Sunday, December 30, 2007

Upcoming Hardy Heron Features

Desktop Stuff


Third-party apt: Create a signed .apt file format which allows easy adding of third-party repositories to the sources.list file without manually editing anything or pasting the deb entry into synaptic. Seems to be well thought out and thoroughly discussed.

Desktop Effects: There is a great emphasis on getting desktop effects as stable as possible for Hardy. This is currently one of the biggest support issues on the Ubuntu Forums. There is an emphasis on trying to make Compiz behave more like Metacity, which I believe is good for users. Right now, switching between enable and disabled effects means changing keybindings, the method of dragging windows between workspaces, and other problems.

Revamped Logout screen: When you click on "Quit" currently, you are presented with a myriad of choices. Hardy looks to limit this list, but they're not sure to what extent yet. User switching will be pulled out to the fast user switcher applet. Suspend and hibernate will likely be hidden for the average user and initiated by closing the laptop lid. Lock screen will appear on the System menu, and Log out may be pulled out to there, as well. If that's the case, clicking the System menu's Shut Down will leave only Shut Down, Restart, and Cancel. It sounds good to me.

Joining Windows' domains easily: There will probably be a simple GUI dialog for joining Windows' domains.

An emphasis on LTS upgrades: A lot of the LTS users will be upgrading only once every two years. There will be an emphasis on testing the upgrade from 6.06LTS to 8.04LTS.


Kernel 2.6.24: No one is sure which version of the kernel will be used when Hardy comes out, but it will be 2.6.24.x for sure. Gutsy is using 2.6.22. The release of 2.6.23 saw a lot of new device drivers, including wireless, supported, and 2.6.24 has a lot of video driver work done. I'll put together a summary in another blog post.

Audio backend goodness: There is a push to make PulseAudio the default for Hardy, replacing the venerable ESD. Pulse is backwards compatible with ESD and can take several other sources as plugins, as well. It also features decently low latency. It's not quite good enough for pro audio work, but there's talk of making that happen too. No matter what, Pulse will be a big step forward from the current system.

A Robust Installer: Ubiquity will be modified to fail more gracefully and to migrate and upgrade more consistently. Maybe we can finally drop the "backup, install, and restore" advice.

A significant reduction of duplicates: Libraries and applications will be looked at to find places to trim the fat. Some libraries have multiple versions installed. Libraries currently being looked at are db4, libgksu, libgtkhtml, libgtksourceview, libneon, libnet, sqlite, libvw (meaning completely dropping Beagle support), pythong 2.x, cpp,gcc, and libstdc. On the desktop front, there is a big argument over F-Spot and GThumb, including the resulting discussion about inclusion of Mono. Tomboy and Sticky Notes are suffering the same fate. An interesting point is that Sound Juicer's basic functionality is already in Rhythmbox (right-click on the CD and "Copy to Library." Rhythmbox can also create audio CDs from playlists, duplicating Serpentine. Ubuntu is talking to Gnome about this. Ultimately, Ubuntu is looking to cut some stuff out of the install CD to make more space for other functionality which is missing right now..

Server Stuff


Virtualization work: A lot of the stuff marked as "essential" for Hardy is related to virtualization, Jeos (the minimal Ubuntu install designed to host for guest VMs), and kernel upgrades which improve VM work.

eBox for Ubuntu Server: This will make administering a small-business or home server really simple. Imagine if Webmin we rewritten now using modern methods and a clean interface. eBox is quite impressive. Take a look at http://ebox-platform.com

Other interesting possibilities: The following are not approved, but show promise...
  • Installing without erasing /home
  • Creating a suite of desktop tests
  • Easy file sharing using Avahi and user-level Samba shares
  • Some changes to Wine are being talked about which would make running Windows apps a lot smoother than it is now, including .deb packaging for open source and freeware apps.
  • Screencasts may be available from within the Ubuntu help system. I've proposed an RSS feed for this, but I think they are leaning towards embedding them into Yelp.
  • There's also talk of making LDAP usable for someone other than an IT god. The conversation involves whether to use OpenLDAP or Fedora Directory Server. I think using the eBox installation (which already has a working LDAP server) is a good place to start.

Friday, December 28, 2007

There's more to Linux than Ubuntu??? Yes, But ....

I read the article linked to in the title. The executive summary of the opinion is that people are doing a disservice to Linux by creating Ubuntu-specific howtos and seeming to talk about Ubuntu as the only Linux distribution.

The bottom line is that it is Ubuntu. That's the distribution name. It's currently the most used one by a fair amount (don't but the Distrowatch numbers which claim that PCLOS is #1 ... though it's a good distro). When I talk about the Linux kernel, it's Linux. When I talk about a package, I use that package's name.

If I want to talk about adding repositories and installing software, it's Ubuntu / Red Hat / Fedora / Debian / Slackware / whatever. For this blog, that means Ubuntu. My stuff is centered on Ubuntu, although a certain amount could be extrapolated to Linux distros in general. Beginners following general Linux howtos (or even Ubuntu howtos for older releases) cause a fair number of headaches when they don't work exactly as written and the user doesn't have enough knowledge of Unix-like systems to adjust.

There's also the matter of Ubuntu users not knowing or caring what Linux is at this point. Many of them are brand new, just over from MS Windows. They don't search for "Install Skype on Linux," they search for "Install Skype on Ubuntu," just as they should. If you want to help these people (or get page views for ad clicks, or whatever your goal is), your Ubuntu howto had better be Ubuntu-specific and come up high in the search for that search term.

I made this blog to be Ubuntu-centric, because I have believed from the first release (4.10) that Ubuntu is something attractive to new users. It wouldn't be my first choice as a ten-year user, but I support several new users and am writing a book about it, so I've felt the need to be extremely familiar with it. As long as Ubuntu sticks to its agenda -- supply the best application in each category in the base install, keeps the community it has carefully built, and has that welcoming feeling for newcomers, it will continue to make waves.

So I say "Yeah, there's more to Linux than Ubuntu, but new users don't care and don't even need to. Let them find out about Linux and free software later, at their leisure. There's no need to force them into a Linux babtism if they just want a usable system."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

eeeXubuntu -- Please, sir, may I have some more?



eeeXubuntu is a sub-distribution of Xubuntu specifically for the Asus eeePC, which I wrote about last week. I have read several blogs about this new distro which cry "Why another distro? Should we have one for every different computer?"

My answer to them is "Yes ... for laptops, at least."

Laptops are the bane of Ubuntu's existence. They create so many support requests. Getting suspend/hibernate working, configuring the wireless, and setting up the right resolution for the LCD is a time-consuming task. Wouldn't you rather download a version of [U|Ku|Xu]buntu with all those laptop-specific tweaks already in place? Install and use, just like the Windows recovery disk the manufacturer supplied.

What a wonderful world that would be.

If you don't want different .iso images, we could just make dummy packages for each model.

Please.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why I Support Using the Default Applications in Ubuntu, Again

Well, I've harped on this before, but I'll rant a little again. Before I start, though, I want to say that I think people can do whatever thay want with their systems. Flexibility is half of what's so great about Linux.

If you are going to use Ubuntu, however, I really believe you should try to stick to the default applications as much as possible. There are two main reasons for this:
  1. Support: Getting support for the default applications is quite easy because everyone has them and the majority of users use the applications. Advanced users get to do whatever they like because they have probably screwed up their systems so many thimes that they know how to get out of any situation. Telling a new Ubuntu user, though, to uninstall fifteen default applications, add another twelve, and change the behavior of everything else on the desktop is a big mistake. The applications that are there work very well for the large percentage of new users. Once they get used to the new system and how it works, they can move into finding and installing alternates. I'm just really tired of trying to support a brand new user on Ubuntu Forums who has followed someone's "How to get the perfect Ubuntu setup" or "Fifteen things you must do to Ubuntu just after installation" howto. They can't use the command line. They're frustrated that programs don't work or aren't consistent, which leads me to my second point.
  2. Consistency: Ubuntu is 95% a Gnome desktop. Gnome has human interface guidelines (HIGs) to ensure that there is a consistent interface on every program and that learning a few basic rules about the system will get a user out of unknown situations. Save is always under File. Preferences are always called exactly that and are under Edit. OK and Cancel are always in the same place. You get the idea. Installing Amarok (a KDE application) breaks all these rules. The new user no longer has a nice, consistent interface to work with and is left having to guess about many things. This is the main reason I support replacing Firefox (an excellent browser) with Epiphany (a decent browser): Epiphany is a Gnome application and is consistent with the rest of the applications in Ubuntu (except for OO.o, but that's another one I'd like to see replaced).
These two reasons are very user-centric: they are good for the new user. From a more developer-centric viewpoint, having Ubuntu users concentrate on the core applications means that these apps will be developed faster with fewer bugs.

p.s. Yes, I change up my desktop, but mostly for the sake of consistency. HEre is a list of extra applications or changes I make (beyond themes)
  • Firefox to Epiphany, explained above. Epiphany is also significanty faster and more stable than Firefox.
  • Deluge-torrent: Deluge is a GTK application and works well with Gnome. The standard Bittorrent client doesn't allow me to run multiple torrents simply while shutting down and restarting. I rarely use it for anything bu Jamendo, anyway.
  • In Preferences -> Removable drives and media, I change the default photo importer from gthumb --import to f-spot-import because I otherwise have to import my photos twice or click ignor, open F-Spot, then import. What a waste of time. Let's choose one photo manager and stick with it.
  • I install Lyx and Referencer to do most of my writing because I want a Latex workfow. OO.o doesn't have that. In addition, OO.o is so bloated that I'd rather use Google Docs. How bad is that?
  • I change my preferred music player from Totem to Rhythmbox so that I get more consistency. I use Rhythmbox to play my music, anyway. Why do I need to open another player?
  • I install and use Empathy instead of Pidgin even though Empathy has fewer features because it is a light, Gome application (Pidgin is not) which will be the default IM client in Gnome 2.22. It has some cool features that Pidgin doesn't have like serverless zeroconf chat and panel applets for my favorite contacts, but I think the best is yet to come for Empathy.
  • I add my most-used applications to the quick launch area on the top panel.
  • I add the Tomboy Notes panel applet because I can easily add or find recent notes there.
  • I change the preferences on the Deskbar applet to include web history, recent documents, and a few others.
That's it. No sweeping changes. I tried AWN, for example, but prefer a taskbar. Just about every change I make tried to improve the consistency Of the desktop. I wish there were a nice, GUIfied Latex editor for Gnome. Lyx is great, but it sticks out and is inconsistent.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Top 10 Improved Ubuntu Applications of 2007


Tomboy Notes

Applications -> Accessories -> Tomboy Notes
Tomboy is a C# (Mono) application that burst onto the scene and became the default note manager in Ubuntu, replacing the long-time champ Gnome Sticky Notes applet. Tomboy features sync between computers and a wiki-like style of cross-note linking.

Compiz-fusion

System -> Preferences -> Appearance
The boys at Compiz and Beryl finally got together and worked their problems out. Compiz appeared by default in Ubuntu 7.04, but wasn't enabled. The big push to enable it was made for 7.10. Desktop effects are high on the list of a lot of new Ubuntu-heads. The plugins continue to race forward at a full sprint.

Tracker

Applications -> Accessories -> Tracker Search Tool
While Tomboy is a C# application which replaced one written in C, Beagle Search's C# drag finally got to enough people that Trackerd came in and immediately replaced the more featureful indexer. Tracker is now the default on Ubuntu 7.10.

Xorg

System -> Administration -> Screens and Graphics System -> Preferences -> Screen Resolution
Xorg finally got two things it has needed for ages: changing configuration (like screen resolution or adding a monitor) without restarting, and a graphical interface. I expect Xorg to make the list again in 2008, when Bulletproof X finally takes away many new users' worry of booting into a blinking termnal cursor.

Java

Applications -> Add/Remove -> Sun Java
Java didn't really improve. Installing Java, however, did. Sun released Java under a FLOSS-friendly license, making it installable in the same manner as other applications. The open source versions of Java also progressed enough to run OpenOffice.org' advanced features.

Rhythmbox

Applications -> Sound and Video -> Rhythmbox Music Player
Just about the most important thing for most Rhythmbox users, a plugin was finally included for MTP support, so all those MTP-enabled portable players suddenly became drag-and-drop with Rhythmbox. Suddenly, there was no more need for a command line to update that MTP database.

F-Spot

Applications -> Graphics -> F-Spot Photo Manager
Whatever you think about Mono (it is controvesial), it continues to show its ability to quickly produce full-featured apps. F-Spot has gone from virtually nothing to a great photo manager (with export to virtually every major online service) in just a year. We're still waiting for the plugins to start appearing, though.

GStreamer

Applications -> Add/Remove -> gstreamer0.10-plugins
GStreamer got many new plugins, the ability to use Windows DLLs, and, most importantly, the ability for on-demand installation of codecs. Suddenly, the back end for Gnome's audio and video became viable enough for other desktops to begin looking at using it.

Firefox

Applications -> Internet -> Firefox Web Browser
The actual application didn't improve much this year becaue all the development work is being done on Firfox 3, but Ubuntu made its own contribution by adding easy system-wide installation of common plugins and extensions like flash and java. Ubuntu also put in the apt: handler by default, which means that it's really easy for me to write web-based howtos now.

The Deskbar Applet

ALT-F3
Deskbar became the default place to search for stuff in Ubuntu. Whether you wanted to look through your files, open recent documents, or do a quick web search, Deskbar was the place to go.

Honorable Mention:

These applications aren't installed by default, but they deserve to be mentioned because they are so popular.

VirtualBox

VirtualBox isn't really an Ubuntu application, but it is easily installable, and the open source edition is perfect for anyone who needs to run Windows for that odd application or for testing a new Linux distribution. Of course, KVM, QEMU, and VMWare still remain viable ptions for the average desktop user, too.

Least Improved


Evolution

This monolithic beast continues to stick out like a sore thumb in a Unix world of "do one task and do it well." It is slow and bloated. It has been sitting at virtually the same place for a couple of years, and major bugs in the e-mail client have yet to be solved. I don't know anyone who wants to use it.

Apps which use Telepathy

I know you've probably never heard of Telepathy, but it is the not-so-new "new" Gnome backend for unified chat, VOIP, and video chat. It has so many backends. It connects to the MSNnetwork, Jabber servers like GTalk, AIM, and IRC. It even has this cool little Zeroconf backend which will identify other users on your network and connect to them without a server. It's great. So why is it in the section on disappointments? No one is using it.
Specifically, I've tried to get voice/video over Jabber working on Ubuntu for a friend. There were some mockups of the functionality in 2005. There were some more in 2006. There's still no real way to do it, short of writing my own aplication which uses Telepathy. The framework is there, but no one is writing a frontend to it. Sad. Dissapointing. We need you, Empathy. You're our only hope.

NetworkMonitor

This application let you choose various networks and move between them without major hassle in 2006. People heralded it. Then it broke. Then it broke again. Ubuntu 7.10 shipped without being able to control several open source wireless drivers. Connectios drop. People are frustrated. I'm tired of answering posts about this on Ubuntu Forums.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Savage 2: A Tortured Soul

Want something new? Want something different? Yet don't want to learn a completely different style of game? We've got the answer!

Savage 2: A Tortured Soul is a fast paced strategy shooter that takes team based game play to another level. Each match is a war for dominance where two teams of 5 to 32 players attempt to destroy each other. It will take more than guns to finish the job. Assume your position as a fighter, armed with swords, guns, and magic; or take the field as a support character that builds, heals, and resurrects fallen comrades.

That's how Savage 2: A Tortured Soul describes itself.

Did you ever play Warcraft? No, not Wow. Think back before that to the real-time strategy game. Yeah that one. The on that oddly played like Starcraft, also from Blizzard. Well, imagine if every unit on the field of play were an individual player.

But that's Wow, I hear you say.

WoW is an MMORPG. Imagine a cross between Warcraft and Counter Strike. Now you've got the idea...

Savage2 is definitely different. Playing it feels like Wow, but without the long-term character development. It also has elements of a first-person shooter, but the games are significantly longer. Normal FPS games don't require you to develop units, stake out ground, etc.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. It seems too long for the twitch players and too short for the RPG players. I don't know how well a random team will work with one player being the "general," overseeing and directing everything.

But it's definitely different, and that's a good thing in a market where every game seems the same with slightly different graphics or gameplay. New genres are hard to come by.

Linux beta clients ow available for testing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

LinuxMCE is the Sexiest Thing I've Ever Seen!


Highlights of the video

  • Simple installation with video assistance during installation
  • Full-screen media at all times
  • DVDs play when inserted
  • Windows IR remotes are plug and play
    • The remote operation uses only three buttons
    • The gyro in the remote helps in navigation
    • Either relative or absolute movement in a video
    • Extremely simple operation emphasizing the most common activities, with less common activities still accessible
  • Simple DVR setup
    • Customizable guides with icons
    • Bookmarked TV shows appear at the top of the guide
    • Filter and search
    • Commercial skip
  • Network storage devices with media automatically recognized and imported
  • Powers A/V equipment on and off automatically
  • Cable PVR boxes need to be set up manually, but all functions work
    • Cable can be streamed to any room with A/V equipment
    • Able to receive HD content with seamless changing between the MCE and the cable box
    • Any remote set up in MCE will control the cable box
  • DVD jukebox is plug and play
  • Web browsing
  • Control lighting and other household functions
    • Can auto-dim lights in any room where the TV is playing
    • One-click "go to bed" will turn all lights off, set the security, and forward calls
  • Additional media locations only need a tiny thin client
    • Remote will automatically bind to the closest thin client
    • Cable, including pay-per-view, can be forwaded to any room
    • Media will even follow you from room to room with one click
      • walk out of the bedroom and the movie moves to the kitchen with you
      • A/V equipment powers on and off automatically
  • Network audio stations can supply music to any room
  • Bluetooth phones can controll everything, too
    • View status from your phone
    • Even talk to the intruder
  • Security system with webcams, motion detectors, and audio
  • IP phones
  • Integrated voice mail
  • Floor plans of your house control everything intuitively
  • Many more advanced features
Unbelievable. I've been talking about my future A/V system in my permanent house in Thailand for a couple of years now. I've found my dream system!

The ASUS Eee PC is coming to Korea!

First, the press release:



ASUS announced the launch of its flagship notebook pc 'Eee PC' in Japan market. Weighting 980g, it adopted 7-inch LCD display and 4GB~16GB SSD.



It is expected to be available in February 2008 in Japan market as well as Korea market.



Now, a review:




And another one:




Finally, my thoughts:


If this appears in Korea at the same price point, I'm getting one the first month. I'll probably replace the system with Ubuntu, so my work, home, and laptop are all consistent, but we'll see.

p.s. I already broke the bad news to Gale.

The Safa Q10 2GB MP3 Player on Ubuntu

I bought a Safa Q10 for Gale last night form the local Home Plus. The biggest chanllenge in getting it set up was changing the menu from Korean t a language we understand. The good news is that there are probably fifty different languages supported, so Gale can get either English or Thai. I guess she'll choose English, because teh Thai font is too small to be easily readable.

Why did I buy an off brand like this one (and one without OGG support, either)? It was 49K won. That's USD52 for a 2GB MP3 player that uses a simple USB mass storage device protocol to interface with the computer.

Speaking of interface, it's sparse. There are few buttons and figuring out how to work the device was a little tricky. Once Gale gets used to it, though, it should be fine. You don't really need to change your play options that often, do you?

Since we have a few songs in OGG and FLAC, I was worried about how to keep Gale from getting frusrated, then I remembered the .is_audio_player file format. I set up the file on her device and Rhythmbox can pull directly from our DAAP (iTunes) server, convert to MP3 if necessary, and deposit in a nice directory structure on the Q10 in one drag-and-drop motion. On Gale's Core 2 Duo machine, the transmission over the network takes longer than the reencoding.

It's a cheap, large-capacity MP3 player. Yay! ;)

The Press Release



Safa rolled out its new mp3 player 'Q10' in Korea market. By applying IMD method, it features ergonomic design with round corners. It is designed to be easy to handle by eliminating buttons on the front that are not used frequently. It supports seven equalizer sound effects and SRS WOW. It also has 2-color STN LCD and various additional functions including voice recording, phone book, A-B repeat, and data storage with password support to protect important personal files.



It runs on internal lithium-ion battery and supports 12 hours of music play and 22 hours of recording. Suggested price is 79,000(KRW) for 1GB and 99,000(KRW) for 2GB.





Installing Ubuntu 7.10 - AMD64

I decided to take my previously installed machine and switch from 32 bits to 64 bits. I was more than a little nervous about the switch since I had done a ton of work customizing the old one.

Some background:
This computer was purchased specifically to work with Ubuntu, so it's almost entirely an Intel machine. As much as I root for AMD, Intel releases all of its specs and writes open source drivers for almost all of its stuff. Here's the spec:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo
RAM: 2GB
HDD: SATA 250GB Samsung
Chipset: i801
Graphics: Onboard i945
NIC: rt8139
Wifi: RaLink rt73usb

My first step was to back up my data. I attached the external drive, hit CTRL-h to show hidden files in my home folder, hit CTRL-a to select everything, then went item by item, deselecting the parts I knew I didn't need, like my .wine directory. Finally, I dragged everything onto the removable drive (46GB!!) and waited. And waited.

While I waited, I burned the Ubuntu 7.10 AMD64 disk image that I had downloaded the night before. It was too easy: I stuck a blank CD in the drive, clicked "Ignore," right-clicked on the image, and chose "Write to disk." Nothing could have been simpler, except that the first CD had an error during write, so I had to repeat the process, this time at a lower speed just to be safe. I used the md5sum command to check the hashes of the burned CD and the image to make sure that they were the same. (I had previously checked the hash of the image.)

I rebooted with the CD in the drive, hit F4 to change the resolution to 1280x1024, and hit enter. Once the live CD was up and running, I immediately ran the install and surfed the web while I waited.

Then I ran into my first problem. The wireless dropped the connection and wouldn't come back up. The security updates failed due to the lack of an Internet connection. Indeed, once I rebooted into the installed system, the RaLink 73 USB device wasn't even recognized, so I busted out the LAN cables. Meh.

Then I started the restore process suing the same method I had used earlier, only in reverse.

I went to Software Sources, activated all the extra repositories and updated the package list. I used Add/Remove to install my normal additions to Ubuntu: ubuntu-restricted-extras (for all the codecs and plugins), Lyx (for writing), Referencer (for my bibliographies), Epiphany (which I prefer to Firefox), Devede (a DVD creator), Pitivi (a VERY simple video editor), Istanbul (for taking screencasts), and the Empathy / Telepathy set (the upcoming Gnome IM / VOIP / Video chat solution integrated into every application). I also updated all the software.

So here I am, typing on my newly reinstalled and configured, barely an hour after I first started the process. F-Spot has all my photos. Rhythmbox still has my songs. Best of all, my documents are all here and Tracker has the index of them. My bookmarks and passwords are even in place. Computational tasks like encoding seem faster, but I didn't do any benchmarks. My 2GB of RAM can now be handled natively, instead of in 1GB chinks. Reinstallation couldn't get any easier. Next time, I won't even have to restore because I've given myself a separate /home partition. I'll still back up before the upgrade, though. Always back up.

Now I need to get to work on the wireless driver ....

Well, that's done. Download the rt73-cvs tarball from serialmonkey.com and grag the sole directory onto the desktop. Install build-essential to set up the build environment. Enter the Module directory in rt73 and type "make" then "sudo strip -S rt73.ko" and finally "sudo make install" to finish the installation. Blacklist the regular rt modules in the kernel and load the new rt73 module.

In /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist:
# Blacklist rt73usb
# Blacklist rt2570
blacklist rt2570
# Other modules
blacklist rt2500usb
blacklist rt2x00lib

Set up networking. Done. Maybe ten minutes.

On a side note, this shouldn't have to be done at all. RaLink wireless devices used to work fine. There are many people like me who went out of theri way to buy RaLink specifically because they were supported. I'm pissed at Canonical for shipping drivers which it knew to be bad. They drop. They crash. They just don't work. I filed bugs during the alpha phase. Nothing happened. Friggin' don't ship them if you can't fix them! This situation had better be fixed by Hardy, or the LTS moniker won't mean shit.

Well, I found another problem. Flash isn't installed. Normally, in 32 bit, ubuntu-restricted-extras would install flash, but that didn't happen here. Installing flash-plugin-nonfree appeared to work, but the browser experience is the same as if I hadn't installed it.

It turns out that there's a bug in the 64-bit version, and the fix is linked to in the bug tracker. Installing this fixed all problems. NOTE: Installing packages from untrusted sources is a bad idea.

Next on the agenda is to get a seamless backup and restore system working. TimeVault is my preferrred application for this, but no 64 bit version exists. Compiling my own fails, and there's almost no documentation on dependencies required, etc. Stay tuned for this one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dell Moving Forward With Ubuntu 7.10

While I've been pragmatic about Ubuntu 7.10 -- it has many great new features and an equal number of new piquadillos -- I think Dell putting it on their Ubuntu anemic line-up is a good sign of company support for the line.

Most notable in the announcement is encrypted DVD playback via bundling of a proprietary DVD player called LinDVD and the inclusion of a DVD recovery image which doesn't need to take up your precious hard-disk space.
:)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Worry-free Backups with TimeVault


A few weeks ago, I stumbled across TimeVault while looking for a seamless backup solution. I wanted something that watched my files and only backed up when something changed. I also wanted the restore process to be as easy as possible.

TimeVault is hands-off and restore is accessed directly from your file browser, as seen in the screenshot above. You can take snapshots every five minutes or every day .... That's up to you.

Howtoforge has a nice ... howto ... on it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Too lazy to build your own file/torrent server?

I recently wrote about how to build your own file and torrent server. Well, it turns out a nice new NAS device has tons of room for storage and even includes a torrent client standard. Wow. Check out the PPD Lan from Taiwan.






Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Back up your data

Urgent help needed - data retrieval - is the data gone?
Hi everyone

I was trying to install Ubuntu on the D drive of my sisters computer. However when it came to installing Ubuntu from the live CD I stupidly chose guided partition. The partition was aborted (rather late) and I know that one partition (a recovery partition) wasn't deleted.

How much data is retrievable after reformatting a drive (from NTFS to ext3)?
How can I get it back?
Do I need to go (and pay) to a data retrieval specialist?


The Hard drive contains 1 year and a half of my sisters work (doctor researching aids in Africa). It is essential that I try to get this data back...

Thanks for any help


I'll repeat the title of this post. Back up your data. Back up your data. Back up your data.

Always do a backup of important data before repartitioning. Always.

The bad news is that our friend probably overwrote large portions of the data. At least he caught the mistake later on and aborted before the entire process finished. Depending on the program that was used, the remaining data may or may not be usable: if the data was compressed (likely), the achive might not be recoverable.

Best of luck to him.

Always back up before a potentially dangerous activity.

Install SimpleBackup now.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Running Windows Applications in Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy) Using VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a virtual machine that's available in Ubuntu 7.10 and that will allow you to run those stubborn Windows applications that you can't get read of. Watch the video to learn how to make one of your system's workspaces a Windows XP one.
Running Windows Applications in Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy) Using VirtualBox (Click for Large Version).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Elisa Media Center








Elisa is a light, easy-to-use front end to the Gnome (Ubuntu) multimedia backend, called GStreamer. Since reviewing a media player in an article seemed to lack some punch, I made a screencast showing how it works. There was no script, so please excuse the "ummm"s.
Since you've seen the screenshots, you should be motivated enough to watch An Overview of the Elisa Media Center 0.3 (Click for large version).

Great Ubuntu Videos

John Bradbury
There's a nice little three-part video series by John Bradbury ( http://www.johnbradbury.com ), an experienced Windows adminisrator who is looking at Ubuntu for the first time and trying to give his impression of it. The videos pull no punches, describing what he likes, what he thinks is doable for him, and what he thinks would confuse the average user.

The first video, "Ubuntu -- First Impressions," deals with booting the live CD, installing, and trying to figure out the method behind doing daily tasks on the desktop. Most things work fairly well but operate slightly differently than Windows. Please let me answer two of his questions in the video:
  1. The update manager keeps track of every piece of software that you install through Add/Remove or the Synaptic Package Manager, and
  2. Using Add/Remove (in the Applications menu) is much easier than using Synaptic. Use Synaptic only for those situations where you require a much more detailed search and know exactly what you want.


Larger Version

The second video, "Ubuntu -- Office Functionality" gets into the ability of Ubuntu to use common types of files. Ubuntu surprises on many points and fails in a few. He didn't, however , get very finicky about the format of MS Word docs in OpenOffice.org Writer, which is a real complaint, but which is also a problem across different versions of MS Word (or sometimes even different machines with the same version). I applaud him for that.


Larger Version

The final installment, "Ubuntu -- Multimedia Support" tries to play the most common formats of multimedia files, with many successes and one not-so-surprising failure. Please visit my codec page on how to get the codecs working once without being nagged for new codes all the time (this also solves the failure in his video).

Large Version

From the screencast team:
Skype on Ubuntu


Watching Video on Ubuntu


Connecting to Printers


Tour of the Places and System Menus


Tour of the Ubuntu Applications


Files and Folders


Users and Fast User Switching


Installing Applications on Ubuntu


Updating and Upgrading Ubuntu

Friday, November 30, 2007

Setting up a dedicated torrent server

What is bittorrent?
If you don't already know, you should stop reading now.

Why would I want to set up a dedicated torrent server?
I live in a country where my only option for English TV/Movies is crap cable with constant reruns of CSI and Van Damme bashers. In my first town here, there weren't even English movie theaters within two hours' travel. Maybe you're in a similar situation. Maybe you are just lazy and never want to leave the house. Whatever the reason, if you already download a significant amount, you may want a torrent server.

Why? Aren't mTorrent and Azureus enough for anyone? Not really.

Desktop torrent clients are ... well ... tied to my desktop. I can't logout. I can't shut down. My user experience suddenly starts crawling because my torrents are blazing down at record speed. Whatever the reason for the slowdown is, I found my desktop experience rather pallid with a bittorrent client. I think most people are in a similar situation, judging by how many discussions there are on the internet about trying to get a lighter client.


So what do we want?
I wanted a headless server that just ran all the time. In fact, it made sense for this server to do double-duty as a file server, as well, since I needed to get the files off of the server somehow.

You will need the following specs:
  • CPU: Whatever you find here is probably good enough. If you add TV-out and a video front-end to your server, like Elisa or MythTV, you'll want something strong enough to handle the load.
  • RAM: More is better, but you don't need 4GB or anything. 1GB will certainly handle everything.
  • Graphics card: You've got to be kidding. It's headless. Get something on-board. If you want TV-out, get a low-end card with well supported TV-out, like the Intel chipsets, SiS, or NVidia. I've had a lot of bad experiences with ATIs video out, but that may not be the case now that ATI has released specifications for their cards.
  • Disks: Big and fast. I can fill a 300GB disk in about three weeks. If I'm downloading a well-seeded Linux distro, I can hit 1MB/sec download, so the disk need to be fast enough to catch up. A big cache is good because the disk will spend a lot of time seeking if you have 6-8 torrents running at the same time. CD/DVD drive is probably only necessary to make installation easy.
  • Network: 100Mb/sec should be enough for just about anyone, but you can go with 1Gb/s if it makes you feels safer. You'll probably bottleneck at the disk drive, anyway.
  • Keyboard: Yes
  • Mouse: No
  • Case: Buy a larger one with space to add drives. Trust me. You'll need them.
  • Remote: If you do TV-out, it's probably a good idea, but I won't tell you how to do that here.

Installation
Buy The parts for about 300Kwon (350USD) and assemble the computer. Temporarily attach a monitor and CD drive so that you can do the install. Download an Ubuntu Server CD. Install the operating system with a LAMP stack. That will make everything easy.

Once the OS is installed, we should add SSH so that we can administer the server remotely while sitting comfortably at a desk. aptitude install openssh-server.

Remove the monitor, stick the server in a corner or closet, and go sit down at your desk. Log in to the server remotely.

Next, we need to add the torrent server. I have used Torrentflux as a server for quite some time. It is mature and works well. I used to have to download and manually configure, but now you can just use aptitude or apt-get to install it. Everything is simple. aptitude install torrentflux.


The installation screens will handle the configuration for you and help you set up the database and admin account.

When you are finished, open your webbrowser and navigate to http://{server IP}/torrentflux to log in. You will probably only need the administration account, but you might consider multiple accounts if you have roommates or a vicious family.

Finalizing the install
You'll need to look at the ports your server has assigned for bittorrents and forward those ports from your router to the server. If you've been bittorenting for a while, you probably already have ports forwarded to your desktop, so I won't tell you how to do that. While you're at the router, you may want to set up a QOS system limiting your up and down rate from the server. Especially look at upload rate, since saturating the upload will kill your Internet browsing.
Starting torrents
There are several ways to start torrents in Torrentflux. The most direct way is to upload a torrent file from your desktop machine. The torrent will be added to the list of available torrents but won't be started by default. You'll need to click on the little green arrow to do that.

The next way to get a torrent is to download it directly from the torrent site to the server. To do this, you copy the torrent download link from a website and click the button. This only works for public trackers. Sites which require a password will need a cookie file installed on the Torrentflux server. See the TF site for instructions on how to do this.

The Simplest way to add a torrent is to use the supplied search sites. Torrentflux will scrape the web page of a major site and return information about your search. Clicking on the link to the torrent automatically adds it to the list of available torrents. I use this method 95% of the time.

Queues
Torrentflux works really well out of the box, but if you want a little extra chocolaty goodness on top, enable the queue engine. It was really unstable for a long time, but they've gotten that fixed now. You can limit the number of active torrents to a good number like six or eight. After that, torrents which are started will join the queue and be next up in line to start once one of the current torrents finishes. To make this work, you need to set a seed limit on your torrents so that they stop automatically. Queues are great when you go on vacation or are away for a few days.
Setting up Samba
I'm not actually going to document this here because there are already a number of really good resources on the Ubuntu site and Ubuntu forums. I will say that, for ease of use, you should set up your share to force read/write as the www-data user by default. This will ensure that there are no permission problems.

If you don't feel like setting up Samba, NFS, or FTP, Torrentflux does offer a simple but effective web interface for managing your torrents downloads.




Happy torrenting!!

References:
  • The Torrentflux site: http://www.torrentflux.com/
  • More about Torrentflux: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrentflux
  • The Ubuntu Server Install Edition: http://www.ubuntu.com/products/WhatIsUbuntu/serveredition
  • Installing the Ubuntu Server Edition: http://onlyubuntu.blogspot.com/2007/10/ubuntu-710-gutsy-gibbon-lamp-server.html
  • Installing Samba on Ubuntu: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=202605
  • Installing MythTV on Ubuntu: http://parker1.co.uk/mythtv_ubuntu.php
  • Screenshots courtesy of the Torrentflux website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Pain of Loss

Last week, our network at work was down for 95% of the time due to a worm infestation that installed a backdoor and countless other pieces of malware. The worm spread to almost every computer in this location and IT's attempts to eradicate it failed every time. The IT department eventually decided to reinstall every computer in the building (except mine, of course) and restore from backups.

It didn't work. The backups were infected, too.

I just watched as the woman who sits next to me sobbed for 15 minutes because the last few weeks' work (at least -- I don't really know the whole time frame) was completely lost and she's going to have to recreate it, probably on her own time. I guess the oldest backups available may be infected, too

The drama is still unfolding, and she's started crying again.

Depression.

Windows XP + untrained IT staff.

Meh.

The autistic nerd in me is just happy that the pain isn't mine.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Want to Dance?


Pydance is a relatively simple program for Linux that's similar to Dance Dance Revolution. Dance pads are supported, but you can just play wih your keyboard if you like. The game also supports music files from other DDR-like games.

First, install Pydance.
Next, open your Home file browser and choose View -> Show hidden files.
Go into the .pydance directory.
Create a new directory named "songs" with a lower case "s."
Visit a Dance dowload site like this one.
Download songs and drag the folder with the song's name from the archinve manager into the new songs directory in .pydance.
Repeat the downloads until you have several songs.
Optionally, you could search for a free song pack, possibly on a bittorrent site (please respect copyright).
Start Pydance in Applications -> Games -> pydance.

Have fun dancing!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Concentrating on Writing, not Styling

People who know me know that I'm writing a book (I cringe as I say that, hating the person like me who is always writing a book but never finishing one). Actually, I'm writing two books right now, with two more started but shelved for the time being. I have written over 800 pages between the four books. These are non-fiction, not novels.

I didn't use to be so prolific. I spent all my time farting around with my word processor, making my writing look the way I wanted it to. I wished I could stop fiddling, but I couldn't.

Then I discovered Latex. Latex is touted as a great way for the writer to focus on writing. It looks like this:
\documentclass[12pt,ebook,twoside,final,titlepage]{memoir}
\usepackage{graphicx,color,fancybox,varioref}
\graphicspath{{Graphics/}{Screens/}}%

\title{Making the Network More Secure}
\author{Daeng Bo}%

\flushbottom
\raggedbottom%

\usepackage{makeidx}
\makeindex%

\usepackage{glossary}
\makeglossary%
% \usepackage[Lenny]{fncychap}

\input{Admonitions}
In reality, Latex just shifted my concern from styling to programming. I'd spend too much time trying to figure out how to create a special kind of float or other such nonsense. True, I was more productive than I had been before. My drafts definitely looked great. I mean, they looked like books, not letters bashed out in a word processor. I still felt I was wasting too much time, though.

Then I discovered Lyx, a What You See Is What You Mean (WYSIWYM) front-end for Latex. Well, honestly, I'd tried to use Lyx a few times before, but it hadn't worked out well because I had been stuck in a word-processor mentality, trying to use a crowbar to make everything work the way I wanted it to. My time with Latex broke me of that habit, and moving to Lyx just freed up my mind to concentrate on writing.



I can't style. There's no way to do it. Idon't have to remember commands. They're generated for me. I just type. On a good day (once or twice a month), I can produce 20-30 unedited pages. Most days I write much less, but I do it in my spare time when I get motivated. I end up with great-looking stuff. My only complaint is that it isn't a Gnome application, so it doesn't mesh seamlessly with Ubuntu.



Because I use about a hundred books in my research, keeping bibliographies used to be a pain. Once I started using Pybliographer to keep my collection in a Bibtex database (usable by Latex), I had many fewer problems. Just the other day, though, I ran into a problem with Pybliographer and couldn't overcome it. I was again spending my time with my tools instead of writing. I found Referencer, and am amazed by how much more it does. It's perfect for me since 90% of my refence books are electronic. It also looks up journal articles and automatically fills in the bibliographic information for me. My PDFs even get a preview icon so that I can identify them visually. The only thing it doesn't do is automatically insert the reference into Lyx at the point I'm typing. I can easily work around that. Cut and Paste is my friend! It even tags my documents for when the list gets too long.



Writing with Lyx is too easy. If you write for a living or a hobby, you should look it over.

HOWTO
Install Lyx : This will give you Lyx and the Latex environment
Install texlive-latex-recommended : You will have more Latex options for templates
Install texlive-fonts-recommended : You need extra, typeset fonts
Install referencer

Open the Lyx Introduction and Tutorial under the help menu.
Import your e-books into Referencer.
Start typing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I Use Epiphany Instead of Firefox on Ubuntu

The title explains the premise, I've been using Epiphany for a couple of years and is one of the few changes I recommend making to Ubuntu (some of the others include finding something ... anything ... except OpenOffice.org, changing your photo import program from gphoto to f-spot-import, and using deluge instead of the anemic bittorrent client currently offered). Here are the reasons why:
  1. Epiphany is a Gnome application, so it fits into the Ubuntu desktop. If I were running Kubuntu, I would want to use Konqueror instead of Firefox. Epiphany is the official Gnome browser, in fact. The look is entirely consistent. Firefox does its best to copy the look and icons of the Gnome theme, but it still fails in important areas like UI consistency, menu placement, preferences, etc.
  2. Epiphany uses the same libraries as the rest of Gnome, lowering its memory footprint. Firefox is ultimately an XUL application. When I start Firefox, all those initial libraries need to load, meaning it's slow. Did anyone ever complain that FF was slow? Epiphany uses the Gnome and GTK libraries which have already been loaded by teh GNome desktop. It comes up almost instantaneously and reacts quickly. My memory is low. My memory use for an entire desktop, applets, music, and browsing with 10 tabs usually runs at about 300MB.
  3. Gnome is increasingly being built with this browser in mind. Integration. It was good (in some ways) for Windows' users. The next version of Gnome will see further integration of bookmarks (read Epiphany's bookmarks) into the desktop. Firefox, however, is seeing diminishing development on Linux. Firefox 3 will emphasize Windows and Mac.
  4. Epiphany and Firefox both use the same rendering engine so my pages turn out exactly the same.
  5. Epiphany has most of the same extensions as FF.
  6. It's Free software.
  7. Added Later : Epiphany doesn't do anything except browsing. RSS feeds are handled by the system's RSS reader. HTML source opens in the HTML reader. Very Unixy, that way. This helps keep the codebase cleaner and make it easier to squash bugs.
I wish Ubuntu would make Epiphany the default browser, but that will alienate many switchers who are used to FF on Windows.

Added Later : I have a video I made showing how much faster Epiphany is on my machine. After I made it, I realised that Epiphany had several extensions loaded while FF had none. That makes the difference even more amazing. I'll post the video this evening.

video
OK, so this took a lot longer than I planned. Both applications were loaded, closed, given a bit of time to flush, then loaded again. The time is for the second loading.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why Ubuntu Doesn't Work Out For Some People

Using Ubuntu is a compromise in many ways. Although it's true that Linux supports more hardware than Windows XP (or especially Vista, at this point) does, much of the odd hardware on desktop systems isn't supported or is only supported partially. Many pieces of hardware that ARE supported require some setup to get running. This gets remarkably better with each release, but it will likely be true for the foreseeable future.

The capabilities of Ubuntu are also different than Windows XP or Vista. When a Windows game player/user buys a new computer, he researches whether Vista or XP better meets his needs and what software will work with it. There is a LOT of Win98 software which doesn't work well or at all in XP. The same is true for XP software in Vista. If this user absolutely needs XP to play a game or runs Win98 in a virtual machine in order to get that one piece of software to run, there's no way he'll buy an OS and go through the pain of installing it when he knows that OS won't meet his software needs.

So that means the very first thing we need to do, long before installing, is evaluate our needs in both hardware and software support. If you NEED to use the scanner you have which isn't on the supported hardware list, you're going to be disappointed and leave quickly. If you're married to a piece of software and won't learn or can't use another piece, you're going to immediately begin trying to shoehorn a piece of software into Ubuntu when the software was never meant to run on the OS. You'll be frustrated and leave soon, as well.

When we have a good understanding of what hardware and software we intend to use and whether it's supported or not, the installaion process often become trivial.

I'm going to say something that will sound a little silly when I write it, but which many people miss. Ubuntu is best at what it is set up to do. That means that using the default applications is easier and better supported than using some new and different one you heard about in the forum. Ubuntu works well with hardware which is recommended and supported out of the box.

Life gets even easier if you buy your system pre-installed on 100% supported hardware from vendors like System76 and Dell.

Right now, Ubuntu doesn't play Windows games well (without a ton of work). It doesn't automatically connect and configure itself to your company's Active Directory network. MS Office compatibility is 95%. Some (few) websites refuse to work well with Firefox. Some codecs and DRMed material will NEVER play. There are very few options for video chat in Ubuntu at this point. You begin to truly understand the need for open formats and hardware specifications when you move to Ubuntu. You will hate DRM.

Your workflow will have to change once you move to Ubuntu. You will have to learn some new programs and new ways of doing things. Some things will be easier and some will take twice as long.

What Ubuntu DOES offer is hassle-free work once you are set up on it. Your workflow can remain the same for years without having to worry about downtime, reboots, or malware. If you don't upgrade the next LTS version of Ubuntu, you can have three years of solid work under your belt and cry every time you have to maintain a Windows machine. If you like just getting work done and have a stable environment to do it in, Ubuntu is a joy.

Or you could get a Mac and hand your wallet over to Steve. That works for a lot of people, too. Because the hardware and almost all software come from Apple, everything works together well.

How do I play AAC files and streams?

You will need to make sure you have faac / faad installed in order to decode the files / streams. Make sure you have the other restricted codecs installed, as well.

When you finish the codec installation, check your ability to play AAC (without DRM) streams with this link. The stream may take a while to get going. Just be patient.

Uninstalling iTunes and Wine

I recently saw a problem where a new user installed Wine (a Windows compatability layer) so he could run iTunes. If you want to do it, too, you can foolow the directions for iTunes on Ubuntu just to spite Vista. In the end, though, he didn't have working sound and didn't want to take up space on his hard drive.

Removing iTunes via the uninstaller didn't work for him, either, and removing the Wine application didn't clean up his menu. He was understandably frustrated, and thought his only choice was to go in and manually remove system files. Here's my advice to him (or you, if you're in this position).

Before you delete files manually in the system area (always a bad idea for a new user), go to System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package manager.

Supply your password In the left pane, click to view packages by "Status" and choose the "Not installed (residual config)" section. You'll find Wine in there.

Click on the square next to the wine package and choose "Mark for Complete Removal." This will remove all the configuration files which aren't removed by default (so you don't have to set everything up again if you reinstall). You won't have those system files anymore.

Next, for your menu, open Places -> Home and in the View menu, choose to "Show hidden files." Enter the .config/menus/applications-merged area and delete anything that starts with "wine." Your wine menu entry should be gone now.

This basic procedure will work for any stubborn application which refuses to disappear from your system and your menu.

p.s. Rhythmbox is a good replacement for iTunes and has the bonus of being the default player in Ubuntu. If you don't like RB, I understand Songbird is excellent.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Worried About How to Play MP3 and Divx files?

Want to play multimedia? Want to get Flash and Java? All that stuff used to be a pain in the ass to get going in Linux.

Don't worry. It's only three, easy steps now.

1. Enable the Universe and Multiverse repositories

The software we need isn't officially supported by Ubuntu, but it's on their servers. We just need to tell Ubuntu 7.10 to start looking there.

Go to System -> Administration -> Software Sources and click the Universe and Multiverse entries, as seen in the screenshot below.

2. Install all the codecs and plugins

It's as simple as clicking this link:

Ubuntu Restricted Extras

This will install the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package from the Ubuntu repository (no, you're not downloading anything from here). Type in your password, and you're done.

3. Install DVD playback

The only other thing to mess with is DVD playback. Simply hit ALT-F2 to bring up a command prompt and copy this line in:

gksudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh


Click Run.

You're done and Ubuntu 7.10 should do everything with multimedia that you ask it to do.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reflections on the Seven Reasons Ubuntu Became Popular

I saw blogs about the seven reasons why Ubuntu became popular and questioning why you would need Windows when Kubuntu is available. I have my own opinions on why Ubuntu became so popular (much more so than Kubuntu) and why it's worth trying.

  1. Ubuntu had a vision: Mark Shuttleworth took a good look at desktop Linux and tried to identify where it was lacking. He decided that eight million applications on twenty-five CDs made Linux difficult for new users. His policy was to distribute a single CD with only the best of each kind of application installed. These applications wouldn't be called by name, but by purpose, reducing the confusion to new users.
  2. Following Standards: Ubuntu puts a lot of effort into the organization of the software, and they follow the recommendations of Freedesktop.org, insuring that whatever they do can be taken and used by anyone else following those standards. Gutsy sees the addition of XDG base directories. Hopefully we will see applications begin to look in these directories by default.
  3. Commitment to progress: Canonical (Ubuntu's umbrella corporation) made early commitments to in areas that didn't have strong applications. Mplayer and Xine were decent movie players at the time Ubuntu came out, but they both skirt the edge of copyright infringement, making them less-than-optimal. Canonical committed to the GStreamer backend early on, even though it had fewer features at the time, because they saw that it would provide a consistent and well-structured way to do audio and video in Linux. The developers worked together with the Gnome project to make this happen. A lot of new Linux distributions repackage stuff and stop at that. Certainly the larger ones like Red Hat and Suse have quite a few developers on staff, but few others add capabilities to applications. Geexbox is a great project and spends an enormous amount of time on the glue holding stuff together, but the developers don't really work on the MPlayer or Xine movie players. Right now, Ubuntu is working hard to bring the Telepathy framework up to speed, which will do for IM, video chat, and telephony what GStreamer did for audio and video.
  4. Easy application installation: Some developers complain about the Add/Remove application (available under the Applications menu) duplicating the function of the Synaptic Package Manager (available under System -> Administration). Synaptic isn't very user-friendly. Sure, it's not difficult to use, but compare it to the simple Add/Remove interface and you'll see what I'm talking about. Add/Remove made finding and installing new software easy-peasy.
  5. Community: Ubuntu made an early and large commitment to a user community. Fedora was always second to Red Hat -- everyone knew it was the place to dump and test all the unstable stuff. Suse (at that time) didn't distribute for free. Ubuntu's "community version" is the same as the "enterprise version," and always will be. There's no per-seat limit -- no CPU limitation. It was free and community oriented. The forums encouraged regulars to sign an agreement on how to approach new users with problems so that everyone felt included. Canonical "got" Open Source from the moment it left the gate. You o not know how rare this is. Think of Linspire, Xandros, and Xara XTreme as bad examples.
Ultimately, Canonical made the right moves at the right time, making a real commitment to good software and a user community. Shuttleworth had great success before Ubuntu, so I'm sure his experience and drive were contributing factors.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So You Want to Know How to Use Anti-virus Software on Ubuntu?

You've got an Ubuntu system, and your years of working with Windows makes you concerned about viruses -- that's fine. While Ubuntu (and Linux in general) is a very secure system, and Ubuntu comes with no "open ports" (that means avenues by which worms can get into your system without your assistance), there is always a certain danger from malicious software. The following is an overview of the entire list of Linux worms viruses and worms known at this time, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Worms
  • Net-worm.linux.adm: This is a worm from 2001 which exploited a buffer overrun (one of the most common methods for viruses). It scans the network for computers with open ports, tries the attack, infects web pages hosted on the system and propogates further. This worm is not dangerous to you because the buffer overruns have been patched for years and you do not have any open ports.
  • Adore: An infected computer scans the network for DNS, FTP, and printer servers, infecting them using various methods. A backdoor is installed and the worm propogates itself. This worm is not dangerous to you because the methods of attack are also from 2001 and have been long patched. Even if the weren't patched, you don't have these services running on your Ubuntu system.

  • The Cheese Worm uses a backdoor which was installed by another worm, removing the backdoor and propogating. It is, in fact, an attempt to clean and already infected system. This worm is not dangerous because the worms it needed to propogate are no longer dangerous. Whether is was ever dangerous in the first place is debatable.
  • Devnull is a worm from 2002 which used an old OpenSSL to infect a system, becmoing part of an IRC controlled botnet. The worm could only propogate if a compiler was present on the system. The vulnerability this worm used has long been patched. OpenSSH is not installed on your system by default.
  • The Kork Worm uses the Red Hat Linux 7.0 print server and needs to download part of itself from a website. That website no longer exists. Red Hat 7.0 is not Ubuntu Linux. You are safe.
  • The Lapper Worm has no information about it at all, anywhere, so I can't give you and information about it, but it was added to the list in 2005, and any vulnerabilities it exploited have almost certainly been patched by now. I can't say for certain whether this worm could affect you or not, but most vulnerabilities are patched within days, not weeks, so two years makes it very unlikely you could be affected by this.
  • The L10n Worm (pronounced "Lion") was active in 2001 and used a printer server for exploit. The vulnerability has been patched and the server is not installed on Ubuntu. This is no danger to you.
  • The Mighty Worm appeared in 2002 and used a vulnerability in the secure session module of the old Apache web server, installing a backdoor and joining an IRC botnet. This vulnerability has been patched, Apache is not installed on your system, and the entire architecture of the web server has changed. You can never get infected.
  • The Slapper Worm used the same vulnerability as the Mighty Worm and operated similarly. You can't get this one, either.
Viruses
  • The Alaeda Virus is relatively recent (May) and infects other binary (program) files in the same directory. If you run as a normal user doing non-programming work, you should not have any other binaries in your home folder. Alaeda won't have anything to infect. This is a good reason why you shouldn't download and install random files off the Internet. If you don't know why you're typing in your password, don't do it. Realistically, though, ELF files (the Linux equivalent of a Wondows .exe) are pretty picky about what system they run on, so sthe chance of getting infected is slight.
  • The Binom Virus is from 2004 and affected ELF files in a similar manner to Alaeda. The same conditions apply here. You chance of getting infected is zilch if you don't give a password, and not much even if you do. Be safe, though, and don't run random attachments.
  • The Bliss Virus was probably a proof-of-concept by someone from 1997 trying to prove that Linux could be infected. Because of the Linux user privilege system and the thousands of versions of Linux, it didn't do well at all. This one is in the same boat as the two others. Almost nothing about the Linux kernel is the same as it was in 1997. Don't worry.
  • The Brundle-Fly Virus was a research virus for an operating systems course and was never in the wild. It even has a web page and an uninstaller. If you want to get infected by a virus, this one is good. You'll need to compile it for your system, though, so be prepare to follow a lot of complicated instructions.
  • The Diesel Virus is called "relatively harmless" by viruslict.com. It's an ELF virus, just like the others, discovered in 2002. No need to be concerned
  • The Kagob Virus comes in two flavors and even contains a copyright notice (2001). There are no symptoms of infection. Interestingly, when run, the virus disinfects the infected file to a temporary directory before running, then deletes the file after it is executed. Same ELF problems as before. You won't get this one, either.
  • The MetaPHOR Virus is another project with its own web page. The exact function and evolution of the virus is laid out. From 2002, it shouldn't represent any risk, even if you can find one in the wild. If you really want to get infected, download the source and compile it yourself.
  • OSF.8759 is the first really dangerous virus on the list. It not only infects all files in the directory (and system files if run as root), but also installs a backdoor into your system. The backdoor doesn't suffer from the problems of normal ELF viruses because the virus itself loads the backdoor. This means that the virus still needs to work under ELF, though, limiting the chance that it will work on your system. Since the virus is from 2002, there is virtually no chance that it will run on your system. If a new version becomes available, you might need to worry.
  • The RST Virus is also from 2002 and also installs a backdoor. It, however, operates under normal ELF rules, making it virtually harmless to today's sytems.
  • The Staog Virus was the first Linux virus, created in 1996. It used vulnerabilities which have loog been patched. It cannot harm you.
  • The VIT Virus is another ELF virus, this time from 2000. Since Ubuntu didn't exist seven years ago, you won't be running a system that old and won't be infected.
  • The Winter Virus is also from 2000 and is the smallest known Linux virus. It suffers from the same problems as all ELF viruses.
  • The Lindose Virus is another proof-of-concept virus, showing how a virus can be constructed to infect both Windows and Linux computers. It has never been seen in the wild. From 2001.
  • The ZipWorm Virus passes by infection of .zip files. When run, the virus infects all other .zip files in the directory. It has no other ill effects. From 2001, it is unlikely you'll ever run across it.
That's the entire list of Linux viruses and worms. Fewer than thirty. Compare that to the estimated 140,000 viruses for Wndows, and you'll understand why people say you don't need a virus scanner on Linux.

The Reality
If you are going to trade files in a Windows world, you'll need to scan those fies for viruses. You won't get infected, but you may help infect someone else. There are two ways to do this:
  1. Run all the files through a server which checks for you. GMail, Yahoo mail, and Hotmail all have wonderful checking software.
  2. Check the files for viruses yourself. You'll need to go to System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager and search for avscan. Install the package. It won't appear in the menu. Run it by pressing Alt-F2, typing avscan, and pressing Run.


You can now scan files (or your entire system) for viruses and worms.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Install Deluge and Enjoy Bittorrent Freedom

If you've recently installed Ubuntu and tried to download something via Bittorrent, you'll have noticed that a bittorrent client is installed by default. Just like the rest of Ubuntu's applications, you'll everything you need to operate day-to-day already installed. The basic bittorrent client has few options, though, and downloading more than one torrent at a time can be difficult, and there isn't any way to limit the upload or download speed globally, only per torrent.

Many users install Azureus to get a full-featured bittorrent client, but it is slow and uses a large amount of memory. uTorrent isn't available on Linux, but a nice little Gnome-friendly app called Deluge is!


It can easily handle ten or more torrents without affecting your CPU or memory in a significant way. The Deluge site says
When Deluge was first released in September 2006, it was very limited and lacking in features, but over the last year, Deluge has been one of, if not the most rapidly developed bittorrent client on the web. Now, Deluge is among the most feature-rich clients in development (second only to Azureus, but without the bloat, and ahead of ĀµTorrent according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent_client) , and it does this without the need of tools such as Java or Wine. Deluge was created with the intention of being lightweight and unobtrusive. It is our belief that downloading shouldn’t be the primary task on your computer, and therefore shouldn’t monopolize system resources.
Plugins
Deluge offers a large number of plugins, too, extending the funtionality of Deluge.

Linkage is another client that works well within Ubuntu, but it's still quite new and lacks the features (especially the plugins) that Deluge has.

Good luck torrenting!!!

Webrunner -- Is all the fuss worth the effort?

What is Webrunner?
Webrunner is a fork of Mozilla (the basis for Firefox) which is designed to make web apps like GMail and Google Docs appear to be more like desktop (local) apps. It claims to use native widgets for things like buttons, making the page more closely follow the theme of the desktop. How is it working? Let's take a look.

Webrunner's Look
Take a look at the following screenshots:
GMail
A couple of the buttons at the top of the screen look nice, but the rest of the page looks the same.
Google Docs

Again, a couple of buttons at the top (and no URI bar or menus).
Facebook

The Facebook pages look identical to the non-Webrunner version.
Yahoo Mail

Yahoo won't let us do the Beta (because the browser is "unsupported ... meh!), but even the normal buttons don't appear different.

What does it mean?

Let's compare the appearance of several other applications rendering the web. Konqueror gets the same look without requiring a separate application.

While I think that the idea of Webrunner is great, it's an alpha product that will supply nothing users can't get from Konqueror or Safari right now. Even Epiphany (the default Gnome browser) users get most of it, like the scroll bar in the following screenshot.

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