered two talks during the meeting, getting quite a good response from the audience.

ConfSL, Main Room
The main room of the Engineering Department in Ancona, who hosted the ConfSL, in a great picture by Marco Alici.

The first talk I presented was about a project started by the LUG I am member of, in the city of Fermo in Italy. It was about creating a computer room in a school in the city, salvaging some quite old hardware and powering it with 100% Free Software. The idea was started by the brave Cristian Minnucci, a good friend of mine and a teacher in the school itself, who submitted to the LUG the proposal to give technical assistance to the school in setting up the room. It needed several weeks of work, but we reached our goal and are pretty satisfied of the results. I presented the project, gathering a great interest from the audience. Slides are available online (italian only).

Talk delivery
(Photo courtesy of Marco Alici)

The second talk was about Ubuntu/Debian Development. I delivered the talk together with Iustin Pop, a nice Googler and Debian Developer who reached the party from Zurich. I really liked the idea to have an Ubuntu Developer and a Debian Developer together teaching how to get started with development, so I accepted with great pleasure the invitation from the organizers of ConfSL. I started the session with a general introduction to what Ubuntu is, how it is done, what a new contributor can do in the project, how to get involved. Then, Iustin packaged from scratch the popular GNU Hello application to give a taste of how a Debian package is done pragmatically. I was quite happy to see that several students followed this session, all of them showing great interest in the topic: I hope I’ll see them around soon. Slides of my talk are available too (in english, this time).

Debian packaging
Iustin Pop showing how to build a Debian package (Courtesy of… try guess? Marco Alici!)


Ubuntu-it Meeting Report

Saturday, June 2nd we held the bi-annual meeting of the community of Ubuntu Italy in the gorgeous city of Bologna. These meetings are a great opportunity to gather all the ubuntueros scattered around Italy and share some great time all together. We spent all day speaking about our community, plans for the future, ways to attract more contributors and let ubuntu-it grow even more. But there are many things behind the scene that usually don’t appear in the official chronicle…

Ubuntu-it Meeting group photo #1
Ubuntu-it in all its glory. (Courtesy of Dario Cavedon)

The venue and the earthquake.

Bologna is very close to the area that has been hit, a few days before the meeting, by two big earthquakes, killing 26 people. Fortunately, Bologna just got very limited damage, and we enjoyed the beauties of the city center under a shiny (and quite hot) sun.

Bologna City Hall
The City Hall of Bologna, in Piazza Maggiore. (Courtesy of Jeremie Tamburini)

The Meeting on air!

For the first time ever, a real-time audio/video streaming on the Internet has been available, giving the farthest users the possibility to follow the meeting comfortably sat at their own home. All of this was made possible by the extraordinary work of Marco Buono, who proved (again) to be a valuable asset of Ubuntu-it. Marco brought three webcams and found a way to deliver the stream by the only mean of Free Software. I really appreciated the effort. Of course, in the best tradition of the greatest meetings around the world, we faced some technical difficulties at first, but they managed to fix everything and we even can provide the full set of videos of the meeting (italian only).

Marco Buono vs The Streaming
Marco Buono (in the center) charging up the buddies during a coffee break (Courtesy of Dario Cavedon.)

 The Ubuntu-it official t-shirts.

The second great news of this meeting was the t-shirt we were all equipped with. And again, this was an idea of the hero Marco Buono, who cared of buying and printing the t-shirts for all of them. And the greatest thing is they are customized too! We paraded it in the evening across the city center, back from the dinner. Don’t know if the people thought of us as the players of a weird soccer team, or just a gang of crazy. I’d bet on the second option, though.

Ubuntu-it Meeting Photo Group #2
The Ubuntu-it gang in a photo group again, showing its b-side. The best one, actually. (Courtesy of Dario Cavedon)

 Talks, talks, and more talks.

Lots of sessions were hosted during this meeting. From Davide Miceli presenting its graduation thesis about online communities to Paolo Sammicheli reporting its impression from the latest UDS, from Jeremie Tamburini who announced plans regarding the Italian Documentation Team to Dario Cavedon who held a great talk about communication (and who personally defied me to blog more1), we had some very intense time all day long.

Ubuntu pride
Michele Mordenti waving a DIY Ubuntu flag while Fabio Colinelli (in the foreground) thinks about new features for MyUnity 4. In the rear, Dario Cavedon is tweeting (how strange!). (Courtesy of Marco Buono)

Crazy friends…

The guys from this community are simply amazing. And crazy too, especially when they are enjoying great times around a table with other fellow ubunteros.

Dario Cavedon
Dario Cavedon in one of his best disguise. He is tweeting even now. (Courtesy of Jeremie Tamburini)

…and great food.

One says “Italy”, and everybody think about great food. Ubuntu-it loves this stereotype, and has a longstanding tradition in the matter. I have never seen an Ubuntu-it event where great feeds were not a central part of it. This meeting was no exception to the rule.

Great Food at the Ubuntu-it table
And that was just the end of the lunch! (Courtesy of Jeremie Tamburini)
  1. Challenge accepted: this blogpost is just the first direct consequence.

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

Una (gnome-)shell al giorno toglie Unity di torno

Ok, Natty non porterà gnome-shell sui vostri computer, a meno che non lo chiediate espressamente ad apt-get. Tuttavia, l’affezionatissimo vostro, fresco di Unity sul suo EEE da hacking battagliero on the road con Natty1, non poteva fare a meno di fare qualche giro di pista con gnome-shell2 in vista del rilascio finale che ormai dista meno di un paio di mesi. E poi, se permettete, pochi al mondo possono permettersi di compilare l’ashella con l’assistenza personalizzata di un membro del Release Team di GNOME, nonchè mio-nuovo-tesoro-non-ancora-ammmore, quindi, se permettete, io ne abuso alla grande.

Tuttavia, colto da improvvisa e inspiegabile bontà, eccomi a voi con questa guida quick-and-dirty per ottenere un’ashella sulla vostra installazione di Maverick, così che anche voi possiate godere di un po’ di pornografia3 gratuita sul vostro computer.

Ingredienti per 4 persone:

  • tre chili di computer;
  • due etti di scheda grafica Ati (avete una nvidia tagliata fina fina o qualche intel presa al discount sotto casa? Provate, ma non garantisco);
  • un terminale ben stagionato;
  • un cucchiaio di documentazione di alta qualità;
  • una birra (la Rochefort 8 si abbina molto bene all’aroma fruttato di jhbuild);
  • Ubuntu 10.04 q.b.

Per cominciare, prendete un bicchiere a calice di foggia adeguata e versate la birra producendo adeguata schiuma. Godetevi i profumi emanati dalla vostra Rochefort e mettete da parte il tutto, vi servirà tra poco.

Subito dopo, prendete il vostro terminale stagionato e lanciate il comando indicato nel primo dei due Sacri Testi per togliere di mezzo un po’ di file .la. Potrebbe darsi che vi stiate chiedendo a cosa diavolo servano questi file e perchè dobbiate toglierli. Orbene, potrei dirvelo, ma poi dovrei uccidervi. Quindi fidatevi e spazzate via tutta quella roba. A vostro piacere, applicate anche l’orribile (ma comodo) comando aggiuntivo per evitare che i file in questioni sbuchino di nuovo fuori da ogni dove appena apt-get rimetterà le sue manacce sul vostro sistema.

Fatto? Brrrene! A questo punto possiamo fare sul serio. Aprite il secondo Sacro Testo e tenetelo sempre a disposizione per un rapido sguardo. La cosa interessante della compilazione dell’ashella è che può essere utilizzata direttamente dalla home, senza sporcare in giro. Quindi, prendete di nuovo il vostro terminale4 e create una cartella apposita nella vostra home (ad esempio, ~/gnome-shell). Ora tirate giù l’apposito script:

curl -O

e subito dopo lancietelo:


Lo script controllerà che abbiate le dipendenze giuste, creerà un paio di cartelle che vi servono (segnatamente, ~/bin ~/Source) e tirerà giù un jhbuild precotto che userete d’ora in poi. A questo punto potete sorseggiare un piccolo assaggio della vostra birra che nel frattempo avrà avuto modo di respirare e di perdere quel po’ di schiuma in eccesso.

Prima di infornare serve un piccolo ritocchino. Applicate la pezza al file giusto nella cartella ~/gnome-shell/source/libcanberra-0.26/src/, dopodichè spostatevi dentro ~/bin e infornate a 180° per circa un’ora5 con:

./jhbuild build

A questo punto, mentre il vostro computer sarà impegnato a compilare ben 33 diversi moduli, voi siete autorizzati a mettere le gambe sul tavolo, sbragarvi mollemente sulla poltrona e gustare la vostra Rochefort mentre ammirate le scrittine incomprensibili che scorrono sul vostro buon terminale stagionato.

Gli intenditori raccomandano la degustazione di gnome-shell appena sfornata, ancora calda, per poter godere di tutta la sua fragranza. Affilate il coltello e tagliate una fettina sottile sottile con:

./jhbuild run gnome-shell --replace

Purtroppo, non sempre le ricette vengano propio bene, specie quando uno le prova la prima volta. Infatti, potrebbe capitare che la vostra gnome-shell si sbricioli miseramente invece di sorprendervi col suo sapore. Talvolta la colpa è dei driver della scheda grafica, spiacevole evenienza accaduta anche all’affezionatissimo vostro. In tal caso, è sufficiente andare al supermercato Launchpad più vicino e comprare un po’ di driver Gallium appena munti: li trovate sullo scaffale dei cibi pronti, tra le olive all’ascolana e la parmigiana di melanzane. Alcuni dicono che aggiungere i driver Gallium alla ricetta potrebbe danneggiare il vostro forno: in tal caso, rivolgetevi alle cure del ppa-purge che trovate in allegato.

Et voilà: cotto, e mangiato! (cit.)


  1. reinstallata da capo più e più volte per colpa dell’hacking battagliero on the road…
  2. d’ora in poi, per brevità, “l’ashella”
  3. ogni riferimento a blogger (o presunti tali…) realmente esistenti è puramente casuale
  4. mi raccomando, la stagionatura è importante
  5. il tempo di cottura potrebbe variare sensibilmente

ubuntu@fermo, una settimana dopo.

Ok, mettiamola così: ubuntu@fermo è andata decisamente bene, nonostante le minacce di nevicate abbondanti, i consueti rischi sull’assenza del proiettore, i virus che hanno tentato (senza successo) di impedire ai relatori di raggiungere Fermo e svariati altri piccoli imprevisti che abbiamo dribblato con l’agilità del miglior Pelè dei tempi d’oro.


Doverosi e quantomai meritati i ringraziamenti per il FermoLUG, per la comunità di ubuntu-it, per i relatori che sono arrivati da ogni dove, per le istituzioni che ci hanno concessi gli spazi per la conferenza, per il folto pubblico che si è unito a noi sabato. Un grazie enorme ad ognuno di voi. Il successo di questo evento è tutto merito vostro.Ubuntu@Fermo

Visto che ci sono stati già dei resoconti dettagliati sulla questione, posso concedermi il lusso di parlare di qualche piccolo retroscena. D’altra parte, sono queste le cose che vogliono sapere tutti, no?


Cominciamo subito dal punto più delicato e che ha tenuto in ansia l’intera comunità per giorni: Silvia ce l’ha fatta ad arrivare a Fermo, senza sbagliare stazione. Ok, ha ricevuto un piccolo aiutino nell’arrivare fin qui, ma siamo tutti orgogliosi dei progressi che sta facendo da Perugia. Brava!


Se volete organizzare un meeting nella vostra città, ricordatevi che le attività intellettuali richiedono un’alimentazione sana. Inoltre, noi di ubuntu-it mangiamo. E anche parecchio.


La comunità si è particolarmente contraddistinta nell’apprezzamento di certi aperitivi in un certo bar in Piazza del Popolo, come confermano le testimonianze fotografiche. Qualche giorno fa sono tornato nello stesso bar in compagnia di un’amica e il volto del barman si è rapidamente adombrato quando si è accorto che non stava entrando la consueta combriccola multietnica e poliglotta del fine settimana scorso. Mi spiace, amico barman, non può essere sempre Pasqua (cit.).

Documentazione audio-video

La comunità è ben fornita di appassionati fotografi e la documentazione fotografica è ottima e abbondante. Ci sarebbe anche un video, opportunamente torrentizzato, ma soprattutto depurato da tutti i commenti maligni che il proprietario di questo blog ha espresso inavvertitamente nelle vicinanze della telecamera. A breve, filmati in streaming dei singoli talk saranno inseriti direttamente sul sito del FermoLUG.

I talk

Devo dire che la qualità dei talk è stata piuttosto alta, riscuotendo un notevole successo tra il pubblico, opportunamente interrogato a fine conferenza e nei giorni successivi.

A scanso di equivoci, se vi sentite vicini alla comunità di Debian e notate foto che potrebbero urtare la vostra sensibilità, aspettate di guardare il video completo prima di partire con una distro-flame. L’apparenza inganna, come sempre.

Ah, se organizzate un meeting ricordatevi di tenere allegri i vostri relatori, farà bene ai loro talk. A volte basta poco, qualche dolcetto su un’alzatina e quel fanciullino che è dentro di loro salta subito fuori.


Location, location, location!

Ok, il San Martino è una figata. L’idea era fare il meeting in un luogo più piccino per dare l’impressione del pienone, ma ce l’hanno soffiato all’ultimo. Però il San Martino è una figata, e va bene così.

Quando si organizzano eventi del genere, la location è importante, e le dimensioni contano. Jeremie ne sa qualcosa.


Varie ed eventuali

Probabilmente Ubuntu@Fermo farà il bis l’anno prossimo, vedremo. Sicuramente in un mese con un minore rischio neve e più godibile un pò da tutti: il proprietario di questo blog non può permettersi di trascorrere un’altra settimana ad aggiornare ogni 10 minuti il sito di, che tra l’altro ha preso una cantonata clamorosa.


Dimenticavo: bisognerebbe parlare di Cuneo, ma ho firmato un NDA. Se siete curiosi e non riuscite a resistere, provate a chiedere a elleuca.

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?