Another Computer, Another Configuration.

It occurs to me as I sit down to write this blog entry that my missives fall into one of two categories. The first is book reviews. I am still reading at quite a rate, and in reality the blogging of finished books is falling well behind the actual books read. I will fix this in time! Honest.

The Second type of entry is some record of my fun adventures setting up various computers. These have included installing Linux Mint on a large iMac. My latest project has been fiddling with an old Asus Aspire One one of the original netbooks.  I have acquired this, partly as a loaner for M to use while she has been staying in hospital. That way she could catch up on iPlayer programmes, surf the web and the like. These little machines are well suited to light web browsing and will even show YouTube videos etc. Just don’t try and do too much at once.

To make it as usable as possible the first thing I did was install a nice light Linux. In this case I chose Crunchbang. Based on Debian, it has a nice small footprint while enabling the installation of everything that you might want possible from the repositories.  Very aware that this time the machine was being set up to be used by someone else I chose to configure the machine with a ‘normal’ Qwerty keyboard layout, intending to setup Dvorak as a ‘per-user’ option at a later date. Having got everything working (by which I mean Thunderbird for email, Firefox for web surfing and that is about it) I handed it over to M.

As a credit to the usability of a modern Linux M was able to configure wireless access using the hospital wireless key without any input from me. She also figured out everything else she needed. As with most computer users, she was fine apart from the tricky issue of the office suite. My feeling is that LibreOffice is close enough to Microsoft Office for the vast majority of users, but there are differences which make it difficult for those trying to manage documents created in MS Office which are still insurmountable to the non-geek. This fact reared its ugly head recently when M wanted to apply for some jobs. Because of this I chose to relinquish my ‘real’ laptop for a little while, and I became the user of the Aspire One.

Now when I first got the computer back I was happy to use the keyboard in the classic two finger method and to keep the Qwerty keyboard layout. The keyboard is slightly smaller than normal, and is right at the limits of what I would expect to provide comfortable touch typing. But as I have been using it for a few days I decided that I needed to get the system using my preferred Dvorak keyboard layout. It was important that the keyboard layout was only set up for me, and not for any other user of the system.

One of the issues of using a lightweight Linux is that you end up using a lightweight window manager. In the case of Crunchbang this is OpenBox. It is a lovely WM, but a lot of the customisation is done using text files. This includes setting up keyboard layout.

It took quite a bit of Googling. Especially as my preference was to leave the system default as Qwerty. In the end I found instructions on adding a line to the autostart file (~/.config/openbox/autostart) . For a UK Dvorak keyboard this reads:

setxkbmap -layout gb -variant dvorak

This isn’t perfect (that is, it doesn’t match the ‘Dvorak – UK Punctuation’ that is installed on Xfce), but it is close. The @ sign is in the wrong place, but the ” is in the right place!

Essentially it works fine when I am typing ‘normal’ text, but is a bit of a problem as soon as I try and do some non-alphanumeric stuff. I think I just need to tweak the variants just a bit more.  Time to hit the Google again.