Geckolinux-422 — a review

Geckolinux is a distro that is based on opensuse.  The maintainer uses the handle sb56637 (at least at sourceforge).  He use the suse studio site to build his releases.  His releases version amount to opensuse that is configured to his liking.  The releases are iso files for a live session, and can be installed.

In the move to the Leap series, opensuse no longer provides live versions (except for Tumbleweed).  So I have occasionally recommended geckolinux to people looking for a live version that they can test.

I saw the announcement of the 422.161213 release, via a link at Distrowatch.  I proceeded to download the bare bones version.  I was not fully satisfied with the result, so I tried the XFCE version.  I wasn’t happy with that either.  Yesterday, I rechecked the site, and I see that there is now a more recent 422.161228 release.

I’ll note that the “422” part of the release number is a reference to opensuse 42.2, while the remaining part of the number is a reference to the release date.

Why  bare bones?

My choice of the bare bones release was because I thought this would make for a useful live rescue system for 42.2.

When I originally tried that out, I found that the bare bones version would not boot with UEFI.  Them bones seemed a little too bare.  Most computer purchased over the last 4 years are UEFI systems.

Apparently the maintainer recognized the problem — or perhaps somebody pointed it out to him.  The 1228 release now does boot with UEFI.

It was my tentative plan, using that as a rescue system, that I would install some additional tools on the boot USB that I would be using.  In particular, I wanted to add “dar” (a backup/restore command line tool).

That it would not boot with UEFI spoiled that plan.  Additionally, for that to work, I would need the ability to save changes to the USB.  This is supposed to be possible if one adds

kiwi_hybridpersistent=true

to the boot line (the command that loads the kernel).  So I gave that a try.  And the system ran into some kind of error and indicated that it would reboot.

So much for my plans for a rescue disk.

Retry with 1228 release

I tried again with the 1228 release.  This time it at least booted with UEFI.  However, the “kiwi-hybridpersistent=true” option still caused problems.

I was not deterred.  I had noticed that the hybrid partition (where changes are save) was formatted as “btrfs”.  Tumbleweed had run into a problem with that last summer, and I had found a workaround.  So I decided to give that a try.

I mounted the USB flash drive on my main desktop.  Using Yast partitioner, I reformatted the hybrid partitiion to “ext4”, but with the option to not use a journal.  I used Yast for this, because I know that it preserves the file system label when reformatting.

This worked with geckolinux, as it had worked with Tumbleweed.  Booting with “kiwi-hybridpersistent=true” now succeeded.  I have not yet added any tools, but the possibility is now there.

The Desktop

The bare bones desktop really is bare.  There is just a blank desktop with no icons, no panel.  However, if I right-click on empty space, there is a menu.  I can use that to open an “xterm” (a terminal session).  When doing rescues, I mostly work from the command line, so the ability to open one or more “xterm” windows is sufficient.

I should have noted that the normal login to the desktop is as user “linux” with password “linux”.  If I use “su” to become root, again “linux” is the password.

The installer

The bare bones desktop does come with an installer (named “calamares”).  I tried running that from the menu with my original download, and nothing happened.  With the 1228 release, the announcement mentions that it has to be run at the root command line.  So I tried that, and the installer did start out.

A little background here.  Opensuse long supported a live installer.  But recently they have dropped support for that.  So the geckolinux maintainer has added “calamares” as an alternative.

Running the installer, I decided to try a test install.  I have partitions “sda1” through “sda9” on the computer where I tested this.  And “sda8” is where I often do test installs.

I chose the option to replace the system currently on “sda8” with the bare bones installation.  The installer told me that what was previously “sda9” would become “sda8”.  That did not look right to me.  And if that happened, it would cause problems in my currently installed opensuse system that mounts the partition.   So I decided to abort the installer at that point (with no actual changes made to the disk).

Possibly this is just a cosmetic bug, and the partitions won’t really be renumbered.  But I was unwilling to take the chance.

I’ll also note that “calamares” did not have an option to install into an existing encrypted LVM.  So it is more limited than the opensuse installer.

General summary

The bare bones release looks like a good choice for a live rescue system.  But be aware that it will fail on the first attempt to boot with persistent storage.  After that failure, reformat the hybrid partition to “ext4” and keep the label “hybrid” for that partition.  It would then be okay with persistent storage.

The geckolinux series are also a good choice if you are looking for a live system to test.  I’m not so sure about installing, since I aborted my own install attempt.  If you are installing to free space on the hard drive, I expect that will be trouble free.  For more complex situations, you are probably better off using the official DVD installer or NET installer.

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About Neil Rickert

Retired mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

18 responses to “Geckolinux-422 — a review”

  1. sb56637 says :

    Hi there Neil, thanks a lot for the review! I believe you are the first to review the BareBones edition. Here are a few additional observations and comments:

    So THAT’S the problem with the hybrid persistence not working! Nice debugging. I’m not sure why it’s formatting it as BtrFS, and I don’t think SuseStudio gives me the option to change this unfortunately. But I guess I can at least add a note to the wiki for those who want this functionality.

    As for using BareBones as a recovery CD, yes it can be done, but it’s probably not the best choice, as it is mainly meant for SuseStudio customizers to use as a base, or for those who want to install a custom openSUSE system with most of the difficult stuff already tweaked for them. The BareBones edition is simply too bare to provide even a decent experience in the live session, as you mentioned.

    I’d like to clarify that the instructions about running Calamares from a root terminal is *only* necessary in the BareBones edition. All the other editions have friendly Calamares icons (with a password prompt, which is rather hard to avoid). But I’m glad to see there is somebody who actually reads the release announcements so as to catch that detail about how to run the installer in the BareBones spin. 🙂

    Sorry for the missing UEFI support in the older BareBones release. It was always present in the other desktop editions of GeckoLinux, but again I had decided previously to not include UEFI just in the case of BareBones because it prevented SuseStudio customizers from being able to get a list of their changed files in the Testdrive session when using a USB image for testing. Later I discovered that the .qcow image in SuseStudio works for customizers to see changes with UEFI installed.

    That’s the first time I’ve heard about the particular bug you discovered in Calamares, but it does sound like a good idea to abort. I have used the replace a partition option successfully in several cases, but I have also seen minor bugs with it too. The best way to work around it is just to use the customized partitioning option, which lets you easily format an existing partition and install there with 100% success in my extensive testing.

    For those who still prefer the old yast2-live-installer, I actually discovered that it is now working again with the current state of Tumbleweed. I’m not sure why it was failing on BtrFS installations before, which is why I originally moved away from it. Additionally, I recently discovered how to make yast2-live-installer work with Leap 42.2. So I’ll probably add it back to future releases as a secondary option for those who prefer it, at least for as long as it actually continues to work with the current state of openSUSE.

    Thanks again for the review and the helpful comments! Do you mind if I let you know when I have another set of spins available with the old yast2-live-installer as an option?

    Like

    • Neil Rickert says :

      The best way to work around it is just to use the customized partitioning option, which lets you easily format an existing partition and install there with 100% success in my extensive testing.

      I tried that (after posting). And everything looked good until I clicked the “Install” button at the last step. And I got “segmentation fault; core dumped”.

      I was using the hybrid partition at the time, so I think I have the core dump (in /var/lib/systemd/coredump).

      For those who still prefer the old yast2-live-installer, I actually discovered that it is now working again with the current state of Tumbleweed.

      Are you sure of that? When I last checked, it was loading the NET installer rather than the old live installer.

      And sure, feel free to let me know when you have some new spins available.

      Like

      • sb56637 says :

        Thanks for the reply Neil.

        > I was using the hybrid partition at the time, so I think I have the core dump (in /var/lib/systemd/coredump).

        Actually I wonder if the hybrid partition might have caused the segfault. Could you please try a fresh non-persistent session?

        > For those who still prefer the old yast2-live-installer, I actually discovered that it is now working again with the current state of Tumbleweed.
        >
        >> Are you sure of that? When I last checked, it was loading the NET installer rather than the old live installer.

        Sorry I wasn’t clear, I meant that I had dropped the `yast2-live-installer` from GeckoLinux “Rolling” spins (based on Tumbleweed) because a few releases back it started failing on BtrFS installations. So now I am probably going to add it back to the GeckoLinux “Static” and “Rolling” spins. And yes, you are correct that the official openSUSE Tumbleweed live ISOs now officially bless the net installer that they bootstrap into their live session.

        Like

        • Neil Rickert says :

          Could you please try a fresh non-persistent session?

          Okay, I tried that. I still ended up with a segfault. As far as I can tell, nothing had been written to the hard drive.

          And thanks for that clarification on the live installer.

          Like

          • sb56637 says :

            Hi again Neil, I just wanted to let you know that today I released updated spins of all the GeckoLinux editions, both Rolling and Static. Most of the Calamares installer bugs should now be fixed, and additionally I am pleased to report that the `yast2-live-installer` is back for those who prefer it (for example for advanced BtrFS configurations with GRUB and Snapper integration). I think this release should fix a lot of the issues you experienced recently, but I would still not recommend BareBones for your needs. Possibly LXQt or XFCE instead?

            Like

          • Neil Rickert says :

            I have download the barebones iso. But I am unable to find the checksum to verify the download. Also, is there a possibility that you could put the checksums on your home page. That way a hacker would have to hack both sourceforge and your site to trojanize the media yet have it pass the checksum test.

            As to why barebones — I have previously found that if I start “gparted” in XFCE, the desktop mounts the partition that I want to change. And that’s useless. With the opensuse live rescue iso, I would logout, then login to icewm to avoid that. But I don’t think you are including icewm on your media. So that leaves barebones.

            Like

  2. sb56637 says :

    I could put the checksums on the homepage, but it’s just kind of a lot of additional work. I’ll consider it. Meanwhile, there are SHA1 and MD5 sums here:
    sourceforge.net/projects/geckolinux/files/Static/422.170124/ (just click on the “i” next to the filename).

    As for XFCE mounting partitions automatically, I have disabled automounting on Thunar in the live session for that very reason.

    Another option for a lightweight recovery USB OS might be the LXQt version.

    Like

    • Neil Rickert says :

      Okay, thanks.

      The link on your home page is to one level above that, so I did not find any “i” icons.

      After I have tested barebones, I might give XFCE another try.

      Like

    • Neil Rickert says :

      I tried the barebones install. Again, it ended with a segfault after clicking the final button to install. The disk is unchanged.

      I also tried with the Yast live installer. That looks as if it might work, but I didn’t complete the install. There was a problem. It found some LUKS partitions, and asked if I wanted to provide the key. I agreed, and entered the key. It then told me that the key did not unlock any partitions. So I aborted at that point. But, looking in “/dev/mapper”, I could see that the unlock had actually succeeded. So I restarted the live installer. This time it did not ask for a key. The partitioner did show the encrypted partitions properly, so I could have tried installing at that point.

      I have downloaded the XFCE version, and I’ll try a Calameres install with that (probably tomorrow).

      Like

      • sb56637 says :

        OK, thanks a lot for letting me know how it works.

        I imagine it’s the LUKS partitions that are tripping up Calamares. If you want you can send the Calamares team a copy of the failed installation log. It can be found in /root/.cache/Calamares if memory serves me correctly. (Don’t forget to sanitize any personal information in the log first.)

        I’m surprised that the `yast2-live-installer` also had problems with LUKS, but unfortunately there will be no support by openSUSE for that since they dropped support for the live installer.

        Like

        • Neil Rickert says :

          You might be right about Calamares and LUKS. I remember that it used to have that problem. I thought it had been fixed, as I am installing KaOS without problems (it uses Calamares). But perhaps that’s a different version.

          I ran into another Calameres “issue”, though probably minor. I started an install on a UEFI box (I never intended completing the install). It only allowed manual partitioning (or allow the installer to wipe everything). So I set up an install partition, and tried to continue. It told me that I need an EFI partition at “/boot/efi”. Well, no problem — I was wondering what it would say about that. So I added that partition to the manual install selections. Then it told me that the EFI partition was no good and that I needed to go back and set the “ESP” flag. So I went back and looked at the flags I could set. There was not an ESP flag available to set. This seems like another Calamares bug. I could probably have ignored the error and it should have worked (except that I have a LUKS partition). But I didn’t try to continue past that point. I know the EFI partition is good, because it works for other systems.

          Like

          • sb56637 says :

            Thanks again for testing. I think I might have discovered what is causing it to fail with LUKS. Could you please try un-commenting the lines “luksbootkeyfile” and “luksopenswaphookcfg” from the file /etc/calamares/settings.conf before running Calamares? I’d appreciate the confirmation of whether it works or not before I update the configuration that I ship with GeckoLinux. Thanks!

            Like

          • Neil Rickert says :

            It won’t allow me to make those changes. I suspect that there is an “apparmor” rule protecting that file.

            So, okay, I cheated. I made the changes off-line in the hybrid partition. I checked that the file was changed after booting (the XFCE edition). I’m still getting that segfault at the same place.

            Like

          • sb56637 says :

            OK, thanks for the update. I filed a bug report here:
            https://calamares.io/bugs/browse/CAL-454
            If you could help them with your /root/.cache/Calamares log after a failed installation I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

            Like

          • Neil Rickert says :

            I have a copy of the log file on my desktop computer. But it seems that I need some sort of login to report that. If you can suggest an upload site, I can put it there for you to grab.

            I doubt that there is anything interesting in the log. The last two lines are:

            2017-01-27 - 09:30:43 [1]: ClearTempMountsJob finished. Here's what was done:
             "" 
            2017-01-27 - 09:30:43 [0]: Starting job "Clear mounts for partitioning operations on /dev/sda"
            

            and those look very ordinary.

            Like

          • Neil Rickert says :

            It is: pastebin.mozilla.org/8970121

            to be kept 1 day.

            Like

          • sb56637 says :

            Thanks a lot, I posted it to the bug report.

            Like

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