Manually upgrading Debian & friends to a newer kernel

CrunchBang 11 Kernel Upgrade Offline

After nearly a year and a half of using Arch Linux as my primary desktop distribution for my desktop and its more user-friendly cousin, Manjaro, for my laptop, I ran into problems when installing a copy of VMware Workstation 9.

The .bundle installer would run for a while and mysteriously fail, leaving me with a broken VMware daemon. After some digging around, I learned that VMware Workstation depends on a Debian-like environment (a System V-style init, for starters) and getting it to work on Arch would require quite a bit of elbow grease before using it.

Being short on time, I decided to get a lightweight Debian installed on my desktop for the purposes of installing and using VMware. For me, CrunchBang 11 “Waldorf” (aka #!) was a fast, configurable, and attractive choice (I am a sucker for Flux/OpenBox distros).

Unfortunately, #! is based on the x86-64 Debian stable (Wheezy, at this time of writing) and my motherboard uses the new Haswell Z87 chipset and UEFI. Ugh. I had issues right off the bat. My Logitech M705 and K320 crash-banged (see what I did there?) while it booted and spat out the error:

logitech-djreceiver: probe of 0003:046D:C52B.0009 failed with error -32

Not good, but plugging in a wired mouse and keyboard worked around this problem. The rest of my system wasn’t so lucky. #! could not recognize the new Haswell microcode changes and gave me more errors. Audio under ALSA was glitchy. Worst of all, neither of my dual Gigabit Ethernet NICs on my motherboard worked (didn’t show up on ifconfig), so I couldn’t go online to update my kernel image and firmware. I decided to download the necessary packages on my laptop, bring ’em on over to my desktop the old-fashioned way and do the upgrade manually.

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Kali Linux: A better BackTrack?

Kali Linux 1.0 in action

BackTrack Linux was and still is reputedly one of the best security-oriented Live Linux distributions out there, for both offensive and defensive purposes. Packed with tools and affirmed by near-universal acclaim, the veteran BackTrack has seen a whopping 7+ years of active development and explosive community growth.

Originally based on a merger of two earlier established distros, the Slax-based WHAX (formerly Whoppix) and a Knoppix-based LiveCD named Auditor Security Collection, BackTrack saw a switch to an Ubuntu-based system during its later life, mostly to benefit from its Aptitude package management system and wide driver compatibility. But now, faced with an aging tool management architecture for its penetration testing tools, parent company Offensive Security wants to try something new.

Enter Kali Linux. First announced and finalized just a month ago in March 2013, Kali aims to be a complete restructuring and replacing of BackTrack from the software perspective while keeping the philosophy, community, penetration testing options, and even much of the branding intact.

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Minimal Linux distros for the Ubuntu refugee

Fed up with Ubuntu? Image from Wikipedia.
Fed up with Ubuntu?

I’ve seen many people get frustrated with Ubuntu’s new direction in terms of its user experience, its recently worsening speediness, and its mixed-bag Unity interface. I was one of them! When I first tried Ubuntu back in 2008 (version 8.04 LTS), it ran like a dream on my shoddy 1.6GHz, 1GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista laptop. I loved GNU/Linux’s ease of use, efficiency, and its immunity to virtually all known malware. With each release, Ubuntu seemed to get better and better, with a slicker interface, better driver support, bugfixes, and a more diverse package repository every time.

When version 10.04 LTS was released, that’s when the shit hit the fan for me. I liked its new “Ambience” theme and I was enthusiastic about the improved Linux kernel release.

Later on, problems started cropping up. My wireless drivers broke down unexpectedly, 2D/3D acceleration performance was worsening on my integrated Intel GMA 965, the interface was getting increasingly sluggish, boot times were gradually lengthening, and despite my constant config file tweaking and fine tuning, my frail laptop eventually sank into a dependency hell.

I tried out Kubuntu instead for a while, but I didn’t like KDE, so I wiped it soon after. I tried Xubuntu, and while it helped speed up my machine a little, I couldn’t seem to get used to Xfce and its little quirks either, so that distribution was out the window as well.

Ubuntu version 10.10, however, was a far better performer on my laptop than 10.04, and with some more command-line knowledge and some system administration experience under my belt, I managed to keep Ubuntu chugging along for a long, long time on my weak laptop hardware. Those were reasonably happier days, and my programming experience flourished.

By then, I now had a fully custom-built desktop with a Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR2 RAM, which could run Ubuntu a lot better than my laptop, so I migrated my data there. Still, I longed for an alternative distribution that would run more efficiently on my old lappy.

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