Preseeding Trisquel Virtual Machines Using “netinst” Images

I’m migrating some self-hosted virtual machines to Trisquel, and noticed that Trisquel does not offer cloud-images similar to the Debian Cloud and Ubuntu Cloud images. Thus my earlier approach based on virt-install --cloud-init and cloud-localds does not work with Trisquel. While I hope that Trisquel will eventually publish cloud-compatible images, I wanted to document an alternative approach for Trisquel based on preseeding. This is how I used to install Debian and Ubuntu in the old days, and the automated preseed method is best documented in the Debian installation manual. I was hoping to forget about the preseed format, but maybe it will become one of those legacy technologies that never really disappears? Like FAT16 and 8-bit microcontrollers.

Below I assume you have a virtual machine host server up that runs libvirt and has virt-install and similar tools; install them with the following command. I run a pre-release version of Trisquel 11 aramo on my VM-host, but I believe any recent dpkg-based distribution like Trisquel 9/10, PureOS 10, Debian 11 or Ubuntu 20.04/22.04 would work.

apt-get install libvirt-daemon-system virtinst genisoimage cloud-image-utils osinfo-db-tools

The approach can install Trisquel 9 (etiona), Trisquel 10 (nabia) and the pre-release of Trisquel 11. First download and verify the integrity of the netinst images that we will need. Unfortunately the Trisquel 11 netinst beta image does not have any checksum or signature available.

mkdir -p /root/iso
cd /root/iso
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_9.0.2_amd64.iso
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_9.0.2_amd64.iso.asc
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_9.0.2_amd64.iso.sha256
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso.asc
wget -q https://mirror.fsf.org/trisquel-images/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso.sha256
wget -q -O- https://archive.trisquel.info/trisquel/trisquel-archive-signkey.gpg | gpg --import
sha256sum -c trisquel-netinst_9.0.2_amd64.iso.sha256
gpg --verify trisquel-netinst_9.0.2_amd64.iso.asc
sha256sum -c trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso.sha256
gpg --verify trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso.asc
wget -q https://cdbuilds.trisquel.org/aramo/trisquel-netinst_11.0-20221225_amd64.iso
echo '179566639ca8f14f0c3d5658209c59a0916d9e3bf9c026660cc07b28f2311631  trisquel-netinst_11.0-20221225_amd64.iso' | sha256sum -c

I have developed the following fairly minimal preseed file that works with all three Trisquel releases. Compare it against the official Trisquel 11 preseed skeleton and the Debian 11 example preseed file. You should modify obvious things like SSH key, host/IP settings, partition layout and decide for yourself how to deal with passwords. While Ubuntu/Trisquel usually wants to setup a user account, I prefer to login as root hence setting ‘passwd/root-login‘ to true and ‘passwd/make-user‘ to false.


root@trana:~# cat>trisquel.preseed 
d-i debian-installer/locale select en_US
d-i keyboard-configuration/xkb-keymap select us

d-i netcfg/choose_interface select auto
d-i netcfg/disable_autoconfig boolean true

d-i netcfg/get_ipaddress string 192.168.10.201
d-i netcfg/get_netmask string 255.255.255.0
d-i netcfg/get_gateway string 192.168.10.46
d-i netcfg/get_nameservers string 192.168.10.46

d-i netcfg/get_hostname string trisquel
d-i netcfg/get_domain string sjd.se

d-i clock-setup/utc boolean true
d-i time/zone string UTC

d-i mirror/country string manual
d-i mirror/http/hostname string ftp.acc.umu.se
d-i mirror/http/directory string /mirror/trisquel/packages
d-i mirror/http/proxy string

d-i partman-auto/method string regular
d-i partman-partitioning/confirm_write_new_label boolean true
d-i partman/choose_partition select finish
d-i partman/confirm boolean true
d-i partman/confirm_nooverwrite boolean true
d-i partman-basicfilesystems/no_swap boolean false
d-i partman-auto/expert_recipe string myroot :: 1000 50 -1 ext4 \
     $primary{ } $bootable{ } method{ format } \
     format{ } use_filesystem{ } filesystem{ ext4 } \
     mountpoint{ / } \
    .
d-i partman-auto/choose_recipe select myroot

d-i passwd/root-login boolean true
d-i user-setup/allow-password-weak boolean true
d-i passwd/root-password password r00tme
d-i passwd/root-password-again password r00tme
d-i passwd/make-user boolean false

tasksel tasksel/first multiselect
d-i pkgsel/include string openssh-server

popularity-contest popularity-contest/participate boolean false

d-i grub-installer/only_debian boolean true
d-i grub-installer/with_other_os boolean true
d-i grub-installer/bootdev string default

d-i finish-install/reboot_in_progress note

d-i preseed/late_command string mkdir /target/root/.ssh ; echo ssh-ed25519 AAAAC3NzaC1lZDI1NTE5AAAAILzCFcHHrKzVSPDDarZPYqn89H5TPaxwcORgRg+4DagE cardno:FFFE67252015 > /target/root/.ssh/authorized_keys
^D
root@trana:~# 

Use the file above as a skeleton for preparing a VM-specific preseed file as follows. The environment variables HOST and IPS will be used later on too.


root@trana:~# HOST=foo
root@trana:~# IP=192.168.10.197
root@trana:~# sed -e "s,get_ipaddress string.*,get_ipaddress string $IP," -e "s,get_hostname string.*,get_hostname string $HOST," < trisquel.preseed > vm-$HOST.preseed
root@trana:~# 

The following script is used to prepare the ISO images with the preseed file that we will need. This script is inspired by the Debian Wiki Preseed EditIso page and the Trisquel ISO customization wiki page. There are a couple of variations based on earlier works. Paths are updated to match the Trisquel netinst ISO layout, which differ slightly from Debian. We modify isolinux.cfg to boot the auto label without a timeout. On Trisquel 11 the auto boot label exists, but on Trisquel 9 and Trisquel 10 it does not exist so we add it in order to be able to start the automated preseed installation.


root@trana:~# cat gen-preseed-iso 
#!/bin/sh

# Copyright (C) 2018-2022 Simon Josefsson -- GPLv3+
# https://wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Preseed/EditIso
# https://trisquel.info/en/wiki/customizing-trisquel-iso

set -e
set -x

ISO="$1"
PRESEED="$2"
OUTISO="$3"
LASTPWD="$PWD"

test -f "$ISO"
test -f "$PRESEED"
test ! -f "$OUTISO"

TMPDIR=$(mktemp -d)
mkdir "$TMPDIR/mnt"
mkdir "$TMPDIR/tmp"

cp "$PRESEED" "$TMPDIR"/preseed.cfg
cd "$TMPDIR"

mount "$ISO" mnt/
cp -rT mnt/ tmp/
umount mnt/

chmod +w -R tmp/
gunzip tmp/initrd.gz
echo preseed.cfg | cpio -H newc -o -A -F tmp/initrd
gzip tmp/initrd
chmod -w -R tmp/

sed -i "s/timeout 0/timeout 1/" tmp/isolinux.cfg
sed -i "s/default vesamenu.c32/default auto/" tmp/isolinux.cfg

if ! grep -q auto tmp/adtxt.cfg; then
    cat<<EOF >> tmp/adtxt.cfg
label auto
	menu label ^Automated install
	kernel linux
	append auto=true priority=critical vga=788 initrd=initrd.gz --- quiet
EOF
fi

cd tmp/
find -follow -type f | xargs md5sum  > md5sum.txt
cd ..

cd "$LASTPWD"

genisoimage -r -J -b isolinux.bin -c boot.cat \
            -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4 -boot-info-table \
            -o "$OUTISO" "$TMPDIR/tmp/"

rm -rf "$TMPDIR"

exit 0
^D
root@trana:~# chmod +x gen-preseed-iso 
root@trana:~# 

Next run the command on one of the downloaded ISO image and the generated preseed file.


root@trana:~# ./gen-preseed-iso /root/iso/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso vm-$HOST.preseed vm-$HOST.iso
+ ISO=/root/iso/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso
+ PRESEED=vm-foo.preseed
+ OUTISO=vm-foo.iso
+ LASTPWD=/root
+ test -f /root/iso/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso
+ test -f vm-foo.preseed
+ test ! -f vm-foo.iso
+ mktemp -d
+ TMPDIR=/tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9
+ mkdir /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/mnt
+ mkdir /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp
+ cp vm-foo.preseed /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/preseed.cfg
+ cd /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9
+ mount /root/iso/trisquel-netinst_10.0.1_amd64.iso mnt/
mount: /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/mnt: WARNING: source write-protected, mounted read-only.
+ cp -rT mnt/ tmp/
+ umount mnt/
+ chmod +w -R tmp/
+ gunzip tmp/initrd.gz
+ echo preseed.cfg
+ cpio -H newc -o -A -F tmp/initrd
5 blocks
+ gzip tmp/initrd
+ chmod -w -R tmp/
+ sed -i s/timeout 0/timeout 1/ tmp/isolinux.cfg
+ sed -i s/default vesamenu.c32/default auto/ tmp/isolinux.cfg
+ grep -q auto tmp/adtxt.cfg
+ cat
+ cd tmp/
+ find -follow -type f
+ xargs md5sum
+ cd ..
+ cd /root
+ genisoimage -r -J -b isolinux.bin -c boot.cat -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4 -boot-info-table -o vm-foo.iso /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/
I: -input-charset not specified, using utf-8 (detected in locale settings)
Using GCRY_000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/gcry_sha512.mod (gcry_sha256.mod)
Using XNU_U000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/xnu_uuid.mod (xnu_uuid_test.mod)
Using PASSW000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/password_pbkdf2.mod (password.mod)
Using PART_000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/part_sunpc.mod (part_sun.mod)
Using USBSE000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/usbserial_pl2303.mod (usbserial_ftdi.mod)
Using USBSE001.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/usbserial_ftdi.mod (usbserial_usbdebug.mod)
Using VIDEO000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/videotest.mod (videotest_checksum.mod)
Using GFXTE000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/gfxterm_background.mod (gfxterm_menu.mod)
Using GCRY_001.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/gcry_sha256.mod (gcry_sha1.mod)
Using MULTI000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/multiboot2.mod (multiboot.mod)
Using USBSE002.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/usbserial_usbdebug.mod (usbserial_common.mod)
Using MDRAI000.MOD;1 for  /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9/tmp/boot/grub/x86_64-efi/mdraid09.mod (mdraid09_be.mod)
Size of boot image is 4 sectors -> No emulation
 22.89% done, estimate finish Thu Dec 29 23:36:18 2022
 45.70% done, estimate finish Thu Dec 29 23:36:18 2022
 68.56% done, estimate finish Thu Dec 29 23:36:18 2022
 91.45% done, estimate finish Thu Dec 29 23:36:18 2022
Total translation table size: 2048
Total rockridge attributes bytes: 24816
Total directory bytes: 40960
Path table size(bytes): 64
Max brk space used 46000
21885 extents written (42 MB)
+ rm -rf /tmp/tmp.mNEprT4Tx9
+ exit 0
root@trana:~#

Now the image is ready for installation, so invoke virt-install as follows. The machine will start directly, launching the preseed automatic installation. At this point, I usually click on the virtual machine in virt-manager to follow screen output until the installation has finished. If everything works OK the machines comes up and I can ssh into it.


root@trana:~# virt-install --name $HOST --disk vm-$HOST.img,size=5 --cdrom vm-$HOST.iso --osinfo linux2020 --autostart --noautoconsole --wait
Using linux2020 default --memory 4096

Starting install...
Allocating 'vm-foo.img'                                                                                                                                |    0 B  00:00:00 ... 
Creating domain...                                                                                                                                     |    0 B  00:00:00     

Domain is still running. Installation may be in progress.
Waiting for the installation to complete.
Domain has shutdown. Continuing.
Domain creation completed.
Restarting guest.
root@trana:~# 

There are some problems that I have noticed that would be nice to fix, but are easy to work around. The first is that at the end of the installation of Trisquel 9 and Trisquel 10, the VM hangs after displaying Sent SIGKILL to all processes followed by Requesting system reboot. I kill the VM manually using virsh destroy foo and start it up again using virsh start foo. For production use I expect to be running Trisquel 11, where the problem doesn’t happen, so this does not bother me enough to debug further. The remaining issue that once booted, a Trisquel 11 VM has lost its DNS nameserver configuration, presumably due to poor integration with systemd-resolved. Both Trisquel 9 and Trisquel 10 uses systemd-resolved where DNS works after first boot, so this appears to be a Trisquel 11 bug. You can work around it with rm -f /etc/resolv.conf && echo 'nameserver A.B.C.D' > /etc/resolv.conf or drink the systemd Kool-Aid. If you want to clean up and re-start the process, here is how you wipe out what you did. After this, you may run the sed, ./gen-preseed-iso and virt-install commands again. Remember, use virsh shutdown foo to gracefully shutdown a VM.


root@trana:~# virsh destroy foo
Domain 'foo' destroyed

root@trana:~# virsh undefine foo --remove-all-storage
Domain 'foo' has been undefined
Volume 'vda'(/root/vm-foo.img) removed.

root@trana:~# rm vm-foo.*
root@trana:~# 

Happy hacking on your virtal machines!

OpenPGP key on FST-01SZ

I use GnuPG to compute cryptographic signatures for my emails, git commits/tags, and software release artifacts (tarballs). Part of GnuPG is gpg-agent which talks to OpenSSH, which I login to remote servers and to clone git repositories. I dislike storing cryptographic keys on general-purpose machines, and have used hardware-backed OpenPGP keys since around 2006 when I got a FSFE Fellowship Card. GnuPG via gpg-agent handles this well, and the private key never leaves the hardware. The ZeitControl cards were (to my knowledge) proprietary hardware running some non-free operating system and OpenPGP implementation. By late 2012 the YubiKey NEO supported OpenPGP, and while the hardware and operating system on it was not free, at least it ran a free software OpenPGP implementation and eventually I setup my primary RSA key on it. This worked well for a couple of years, and when I in 2019 wished to migrate to a new key, the FST-01G device with open hardware running free software that supported Ed25519 had become available. I created a key and have been using the FST-01G on my main laptop since then. This little device has been working, the signature counter on it is around 14501 which means around 10 signatures/day since then!

Currently I am in the process of migrating towards a new laptop, and moving the FST-01G device between them is cumbersome, especially if I want to use both laptops in parallel. That’s why I need to setup a new hardware device to hold my OpenPGP key, which can go with my new laptop. This is a good time to re-visit alternatives. I quickly decided that I did not want to create a new key, only to import my current one to keep everything working. My requirements on the device to chose hasn’t changed since 2019, see my summary at the end of the earlier blog post. Unfortunately the FST-01G is out of stock and the newer FST-01SZ has also out of stock. While Tillitis looks promising (and I have one to play with), it does not support OpenPGP (yet). What to do? Fortunately, I found some FST-01SZ device in my drawer, and decided to use it pending a more satisfactory answer. Hopefully once I get around to generate a new OpenPGP key in a year or so, I will do a better survey of options that are available on the market then. What are your (freedom-respecting) OpenPGP hardware recommendations?

FST-01SZ circuit board

Similar to setting up the FST-01G, the FST-01SZ needs to be setup before use. I’m doing the following from Trisquel 11 but any GNU/Linux system would work. When the device is inserted at first time, some kernel messages are shown (see /var/log/syslog or use the dmesg command):


usb 3-3: new full-speed USB device number 39 using xhci_hcd
usb 3-3: New USB device found, idVendor=234b, idProduct=0004, bcdDevice= 2.00
usb 3-3: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=3
usb 3-3: Product: Fraucheky
usb 3-3: Manufacturer: Free Software Initiative of Japan
usb 3-3: SerialNumber: FSIJ-0.0
usb-storage 3-3:1.0: USB Mass Storage device detected
scsi host1: usb-storage 3-3:1.0
scsi 1:0:0:0: Direct-Access     FSIJ     Fraucheky        1.0  PQ: 0 ANSI: 0
sd 1:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg2 type 0
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] 128 512-byte logical blocks: (65.5 kB/64.0 KiB)
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] Write Protect is off
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] Mode Sense: 03 00 00 00
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] No Caching mode page found
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
 sdc:
sd 1:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk

Interestingly, the NeuG software installed on the device I got appears to be version 1.0.9:


jas@kaka:~$ head /media/jas/Fraucheky/README
NeuG - a true random number generator implementation
						  Version 1.0.9
						     2018-11-20
					           Niibe Yutaka
			      Free Software Initiative of Japan
What's NeuG?
============
jas@kaka:~$ 

I could not find version 1.0.9 published anywhere, but the device came with a SD-card that contain a copy of the source, so I uploaded it until a more canonical place is located. Putting the device in the serial mode can be done using a sudo eject /dev/sdc command which results in the following syslog output.


usb 3-3: reset full-speed USB device number 39 using xhci_hcd
usb 3-3: device firmware changed
usb 3-3: USB disconnect, device number 39
sdc: detected capacity change from 128 to 0
usb 3-3: new full-speed USB device number 40 using xhci_hcd
usb 3-3: New USB device found, idVendor=234b, idProduct=0001, bcdDevice= 2.00
usb 3-3: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=3
usb 3-3: Product: NeuG True RNG
usb 3-3: Manufacturer: Free Software Initiative of Japan
usb 3-3: SerialNumber: FSIJ-1.0.9-42315277
cdc_acm 3-3:1.0: ttyACM0: USB ACM device

Now download Gnuk, verify its integrity and build it. You may need some additional packages installed, try apt-get install gcc-arm-none-eabi openocd python3-usb. As you can see, I’m using the stable 1.2 branch of Gnuk, currently on version 1.2.20. The ./configure parameters deserve some explanation. The kdf_do=required sets up the device to require KDF usage. The --enable-factory-reset allows me to use the command factory-reset (with admin PIN) inside gpg --card-edit to completely wipe the card. Some may consider that too dangerous, but my view is that if someone has your admin PIN it is game over anyway. The --vidpid=234b:0000 is specifies the USB VID/PID to use, and --target=FST_01SZ is critical to set the platform (you’ll may brick the device if you pick the wrong --target setting).


jas@kaka:~/src$ rm -rf gnuk neug
jas@kaka:~/src$ git clone https://gitlab.com/jas/neug.git
Cloning into 'neug'...
remote: Enumerating objects: 2034, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (2034/2034), done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (603/603), done.
remote: Total 2034 (delta 1405), reused 2013 (delta 1405), pack-reused 0
Receiving objects: 100% (2034/2034), 910.34 KiB | 3.50 MiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (1405/1405), done.
jas@kaka:~/src$ git clone https://salsa.debian.org/gnuk-team/gnuk/gnuk.git
Cloning into 'gnuk'...
remote: Enumerating objects: 13765, done.
remote: Counting objects: 100% (959/959), done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (337/337), done.
remote: Total 13765 (delta 629), reused 907 (delta 599), pack-reused 12806
Receiving objects: 100% (13765/13765), 12.59 MiB | 3.05 MiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (10077/10077), done.
jas@kaka:~/src$ cd neug
jas@kaka:~/src/neug$ git describe 
release/1.0.9
jas@kaka:~/src/neug$ git tag -v `git describe`
object 5d51022a97a5b7358d0ea62bbbc00628c6cec06a
type commit
tag release/1.0.9
tagger NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org> 1542701768 +0900

Version 1.0.9.
gpg: Signature made Tue Nov 20 09:16:08 2018 CET
gpg:                using EDDSA key 249CB3771750745D5CDD323CE267B052364F028D
gpg:                issuer "gniibe@fsij.org"
gpg: Good signature from "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org>" [unknown]
gpg:                 aka "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@debian.org>" [unknown]
gpg: WARNING: This key is not certified with a trusted signature!
gpg:          There is no indication that the signature belongs to the owner.
Primary key fingerprint: 249C B377 1750 745D 5CDD  323C E267 B052 364F 028D
jas@kaka:~/src/neug$ cd ../gnuk/
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk$ git checkout STABLE-BRANCH-1-2 
Branch 'STABLE-BRANCH-1-2' set up to track remote branch 'STABLE-BRANCH-1-2' from 'origin'.
Switched to a new branch 'STABLE-BRANCH-1-2'
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk$ git describe
release/1.2.20
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk$ git tag -v `git describe`
object 9d3c08bd2beb73ce942b016d4328f0a596096c02
type commit
tag release/1.2.20
tagger NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org> 1650594032 +0900

Gnuk: Version 1.2.20
gpg: Signature made Fri Apr 22 04:20:32 2022 CEST
gpg:                using EDDSA key 249CB3771750745D5CDD323CE267B052364F028D
gpg: Good signature from "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org>" [unknown]
gpg:                 aka "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@debian.org>" [unknown]
gpg: WARNING: This key is not certified with a trusted signature!
gpg:          There is no indication that the signature belongs to the owner.
Primary key fingerprint: 249C B377 1750 745D 5CDD  323C E267 B052 364F 028D
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ git submodule update --init
Submodule 'chopstx' (https://salsa.debian.org/gnuk-team/chopstx/chopstx.git) registered for path '../chopstx'
Cloning into '/home/jas/src/gnuk/chopstx'...
Submodule path '../chopstx': checked out 'e12a7e0bb3f004c7bca41cfdb24c8b66daf3db89'
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk$ cd chopstx
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/chopstx$ git describe
release/1.21
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/chopstx$ git tag -v `git describe`
object e12a7e0bb3f004c7bca41cfdb24c8b66daf3db89
type commit
tag release/1.21
tagger NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org> 1650593697 +0900

Chopstx: Version 1.21
gpg: Signature made Fri Apr 22 04:14:57 2022 CEST
gpg:                using EDDSA key 249CB3771750745D5CDD323CE267B052364F028D
gpg: Good signature from "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@fsij.org>" [unknown]
gpg:                 aka "NIIBE Yutaka <gniibe@debian.org>" [unknown]
gpg: WARNING: This key is not certified with a trusted signature!
gpg:          There is no indication that the signature belongs to the owner.
Primary key fingerprint: 249C B377 1750 745D 5CDD  323C E267 B052 364F 028D
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/chopstx$ cd ../src
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ kdf_do=required ./configure --enable-factory-reset --vidpid=234b:0000 --target=FST_01SZ
Header file is: board-fst-01sz.h
Debug option disabled
Configured for bare system (no-DFU)
PIN pad option disabled
CERT.3 Data Object is NOT supported
Card insert/removal by HID device is NOT supported
Life cycle management is supported
Acknowledge button is supported
KDF DO is required before key import/generation
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ make | less
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ cd ../regnual/
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/regnual$ make | less
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/regnual$ cd ../../
jas@kaka:~/src$ sudo python3 neug/tool/neug_upgrade.py -f gnuk/regnual/regnual.bin gnuk/src/build/gnuk.bin
gnuk/regnual/regnual.bin: 4608
gnuk/src/build/gnuk.bin: 109568
CRC32: b93ca829

Device: 
Configuration: 1
Interface: 1
20000e00:20005000
Downloading flash upgrade program...
start 20000e00
end   20002000
# 20002000: 32 : 4
Run flash upgrade program...
Wait 1 second...
Wait 1 second...
Device: 
08001000:08020000
Downloading the program
start 08001000
end   0801ac00
jas@kaka:~/src$ 

The kernel log will contain the following, and the card is ready to use as an OpenPGP card. You may unplug it and re-insert it as you wish.


usb 3-3: reset full-speed USB device number 41 using xhci_hcd
usb 3-3: device firmware changed
usb 3-3: USB disconnect, device number 41
usb 3-3: new full-speed USB device number 42 using xhci_hcd
usb 3-3: New USB device found, idVendor=234b, idProduct=0000, bcdDevice= 2.00
usb 3-3: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=3
usb 3-3: Product: Gnuk Token
usb 3-3: Manufacturer: Free Software Initiative of Japan
usb 3-3: SerialNumber: FSIJ-1.2.20-42315277

Setting up the card is the next step, and there are many tutorials around for this, eventually I settled with the following sequence. Let’s start with setting the admin PIN. First make sure that pcscd nor scdaemon is running, which is good hygien since those processes cache some information and with a stale connection this easily leads to confusion. Cache invalidation… sigh.


jas@kaka:~$ gpg-connect-agent "SCD KILLSCD" "SCD BYE" /bye
jas@kaka:~$ ps auxww|grep -e pcsc -e scd
jas        30221  0.0  0.0   3468  1692 pts/3    R+   11:49   0:00 grep --color=auto -e pcsc -e scd
jas@kaka:~$ gpg --card-edit

Reader ...........: 234B:0000:FSIJ-1.2.20-42315277:0
Application ID ...: D276000124010200FFFE423152770000
Application type .: OpenPGP
Version ..........: 2.0
Manufacturer .....: unmanaged S/N range
Serial number ....: 42315277
Name of cardholder: [not set]
Language prefs ...: [not set]
Salutation .......: 
URL of public key : [not set]
Login data .......: [not set]
Signature PIN ....: forced
Key attributes ...: rsa2048 rsa2048 rsa2048
Max. PIN lengths .: 127 127 127
PIN retry counter : 3 3 3
Signature counter : 0
KDF setting ......: off
Signature key ....: [none]
Encryption key....: [none]
Authentication key: [none]
General key info..: [none]

gpg/card> admin
Admin commands are allowed

gpg/card> kdf-setup

gpg/card> passwd
gpg: OpenPGP card no. D276000124010200FFFE423152770000 detected

1 - change PIN
2 - unblock PIN
3 - change Admin PIN
4 - set the Reset Code
Q - quit

Your selection? 3
PIN changed.

1 - change PIN
2 - unblock PIN
3 - change Admin PIN
4 - set the Reset Code
Q - quit

Your selection? 

Now it would be natural to setup the PIN and reset code. However the Gnuk software is configured to not allow this until the keys are imported. You would get the following somewhat cryptical error messages if you try. This took me a while to understand, since this is device-specific, and some other OpenPGP implementations allows you to configure a PIN and reset code before key import.


Your selection? 4
Error setting the Reset Code: Card error

1 - change PIN
2 - unblock PIN
3 - change Admin PIN
4 - set the Reset Code
Q - quit

Your selection? 1
Error changing the PIN: Conditions of use not satisfied

1 - change PIN
2 - unblock PIN
3 - change Admin PIN
4 - set the Reset Code
Q - quit

Your selection? q

Continue to configure the card and make it ready for key import. Some settings deserve comments. The lang field may be used to setup the language, but I have rarely seen it use, and I set it to ‘sv‘ (Swedish) mostly to be able to experiment if any software adhears to it. The URL is important to point to somewhere where your public key is stored, the fetch command of gpg --card-edit downloads it and sets up GnuPG with it when you are on a clean new laptop. The forcesig command changes the default so that a PIN code is not required for every digital signature operation, remember that I averaged 10 signatures per day for the past 2-3 years? Think of the wasted energy typing those PIN codes every time! Changing the cryptographic key type is required when I import 25519-based keys.


gpg/card> name
Cardholder's surname: Josefsson
Cardholder's given name: Simon

gpg/card> lang
Language preferences: sv

gpg/card> sex
Salutation (M = Mr., F = Ms., or space): m

gpg/card> login
Login data (account name): jas

gpg/card> url
URL to retrieve public key: https://josefsson.org/key-20190320.txt

gpg/card> forcesig

gpg/card> key-attr
Changing card key attribute for: Signature key
Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) RSA
   (2) ECC
Your selection? 2
Please select which elliptic curve you want:
   (1) Curve 25519
   (4) NIST P-384
Your selection? 1
The card will now be re-configured to generate a key of type: ed25519
Note: There is no guarantee that the card supports the requested size.
      If the key generation does not succeed, please check the
      documentation of your card to see what sizes are allowed.
Changing card key attribute for: Encryption key
Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) RSA
   (2) ECC
Your selection? 2
Please select which elliptic curve you want:
   (1) Curve 25519
   (4) NIST P-384
Your selection? 1
The card will now be re-configured to generate a key of type: cv25519
Changing card key attribute for: Authentication key
Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) RSA
   (2) ECC
Your selection? 2
Please select which elliptic curve you want:
   (1) Curve 25519
   (4) NIST P-384
Your selection? 1
The card will now be re-configured to generate a key of type: ed25519

gpg/card> 

Reader ...........: 234B:0000:FSIJ-1.2.20-42315277:0
Application ID ...: D276000124010200FFFE423152770000
Application type .: OpenPGP
Version ..........: 2.0
Manufacturer .....: unmanaged S/N range
Serial number ....: 42315277
Name of cardholder: Simon Josefsson
Language prefs ...: sv
Salutation .......: Mr.
URL of public key : https://josefsson.org/key-20190320.txt
Login data .......: jas
Signature PIN ....: not forced
Key attributes ...: ed25519 cv25519 ed25519
Max. PIN lengths .: 127 127 127
PIN retry counter : 3 3 3
Signature counter : 0
KDF setting ......: on
Signature key ....: [none]
Encryption key....: [none]
Authentication key: [none]
General key info..: [none]

gpg/card> 

The device is now ready for key import! Bring out your offline laptop and boot it and use the keytocard command on the subkeys to import them. This assumes you saved a copy of the GnuPG home directory after generating the master and subkeys before, which I did in my own previous tutorial when I generated the keys. This may be a bit unusual, and there are simpler ways to do this (e.g., import a copy of the secret keys into a fresh GnuPG home directory).


$ cp -a gnupghome-backup-mastersubkeys gnupghome-import-fst01sz-42315277-2022-12-24
$ ps auxww|grep -e pcsc -e scd
$ gpg --homedir $PWD/gnupghome-import-fst01sz-42315277-2022-12-24 --edit-key B1D2BD1375BECB784CF4F8C4D73CF638C53C06BE
...
Secret key is available.

gpg: checking the trustdb
gpg: marginals needed: 3  completes needed: 1  trust model: pgp
gpg: depth: 0  valid:   1  signed:   0  trust: 0-, 0q, 0n, 0m, 0f, 1u
sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> key 1

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb* cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> keytocard
Please select where to store the key:
   (2) Encryption key
Your selection? 2

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb* cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> key 1

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> key 2

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb* ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> keytocard
Please select where to store the key:
   (3) Authentication key
Your selection? 3

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb* ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> key 2

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> key 3

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb* ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> keytocard
Please select where to store the key:
   (1) Signature key
   (3) Authentication key
Your selection? 1

sec  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: SC  
     trust: ultimate      validity: expired
ssb  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: E   
ssb  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: A   
ssb* ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2
     created: 2019-03-20  expired: 2019-10-22  usage: S   
[ expired] (1). Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>

gpg> quit
Save changes? (y/N) y
$ 

Now insert it into your daily laptop and have GnuPG and learn about the new private keys and forget about any earlier locally available card bindings — this usually manifests itself by GnuPG asking you to insert a OpenPGP card with another serial number. Earlier I did rm -rf ~/.gnupg/private-keys-v1.d/ but the scd serialno followed by learn --force is nicer. I also sets up trust setting for my own key.


jas@kaka:~$ gpg-connect-agent "scd serialno" "learn --force" /bye
...
jas@kaka:~$ echo "B1D2BD1375BECB784CF4F8C4D73CF638C53C06BE:6:" | gpg --import-ownertrust
jas@kaka:~$ gpg --card-status
Reader ...........: 234B:0000:FSIJ-1.2.20-42315277:0
Application ID ...: D276000124010200FFFE423152770000
Application type .: OpenPGP
Version ..........: 2.0
Manufacturer .....: unmanaged S/N range
Serial number ....: 42315277
Name of cardholder: Simon Josefsson
Language prefs ...: sv
Salutation .......: Mr.
URL of public key : https://josefsson.org/key-20190320.txt
Login data .......: jas
Signature PIN ....: not forced
Key attributes ...: ed25519 cv25519 ed25519
Max. PIN lengths .: 127 127 127
PIN retry counter : 5 5 5
Signature counter : 3
KDF setting ......: on
Signature key ....: A3CC 9C87 0B9D 310A BAD4  CF2F 5172 2B08 FE47 45A2
      created ....: 2019-03-20 23:40:49
Encryption key....: A9EC 8F4D 7F1E 50ED 3DEF  49A9 0292 3D7E E76E BD60
      created ....: 2019-03-20 23:40:26
Authentication key: CA7E 3716 4342 DF31 33DF  3497 8026 0EE8 A9B9 2B2B
      created ....: 2019-03-20 23:40:37
General key info..: sub  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2 2019-03-20 Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>
sec#  ed25519/D73CF638C53C06BE  created: 2019-03-20  expires: 2023-09-19
ssb>  ed25519/80260EE8A9B92B2B  created: 2019-03-20  expires: 2023-09-19
                                card-no: FFFE 42315277
ssb>  ed25519/51722B08FE4745A2  created: 2019-03-20  expires: 2023-09-19
                                card-no: FFFE 42315277
ssb>  cv25519/02923D7EE76EBD60  created: 2019-03-20  expires: 2023-09-19
                                card-no: FFFE 42315277
jas@kaka:~$ 

Verify that you can digitally sign and authenticate using the key and you are done!


jas@kaka:~$ echo foo|gpg -a --sign|gpg --verify
gpg: Signature made Sat Dec 24 13:49:59 2022 CET
gpg:                using EDDSA key A3CC9C870B9D310ABAD4CF2F51722B08FE4745A2
gpg: Good signature from "Simon Josefsson <simon@josefsson.org>" [ultimate]
jas@kaka:~$ ssh-add -L
ssh-ed25519 AAAAC3NzaC1lZDI1NTE5AAAAILzCFcHHrKzVSPDDarZPYqn89H5TPaxwcORgRg+4DagE cardno:FFFE42315277
jas@kaka:~$ 

So time to relax and celebrate christmas? Hold on… not so fast! Astute readers will have noticed that the output said ‘PIN retry counter: 5 5 5‘. That’s not the default PIN retry counter for Gnuk! How did that happen? Indeed, good catch and great question, my dear reader. I wanted to include how you can modify the Gnuk source code, re-build it and re-flash the Gnuk as well. This method is different than flashing Gnuk onto a device that is running NeuG so the commands I used to flash the firmware in the start of this blog post no longer works in a device running Gnuk. Fortunately modern Gnuk supports updating firmware by specifying the Admin PIN code only, and provides a simple script to achieve this as well. The PIN retry counter setting is hard coded in the openpgp-do.c file, and we run a a perl command to modify the file, rebuild Gnuk and upgrade the FST-01SZ. This of course wipes all your settings, so you will have the opportunity to practice all the commands earlier in this post once again!


jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ perl -pi -e 's/PASSWORD_ERRORS_MAX 3/PASSWORD_ERRORS_MAX 5/' openpgp-do.c
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ make | less
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/src$ cd ../tool/
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/tool$ ./upgrade_by_passwd.py 
Admin password: 
Device: 
Configuration: 1
Interface: 0
../regnual/regnual.bin: 4608
../src/build/gnuk.bin: 110592
CRC32: b93ca829

Device: 
Configuration: 1
Interface: 0
20002a00:20005000
Downloading flash upgrade program...
start 20002a00
end   20003c00
Run flash upgrade program...
Waiting for device to appear:
  Wait 1 second...
  Wait 1 second...
Device: 
08001000:08020000
Downloading the program
start 08001000
end   0801b000
Protecting device
Finish flashing
Resetting device
Update procedure finished
jas@kaka:~/src/gnuk/tool$

Now finally, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Hacking!

Second impressions of Guix 1.4

While my first impression of Guix 1.4rc2 on NV41PZ was only days ago, the final Guix 1.4 release has happened. I thought I should give it a second try, although being at my summer house with no wired ethernet I realized this may be overly optimistic. However I am happy to say that a guided graphical installation on my new laptop went smooth without any problem. Practicing OS installations has a tendency to make problems disappear.

My WiFi issues last time was probably due to a user interface mistake on my part: you have to press a button to search for wireless networks before seeing them. I’m not sure why I missed this the first time, but maybe the reason was that I didn’t really expect WiFi to work on this laptop with one Intel-based WiFi card without firmware and a USB-based WiFi dongle. I haven’t went back to the rc2 image, but I strongly believe it wasn’t a problem with that image but my user mistake. Perhaps some more visual clues could be given that Guix found a usable WiFi interface, as this isn’t completely obvious now.

My main pet problem with the installation is the language menu. It contains a bazillion languages, and I want to find Swedish in it. However the list is half-sorted so it looks like it is alphabetized but paging through the list I didn’t find ‘svenska’, but did notice that the sorting restarts after a while. Eventually I find my language of chose, but a better search interface would be better. Typing ‘s’ to find it jumps around in the list. This may be a user interface misunderstanding on my part: I may be missing whatever great logic I’m sure there is to find my language in that menu.

I did a simple installation, enabling GNOME, Cups and OpenSSH. Given the experience with sharing /home with my Trisquel installation last time, I chose to not mount it this time, fixing this later on if I want to share files between OSes. Watching the installation proceed with downloading packages over this slow WiFi was meditative, and I couldn’t help but wonder what logic there was to the many steps where it says it is going to download X MB of software, downloads a set of packages, and then starts another iteration saying it is going to download Y MB and then downloads another set of packages. Maybe there is a package dependency tree being worked out while I watch.

After logging into GNOME I had to provide the WiFi password another time, it seems it wasn’t saved during installation, or I was too impatient to wait for WiFi to come up automatically. Using the GNOME WiFi selection menu worked fine. The webcam issue is still present, the image is distorted and it doesn’t happen in Trisquel. Other than that, everythings appear to work, but it has to be put through more testing.

Upgrading Guix after installation is still suffering from the same issue I noticed with the rc2 images, this time I managed to save the error message in case someone wants to provide an official fix or workaround. The initial guix pull command also takes forever, even on this speedy laptop, but after the initial run it is faster. Here are the error messages (pardon the Swedish):

jas@kaka ~$ sudo -i
...
root@kaka ~# guix pull
...
root@kaka ~# guix system reconfigure /etc/config.scm 
guix system: fel: aborting reconfiguration because commit 8e2f32cee982d42a79e53fc1e9aa7b8ff0514714 of channel 'guix' is not a descendant of 989a3916dc8967bcb7275f10452f89bc6c3389cc
tips: Use `--allow-downgrades' to force this downgrade.

root@kaka ~# 

I’ll avoid using –allow-downgrades this time to see if there is a better solution available.

Update: Problem resolved: my muscle memory typed sudo -i before writing the commands above. If I stick to the suggestedguix pull‘ (as user) followed by ‘sudo guix system reconfigure /etc/config.scm‘ everything works. I’ll leave this in case someone else runs into this problem.

I’m using the Evolution mail/calendar/contacts application, and it was not installed via GNOME so I had to manually install it using ‘guix package -i evolution‘. Following the guided setup worked remarkable well (it auto-detects all my email settings after giving it my email address), although at the end I get a surprising error message:

Puzzling error message from Evolution

If I didn’t know a bit about how Evolution works internally, I would have been stuck here – the solution is to install the evolution data server package. This should probably be a dependency from the main package? Fix it by ‘guix package -i evolution-data-server‘. It works directly, no need to even restart Evolution or go through the configuration dialog again. After this, I’m happily using email against my Dovecot server and contacts/calendars against my Nextcloud server via GNOME’s builtin Nextcloud connector which was straight-forward to setup.

Guix 1.4 on NV41PZ

On the shortlist of things to try on my new laptop has been Guix. I have been using Guix on my rsnapshot-based backup server since 2018, and experimented using it on a second laptop but never on my primary daily work machine. The main difference with Guix for me, compared to Debian (or Trisquel), is that Guix follows a rolling release model, even though they prepare stable versioned installation images once in a while. It seems the trend for operating system software releases is to either following a Long-Term-Support approach or adopt a rolling approach. Historically I have found that the rolling release approach, such as following Debian testing, has lead to unreliable systems, since little focus was given to system integration stability. This probably changed in the last 10 years or so, and today add-on systems like Homebrew on macOS gives me access to modern releases of free software easily. While I am likely to stay with LTS releases of GNU/Linux on many systems, the experience with rolling Guix (with unattended-upgrades from a cron job to pull in new code continously) on my backup servers has been smooth: no need for re-installation or debugging of installations for over four years!

I tried the Guix 1.4 rc2 installation image on top of my previous Trisquel 11 installation; following the guided Guix installation menus was simple. I installed using wired network, since the WiFi dongle I had did not automatically become available. I put the Guix system on a separate partition, that I left empty when I installed Trisquel, and mounted the same /home that I used for Trisquel. Everything booted fine, and while I had some issues doing guix pull followed by guix system reconfigure /etc/config.scm I eventually got it working by using --allow-downgrade once. I believe this was a symptom of using a release candidate installation image. Guix did not auto-detect Trisquel or set up a Grub boot menu for it, and I have been unable to come up with the right Guix bootloader magic to add a Trisquel boot item again. Fortunately, the EFI boot choser allows me to boot Trisquel again.

Guix 1.4 uses Linux-libre 6.0 which is newer than Trisquel 11’s Linux-libre 5.15. The WiFi dongle worked automatically once the system was installed. I will continue to tweak the default system configuration that was generated, it seems a standard GNOME installation does not include Evolution on Guix. Everything else I have tested works fine, including closing the lid and suspend and then resume, however the builtin webcam has a distorted image which does not happen on Trisquel. All in all, it seems the resulting system would be usable enough for me. I will be switching between Trisquel and Guix, but expect to spend most of time for daily work within Trisquel because it gives me the stable Debian-like environment that I’ve been used to for ~20 years. Sharing the same /home between Trisquel and Guix may have been a mistake: GNOME handles this badly, and the dock will only contain the lowest-common-denominator of available applications, with the rest removed permanently.

Trisquel 11 on NV41PZ: First impressions

My NovaCustom NV41PZ laptop arrived a couple of days ago, and today I had some time to install it. You may want to read about my purchasing decision process first. I expected a rough ride to get it to work, given the number of people claiming that modern laptops can’t run fully free operating systems. I first tried the Trisquel 10 live DVD and it booted fine including network, but the mouse trackpad did not work. Before investigating it, I noticed a forum thread about Trisquel 11 beta3 images, and being based on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS and has Linux-libre 5.15 it seemed better to start with more modern software. After installing through the live DVD successfully, I realized I didn’t like MATE but wanted to keep using GNOME. I reverted back to installing a minimal environment through the netinst image, and manually installed GNOME (apt-get install gnome) since I prefer that over MATE, together with a bunch of other packages. I’ve been running it for a couple of hours now, and here is a brief summary of the hardware components that works.

CPUAlder Lake Intel i7-1260P
Memory2x32GB Kingston DDR4 SODIMM 3200MHz
StorageSamsung 980 Pro 2TB NVME
BIOSDasharo Coreboot
GraphicsIntel Xe
Screen (internal)14″ 1920×1080
Screen (HDMI)Connected to Dell 27″ 2560×1440
Screen (USB-C)Connected to Dell 27″ 2560×1440 via Wavlink port extender
WebcamBuiltin 1MP Camera
MicrophoneIntel Alder Lake
KeyboardISO layout, all function keys working
MouseTrackpad, tap clicking and gestures
Ethernet RJ45Realtek RTL8111/8168/8411 with r8169 driver
Memory cardO2 Micro comes up as /dev/mmcblk0
Docking stationWavlink 4xUSB, 2xHDMI, DP, RJ45, …
ConnectivityUSB-A, USB-C
AudioIntel Alder Lake
Hardware components and status

So what’s not working? Unfortunately, NovaCustom does not offer any WiFi or Bluetooth module that is compatible with Trisquel, so the AX211 (1675x) Wifi/Bluetooth card in it is just dead weight. I imagine it would be possible to get the card to work if non-free firmware is loaded. I don’t need Bluetooth right now, and use the Technoetic N-150 USB WiFi dongle when I’m not connected to wired network.

Compared against my X201, the following factors have improved.

  • Faster – CPU benchmark suggests it is 8 times faster than my old i7-620M. While it feels snappier it is not a huge difference. While NVMe should improve SSD performance, benchmark wise the NVMe 980Pro only seems around 2-3 faster than the SATA-based 860 Evo. Going from 6GB to 64GB is 10 times more memory, which is useful for disk caching.
  • BIOS is free software.
  • EC firmware is free.
  • Operating system follows the FSDG.

I’m still unhappy about the following properties with both the NV41PZ and the X201.

  • CPU microcode is not available under free license.
  • Intel Mangement Engine is still present in the CPU.
  • No builtin WiFi/Bluetooth that works with free software.
  • Some other secondary processors (e.g., disk or screen) may be running non-free software but at least none requires non-free firmware.

Hopefully my next laptop will have improved on this further. I hope to be able to resolve the WiFi part by replacing the WiFi module, there appears to be options available but I have not tested them on this laptop yet. Does anyone know of a combined WiFi and Bluetooth M.2 module that would work on Trisquel?

While I haven’t put the laptop to heavy testing yet, everything that I would expect a laptop to be able to do seems to work fine. Including writing this blog post!

How to complicate buying a laptop

I’m about to migrate to a new laptop, having done a brief pre-purchase review of options on Fosstodon and reaching a decision to buy the NovaCustom NV41. Given the rapid launch and decline of Mastodon instances, I thought I’d better summarize my process and conclusion on my self-hosted blog until the fediverse self-hosting situation improves.

Since 2010 my main portable computing device has been the Lenovo X201 that replaced the Dell Precision M65 that I bought in 2006. I have been incredibly happy with the X201, even to the point that in 2015 when I wanted to find a replacement, I couldn’t settle on a decision and eventually realized I couldn’t articulate what was wrong with the X201 and decided to just buy another X201 second-hand for my second office. There is still no deal-breaker with the X201, and I’m doing most of my computing on it including writing this post. However, today I can better articulate what is lacking with the X201 that I desire, and the state of the available options on the market has improved since my last attempt in 2015.

Briefly, my desired properties are:

  • Portable – weight under 1.5kg
  • Screen size 9-14″
  • ISO keyboard layout, preferably Swedish layout
  • Mouse trackpad, WiFi, USB and external screen connector
  • Decent market availability: I should be able to purchase it from Sweden and have consumer protection, warranty, and some hope of getting service parts for the device
  • Manufactured and sold by a vendor that is supportive of free software
  • Preferably RJ45 connector (for data center visits)
  • As little proprietary software as possible, inspired by FSF’s Respect Your Freedom
  • Able to run a free operating system

My workload for the machine is Emacs, Firefox, Nextcloud client, GNOME, Evolution (mail & calendar), LibreOffice Calc/Writer, compiling software and some podman/qemu for testing. I have used Debian as the main operating system for the entire life of this laptop, but have experimented with PureOS recently. My current X201 is useful enough for this, although support for 4K displays and a faster machine wouldn’t hurt.

Based on my experience in 2015 that led me to make no decision, I changed perspective. This is a judgement call and I will not be able to fulfil all criteria. I will have to decide on a balance and the final choice will include elements that I really dislike, but still it will hopefully be better than nothing. The conflict for me mainly center around these parts:

  • Non-free BIOS. This is software that runs on the main CPU and has full control of everything. I want this to run free software as much as possible. Coreboot is the main project in this area, although I prefer the more freedom-oriented Libreboot.
  • Proprietary and software-upgradeable parts of the main CPU. This includes CPU microcode that is not distributed as free software. The Intel Management Engine (AMD and other CPU vendors has similar technology) falls into this category as well, and is problematic because it is an entire non-free operating system running within the CPU, with many security and freedom problems. This aspect is explored in the Libreboot FAQ further. Even if these parts can be disabled (Intel ME) or not utilized (CPU microcode), I believe the mere presence of these components in the design of the CPU is a problem, and I would prefer a CPU without these properties.
  • Non-free software in other microprocessors in the laptop. Ultimately, I tend agree with the FSF’s “secondary processor” argument but when it is possible to chose between a secondary processor that runs free software and one that runs proprietary software, I would prefer as many secondary processors as possible to run free software. The libreboot binary blob reduction policy describes a move towards stronger requirements.
  • Non-free firmware that has to be loaded during runtime into CPU or secondary processors. Using Linux-libre solves this but can cause some hardware to be unusable.
  • WiFi, BlueTooth and physical network interface (NIC/RJ45). This is the most notable example of secondary processor problem with running non-free software and requiring non-free firmware. Sometimes these may even require non-free drivers, although in recent years this has usually been reduced into requiring non-free firmware.

A simple choice for me would be to buy one of the FSF RYF certified laptops. Right now that list only contains the 10+ year old Lenovo series, and I actually already have a X200 with libreboot that I bought earlier for comparison. The reason the X200 didn’t work out as a replacement for me was the lack of a mouse trackpad, concerns about non-free EC firmware, Intel ME uncertainty (is it really neutralized?) and non-free CPU microcode (what are the bugs that it fixes?), but primarily that for some reason that I can’t fully articulate it feels weird to use a laptop manufactured by Lenovo but modified by third parties to be useful. I believe in market forces to pressure manufacturers into Doing The Right Thing, and feel that there is no incentive for Lenovo to use libreboot in the future when this market niche is already fulfilled by re-sellers modifying Lenovo laptops. So I’d be happier buying a laptop from someone who is natively supportive of they way I’m computing. I’m sure this aspect could be discussed a lot more, and maybe I’ll come back to do that, and could even reconsider my thinking (the right-to-repair argument is compelling). I will definitely continue to monitor the list of RYF-certified laptops to see if future entries are more suitable options for me.

Eventually I decided to buy the NovaCustom NV41 laptop, and it arrived quickly and I’m in the process of setting it up. I hope to write a separate blog about it next.