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!