Playing with LinuxMCE and thoughts

July 29, 2012 by
Filed under: Hardware, Linux 

Long time no writing for various reasons. I’ve played around with LinuxMCE for a few days as it looked like a really sweet solution for home automation etc. I’ve previously had a HTPC running mythbuntu as a main server for my home network, then switched for a Guruplug to save electricity and now finally decided for an Atom D525 platform to use as a personal NAS because it draws very little power (17’ish watts), I can hook up a lot of harddrives etc to it, and finally it’s i386 meaning a lot of stuff that was unavailable for the guruplug would start working again (management tools for my UPS for example).

Anyways, I also moved to a house in the last few weeks and decided to start fiddling a bit with home automation and to give one of the dedicated distributions a shot, LinuxMCE because it has support for such a hell of a lot of features etc. Unfortunately, after 2 days of trials I’m severely disappointed by all the bugs and stuff that just wont work with the default settings etc. For example, it took me 1,5 days to get a basic weborbiter (remote controller via web interface) to work. Secondly it took me another 4-5 hours to realize that LinuxMCE absolutely will not run properly with LVM. I have always used an LVM for storing files etc. The LVM currently consists of 2.5TB spread over 3 disks. The only solution I’ve been able to deduce is to get another set of disks, install in LinuxMCE, then copy all the files to that set of disks, and then have 3 disks that I don’t really need atm. On top of this, just getting the graphics output to work was … let’s just say, not easy, and will only work with a very limited set of hardware. On top of this, the Android qOrbiter is extreme alpha quality (crashes so much I can’t describe it, it’s completely useless on 3 different devices).

Over all, I think LinuxMCE could be a really badass solution, but it isn’t because of all the bugs and lousy documentation. Imho, the feeling I get is that the system is developed and installed by a limited group of people who knows about the issues and knows how to get around them. Ie, the claims that “similar” products cost XXXXX USD is offset by the fact that this system really requires a lot of knowledge about this system which will take weeks (if not months) to get and requires you to get a consultant to do the installation for  you.

After a few days of trying to set up a Core/Hybrid properly with a few remotes and a Media Director I just realized I’ll reuse an old harddrive in the machine that was to be the Media Director and set up mythtv on it, and setup the “supposed to be LinuxMCE Hybrid” as a Debian server which replaces the guruplug for network control and basic operations. I’ll have to figure something out when it comes to remote controlling music etc, I’m unsure what yet.I hate being this negative about LinuxMCE, but I really wish this system had worked a bit better for me because it ticks a _lot_ of boxes I’m interested in. I’m guessing the main issue that I stomped into this thinking I’d be able to preserve and reuse existing hardware and harddrives etc, which I’m apparently not able to and obviously caused a lot of headaches. If  you are still interested in trying this out, make sure to start from scratch, do not expect to reuse old tablets etc, get new (old) ones etc.

Comments

17 Comments on Playing with LinuxMCE and thoughts

  1. Thomas Cherryhomes on Mon, 30th Jul 2012 08:06
  2. Hello, I am one of the core developers of LinuxMCE.

    Did you come talk to us in the forums? or the IRC channel? We’re more than happy to answer questions relating to the setup of LinuxMCE.

    This system was designed to be an appliance, and thus, yes, has some requirements as to what hardware should be used, also, re LVM, we have a lot of very custom plumbing below (the Pluto Storage Devices layer) which makes LVM completely unneeded and thus we have chosen not to add support for it. Patches are welcome, however.

    -Thom

  3. Oskar Andreasson on Tue, 31st Jul 2012 11:06
  4. Hi Thomas,

    Seems I caused some commotion =). I didn’t come on the forums or irc, I was expecting LinuxMCE to at least be able to do the same stuff that 90% of all other distributions can today, finding basic hardware and installing a decent default on top of it. In my case it was unable to do so, and on top of it set a series of hard limitations on what is possible and what is not, without any good clues on how it should be done instead.

    Let us take LVM for example, searching google for LinuxMCE LVM gave absolutely no indication that this should be impossible at the time I tested it, and to find the information, I had to dig really deep in the wiki for the answer. The only way for me to move the data into a “LinuxMCE approved format” is to get a second set of disks, as already explained, and to double my current diskspace without any real need for it (as I see it).

    Basically, I think the setup process needs to be simplified, certain things needs to be clearer and a lot of stuff should really be automated. 5 out of 5 distributions I’ve tried within the last year have had no problem finding a proper graphical resolution to use for my display/graphics card combination on machines ranging from integrated intel/nvidia graphics cards to samsung/dell displays to virtualbox installations and laptops etc. On LinuxMCE 8.10, I tried setting things up in a VirtualBox, spending hours just figuring out how to get “something” on the display. Then on the D525 card described earlier, I spent more hours first on LinuxMCE 8.10 and then on 10.10, and this after kubuntu had _no_ issues finding and setting up my drivers and resolutions etc. Then for some reason I got video during my first boot, but after rebooting, I never got video working again (UI still worked however).

    I hope you get me right, I have very high respect for what you’re trying to do here, I just get a feeling the scope is too large for what is possible to handle. The sky’s the limit, but to get there you need to get up on the chair first. A better installer/setup and more introductory instructions may be a good start imho.

  5. Peer Oliver Schmidt on Mon, 30th Jul 2012 15:13
  6. Hi,

    just came across your post.

    Sorry to hear, that your experience with LinuxMCE was as negative as you make it sound.

    Let me address a couple of your issues:

    * qOrbiter (Android) is in really the bleeding edge and *I* would not consider it stable. And I doubt the developer does. We still have a long way to go to switch to the new qOrbiter.

    * WebOrbiter2.0 – The setup process is not very well documented. It would greatly help, if you could let us know in the forum, what exactly took you so long/by surprise.

    * LVM etc – LinuxMCE is very picky about how it wants to be setup. Interestingly, avid Linux users have the most difficult of times setting it up, because they have a very specific idea how things /should/ work. The best way to get LinuxMCE up and running initially is really do plug the snapshot DVD in, and let it run its course. The 1004 snapshots have come a long especially with regards to detecting graphics cards.

    * Time for setup in general – I am down to install LinuxMCE for a small apt with a KNX setup, one or two MDs, in the course of a weekend. However, to come to this situation took me working with LinuxMCE since end of 2007.

    In my humble opinion, LinuxMCEs biggest draw back is that it sets the expectations very high, and while theoretically very flexible, due to the underlying OS, one HAS to understand a LOT of stuff about the inner workings of LinuxMCE to tweak it, like the avid Linux users is used to. Maybe you give it a chance one day again, when we release the next version.

    Best regards

    Peer Oliver Schmidt
    Release Manager LinuxMCE

  7. Oskar Andreasson on Wed, 1st Aug 2012 12:07
  8. Hi Peer!

    Later reply, I started writing a response to you but had to reboot the machine and lost the message which was almost finished :).

    Anyways, thank you very much for your response, it was both welcome and unanticipated :). I believe you may have some very valid points in what you write. I’ve personally been an avid Linux user since 1996 and I probably made my situation much harder than required by setting up certain special needs (LVM, network setups, orbiter hardware, and low power requirements (I want to keep the system low on power usage)). On top of this, I really needed to get that machine up and running within a limited set of time as it’s replacing the machine that is kind of critical for my network (the guruplug I was using before). As you say, the LinuxMCE doesn’t work as I expected. I had hoped to find something more like most other debian based systems and more robust. Also, I’ve grown used to not having to ask questions about every minor detail that goes wrong (I usually fix it on my own, or figure it out by searching for the issue in question. For some reason LinuxMCE issues have been terribly hard to find via google etc).

    The qOrbiter available on Google play is a mistake imho though, it shouldn’t be fully released in that fashion while it is _that_ alpha, it gives a lot of really bad representation to the entire project. Keep it offline and let people install via SDK until it actually works is my opinion. As I wrote, I tried it on 3 different devices (Samsung Galaxy Tab2 7″, Huawei Ideos 7″ slim and HTC Desire Z) and each and everyone failed on the same step, I couldn’t log in, the entire first page was so buggy that it was completely unusable, I was unable to change the IP address and 75% of the time the entire UI was completely unresponsive directly after starting the application, requiring to be killed via Advanced Task Killer. Imho, I found no indication of the level of alpha on the Google Play page, and that’s where i looked first for a LinuxMCE orbiter.

    As for the issues I ran into with the weborbiter, I think I missed to wait completely until the orbiter had regenerated before making changes, and after that I’m not sure if you have to do something specific to make it work again? Anyways, I just got a spinning wheel and no notification of what was going on etc. In the end I had to delete the orbiters and recreate them from scratch, that finally made them work. Imho, there should be error handling etc to make sure you can’t do changes while the regen is running, especially if it will cause the entire configuration to go bad. Also, there should be some kind of notification that something is wrong or what is wrong with a possible solution. My first thought with the spinning wheel was that my tablets/phone didn’t support some technology or another so I tried 3 devices with 3 different browsers before testing on my computer and finally realizing that the error was in LinuxMCE and starting to search for the solution.

    As for LVM support I kind of understand that issue now, I had hoped for some kind of solution not involving me getting a new set of harddrives to get it all to work. That was also one of the reasons I went with the kubuntu installer and then manually installing LMCE on top of it, I read that the installer would delete the entire harddrive and install itself, which wasn’t acceptable in my case (I had 1 partition used for other stuff on that specific harddrive).

    As for graphics cards, I first tried 8.04 on Virtualbox and this machine, finally installing 10.04 on the physical machine in the hopes that it would solve the issues. All different installations had the exact same issues with the graphic cards/monitors. I think that is really bad, especially since kubuntu had no issues at all with the exact same installation and got a perfect hit on both of them (virtualbox/D525 machine), so did debian, and the virtualbox installations has never caused any issues graphics wise with any of my previous installs of various distributions. Imho, to start your entire installation with these kinds of issues gives you a bad feeling for the entire installation. I know this may be a lot to ask for, but why not rely on what kubuntu installation finds out about the graphics instead and using their configuration for graphics card, monitor and resolutions etc. Ubuntu and Kubuntu installations have never failed for me to find at least a decent graphic configuration.

    I still have to install a new OS on top of my old media center which used to run mythbuntu and was supposed to run as a media director. I will give LMCE another try on that machine given the feedback I’ve gotten so far, which btw, I’m very grateful for. Unfortunately, that machine is not very nice when it comes to power consumption, so it won’t be possible to run it 24/7.

  9. Peer Oliver Schmidt on Fri, 3rd Aug 2012 19:02
  10. Oskar,

    thanks for your words.

    When you do come around giving LinuxMCE another try, do get the newest DVD installer. Especially with regards to Intel video it has been reported very useful. And come by the IRC or the forum, in case you have issues. We love to help people getting things up and running, IF they let us, and aren’t trying to be to stubborn 😉

    Regarding energy consumption: My LinuxMCE system is running ontop an AMD BE2300. Not much power consumption on that one, afaik.

    Best regards from the west coast.

  11. Oskar Andreasson on Tue, 7th Aug 2012 21:34
  12. Hi Peer,

    No worries regarding words, it’s actually quite fun to see some action regarding something I’ve written here ;).

    I will likely get another cheap/low power system in the near future to give LMCE another try on. I have 2 systems which are kind of important to my home, the main server (which I had hoped to run LMCE on but turned into debian, without that everything on my home network is kind of dead) which is turned on 24/7 (hence low power, previously it was <5W with the guruplug, now it's ~40'ish watt with disks etc). The second machine is the media center, and I had to do something fast since both me and my wife is getting antsy about no media center ;).

    Anyways, as I just wrote to Jason I will try to get another machine up and running for pure testing in a while. I'm unsure how much time I'll have though since we're expecting and vacation is over. BE2300 seems a bit power hungry in comparison though, 45W max thermal output? The Atom D525 is rated at 17W something. I think that would be a good power consumption level to stay around if possible.

    As a sidenote, I was a bit unhappy with the guruplug, it had a lot of weird installations done on it, but regarding power consumption it was pretty damn awesome, I saved the money it cost me in lowered power consumption in less than 9 months, the previous machine was running at an average of 170-180W though, also I realize that the guruplug was a bit underpowered for some of my desires (which LMCE should be able to do).

  13. L3mce on Fri, 3rd Aug 2012 19:09
  14. Since its inception, LMCE has been tied to a handful of nVidia GPUs. I have revamped that completely for 10.04, and most any GPU is detected and utilized to the best of its ability now. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you had graphics issues, it is my fault.

    Our community has been using “approved hardware” for so long, most have known working setups with those GPUs. Finding people to test my detection/setup needs with strange (to us) hardware is difficult. Please also keep in mind that 10.04 is still alpha. To use 8.10, you must use approved hardware. To use 10.04, I need your help discovering the problems so that I can fix them for everyone, automatically. We are not kubuntu… we give you access to the KDE desktop, but we have to mangle GPU interop to work with our X environment. We are not a distro, or a program, we are an appliance.

    I fully understand the frustration, and agree with you wholeheartedly about the FIRST and seemingly simplest part of a linux environment not working leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It is because of this I took on the GPU realm. The ONLY GPUs really giving me any headaches atm are Intel GMA500 and derivatives, and the bleeding edge nVidia GPUs… and minor things like audio over HDMI for the newest nVidia/ATI etc.

    Again, if you would drop into IRC or the forums I will be happy to get this going, so that nobody has your negative experience in the future… including yourself.

    Jason

  15. Radu Cristescu on Fri, 3rd Aug 2012 19:38
  16. Hi there,

    I saw your post mentioned in the LinuxMCE developer channel today. Peer and Thomas addressed most of your post, but I have a bone to pick about LVM.

    While the LinuxMCE software suite doesn’t understand LVM specifically, you should be able to manually configure it as a dumb hard drive as far as the software is concerned, and manually manage the LVM setup as you’d normally do with any Linux box. Detailed help with that can be provided in the forum or IRC channels.

    Cheers

  17. Oskar Andreasson on Tue, 7th Aug 2012 21:21
  18. Hi Radu,

    If you don’t mind, if you don’t mind please document how to do it because that is one of the things I tried. I installed lvm packages, activated and mounted the filesystem and LMCE didn’t detect it, and from that point on, it said absolutely nothing about discs etc. I’m assuming I kinda broke the PnP system somehow, and that is one of the last things I did in LMCE before dropping it all and installing debian instead. Having had a few lines in the actual documentation on how to do it would very much have simplified life. The only thing I ever found on LMCE and LVM was after the fact, which stated something along the lines “don’t use LVM, it will break LMCE PnP.”

  19. L3mce on Sun, 5th Aug 2012 23:39
  20. For the record, after some investigation I discovered what I believe to be the cause of the problem with various Intel GPU chipsets. In order to better discover and use newer cards from all manufacturers I changed the system perform an update to the pciid database on install. An odd quirk that resulted, was that some manufacturer names were coming back in upper case. In order to parse them correctly I converted all names to upper case. Half of the steps to properly configure Intel, were still looking for “Intel” not “INTEL”. None of my Intel users had done a fresh install since the change a few weeks ago, and I can only get my hands on so much physical hardware (which was unaffected).

    If you would like to give it another shot, I believe you will have a better experience with the build/snapshot cooking right now linuxmce.iptp.org/snapshots/ ending 26305 or greater. Should you hit any bumps, we really do enjoy helping our users get going. The snapshot is mine as well, so should you encounter any issues there, feel free to contact me.

    Do keep in mind, however, that 1004 is not quite yet Beta (frankly I am not sure it is officially labeled Alpha… some upstream changes we had to work around kept us blocked for a while), and 810 has much stricter hardware requirements. Once we hit Beta, it means a full feature freeze for us, and we just focus on bug squashing, no more adding functions (the fun stuff). I hope this finds you well, and sorry my corner of the project caused you agita.

    Jason

  21. L3mce on Tue, 7th Aug 2012 17:07
  22. Hold on that for a moment 😛
    Unless you just want to test.

    Jason

  23. Oskar Andreasson on Tue, 7th Aug 2012 21:16
  24. Hi Jason!

    Thank you very much for your support on the issues :-). I’ll have to admit that I haven’t tried any more with LMCE yet, my wife is pregnant and we are overdue, we where planned to do a major release on the 5th. On top of it my vacation is over (back to the mines for me ;-)… Seriously though, we’re actually going to sea for testing in a few weeks). Anyways, because of that, I winded up installing XBMC on the media center just to have something running (we will need something to do when the kid is screaming at 3 in the morning… ).

    I will however get another machine just to test LMCE further on (which isn’t “essential” to my network), just don’t expect miracle bug reports for a while as I will probably have my hands full with work and a newborn :).

  25. L3mce on Sat, 15th Sep 2012 15:08
  26. Just an update. Everything works now, and we are in beta for 1004. Your experience should be very different next go round.

    Cheers

    Jason

  27. Oskar Andreasson on Thu, 1st Nov 2012 09:24
  28. Hi Jason,

    Thank you very much for the update :). I’m afraid I went with XBMC in the end and I’m quite happy with it, and certain changes in my life kind of takes up _a lot_ of time (very little tinkering time now) :). I really hope you get the best out of your platform and hope you get the best out of it!

  29. Langston Bal on Sat, 15th Sep 2012 15:35
  30. As _the_ developer of Qorbiter, I will just point out it has over 400 active installs. So, while im sorry for your problems, your assertions are frankly way off base. I would offer support, but clearly you arent interested. Good Day Sir.

  31. Oskar Andreasson on Thu, 1st Nov 2012 09:22
  32. I understand that you’re offended, however I think at the time I tried this, the quality was simply horrendous, and I will not retract on that part. I was never able to leave the login screen because the input fields behaved completely erratic (trying to put focus at a specific point in the window, it winded up somewhere completely different etc) on all three devices I tried it on and it took me in the range of 10 minutes to fill in the fields properly (which normally should take less than 60 seconds) and when I finally tried clicking the connect buttons etc, it just crashed. I have never had any issues like this in any other application or anywhere else on any of the devices. Having tried this multiple times on 3 different devices and trying all settings you find, you tend to make certain assertions.

  33. Dimes on Wed, 4th Jun 2014 15:14
  34. @Jason unfortunately no i know this thread is now old but im having a similar experience to Oskar with 1004 (3 years later) just getting the damn av wizard to start first time on intel HD2000 based NV70 chipset which is the successor to the GMA500 (just keep getting a message and holding shift like trouble shooting states does nothing)

    i think there is potential there and kudos for effort (i imagine its a lot of wor for a labor of love) but the hype is still way better than the experience im having and although i haven’t scanned the forums for advice either i also found limited advice on the topics using google..all i wanted it for was a dedicated htpc connected to my TV, to stream from my win7 pc but since its apparent im going to have to become a linux expert to sort each bug as it comes along and wish i was more savy so i could contribute.

    But looks like its good ol XBMC for me too for now or maybe just my old vista key and vlc lol. (id be happy if my PS3 and 360 would just play al my files but they are pains in the arse) since ive been at it on and off for 2 days and reformatted, tried older versions (that just wants a login in dos on its first startup and lets me put in the user name but wont let me put in a password)

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