System Beep

I like the system beep on my laptop. I’m used to hearing it for file completion and in emacs. I seem to be the only person who does like the system beep, though, considering how difficult it was to turn it on on a brand new Fedora 9 installation. Previous Fedora installations have not had a system beep after upgrades, but it was easily fixed by forcing a modprobe of the pcspkr module. Unfortunately, that was not sufficient for Fedora 9. After spending about an hour on the issue, and looking at acceptably obscure places like System > Preferences > Hardware > Sound, I discovered the secret. I had to right click on the volume control in the upper right corner, and select “Open Volume Control” (this does not give the same result as Sounds & Video > PulseAudio Volume Control in the main menu, but I discovered later that it is the same as System > Preferences > Hardware > Volume Control). Then in that window I had to select the menu item Edit > Preferences, which gave me a list of “Select tracks to be visible”. There were already items visible, but it turned out that I had to explicitly select “Beep”. That gave me a volume control for “Beep” alongside the volume controls for “Master”, “PCM”, and “Microphone”. The volume was set to zero, and I set it to the maximum. I also had to explicitly click on the “Mute/unmute Beep” button. After doing all that, I finally had my system beep.

I now understand that when people talk about the “Linux desktop” they mean the process of making Linux as baffling as Windows. This may actually be the right thing to do. As a long-time user of computer systems, it is possible that my notion of what is easy to understand and to use is radically different from that of people with a different life experience.


  1. fche said,

    October 28, 2008 @ 4:25 am

    Argh. This misfeature ticked me off badly, making me wonder whether I had imagined ^G noises all that time. Now I work around it with xkbevd, tying it at the X level to PCM sounds.

  2. davem said,

    October 28, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    If you’re going to use the default Fedora desktop, you’ll simply have
    to get used to having your favorite defaults change.

    At the first stage, like this case, you’ll spend a good half hour finding out
    where to get things back to how you liked them.

    At the second stage, the setting will later become completely unsettable,
    so you can’t even revert back to the behavior you like.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, but I personally lack the energy to fight this trend
    and just use different desktop software such as XFCE4 when it bothers
    me enough.

  3. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    October 28, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

    fche: I would hope that they would pay attention to your bug reports.

    davem: yeah, it’s a real issue. I try to be flexible on things like window appearance and placement, but I do like my system beep.

  4. antgreen said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 3:20 am

    I’m using F9. The system beep has always worked for me (in emacs and otherwise), and I don’t have a “Beep” listed under “Select tracks to be visible”. I have no idea why our systems are different.

  5. Manu said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    I strongly hate the system beep and cannot find it useful for anything. Why would I want to hear a beep for file completion if I can see the filename being completed. And what about your co-workers, your family, people around you?

    That said, you should report as bugs both the mismatch of volume mixers and the low discoverability of volume controls. As you say, it doesn’t only affect the beep but other controls like “Master”, “PCM”, and “Microphone”. Nonetheless, touching some settings in the volume mixer seems far more intuitive than discovering how to force a modprobe of a particular module. Of course, it is always easier to solve a problem if you know the answer. It doesn’t have anything to do with being a long-time user of computer systems.

    I find this funny because long ago I complained how difficult was to disable completely the system beep in KDE-Ubuntu. I haven’t checked whether now it is difficult to re-enable it. I guess it shouldn’t be, since KDE does not typically remove features for no reason as opposed to other well-known desktops.

  6. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

    antgreen: I just checked another system–not newly installed, but upgraded–and it doesn’t have “Beep” under “Select tracks to be visible.” In fact, it has a completely different set of choices in general. So it presumably has something to do with the specific hardware, no doubt for reasons that make sense to somebody.

    Manu: I keep the volume quite low; I don’t think it disturbs other people. The beep on filename completions happens when the filename can not be completed. It’s true that there is other feedback available, but I’m accustomed to typing while I’m looking at a different window, so the audible feedback is helpful for me.

    You’re right that the current difficulty is not as bad as missing the pcspkr module. I always attributed that one to some failure in the upgrade process, as I never noticed it in a newly installed system. I should report this, plus I should report that prupgrade is dangerous, that xfs is not serving fonts correctly at startup, that emacs is crashing periodically…..

  7. pphaneuf said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    I’d rather have it that they made it as baffling as Mac OS X. But then, they don’t have a separate “PC speaker”, they just have built-in speakers for their sound card, so you wouldn’t get the exact same functionality. It’s much less confusing, though.

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