Install openSUSE Tumbleweed + KDE on MacBook 2015

It is pretty easy to install openSUSE Linux on a MacBook as operating system. However there are some pitfalls, which can cause trouble. The article gives some hints about a dual boot setup with OS X 10.10 and at time of writing current openSUSE Tumbleweed 20170104 (oS TW) on a MacBookPro from early 2015. A recent Linux kernel, like in TW, is advisable as it provides better hardware support.

The LiveCD can be downloaded from www.opensuse.org and written with ImageWriter GUI to a USB stick ~1GB. I’ve choose the Live KDE one and it run well on a first test. During boot after the first sound and display light switches on hold Option/alt key and wait for the disk selection icon. Put the USB key with Linux in a USB port and wait until the removable media icon appears and select it for boot. For me all went fine. The internal display, sound, touchpad and keyboard where detected and worked well. After that test. It was a good time to backup all data from the internal flash drive. I wrote a compressed disk image to a stick using the unix dd command. With that image and the live media I was able to recover, in case anything went wrong. It is not easy to satisfy OS X for it’s journaled HFS and the introduced logical volume layout, which comes with a separate repair partition directly after the main OS partition. That combination is pretty fragile, but should not be touched. The rescue partition can be booted with the command key + r pressed. External tools failed for me. So I booted into rescue mode and took the OS X diskutil or it’s Disk Utility GUI counter part. The tool allows to split the disk into several partitions. The EFI and the rescue ones are hidden in the GUI. The newly created additional partitions can be formatted to exfat and later be modified for the Linux installation. One additional HFS partition was created for sharing data between OS X and Linux with the comfortable Unix attributes. The well know exfat used by many bigger USB sticks, is a possible option as well, but needs the exfat-kmp kernel module installed, which is not by default installed due to Microsofts patent license policy for the file system. In order to write to HFS from Linux, any HFS partition must have switched off the journal feature. This can be done inside the OS X Disk Utility GUI, by selecting the data partition and holding the alt key and searching in the menu for the disable journaling entry. After rebooting into the Live media, I clicked on the Install icon on the desktop background and started openSUSE’s Yast tool. Depending on the available space, it might be a good idea to disable the btrfs filesystem snapshot feature, as it can eat up lots of disk space during each update. An other pitfall is the boot stage. Select there secure GrubEFI mode, as Grub needs special handling for the required EFI boot process. That’s it. Finish install and you should be able to reboot into Linux with the alt key.

My MacBook has unfortunedly a defect. It’s Boot Manager is very slow. Erasing and reinstalling OS X did not fix that issue. To circumvent it, I need to reset NVRAM by pressing alt+cmd+r+p at boot start for around 14 second, until the display gets dark, hold alt on the soon comming next boot sound, select the EFI TW disk in Apple Boot Manager and can then fluently go through the boot process. Without that extra step, the keyboard and mouse might not respond in Linux at all, except the power button. Hot reboot from Linux works fine. OS X does a cold reboot and needs the extra sequence.

KDE’s Plasma needs some configuration to run properly on a high resolution display. Otherwise additional monitors can be connected and easily configured with the kscreen SystemSettings module. Hibernate works fine. Currently the notebooks SD slot is ignored and the facetime camera has no ready oS packages. Battery run time can be extended by spartan power consumption (less brightness, less USB devices and pulseaudio -k, check with powertop), but is not too far from OS X anyway.

High DPI with FLTK

After switchig to a notebook with higher resolution monitor, I noticed, that the FLTK based ICC Examin application looked way too small. Having worked in the last months much with pixel independent resolutions in QML, it was a pain to see the non adapted FLTK GUI. I had the impression, that despite of several years of a very appreciated advancement of monitor technology, some parts of graphics stacks did not move and take advantage. So I became curious on how to solve high DPI support the hard way.

First of all a bit of introduction to my environment, which is openSUSE Linux and KDE-5¬†with KF5 5.5.3. Xorg use many times a hardcoded default of 96 dpi, which is very unfortune or just a bug? Anyway, KDE follows X11. So the desktop on the high resolution monitor looks initially as bad as any application. All windows, icons and text are way too small to be useable. In KDE’s system settings, I had to set Force Font with DPI and doubled its size from 96 to 192. In the kscreen module I had to set scale 2.0 and then increased the KDE task bars width. Out of the box useability is bad with so many inconsistent manual user intervention. In comparision with the as well tested Unity DE, I had to set a single display scaling factor to 2.0 and everything worked fine and instantly, icons, fonts and window sizes. It would be cool if DE’s and Xorg understand screen resolution. In the tested OS X 10.10 even different screen resolutions of multiple monitors are scaled correctly, so moving a window from a high DPI monitor screen to a traditional low resolution external monitor gives reasonable physical GUI rendering. Apples OS X provides that good behaviour initially, without manual user intervention. It would be interessting how GNOME behaves with regards to display scaling.

Back to FLTK. As FLTK appears to define itself as pixel based, DPI detecion or settings have no effect in FLTK. As a app developer I want to improve user experience and modified first ICC Examin to initially render physically reasonably. First I looked at the FL::screen_dpi() function. It is only a helper for detecting DPI values. FL::screen_dpi() has has in FLTK-1.3.3 hardcoded values of 96DPI under Linux. I noticed XRandR provides correct milimeter based screen dimensions. Together with the XRandR provided screen resolution, it is easy to calculate the DPI values. ICC Examin renderd much better with that XRandR based DPI’s instead of FLTK’s 96DPI. But ICC Examin looked slightly too big. The 192DPI set in KDE are lower than the XRandR detected 227 DPI of my notebooks monitor. KDE provides its forced DPI setting to applications by setting Xft.dpi in XResources. That way all Xft based applications should have the same basic font scaling. KDE and Mozilla apps do use Xft. So add parsing of a Xlib XResources solved that for ICC Examin. The remainder of programing was to programatically scale FLTK’s default font size from 14 pixels with: FL_NORMAL_SIZE = scale(14) . Some more widget sizes, the FtGl font sizes for OpenGL, drawing line widths and graphics scaling where needed. After all those changes, ICC Examin takes now advantage of high resolution rendering inside KDE. Testing under Windows and OS X must follow.

The way to program high DPI support into a FLTK application was basically the same as in QML. However Qt’s QML takes off more tasks by providing a relative font unit, much like CSS em sizes. For FLTK, I would like to see some relative based API’s, in addition to the pixel based API’s. That would be helpful to write more elegant code and integrate with FLTK’s GUI layout program fluid. Computer times point more and more toward W3C technology. FLTK would be helpful to follow.