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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.

 

Adventures in a New Ubuntu 6.10 Clean Install: Day 4

Day 4

How to Install the Most Common Applications in Ubuntu 6.10 in One (or Two) Click(s)!

My next task was to get all multimedia related applications installed and formats to work. Of course this includes MP3 playback, DVD playback, etc. I also wanted to get all my major and favorite applications installed and working correctly.

The Answer (with a capital ‘A’)? Automatix (with a capital ‘A’)!

Automatix2 GUIAutomatix is an awesome and quick way to install the most common applications users use in Ubuntu. The newest Automatix2 has a nice and easy to use user interface. This new version also gives you the ability to uninstall them the same easy way it was to install them! Awesome!

As of this writing, Automatix can install and tweak 56 applications! Here is the list taken from the Automatix website:

  1. Acrobat Reader (Adobe Acrobat Reader and plugin for Firefox 1.5)
  2. AMSN 0.95 (MSN client with webcam support)
  3. Amule (Latest version of a P2P file sharing client)
  4. Archiving Tools (Additional archiving tools (rar, unrar, ace, and 7zip))
  5. AUD-DVD codecs (NON-FREE Audio and DVD codecs) (Installation of this option is illegal in the United States of America)
  6. Avidemux (Video Editing Tool)
  7. Azureus (Installs Azureus bittorrent client)
  8. Backup and Restore (A graphical backup and restore solution for Ubuntu (GNOME))
  9. Beagle (A Mono-based search program)
  10. Bittornado (Bittorent Client)
  11. Boot-up Manager (Easy configuration of startup and shutdown scripts and services)
  12. Checkgmail (A nifty gmail checker)
  13. Ctrl-Alt-Del (This configures Ctrl-Alt-Del to Open Gnome System Monitor (GNOME ONLY))
  14. DCPP (Linux DC++ client)
  15. Debian Menu (Shows all installed applications on your system)
  16. Democracy Player (Internet TV platform)
  17. DVD Ripper (DVD ripper)
  18. Extra Fonts (Additional fonts and msttcorefonts)
  19. Flashplayer (Adobe Flash Player for FF)
  20. Frostwire (P2P file sharing client (GPL clone of Limewire))
  21. Gdesklets (eyecandy for Gnome)
  22. Gaim 2.0 beta3 (The latest version of a popular IM client compatible with YIM/MSN/AIM/Jabber etc)
  23. GFTP (FTP client for GNOME with ssh capability)
  24. Gizmo Project (VoIP phone)
  25. Gnomebaker (The best GTK2 CD/DVD burning software)
  26. GnomePPP (Graphical dialup connection tool (GNOME ONLY))
  27. GnuCash (Money management software for GNOME)
  28. Google Earth (Satellite Earth imagery application from Google)
  29. Google Picasa (Photo editing application from Google)
  30. iLinux (iLife Alternative (Banshee, F-Spot, Kino))
  31. Liferea (A RSS reader for GNOME)
  32. Listen Media Manager (Latest version of a new media manager and player for GNOME)
  33. Media Players (Totem-xine, VLC and Beep Media Player (with docklet))
  34. MPlayer & FF plugin (MPlayer and Firefox 1.5 plugin)
  35. Multimedia Codecs (Commonly needed audio and video codecs)
  36. Multimedia Editing (Audio (Audacity) Video (Kino) and ID3 Tag (Easytag) editors)
  37. Nautilus Scripts (Open Nautilus, and any file with gedit with a right click, as root (GNOME ONLY))
  38. NDISWrapper (A driver wrapper that allows you to use Windows driver for network cards)
  39. Network Manager (A program and menu applet that allows you to easily change networks)
  40. NVIDIA Driver (Installs NVIDIA drivers on select NVIDIA cards)
  41. Opera Browser (Opera Web Browser)
  42. OpenOffice Clipart (clipart in OpenOffice)
  43. Programming Tools (Anjuta (C/C++ IDE), Bluefish (HTML editor), Screem (web development), NVU (HTML editor)
  44. RealPlayer (RealPlayer)
  45. Rhythmbox (Latest version of Rhythmbox)
  46. Ripper and Tuner (Streamripper (rips Internet radio streams) and Streamtuner (Internet radio client))
  47. Security Suite (ClamAV AntiVirus and Firestarter Firewall)
  48. Skype (A free (as in free beer) Voice Over IP software)
  49. Slab (Novell’s “Slab” menu used in SLED 10)
  50. SUN JAVA 1.5 JRE (Sun’s version 1.5 JRE & The Firefox plugin)
  51. SUN JAVA 1.5 JDK (Sun’s version 1.5 JDK (Most users DON’T need this))
  52. Swiftfox Browser (optimized Firefox browser for your specific CPU)
  53. Swiftfox Plugins (Java, Flash, Acrobat, Mplayer, MS fonts)
  54. Thunderbird 1.5 (Email client)
  55. Wine (Installs Wine)
  56. XChat (a popular IRC client)

And that’s just the list for Ubuntu. There are some minor differences in Kubuntu and other flavours. You can view them all here.

To install Automatix in Ubuntu, follow the quick and easy steps outlined on the website here. Once installed, run it from System Tools > Automatix. From there, you can install whichever applications you want.

I realized that after using Automatix to install most of my favorite applications that it saved me a lot of days of work if I were to do it manually.

Now I can concentrate on my customizations and other applications that I’ve discovered along the way that I absolutely love.

Stay tuned to find out more about these personal favorites!

Adventures in a New Ubuntu 6.10 Clean Install: Day 3

Day 3

How to Mount a FAT32 Drive/Partition with Read and Write Access for All Users

The next step I tackled in my sexy, shiny, and sultry Ubuntu 6.10 was to mount my FAT32 Data Partition so I can read and write to it and access my previous Ubuntu 6.06.1 backups, along with all my other data, of course.

Since the Disks applet (I think that’s what it was called in 6.06.1) is no longer available in Gnome because it is unmaintained, I would have to manually edit my /etc/fstab file. For those who don’t know, this file mounts the partitions, CD/DVD Roms, floppies, etc, of your file system.

Before you edit this file, you should do a backup of it:

sudo cp /etc/fstab /etc/fstab_backup

Here is what my fstab file looks like:

# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
#
#
proc /proc proc defaults 0 0
# /dev/sda1
UUID=21b32fac-8d97-4ee0-89e7-bbf3dc146ec8 / ext3 defaults,errors=remount-ro 0 1
# /dev/sda5
UUID=fd07dad2-18d3-4ad2-9a19-b9801d056927 none swap sw 0 0
/dev/hdd /media/cdrom0 udf,iso9660 user,noauto 0 0
/dev/hdc /media/cdrom1 udf,iso9660 user,noauto 0 0
/dev/ /media/floppy0 auto rw,user,noauto 0 0

I figured that mounting my FAT32 Data Partition would be easily done by adding the following line at the end of my /etc/fstab file:

/dev/hda5 /data vfat iocharset=utf8,umask=000 0 0

…and then do a: sudo mount -a #Mounts everything in fstab

It worked, but the root of my My Documents folder on that partition wasn’t writable. Some other folders at the root level were writable and others weren’t. Also, some folders within My Documents were writable and some weren’t, like My Music, My Pictures, and others. Seemed like the “Windows-related” folders weren’t writable. But folders within those folders were writable.

It’s odd.

I figured I could just do a sudo chown -hR leonivek:leonivek /data but I would only get an “Operation not permitted” error.

After searching on the Ubuntu Forums, this post explained that I would still need to change the actual permissions of that mount point. To do so, I had to do this:

sudo chmod a+w -R /data

Bingo! Now everything is accessible — read and write — for all users.

If you need some help with your fstab and mounting drives, I recommend reading the following pages:

Adventures in a New Ubuntu 6.10 Clean Install – Day 2, Part 2

Day 2, Part 2

The First Bug Encountered in Ubuntu

I actually wrote Day 2, Part 1 in OpenOffice Writer. When I was done it, I logged on to this blog in the new Firefox 2.0, started the post, and copied and pasted it – BAM! OOo Writer crashed! It didn’t crash when I copied it, it crashed when I pasted into Firefox, but nothing was pasted! I tried again, and it crashed once more with nothing pasted. I couldn’t paste my post.

So my first thought was to copy into a different application to see if it would work. If it didn’t, then it probably meant that the problem lies with OpenOffice. Problem was, I didn’t have any other programs to paste to without losing my formatting and links. And since I had done nothing to the system yet, I didn’t have any blog software to work in. Not even email!

Enabling All Repositories in the New “Software Sources” Applet

So I fired up the “Add/Remove” Applet in search of something else to paste to. On loading it, it dawned on me that I needed to enable all repositories. Well, I didn’t need it to solve this first bug of mine, but I knew I would need all of them down the line.

So I clicked on System > Administration > Software Sources. I was greeted with something different from the previous Ubuntu 6.06.1 Dapper. This new applet was categorized in 5 different tabs: Ubuntu 6.10, Internet Updates, Third Party, Authentication, and Statistics.

The first tab, Ubuntu 6.10, was where I could enable/disable the main, universe, multiverse, and restricted sources. I could also tell it to download from the Server for Canada, since this is where I live!

The second tab, Internet Updates, allowed me to select what kind of updates (important, recommended, proposed, or backported) it should look for. It was also where I could tell it how often to check for updates automatically and other related settings.

The third tab, Third Party, allows a user to add custom APT lines of repositories that they want as a source. You can even add a CDROM.

The fourth tab, Authentication, allows a user to add (or import) Key Files for source authentication.

The Statistics tab, the fifth one, allows a user to select if they want to submit statistical information that will anonymously send a list of installed software and how often it was used to improve support for the most popular applications and to rank applications in search results.

Nifty! I like that idea…

Investigating the First Bug Encountered

From the Add/Remove Applet, I decided to add the AbiWord Word Processor to see if I could paste from OOo Writer to it so I can then paste from AbiWord to Firefox.

Well, it worked… kinda. It pasted the text, but crashed OOo Writer and my text lost all of its format and hyperlinks. I tried again, just to see. It still crashed, BUT the text never pasted.

So this meant that it was either an OOo bug or something – that I might not know of – in between the OOo Writer and the pasted application. Not sure what it could be, though… Will have to investigate this later, though. I’m itching to do other things in Ubuntu…

UPDATE: This is a known bug and has already been reported in LaunchPad at https://launchpad.net/distros/ubuntu/+source/openoffice.org/+bug/62432

UPDATE:  You can find a solution here