Tracking LC problems with Linux

Peter Alcibiades palcibiades-first at
Sat Dec 28 03:16:03 EST 2013

This comes up from time to time, so here is my own approach to tracking down
incompatibilities systematically.

It is going to be either the base system, kernel and libraries, the window
manager or the desktop environment.  Or its going to be LC itself, and that
is what one is trying to establish.

So you need a reference base system.  My own choice would be Slackware,
because it is the least tweaked of all distributions.  If something will not
run properly on Slackware it is almost certainly a problem of the package

But, to establish that its the base system you have to eliminate the window
manager and desktop environment.  Ubuntu is heavily idiosyncratic in this
respect.  However in all cases of the big desktop managers you will be
running a different window manager.  KDE is kwin, XFCE is xfwm, Gnome used
to use metacity but has now changed to something else.

So to narrow this down, see if the problem occurs on Slackware without a
desktop environment proper.  One way would be to use metacity.   Another
would be fluxbox or openbox by themselves.  These once again are very
standards oriented packages.  If you can reproduce the problem on more than
one of them, running on Slackware, its almost certainly an LC problem.

Suppose they all run perfectly?  Then the next step is to add a desktop
environment.  You know at this point that metacity works, so run XFCE over
metacity on Slackware.  If that works, XFCE with its own wm.  If that works,
try KDE on Slackware.  If that works, then the problem is almost certainly
the distribution and not LC.  In this case its Ubuntu.

It is not surprising that most people report these issues on Ubuntu because
first of all its heavily tweaked and second its release policy gives little
time for whole system testing.  Debian may go way over the top on this in
the conservative direction, but Ubuntu is at quite the other extreme. Ubuntu
also seems to be more widely used than any other, maybe this is a factor

Lets say that as a result of an afternoon spent with Slackware, probably on
a VM, we have not tracked down any problem.  In that case, go to Debian,
probably on a VM, and try first metacity and then, for instance, XFCE.  If
we now have two distros with completely different lines of descent both
working fine, then the problem is Ubuntu.  Where in Ubuntu we do not know.
It could be in the base system or it could be in the desktop or window
manager.  But its certainly in Ubuntu (or the respin version, if that is
what we are using).

In the case people are writing about now, it seems to be a problem that
shows up in one version of Ubuntu respun using XFCE but not in another. 
Surely what matters is to be using XFCE, if that's the desktop choice, so go
to the most stable distribution you can get with that.

That is probably to do a plain vanilla Debian or Slackware install, and
manually install XFCE, and then tweak it to running over metacity.  And have
fluxbox or openbox installed alongside, just in case.

If it were me I would spend all my energy finding out if its an LC problem. 
If I found it was an Ubuntu problem I would spend no time at all tracking
down exactly where, because its a moving target and in six months time it
will be something else.  My priority would be getting a production system
where I don't have to do this stuff.

But, to each his own!

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