Thursday, 6 November 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 - the good the bad and the ugly: first impressions

The latest Ubuntu release, Intrepid Ibex is out now, but is it any good? Well, my first impressions are a mixed bag.

The Good...

Hardy Heron's Samba problems seem to have been sorted I think and Ibex ships with the latest edition of Firefox. The new Guest user is a great new feature that i've been wanting for ages, and encrypted folders are a good thing. Nautilus now has tabbed browsing at last, now it just needs split pane like konqueror...

The Bad

A friend of mines Lexmark Z1380 printer still doesnt work, even the PDF print feature doesn't work either, this seems to be a CUPS problem. I don't like the new network manager, I accidentally left a test machine without a network connection because it was so tricky to set up (although i could edit /etc/interfaces manually...), maybe I'll get use to it in time...

..and the Ugly

The new brown theme is not much of an improvement over the old one so it's still the first thing I'd change on a new install, unless you like brown.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Second-Hand Mac Keyboard Experiment

For a week I thought I'd try an Apple keyboard on my PC with Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP, as I have just acquired one for free, it's not a new silver one though, but an old white one from 2005.

On Ubuntu 8.0.4 (and other Gnome using distros), it's easy to set up with the gnome keyboard tools (System → Preferences → Keyboard). Choose Apple under Models and add 'Apple United Kingdom' (or whatever your locale is) to the layouts. Also it is useful to select 'Press right control for third level chooser' under Layout Options, so you can access unusual keys like copyright symbols and double inverted commas etc. I set up F14, F15 and F16 as Previous, Play/Pause and Next track, but you can choose whatever you want them for in System → Preferences → Keyboard Shortcuts. I also set up F13 as Print Screen but I kept hitting it accidentally whilst aiming for backspace, so I set it to Alt + F13. Apple's help key is Insert, and the equals key is unassigned, and I gave up trying to assign it.

On Windows XP I had problems with the Apple keyboard. The volume keys worked straight away, perhaps because I had the Microsoft keyboard tools installed. I could set up F14, F15 and F16 for
Previous, Play/Pause and Next track but only with Winamp (with the RMX plugin which can also use joysticks and remotes) The eject key did not work straight away. To actually reassign keys its tricky, although possible with third party freeware. I tried Sharpkeys and Autohotkey but I almost messed up my Windows install using them. It was much more difficult to set up in Windows than in Linux.

On using it for awhile I liked using it with Ubuntu, the volume controls and eject shortcuts I like and the look of it, but I'm switching back to my Microsoft Comfort Curve 2000 as its much less strain on my fingers. Perhaps because it's old, the Apple keyboard needs more force to press the keys, and the key travel is too long. I hope the new Apple keyboard is better for the sake of Apple users, I now realise why a lot of Mac users use non-apple keyboards.

Update: Since then I've aquired a Powermac G4 which has the old Mac G3/4 keyboard with built in power button, I actually prefer this keyboard to the later one as it feels more comfortable!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Another Reason Why I Love Linux!

Recently I built a 'new' PC from various bits and pieces: a Foxconn socket 939 board i had lying about, with 2.4ghz single core CPU; 2GB of ram (made up of four 512MB modules running in dual channel mode) and I put in an 80GB drive for Windows. Of course, I had to do a fresh install on it as it has a different chipset than my old machine (Nvidia as opposed to SIS on the old Asus board) though both machines use Athlon 64 bit CPUs (2800+ socket 754 and 3800+ X2). So once I had afresh install it came to thinking about how to transfer all my settings and things for Ubuntu. Instead of the tedious approach of reinstall then re-downloading all my programs, I decided to risk just moving the hard drive straight into it, and just repairing Grub with Super Grub Disk Imagine my surprise when it worked perfectly without any problems! I'm writing this on it now. Now you can't do that with Windows without a whole lot of messing about, I didn't even have to uninstall anything!

Having successfully transferred the Ubuntu system between desktops, I wondered whether it would work with other mixed systems. the opportunity came when I repaired a HP nc6000 laptop, and on having a faulty DVD drive, and not having a spare I used an unorthodox method of getting a working system on it. I installed the Ubuntu 8.0.4 live CD on the hard drive connected to a USB/mini IDE converter to my pentium 3 750mhz test-bed machine, then put the drive back in the machine when the install had completed but before the reboot to the new system. On booting up in the laptop it worked fine, with no problems! I wonder what would flummox a Linux install! After installing the ATI drivers and adding another 256MB of ram, Compiz works great on it.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Steve Ballmer and The Grim Reaper - the likeness is uncanny!

Steve Ballmer and The Grim reaper (as portrayed in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey)

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Hooray! Vmware now works on Ubuntu 8.0.4!

As you can see, the latest 6.0.4 version of VMware Workstation now works perfectly in Ubuntu Hardy Heron without any kernel patching. Also you may notice I'm running Mac OSX Tiger in VMware! I downloaded an already setup VMware image, but there is a how-to here.

Update: It works not quite perfectly, at the moment it needs configuring everytime I reboot, which is annoying!

Update 2: Sorted! it seems an ubuntu kernel update has fixed this issue, its work fine now.

Monday, 19 May 2008

I've just recently tried Ulteo's Virtual Desktop which is a nice integrated way of running Linux applications on Windows. it is based on Colinux (co-operative Linux, but I've found out it was a bit fiddly and not as smooth as Ulteo. The only problem with UVD is it needs a good internet connection all the time, I just wish Colinux was as smooth as Ulteo.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Ubuntu + Firefly + Amarok = bliss

For awhile now I've had an Itunes compatible music server in the form of open-source Firefly (previously called mt-daap) on Ubuntu (Gutsy and Hardy). It takes a little setting up, but you can grab firefly from Ubuntu's repositories make sure you have Apache running for web configuration. There's a nice tutorial here, and plenty of others with a little Googling. Update 05/11/81: the link is dead, try this tutorial (which is based on Ubuntu)

On either the host machine or another Linux PC on the network, you can use Amarok (daap shares should be available under 'Devices' along the left hand side, enter password if you set one up.) or you could use Rhythmbox or Banshee if you prefer.

On Windows you could use Itunes of course if you don't mind the bloat, but there are some alternatives. I just discovered Get It Together (GIT) , an open-source Itunes client for Windows, Mac or Linux. It uses a java based mp3 player internally, but can also use Quicktime, which I would only use for playing AAC files. It can also download tracks from the server. I also look forward to Amarok being available on Windows , which should be the ultimate Itunes replacement!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Virtualbox and Hardy's Naughty Nautilus

Well i got virtualisation working with Virtualbox, although it is not completely stable. It is fine as long as i do not change any of Virtualbox's settings. The other glitch is that when I try to resume virtual machines' saved state, it just errors and I have to discard the saved state. I've been trying out Slackware 12.1 which finally uses the 2.6 kernel and uses HAL and modular by default. My other virtual machines are Kubuntu 8.0.4, KDE4.0 version, for testing the latest nightly builds of Amarok 2 and also Windows XP, for testing and for when I need a specific Windows only program.

Also, I am annoyed with Ubuntu 8.0.4 for having a bug in Nautilus - it won't mount USB storage at the moment, there's bit of a buzz on forums about it. My workaround is to point Konqueror at media:/ and mount and unmount it there, which works fine. Obviously it 's fine for people who have KDE libraries installed but not for those who like a simple Ubuntu install.

Update: Ubuntu has frozen up completely today, twice. Both of these involving USB. I connected my kodak digital camera earlier and it froze, then just now it froze scanning for a printer, I am really getting annoyed with it now!

Update 2: I have found the common denominator for both crashes - Amarok, my favourite player was running both times, and searching for a printer works whilst Amarok is closed as does connecting my camera.

Update 3: I have solved the above problem, by disabling PulseAudio completely by selecting alsa for all options in /system/preferences/sound. It's a shame, as I quite like some of it's features, like network audio and individual volume controls for programs, hopefully it'll be improved in updates. Like Firefox 3 beta, it should not appear in an LTS release.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Ubuntu 8.0.4 - pitfalls of early adoption :(

Well i looked forward to version 8.0.4, and promptly downloaded and did a fresh install. It's great for normal use and seems much faster than 7.10. I like the improved multi-monitor setup tool and Vinagre - the new remote desktop program and wireless support is even better than in 7.10. However, as it is still very new, some of my favourite programs have yet to catch up with it. Annoyingly, it is all the virtualisation tools that I can't get working! VMWare has problems configuring networking, it works until after you reboot, and becomes un-configured again. I've just tried a trial version of Parallels Workstation which does not support the new kernel yet, and Virtualbox has random crashes, where it freezes up the entire system, although I've read reports of this on various distros and versions of Virtualbox. I need my Virtualisation, as i like to test software and new distros in a sandbox environment, or for when I need to quickly use a Windows program occasionally.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The 30 Quid Laptop

Bargain Budget Hardware.

About a year ago, I was in need of a laptop, and with a meagre budget, I bought two ancient Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptops for £30. Both have 233MHz Pentium 2 CPUs and one came with 64MB of ram, the other had 32MB. I decided to use one and keep the other for spares as they had only one 4GB hard drive, battery and cdrom between them. I transferred the ram, battery, HDD and cdrom into the best one, as one had broken lid-catch. Despite not working, I had to keep the battery as it forms part of the underside and front of the machine, so it's just dead-weight really!

A Suitable OS.

The hard drive had Windows 98 installed which I used, until I was fed up with it's poor USB support and buggy nature. It did boot quickly, but was also let down by lack of security - pressing escape at the login bypassed it! Perhaps this was rectified at some point but I wanted something better. I then dabbled with Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux and other small distros, but I could not get the Yamaha on-board sound or wireless working with my Ralink USB adapter. So I installed Windows 2000, which was an improvement over 98 but took up a lot of space without additional programs, and i really wanted Linux on it.

'Linux for human beings'

Ubuntu 7.10 arrived in late 2007 with is much improved over previous versions great wireless support. I installed Kubuntu on my desktop machine on November 5th (my birthday!) and I am writing this on it now, having since been a Gnome convert, 8.04 has just come out and I will update it soon. Anyway, I installed Xubuntu on my laptop in dual boot with Windows, sharing half the hard drive. XFCE is a great desktop environment, just enough Gnome features without being so heavy on resources. I've been adding programs, being careful to choose lightweight programs. For a media player I have chosen Audacious which is like an updated XMMS (like a linux version of Winamp), it has a nice on-screen display plugin and plays so smoothly on such a low spec machine. I use Firefox with Flashblock installed as Flash tends to cripple old machines. I recently deleted Windows off the hard drive using Gparted and moved /home onto the fresh partition using a tutorial I found here. After all, i can do everything i want/need with Linux now so I hardly need Windows at all!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Home Sweet Home? Ubuntu Home Permission Shananigans

I recently had a permissions problem on Ubuntu, caused by an aborted attempt at using Remastersys backup software which I don't think I will ever use again judging by the mess it created. Ha! to think I was using it to protect my sacred install!

It all meant I had to create a new user account and copy everything across. I did this once logged into the new user account. Annoyingly my other storage partitions (under /media) had to have their permissions changed aswell, I did this by loading konqueror as root (rather than using sudo konqueror as I've found that it wouldn't always change permissions underlying directories for some reason and was slow. It was still slow changing permissions on gigs of files.

Anyway, there was a silver lining to this story too. As i only copied important files and directories such as .evolution for my emails and .bash_history so i don't have to keep trying to remember obscure commands in terminals. Secondly I decided to start Firefox from fresh, well almost fresh, as it had become slow and bloated from many extensions and cache detritus etc. I used the FEBE extension to restore passwords and selected extensions from my old firefox. It runs a lot quicker now :)

My Favourite Firefox Extensions:

Foxmarks (for synchronising bookmarks between browsers)
Delicious Bookmarks (similar but more accessible)
Download Embedded (for vids)
Download Statusbar (better than downloads in a separate window)
Flashblock (essential for slow connections)
Stumbleupon (staves off boredom)
Titlesave (save page as the pages title)
Video Download
Youtube IT
Adblock plus

Monday, 24 March 2008

More Reasons NOT to use Windows Media Player

* Lack of codecs 'out the box' leading to a hunt around the net for third party codecs, such as Ogg, FLAC, Mpeg4, H.264 and AAC (which is supported by Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Zune Mp3 player).

* No gapless playback, essential for albums like Dark Side of the Moon and live albums.

* WMP's mp3 decoder's overly strict adherence to ISO Mp3 standard (unusual for MS) forcing LAME 3.98 to encode at 100% compatibility without using the bit reservoir on 320kbit frames

Friday, 29 February 2008

5 Reasons for not using Windows Media Player

I have compiled a brief set of reasons not to use Windows Media Player 9 - 11. Winamp and Foobar are good alternatives. I've not mentioned DRM here, but that is more than just a WMP problem. Anyway, here we go:

1. Inadequate CD ripping facilities.

By default, WMP rips into WMA at a poor bit-rate, so you have to remember to change this in it's settings. Also, by default, error-checking is disabled. Even with it enabled, WMP may be fast but it hasn't got the best encoder out there.

2. Album Covers

If you put your own high quality album covers as folder.jpg in an album's folder, it replaces it with its own poor quality image. It also hides folder.jpg files (marks them as system and hidden files). To prevent this you have to disable it from retrieving album covers and managing your music library.

3. WMP messes with tags and filenames

Firstly when you rip an album with WMP, you have to individually edit the album/artist tags for each song and editing the playlist is a pain. There's also no overall playlist time. There's also little annoyances like it uses 'And' and 'Of' instead of 'and' and 'of' in tags, although these are down to personal taste.

4. Overall 'Bloatedness'

Media Player 11 uses around a 100mb of memory just to play a track! (Itunes also uses similar amounts of memory too) It just tries to do too much being a video and audio player and doing both poorly. Also, I don't like to allocate the huge amount of disc space it requires, just for a media player.

5. VBR

WMP has poor support for playing variable bitrate mp3s, displaying the wrong average bitrate and seek time. Some other software and hardware players have the same problems. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Reasons why I cannot erase Windows from my PCs

Even though I love Linux, there are still certain things that still prevent me from switching completely:


I've tried to get Midi working in Linux countless times. I've recently installed the Midiman firmware loader to no avail. Theres no fanfare when I plug it in. inputting lsusb in a terminal shows it's there, but I cannot seem to get the thing working in any of the programs. jackd runs, but nothing much happens.

TV-Out / Multihead

I have an old Compaq AP550 that sits connected to a portable TV through its Nvidia MX400 and single phono-type video lead, without a monitor. When Windows boots it automatically displays on the TV. Unfortunately on Linux, even with the proper drivers, once X is started it does not appear. It's an absolute pain to experiment in hacking xorg.conf. Things should be much easier than this! Also, on my main desktop, i cannot get multi-head working without stretching my desktop accross two monitors - I want two seperate desktops at 1280x1024!

Apart from this, I do use Linux 90% of the time. There is another problem I have too which stops my aging Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptop from being totally Linux, but I'll save that for another time.

Update (17/05/10)
Both these problems have now been circumvented. Ubuntu has had good dual head support with Nvidia drivers for a while now. The old Compaq has been retired and replaced with several times, due to hardware failure. The current machine is a HP D530 with an ATI card with HDMI-out, into the rear of a flat-screen TV. It works just like a monitor. I'm also slowly starting use a dual CPU Powermac G4 for music creation, so hopefully Windows will be used even less.

Update 2 (20th January 2016)
I have been single boot Linux for a long time on my main machine, but i relented some months back and got a second PC with Windows 10 purely for gaming, mostly GTA V.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

My five must have Linux apps.

Having seen this blog post on Techtonic - Five must have apps for a new linux install, i thought I would share my five essential Linux apps list. these are just off the top of my head, there are so many other great programs out there, only an 'apt-get install' away!

Wi-fi Radar

Essential for connecting to wireless networks with my Ralink rt61 PCI card, which only seems to work with KDE's network manager on the first boot.


Although I prefer the Gnome desktop over KDE these days, I can't do without my favourite media player! I've tried others but always return to Amarok. Rhythmbox is improving but is slow with my large (13000+) mp3 collection. Helix Banshee is hideous and XMMS lacks a collection manager. I love Amarok's cover manager, it's ease of use and extensibility with scripts, and it looks great too. OK it can be a little heavy on resources, though I think the developers are working on that for version 2.0 which I look forward to as it'll be ported to Windows and Mac OSX too!


It is the best burning program for Linux in my humble opinion! It has more features than any of the other Linux burners I've tried - especially volume normalisation with the Normalize package installed. I also like it's integration with Amarok, so I can easily send albums and playlists to K3B.


I like totem the default video player on Gnome, it's clean and easy, but I've found that kaffeine has better support for FLV, and has greater control over playing (fast forward etc).


My favourite CD ripping program on Linux, because I found it easy to setup, and is close to what I was use to with CDex on windows.

All the programs I've mentioned are available through the Ubuntu's repositories. I try to avoid a reinstall at all, as it would take a long time to download everything, on my slow connection, and to get everything setup just right. Like most i want as little downtime as possible, which is a distinct advantage of Linux over windows.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

E-mail accounts

I love Gmail, it gives you huge amounts of space for free and it now has SMTP support, so now works perfectly with my favourite Linux email program, Evolution. It's nicely integrated into the Gnome desktop, looks great, and is easy to set up. I have set it up to use my Yahoo, my first webmail account, which has now been relegated to a spam-box. there is a Windows version but it's a bit buggy and bloated. Thunderbird on Windows is OK because it has a Gmail wizard but It's not as good on Linux. I still have a Lycos account, which I can't delete, and still have to use as i'm signed up to various things with it. The annoying thing is you have to pay for a premium account to get POP access, the website is a cluttered mess of adverts and rubbish and they only give you 300mb of space. Come on Lycos, even yahoo and Windows Live mail has more space than that for free!! Then new users can't sign up for lycos anyway, they get diverted to sign up to an even more flashy, bloated site called Again the free account, which is in beta, is no better than lycos and definately not recommended for old 233mhz laptops like mine!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


One of my occasional hobbies, when i'm wondering about town, bored, is visiting PCWorld. Not to actually buy anything, that would be ridiculous at their prices! No, i like to rescue as many of their poor newbie customers as possible. Yesterday I got chatting to a guy who was from the old school of programming, more used to the BBC Micro, Archimedes etc His old Medion PC apparently has some problems recognising CDs and generally running poorly, mainly because it runs Windows ME I think! Of course the member of staff he was talking to talked a lot of bullsh*t, clearly showing only a basic knowledge of computers, and naturally trying to sell him a new PC or expensive components. Soon after I joined the conversation, he realised he was out of his depth! Not that I'm an expert or anything, nobody is, but he clearly hadn't had much training. Anyway he soon made his excuses and retreated to his cave, or wherever they disappear to! One day I might just go there armed with copies of Ubuntu and the Open CD and hand them out to their customers :D

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Windows Vista

Whilst there maybe a few good features and improved security in Vista, which are hardly noticeable in every day usage, these are far out-weighed by the serious performance issues on hardware that XP performed well on.

Good things about Vista

- Speech recognition software (though it's still not perfect)

- independant Volume controls (yup I cannot think of anything else!)

-Improved task manager (although Dtaskmanager, is a better alternative!)

Bad things about Vista

- The new Windows Explorer. It's horrible, i thought the old file manager was bad enough but now they've managed to make it worse! File copying is incredibly slow - especially over a network - and the integrated Zip function is even slower than before.

- General bloatedness. Unless you have a PC with 4GB of ram (and dual core CPU) it's as slow as a slug wading through treacle. I first tried Vista on a friends Acer SFF machine with 1GB of ram, Core 2 Duo CPU, and 320GB hard drive. it does mostly use laptop components, and is let down by onboard Intel HD ready graphics. It also features dual analog/digital TV tuner and onboard 7.1 HD audio. If it was running Ubuntu 7.10 or XP it would be rather good. Unfortunately, it runs Vista Home Premium, and therefore takes almost 3 minutes to boot and still felt rather sluggish after reverting to Windows classic theme. Running VMware with another OS such as XP or Linux was impossible, it slowed to a standstill. My old homebuilt machine with Ubuntu or XP would piss all over Vista on this PC.

- Poor hardware support for any device older than 2 years old. I wonder how many old perfectly working scanners and printers and other devices will be frown away just because they're no longer supported. Even if they worked fine in XP or Linux. They're seems to be abundence of them in local charity shops already. Even with its environmentally friendly standby modes, this is not exactly an environmentally-friendly OS.

- Audio A poor sound system crippled with DRM.

- Horrid Security messages. If you have administrative privileges, you should not be hassled by pop up "are you sure?" messages every time you move through the control panel, or change any settings. Yes you can turn it off, but its not exactly friendly for newbies.

- Choice - Microsoft are trying they're damned hardest to get rid of XP as fast as possible in order to force people to upgrade / buy a new PC with Vista. High street stores no longer stock XP, except for businesses (who still demand XP, as its what they know, it works (to a degree) so why upgrade?

At the moment, there are only a small number of people who are buying copies of Vista: Gamers who 'need' DirectX 10, even though most DX10 games at the moment barely use any of it's features; gadget freaks who want the latest fad; and system builders, who supply for demand. The rest of Vista's sales are down to people who have bought a new PC which has Vista on it, as they don't realise there's other options.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Early days part 2

It was late 1998, I enrolled at Lincoln College (UK) to do several A-levels. At the time i thought the PCs must be upto date, by I later realised they were far from state of the art! The "Learning Resources Centre" had about 20 or 30 Dan or Research Machines 386's linked with parallel cables on dial up internet with Windows 3.11 for workgroups! They were slow even for the time, around the rest of the college was not much better, Mostly Windows 95, 98 500mhz P2/3s. All of these were eventually replaced with Dell P4 / 2.4ghz machines in 2001/2.

After 3 years of college I went to Lincoln University in 2001, for a couple of years. This is when I really got into computers, after my student loans had dried up a bit, after all that drinking, and I had to get some work done. As I did not have a PC at first, I spent a lot of time in the library writing essays and researching. However, it closed at midnight so I decided to had to get a PC, and being my first PC i got ripped off by buying a friends IBM 486 for 40 quid!! It was a right state, software wise. It had Windows 95 on about a 500mb hard drive. I spent most of my time trying to work out what was wrong with it and how to get it to work properly. I later discovered (about a couple of years ago) that someone had compressed their documents into a hidden H:/ Drive, so much so it could not be decompressed to format with fdisk. My mind was not really on my studies, though I spent a lot of time enjoying myself! I dropped out of University and have been unemployed for a good while, trying to get a foot in the door of the IT industry.

I discovered Linux fairly recently (about 4 years ago), after picking up some old magazines in a charity shop (10p each!) whilst on a web design college course. I downloaded my first distro - Red Hat 9 - on the college internet (much improved by then) though the discs became corrupt I never gave up. I tried Mepis which I was impressed with, installing it on a Pentium 3, 733mhz, machine i picked up for 20 quid. Then there was Suse 9.2 / 9.3 which was great on DVD as I didn't have an internet connection, they had plenty of software. I must've tried hundreds of distros since then, but I have finally settled on Ubuntu 7.10. It's been dual booting with XP on my current PC (ASUS K8-UX, 1.25Gb ram / 200 + 160 + 20 GB hard drives) as it recognises my Ralink wireless card first boot, everything just works, so easy to use. I used to be a KDE fan but have switched to Gnome because Compiz Fusion works with it straight away. I do still use some KDE apps like my favourite media player Amarok.