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My between-the-years project was trying to use my old Thinkpad to run some local services, for example MPD. I thought, that the Thinkpad did not even have a drive anymore, and was surprised to find a 256GB SSD inside of it – with nixos still installed!


So, after almost two years, I booted my old Thinkpad, entered the crypto password for the harddrive, and got greeted with a login screen and an i3 instance. Firefox asked whether I want to start the old session again... everything just worked.

I was amazed.

Well, this is not the crazy thing I wanted to write about here. The problem now was: I update and deploy my devices using krops nowadays. This old installation had root login disabled, which is required for krops to work...

But, because nixos is awesome,... I did nothing more than checking out the git commit the latest generation on the Thinkpad was booted from, modified some settings for ssh server and root user ... rebuild the system and switched to the new build... and then started deployment for the new nixos 20.09 installation using krops.

All without hassle. I might run out of disk space now, because this deployes a full KDE Plasma 5 installation, but honestly it would surprise me... there should be enough space. I am curious, though, whether KDE Plasma 5 runs on the device. We'll see...

tags: #nixos #desktop

I consider myself a power user. I've been using Linux exclusively on all my machines (except maybe on my Androids, if you do not consider these linuxes) for over ten years. Most of the time, I used i3wm (and some time sway), but I got tired of it about two years ago. I switched to XFCE. I told myself, I'm living inside a terminal anyways, I use mutt for mails, (neo)vim for editing stuff and do not use that many GUI apps anyways. The browser, of course. And telegram-desktop. Recently (about a year ago maybe?), riot-desktop joined the two.

I told myself that XFCE is eye-candy enough for me and performs really nice without getting in my way while working in terminals.

Today, I switched my two main devices to KDE Plasma 5. Well, my notebook was actually switched yesterday. And because it was such a huge leap in “niceness”, I switched my workstation today.

I also switched my email setup to Korganizer with Kmail for mails. I am looking forward to see how that performs for me.

I always considered KDE the desktop for Linux. The one, normal users should use to get a first impression of Linux. The one, that will be there for “Linux on the Desktop” when it gets real. You know what I mean?

I never considered for a power-user setup. Power users use i3wm, awesomeWM, sway, ... but not full-blown desktop environments, do they? Well, on several occasions I met Kai Uwe, a KDE dev from a town not far from the town I grew up in. We've met on Linux-Days and other Community events. I always was amazed how fast KDE was on his machines. I was blown away by the usability. But I never really considered switching.

Until today.

Memory usage is where it should be: My desktop uses 3.6GB right now, with Cantata (MPD client), Riot-Desktop (Electron!), Telegram, Firefox and Kontact open (plus some more terminals and some services running in the background as well).

My Notebook was at about 5GB RAM usage with the same apps open and even some more stuff running in the background.

After that experience and also that performance on my rather old desktop machine, I'm blown away and am willing to invest time into getting to know how to be even faster and more productive than I am currently feeling with KDE.

tags: #kde #linux #desktop #software

This article is a cry for a feature which is long overdue in KDE, in my humble opinion: Syncable, user readable (as in plain-text) configuration files.

But let me start explaining where I come from.

I started with Linux when I was 17 years old. At the time I ran an Kubuntu 9.04 (if I remember correctly) with KDE 3. I disliked Gnome because it looked silly to me (no offense, Gnome or Gnome people). So it was simply aesthetics which made me use KDE. Before switching to Linux I had only experienced the cruel world of Microsoft Windows, XP at the time. When I got a new Notebook for my Birthday, I got Vista and two days later I had this Linux thing installed (which friends of mine kept talking about). Naturally, I was blown away by it.

After some time I got rather comfortable using this black box with the green text on it – the terminal finally had me! Soon, I launched a full blown KDE 3 (themed hackerlike in dark colors) to start a few terminals, open vim and hack away. Then, the same friend who suggested Linux told me about “tiling window managers”. wmii it was shortly after.

A long journey began. After some troubles with Ubuntu 12.04 I switched to Archlinux, later from wmii to dwm and after that to i3 which I kept for a few years.

In 2015 I learned about NixOS, switched to it at the beginning of 2016 and in late 2016 I reevaluated my desktop and settled with XFCE.

And here's the thing: I wanted KDE, but it lacked one missing critical feature: Beeing able to sync its configuration between my machines.

I own a desktop machine with three 1080p Monitors and two Notebooks – a Thinkpad X220 and an old Toshiba Satellite (barely used), if that matters at all.

There are things in the KDE configuration files which shouldn't be there, mainly state information and temporary values, making the whole thing a pain in the ass if you want to git add your configuration files to git push them to your repository somewhere in the web and git pull it on another machine.

Apparently the story is not that much better with XFCE, but at least some configuration files (like keyboard shortcuts, window decoration configuration and menu-bar configuration) can be git added and synced between machines. And it works for me, even with two so different machines. Some things have to be re-done on each machine, but the effort is pretty low.

But with KDE (I tried Plasma 5), it was pure PITA. Not a single configuration file was untouched, reordering values, putting state information in there and so on and so forth.

And I am rather amazed with KDE and really want to play with it, because I think (and that's not just an attempt to kiss up to you KDE guys) that KDE is the future of Linux on the desktop! Maybe it is not for the Hacker kid from next door, but for the normal Linux User, like my Mom, your Sister or the old non-techy guy from next door, KDE is simple enough to understand and powerful enough to get stuff done efficiently without getting in your way too much.

So here's my request:

Please, KDE Project, make your configuration files human readable, editor-friendly and syncable (via tools like git). That means that there are no temporary values and no state information in the configuration files. That means that configuration files do not get shuffled when a user alters a configuration via a GUI tool. That means that the format of the configuration files do not get automatically changed.

The benefits are clear, and there are no drawbacks for KDE as a project (as far as I can see) because parsing and processing the configuration files will be done either way. Maybe it even reduces the complexity of some things in your codebase?

A word on “why don't you submit this to the KDE project as a request”: I am not involved with KDE at all. I don't even know where the documentation, bug tracker, mailinglist(s), ... are located. I don't know where to file these things, whether I have to register at some forum or whatever.

If someone could point me to a place where nice people will discuss these things with me, feel free to send me an email and guide me to this place!

tags: #open-source #software #tools #git #desktop #linux

I use vim for my everyday things. No, actually I use vim for everything.

And today I rewrote large parts of my vim configuration. Here's why.

Dead mappings

I removed a lot of mappings from my vimrc that I did not used. For example: I had a mapping in normal mode that'd fire up fzf for the complete filetree I was in. I didn't use it in months, maybe more, because I use netrw (the vim-builtin file manager).

I don't need plugins

Well, at least you don't need the most of them. First, I removed maybe three or four plugins I didn't use at all, for example the “linux-kernel-style” plugin or “Goyo” and “Limelight”. Not because I didn't like them (I do, believe me), but because I simply did not use them at all. I also removed everything with snippets, because I barely used them. So “UltiSnips” and all the snippet packages are gone now.

Then, for example, I had the vim plugin “vim-indent-guides” with a great snippet of viml I found online:

" Simple replacement for vim-indent-guides
" unicode characters explained:
" tab: \uBB == ">>"
" trail: \uB8 == "-" in red box
exec "set listchars=tab:\uBB\uBB,trail:\uB7,nbsp:~"
set list

This does the very same as indent-guides and even does more, because I can have a dot (unicode character \uB7) if there is trailing whitespace at the end of a line. I really like that!

vim as server

Because I'm running XFCE, as explained in another post for some time now (and I still like it), I figured that I could use gvim instead of commandline vim. But gvim startup time is not that great – so I figured that I could use the awesome vim server capability to have only one running vim instance.

So I re-configured my aliases to be

alias vim="vim -g --servername VIM --remote-tab-silent";

for example, so I automatically start in a running gvim instance (which has the name VIM by default). If no vim instance is running, this automatically starts a new gvim instance.

But because I'm a notorious :q-hitting vimmer, I remapped :q:

if has("gui_running")
  cnoremap <silent> wq<CR> w<bar>bd<CR>
  cnoremap <silent> q<CR>  bd<CR>
  cnoremap <silent> x<CR>  bd<CR>
  nmap <Leader>q :bd<CR>

So when I hit :q it actually executes bd, which just closes the current buffer. If the current buffer is the last buffer, it enters an anonymous buffer instead. This is really awesome! To actually close my vim session, I have to :quit now, which is longer and therefor I have more time to stop myself from doing that.

Edit 2017-03-06:

The code above did not completely work as intended, so I changed it to the following:

if has("gui_running")
  fu! CloseWindowOrBuffer()
    if winnr('$') == 1
      if bufnr('$') == 1
        :echo "Closing last instance not allowed"

  nmap <Leader>q :call CloseWindowOrBuffer()

  cnoremap <silent> wq<CR> w<CR>:call CloseWindowOrBuffer()<CR>
  cnoremap <silent> q<CR>  :call CloseWindowOrBuffer()<CR>
  cnoremap <silent> x<CR>  bd<CR>
  nmap <Leader>q :q

I'm still not sure whether this is what I want.


Finally, I set my $EDITOR and $GIT_EDITOR variables to

export EDITOR="vim -g --servername VIM --remote-tab-wait-silent"
export GIT_EDITOR="vim -g --servername VIM --remote-tab-wait-silent"

To get the best experience when calling vim through scripts or other programs like git.

What I want to get from this

Well, I made my vim installation a lot less bloated. By removing a bunch of plugins I made vim start up way faster, and by using only one vim instance for all the things, even more. Using gvim, I can have pretty fonts and so on.

I wonder how these things work out for me...

tags: #desktop #linux #vim

When the last semester came to an end, I noticed that my Thinkpad behaved weird. I couldn't nix-store --optimize it, and some other things began to fail silently. I suspected the SSD was dying, a Crucial C400 with 256GB. So I ran the smart tools with a short test – But it told me everything was alright. Then I ran the extended self-test on the drive and after 40% of the check (60% remaining) it told me about dead sectors, nonrecoverable.

So I got a new SSD and installed NixOS from my old installation. Here's how.

So I got a nice new Samsung EVO 850 PRO with 256 GB. I was really amazed how light these things are today. No heavy metal in there like in a HDD!


First of, you need to prepare your current installation. Make some backups, be sure everything is fine with them.

Then, verify that your configuration.nix and your hardware-configuration.nix file list your partitions not by UUID, but by /dev/sda1 and so on. That could be really helpful later.

If you have some crypto keys you need to keep, maybe make another backup of them.

The installation

First of, we need to format the new drive. Use gdisk for this if you have a UEFI setup like with an Thinkpad X220. Format your partitions after that. Make sure that your boot partition is formatted as vfat (fat16). I don't know why, but it is only possible to boot from vfat, according to the nixos documentation. Also, do your cryptsetup.

For simplicity, I refer to the boot partition by /dev/sda1 and to the root/home partition as /dev/sda2 – you can, of course, have more partitions, maybe for a seperate /home. But I saw no need for it. With only one partition I do not have to take care of the size of the /nix/store and if I have few things in the store I can grow my music collection a bit – so I'm really flexible. And yes, I know about LVM, but I really don't need these things, do I?

Now, mount the partitions as follows:

  • /dev/sda2 in /mnt
  • /dev/sda1 in /mnt/boot (you might need to mkdir this directory first)

Ensure things are properly mounted. This broke my neck twice during my installation, as /mnt/boot wasn't mounted properly and I failed to rebuild the system. Took me some time to see this, actually.

Now you can nixos-generate-config --root /mnt. After that you might want to modify your configuration.nix file in the newly generated setup under /mnt/etc/nixos/configuration.nix – I did not! I nixos-install --root /mnted to get a minimal bootable system.

Then I rsync -aed my /home/$USER to /mnt/home/ and symlinked the configuration.nix (which lives in /home/$USER/config/nixos/$HOSTNAME.nix on my machines) to /etc/nixos/configuration.nix. I renamed the host as well, to avoid confusion.

Then, I shutdowned, removed the old SSD, assembled the new one and booted. I had some problems with failing mounts during boot (because I had mount operations specified by UUID rather than via /dev/sdaX). I got a rescue shell and was able to fix things up. After several reboots I was able to get my system up and running.

When I was able to boot my minimal installation, I just followed the manual and created my user and so on. Then, I nixos-rebuild switched. And because I copied my whole configuration.nix setup from my old drive, everything got build for me.

After some more nix-env -iA calls (because some things only live in my user environment), I fully restored my system. Awesome!


Installing NixOS from NixOS works really nice. You have to be careful with some things, UUIDs and so on, but overall it is rather simple.

Anyways, you benefit if you really know your system. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to an inexperienced NixOS user – hacking things into the TTYs and getting a rescue shell for fixing the installation is no thing that a newbie really wants to do – except for learing and if backups are at hand!

Because of the awesomeness of NixOS and the configuration.nix file, I was able to rebuild my complete system within a few minutes. Despite my extensive adaptions in my configuration.nix file – speaking of container setup, custom compile flags for packages, custom vim setup with plugins compiled into the vim derivation (and the same again for neovim), hundreds of packages and stuff – I was able to rebuild my system without much effort.

Overall, leaving out the UUID fail, I think I am able to redo a complete setup (including syncing /home, which was ~100GB data, and reinstalling everything) in maybe 90 minutes, depending on how fast the internet connection is for downloading binaries.

One could even mount the old /nix/store from the old installation and copy over derivations, which would be a hell lot faster and would result in a reinstallation without the need for internet access. But I don't know how to do it, so I leave it as exercise to the reader.

tags: #desktop #linux #nix #nixos

I switched to xfce. Yes, I really did, after more than 6 years on i3.

Here's why.

Right now, I'm writing this very blog post in gvim in a xterm on xfce4-12. Why did I leave i3? Well... I love i3, I really do. It is the perfect tool for beeing productive with a lot of terminals.

Although, I have noticed that I use tmux more and more lately. Having a terminal multiplexer at hand means you don't have many terminals anymore.

So I thought: Switch away from i3?

I thought about switching to a framebuffer terminal, moving away from X11 entirely. I could have used elinks, tmux, mutt, newsbeuter, rtv, rangern, of course vim and so on... but only on a framebuffer terminal.

But that wouldn't work well with multi-monitor setups. I thought about KDE5, a lot actually. But KDE is too heavy for me.

So what is a good alternative to KDE, leightweight, has nice performance but also looks nice? Yes, XFCE!

And so far, I really love it!

The only problem I have is, of course, syncing of configurations via git. It seems that XFCE writes state information to the configuration files as well, which is unfortunate. What I will do: Not track the configurations except maybe the keyboard bindings. I hope that'll do.

So I have a nice-looking desktop environment now, which has nice keybindings for doing all the things I did with i3 as well – speaking of tiling. I configured the XFCE desktop to do basic tiling like i3, yes. That gives me the same productivity I had with i3 before. One thing I couldn't figure out by now is how to switch the focused monitor with a keybinding. That might not be possible at all, which would be unfortunate, though I guess I can live with that.

A nice side effect of my new setup: People I work with don't think “What a hell of a nerd” anymore. Not that I care about what other people think, but this way they might get the impression that Linux on the Desktop rocks – and I guess this is a nice thing to have, isn't it?

tags: #software #linux #desktop #life