Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

In part 3 of his series on Linux and the laptop, Jay explains how to get GNOME configured, sound modules working and its appearance changed.

If you followed my tutorial, “Setting Up a Base Linux Install on a Laptop”, you should have a base Linux install up and running Window Maker, Debian's default window manager. Although Window Maker is useful, I find the feature-rich environments of GNOME and KDE to be more useful in a desktop/laptop configuration. In this article I'm going to discuss how to further configure your Debian laptop with GNOME 2.2 and enable sound using the basic modules that come stock with the 2.4 kernel.

Installing GNOME 2.2

Let us start by installing GNOME 2.2. There are multiple ways to install it, but really only one way is viable for a Debian user. All that you have to do is run apt-get install gnome-core. Debian's apt-get system goes out to the Sid repositories listed in /etc/apt/source.list and downloads Debian's latest build of GNOME and all of its many required packages. This automation saves you tons of time. Although I have found a couple of missing packages here and there, the convenience of an apt-get install by far outweighs the downside of compiling it from source. Using apt-get, the entire process takes a matter of minutes; if you were to do a source compile from scratch it could take you hours. For those of you who need to have the absolutely newest build of GNOME, you're stuck with a source install. Fortunately, a utility called Gargnome can assist you with a source compile. Although Gargnome is no apt-get, it is a heck of a lot better then messing with each individual package.

Once apt-get has finished installing GNOME, you need to change the default window manager from Window Maker to Metacity. If Metacity is not made the default default window manager, GNOME does not work correctly; windows and menus pop up in funny spots and its overall appearance is a mess. To change the default window manager run update-alternatives --config x-window-manager. This lists all of the available window managers available on your system and allows you to pick which one should be the default. After you have made the selection, run startx and prepare for the amazement of what is known as GNOME 2.2.

Initial Sound Setup

The first time GNOME 2.2 runs, you will receive errors about xscreensaver being missing and /dev/sound/mixer not existing. apt-get install xscreensaver fixes the screensaver error. The mixer popup occurs when you have yet to configure sound support. Due to the wide variety of available embedded chipsets, there is no way I can go through every variation in this article. What I can do is go through configuring one of the more popular sound chipsets, the i810. In my next article I'm going to explain how to set up the Alsa modules, which offer a more standardized configuration. If you don't want to wait, here's some direction to get your sound cranking using the stock kernel modules:

1. Compile the kernel with support for the i810 chipset. Here's the settings to be made for the 2.4 kernel:

Sound card support

  • Intel ICH (i8xx)

  • OSS sound modules

    • Verbose initialization

    • Persistent DMA buffers

    • Crystal CS4232 based (PnP) cards

2. After you recompile the kernel to incorporate the changes made in the previous step, the sound-oriented modules are created. We need to load two of them, i810_audio and ac97_codec. If you want to load the modules by hand you could run insmod $module_name. Or, to have the system load them at boot time, add them both to /etc/modules. In addition, for i810_audio to load properly, ac97_codec must be loaded first.

3. Add the following lines to /etc/modules/aliases. This step is dependent on your sound card; for the i810 you should add these to the bottom of the file:

        alias sound-slot-0                                 i810_audio
        alias sound-service-0-0                i810_audio
        alias sound-slot-2                           off
        alias sound-service-0-2                off
        alias sound-slot-3                           i810_audio
        alias sound-service-0-3                i810_audio
        alias sound-slot-4                           i810_audio
        alias sound-service-0-4                i810_audio

4. Run update-modules

5. Create a group called audio, and add to it all users that are to implement sound. Make sure that /dev/dsp belongs to the audio group as well.

If all went correctly, after a reboot you should have sound in GNOME. A good way to test this is to try to play a music CD. This will avoid any possible problems you may be having with ESD, GNOME's sound dæmon. Which brings us to one of the problems I found to be an outcome of apt-getting GNOME 2.2, in regards to missing packages. Four multimedia related packages are missing: esound, esound-clients, gnome-audio and gstreamer-plugins. If you want to use your machine for any type of multimedia, you should apt-get these packages yourself. This may not necessarily be a problem with the install itself, because not all GNOME 2.2 users are interested in sound. But, if you don't specifically know to install them, it can be difficult to troubleshoot the cause of the resulting problems.



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Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

for 2.4.X kernels the CS4232 in config-2.4.X is not needed and incompatible as I checked it when inserting it as a module which failed during the initial module selection for bf24.

recompiled without it, worked

now trying alsa with 2.6.4 currently, need help, got sound but choppy
need to change sampling? rate?

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I have not been able to get GNOME working on my Debian laptop at all. I had GNOME 1.4 working fine, but when I tried to upgrade to 2.2, I got a series of errors about broken dependencies and locked files. I'd love to remove the GNOME 2.2 files and start over, but I have no idea how to do that.

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

Hi there!! I'm just gettin' nuts with the sound stuff!!! I did not have any trouble with the r6 when it came to sound (I'm a recording engineer),so I'll apreciate any help on this matter either with alsa configuring or OSS (it just don't "see" my sound card and don't have the /dev/dsp)

System Settings folder is empty?

Anonymous's picture

Followed the article instructions for installing gnome 2.2, but I'm disappointed to find the StartHere::SystemSettings folder empty. I expected to see some of the nifty controls described in April 2003 LJ article, "The Gnome2 desktop environment" by Russell Dyer.

Do I apt-get some pkgs to change network IPs, or reconfig Xwin, etc?

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I appreciate this series of articles as I've had some trouble getting some distros to work on my Dell Inspiron 2650. May I suggest, especially for newbies, Xandros Linux 1.0? It's a Debian Woody-based system, very stable, and does an excellent job of configuring even many laptops without having to edit config files. I love Debian, too, but not everyone will want to delve so deeply into their OS until they are more experienced.


Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I've also found debian libranet to be great with hardware


Xfree on IBM Thinkpad

Anonymous's picture

You know if you have a Thinkpad and you want that third button to work like it does on windows, where when you hold it down you can control scrolling of applications I suggest you use this in your XFree config file as the TrackPoint input device.

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "TrackPoint"
Driver "mouse"
Option "Protocol" "PS/2"
Option "Device" "/dev/mouse"
Option "Emulate3Buttons" "true"
Option "EmulateWheel" "true"
Option "EmulateWheelButton" "2"

With that added I can hold down that blue button and move the trackpoint up and down to get scroll action, it's pretty sweet I suggest you try it.

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

>> Now, if you restart your GNOME session, you should see an option for the new theme element in the Themes panel.

I've never tried to install a theme using that install button, but shouldn't it automatically get installed _without_ restarting the session?

Sounds a bit strange to me to restart a session just for getting to see a new theme in the theme panel.

(I don't see any reason why that should have to be done)

(perhaps the author of this article wasn't running FAM correctly?)

Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I am facing problem while playing the sound files on my laptop.
I could see my sound card getting detected but when I attampt to play any type of sound file say mp3 I am not able to listen any sound. Even I could not able to listen the test files like info.wav which are present on system by default.
I have gone through the article and like to seek the opinion of experts to get something positive to be able to listen sound on my laptop. I am not that much expert to alter kernal to get it working for me.
Following are the system configuration on my laptop.
kernal - Linux version ( (gcc version 3.4.1 (Mandrakelinux (Alpha 3.4.1-3mdk)) #1 SMP Wed Sep 8 16:41:52 CEST 2004
Arch - Intel x86
Sound card detected - intel8x0 82801DB ICH4
Module - snd-intel8x0
file /etc/modules.conf is empty
No file /etc/modules/aliases present.
audio group is present.
All files in /dev/sound are owned by prasad user and audio group.
I am using user - prasad.
ESD version is 0.2.35

Do I need to add the lines specified in /etc/modules.conf


Re: Configuring Your Laptop for GNOME and Sound

Anonymous's picture

I usually install a theme by clicking on the install button, and it works flawlessly (assuming the theme itself is correct) *without* having to logout and in again.