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Top 10 Linux FUD Patterns, Part 4

In this installment of my series on the Top 10 Linux FUD patterns, I address two patterns that have more to do with software packages that run on the Linux platform than with the Linux OS itself. As I stated in a previous post, every believable piece of FUD has some element of truth behind it, and these two are no exception.

Linux FUD Pattern #3: With Linux, you cannot access old files or share new files with others

Do you remember the Word Processor Wars? For those who don’t, a conflict began in the early 1990s as to which word processing application was the “best”, the most feature-rich, and the one most likely to dominate the market. It was a fight to the death. Though this was largely a war over functionality, the decisive battles were often fought on the file system. Why? Because the ability to understand and use a competitor’s file structure has certain advantages. First, almost any hot new function can be replicated because a sample of data speaks volumes about the processes that created it. Second, the ability to open and use the other format eases transition away from the other product. Proprietary file formats became the weapon of choice, and the strategy, to lock as many users into them as possible. The mentality that whoever controls the data controls the world solidified.

Except for the occasional Is-Linux-Right-For-You? article in the trades, this pattern does not manifest in print very often. It is more likely a topic hotly debated between OS zealots. Most often, I have been personally presented this tasty FUD cake by folks that have no experience with Linux or its applications, who think (through no fault of their own) that we *nix users type all of our letters and papers in on the command line. I raise the fact that OpenOffice can not only open many other document formats but that it can *cough* natively export PDF files as well, and suddenly the eighth-grade-level trash-speak subsides.

File exchange is not a myth; indeed, it is a very important issue. Moreover, for anyone who’s been watching the OOXML vs ODF standoff, it should be clear that the Open Source community is very much in favor of a set of open documentation standards as well. Whether or not it used to be, cross-platform file sharing is just not a problem with today’s desktop environments and is becoming less so.

If this is a serious concern, my advice is to either save your files in a highly-interchangeable format from the start or have an exit strategy that entails migration to another app later. HTML is one option, but only if maintaining strict page layout is of little importance. I have had better luck with the Rich Text Format (RTF); granted, this is not an open format, but it is highly portable and since it is ASCII-based mark up, I can read it with a text editor in a pinch. Also, I tend to save copies of documents in Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), not just because it is portable, but because it looks more professional when sending documents to others. When I upgraded to a new machine and installed Linux for full-time use, I had to convert all of my AutoCAD Drawing (DWG) files to the Drawing Interchange Format (DXF) for use with QcaD. Between that and converting all of the Works 2.0 documents to RTF, I spent many hours executing an exit plan that could have been avoided altogether – lesson learned.

Linux FUD Pattern #4: There are no good software titles for Linux

Looking back, the title of this pattern should have been “There are no popular software titles for Linux”, but in my haste, I typed the word “good” instead of “popular”. This gives the impression that this pattern addresses the quality of Linux software, an issue to be covered later under pattern #6. My apologies.

Nonetheless, this statement – as related to the popularity of software titles – is a highly relative one. OpenOffice and Firefox are wildly popular amongst Linux users. They are bundled with nearly every major distribution and receive a lot of press. They are also available for other platforms, and though they do not dominate these market segments, they seem to be gaining popularity.

The measurement used to determine popularity is an important factor underlying this statement. Is popularity based on customer registrations? Sales? How about the rack space devoted to software at the store? All of these metrics are biased toward commercial software and against free software. Considering the number of try-before-you-buy commercial apps available, download-counting may be a tempting metric to use, but it is biased in the opposite direction and doesn’t consider anomalies such as multiple installations or the ultimate rejection of the product by users. An unbiased consumer survey may be the only way to truly determine popularity. If anyone has actually accomplished this, please share.

Another important question is, does popularity really matter? There is a link between popularity and the fear that an app will eventually lose support, but that risk can be mitigated with a good exit strategy as discussed above. That fear is the target of this FUD pattern. Also, in my opinion, computing is not a popularity contest. If a software application meets my needs and the outlook for support is favorable, then I don’t care if everyone uses it or not. Sometimes, form is more important than function and sometimes it is not, but choosing an app solely because “everyone else is using it” is rarely an acceptable strategy.

The obvious exception is high-end computer games. Computer games in general have created a special culture, and each game has a following, large or small. Games are not about functionality and meeting requirements, but about being part of the culture…shared experiences are part of the entertainment. Admittedly, there are few “big names” producing or porting popular game titles to Linux, a trend that will continue until the gaming market demands otherwise. The desire to be a member of that culture can certainly be enough to dictate which OS to use some or all of the time. Hopefully, things will change.

Finally, the statement is much too general. While it may be true in respect to high-end games, the supposed lack of software is often exaggerated to include all possible uses of the OS, creating yet more FUD.

Cheers!
-Brandon

<< Go To Part 3 Go To Part 5 >>

Add a “Refresh/Reload GUI” Button to your Gnome Panel

Your first thought when reading the title of this post is probably, “WTF? Why would I need that?” Gnome Black LogoWell, if you’re like me and you love customizing your Gnome system, you’ll know that during your customizations, you have to reload this and reload that for your new changes to take effect. Sometimes its simply because a change you did caused some problems and something didn’t load correctly. Whatever it is, most of the time it requires you to use the killall command in the terminal.

This is common enough for the Gnome panels and for Nautilus since it draws and handles the desktop by default. I was tired of pulling up a terminal window and typing in the killall commands to “refresh” my GUI or Desktop or repeating them if I had already ran them previously. Not that it takes that long to do. I just wanted a quick “button” I can click that will do it automatically.

So I did it myself. Not very complicated, really. Actually, it’s not complicated at all. 🙂

  1. Right-click the panel or drawer you want the button to be situated
  2. Select “Add to Panel…” and the “Add to Panel” window will open
  3. Click on the “Custom Application Launcher” at the top of the window
  4. In the Launcher Properties, select “Application in Terminal” as a Type
  5. Name it “Refresh GUI
  6. For the command, type in: “killall gnome-panel nautilus” without the quotes
  7. For the comment, type in: “Reloads the panels and the desktop (Nautilus).” or whatever you want. 😉
  8. Click on the “No icon” button and choose an icon of your choice.
  9. Click close and you’re done

Now, whenever you need to reload/refresh your Desktop, you can simply click on your brand-spanking new shiny button!

Did you remember to subscribe to Linux FUD?

How to Reset Ubuntu/Gnome Settings to Defaults without Re-installing

As a new user, there comes a time (or there will come a time) when you are playing around with Ubuntu/Gnome, trying different themes, different engines, different window managers, etc, and all of a sudden you run into a problem that you can’t seem to find a way to fix it.

Computer FrustrationMaybe some of your customized settings are causing your gnome-panel to crash all the time or causing your windows and applications to look ugly, even having window buttons (close, minimize) disappear. You start Googling and spending a lot of time – sometimes days – trying to find how you can fix it.

You are frustrated (sometimes hitting your monitor/tower yelling some vulgarities at it as if it understands and you will kill it if it doesn’t fix it… there’s no Valentine’s love there, that’s for sure) and are ready to go back to Microsoft Windows.

But wait!

You keep thinking, “I wish I could just reset it back to its defaults, like a clean install, without losing all my applications and data.”

Well, you’re in luck. There is a way to reset your Desktop settings back to their defaults. If you keep in mind that everything in Linux is a file, all of its settings are files. All of Gnome’s customizations are located in their own specific folders. And these settings are user specific; they are in your Home folder. If you would create another user and log in with that user, you wouldn’t have any of the problems you are having in your own account. If you remove all these folders, you essentially remove all the settings. Therefore, we will remove the folders needed to reset Ubuntu/Gnome back to its defaults.

UPDATE (2008.01.30): Keep in mind that this will only reset your Gnome-specific settings. If you are having problems with your video card, display, x-server, etc., this WILL NOT fix your problems.

If you don’t have access to your graphical (GUI) desktop to delete these folders in Nautilus or you’re stuck at the login screen, drop to a terminal by hitting CTRL + ALT + F1, login to your account, and run this command:

rm -rf .gnome .gnome2 .gconf .gconfd .metacity

Get back to your GUI desktop by hitting CTRL + ALT + F7.

Login and VOILÀ! Just like the first time you ever logged into your Gnome desktop.

Amarok Suddenly Stops Playing MP3s

I noticed today that Amarok suddenly decided to stop supporting MP3 playback. I would try to load a song in a playlist and Amarok would tell me something along the lines that it does not support the MP3 format and that Xine couldn’t play it. It provided me with a “Install MP3 Support” button, but I when I would click it Amarok would freeze and I’d have to kill it.

This perplexed me since it worked yesterday.

My first step was to see if I could play an MP3 from another application like Listen. It worked.

I tried re-installing Amarok, but that didn’t work. I did some Googling and found the solution:

  1. Close Amarok
  2. Delete the ~/.xine folder. (That’s the .xine folder in your Home directory)
  3. Restart Amarok.
  4. Play an MP3

Since this may have been a unique situation, this solution may not necessarily work for you. Nonetheless, I hope I helped someone out there. If it did work for you, please leave any comment here so I know I helped someone! 🙂

Ubuntu Tool Highlight: StartUp-Manager – Configure GRUB and Usplash

While perusing the Ubuntu forums for a way to fix my disappeared bootup and shutdown usplash, I found this great new tool for Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy) called StartUp-Manager or SUM.

StartUp-Manager Boot Options TabStartUp-Manager Appearance TabStartUp-Manager Security Tab

UPDATE (2007.02.12): Updated screenshots of the newest version of SUM can be found here.

SUM is a python-glade GUI tool for configuring the GRUB bootloader options, changing its appearance (like colors and background), and adding password protection to edit your GRUB menu.

SUM also allows you to configure your usplash and install new ones. This was great for me because I lost both the boot-up usplash and the shutdown usplash when I was trying to configure it. This fixed it in a cinch!

–> To download and install StartUp-Manager, download the DEB package attached to SUM’s official spot on the Ubuntu Forums here. UPDATE (2007.02.12): Homepage can be found here.

BUT A WORD OF CAUTION! It’s only for Ubuntu 6.10. It will NOT work with other Linux distributions!

The author warns:

If you are unlucky, this tool could make your system unable to start.
USE IT AT YOUR OWN RISK!

It is only tested with Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy).
It might work with other versions of Ubuntu, but it is not recommended.

It will most certainly NOT work with any other Linux distro.
It will also most certianly NOT work with Ubuntu if anything else than the Ubuntu installer created your GRUB config files (ie some other distro is installed after Ubuntu and has overwritten the MBR).

Since my system is Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy), I didn’t encounter any problems. All I had to do was install the deb file and that was it. No long installation process. Once installed, it can be accessed under System > Administration > StartUp-Manager.

How to Recover Ubuntu After Installing Microsoft Windows

Lost your GRUB boot menu because you installed or re-installed Windows? Follow these steps to recover your list of Operating System (OS) choices:

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RecoveringUbuntuAfterInstallingWindows

This will be good when upgrading to Windows Vista and you lose your GRUB menu… Of course, that’s if you decide to use Windows Vista at all. .oO(Ubuntu is all you need!)

How to Fix the OpenOffice Copy and Paste Crash Bug

The new version of Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft) shipped with a version of OpenOffice that contains a critical bug that will cause Writer to crash when you attempt to copy from Writer and paste to another application, causing you to lose your work. I blogged about this bug when I first installed Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft).

The LaunchPad bug report contains a “semi-fix” by adding a few resource lines to your /etc/apt/sources.list that will allow installation of “testing” packages that fixes the bug.

To fix your OpenOffice, add the following lines to your /etc/apt/sources.list file (sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list):

deb http://people.ubuntu.com/~doko/ubuntu/ edgy/$(ARCH)/
deb http://people.ubuntu.com/~doko/ubuntu/ edgy/all/

Then do:

sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude upgrade

… to install the packages.

Edit: The first deb line above is wrapped to the next line. Ensure that when you paste that first line to your sources.list file that it’s all on ONE LINE.