Archive for category Linux

Ubu-apps and the like

I couldn’t think of anything to name this post. I just got done reading this thread started by Colon Watson of Canonical. It’s a little dry off-hand so there is a nice summary by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. Long story short, Ubuntu is most likely going to be changing the way apps are packaged, distributed and installed.

To the Linux die-hard, this is nothing short of sheer blasphemy. Spending all evening resolving dependencies on obsolete libraries or some odd cyclical dependency to get an app to install is part of the badge of honor all *nixies wear with elite pride. The thought that an application would be wholly self contained and the only real dependency would be on the base system.. is.. is… an awful lot like OSX does things. No really, have you ever cracked open one of those magical .app program/dirs on a Mac? They are a little self-contained ecosystem of libraries and directory structure that transcends standard application paradigms of Windows and Linux with the libraries being maintained by the OS.

I can see this being hugely popular and convenient for Ubuntu as they spread out from PC’s to phones and tablets. I wonder if Apple ever thought to patent their application structure, and since I am thinking about it, I wonder if that is even something patentable? I hope it isn’t, I dislike software patents enough, and I applaud Google’s efforts to shield the rest of the world from patent trolls. So I suppose we will see how Ubuntu’s efforts pan out. I for one really hope it works. Application installation has always been a pain in Linux. Granted, it seems to work well enough, but the first time something goes wrong you see just how flawed it really is.

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Ubuntu dumbed down, no, really??

I just read this article that is claiming that Ubuntu is starting to be dumbed down. So the new 13.04 release is getting ‘meh’ reviews since it locks the user out of much of the configurability of the operating system. Really?? They are just coming to this conclusion, Ubuntu has been in the wild for more than a couple years here and it’s managed to do something NONE of the other distros has, getting main stream (Read, Steam) gaming to come to the platform. Granted 13.04 does seem like a pretty minimal release, without many new features, but you are going to get that with a static release schedule. Sometimes stuff just isn’t ready to be released. Better to release a small update than a broken one.

For wide acceptance Linux HAS to be dumbed down a bit. There’s nothing worse than introducing someone to Linux (who is used to Windows) and I have to drop to the command line to get something configured properly. I’ve said this before, if you want Linux to be more than a geek toy you must remove the need for someone to use the command line to configure their system. If simply must configure your system and monkey with the guts..Debian hasn’t been discontinued, and you can really get into the guts there. Or better, yet Gentoo, or even better yet Linux From Scratch!!

Really, Ubuntu has done a ton for getting Linux into the mainstream. The mainstream desktop that is, RedHat still reigns supreme in the Linux server market and they contribute more code back into the baseline kernel than Ubuntu. This is despite the fact that I really dislike RHEL or CentOS for that matter, you can read my rant about CentOS here. This is just personal preference too, many other admins like RHEL (poor bastards)

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Mintty to the rescue

I am stuck on a Win7 machine at work. I used to run Linux on it but then the company changed their VPN to this Windows and sorta-Mac supported only solution. I had to dump the penguin so I could have access outside the office, kinda important that. So yeah, other than my world passing me by at half the normal pace there is little difference, oh wait no, that’s completely inaccurate. The thing I miss above all else is the command line. I tried to replace it with the Windows Powershell but I seriously didn’t feel like learning everything from scratch, I did give it a concerted try though.

Just for comparison, take all the nifty bash/zsh commands you love and enjoy on a daily basis, now rename all of them, and don’t get cute by naming them something easy to remember. No, use something long, and make sure there are plenty of hyphens. Now take all the options you were used to passing to those commands and rename them too, almost there hang with me. Now close your eyes and just mash your head against the keyboard to get a rough idea of what it feels like to replace the Linux command line with Powershell.

Well I did what any self respecting Linux lover would do when relegated to Win-land, I installed Cygwin. Yes, that bastardization of *nix on a Windows shell. Or something, I couldn’t come up with anything snarky there. Regardless, running Cygwin offers a glimpse of home without actually letting you get there. It’s slow sure, but it offers enough familiarity that I actually enjoy using it over the endless point and click of a standard Windows user experience. The standard cygwin command line is terrible, running RXVT native makes it manageable. However, I just found Mintty! It’s sort of like Putty (based on some Putty code I gather) and with the proper amount of tweaking can actually result in a likeable experience. Couple that with screen and I hardly miss Linux…who am I kidding, I still go home at night and just poke around my laptop (running Xubuntu) just to feel better about myself.

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XFCE for an old laptop

On one of my previous posts I talk about how I was enjoying Gnome 3, and while it was a much better experience than previously, it still ran a bit slow on my aging Dell D810. I decided to try XFCE, it was always a bit too minimal for my likes. The XFCE team certainly hasn’t been idle since I tried it last…3 years ago. First off, it runs great on my laptop. The old embedded ATI X600 GPU isn’t supported by either Xorg or ATI so I hardware acceleration was out of the question. However, XFCE does do compositing but it’s so minimal that I didn’t notice any sort of performance degradation when I switched it on. So while I did enjoy Gnome Shell I had to uninstall it because I am really liking XFCE.

Orage, the default calendar application is a little odd, its mostly useful, but not terribly helpful overall. It’s almost like it was created as an afterthought, but then started to grow into something slightly more useful, but has never gotten the attention it really needed to become a full fledged effort. Almost like it was a series of minor efforts to add tiny pieces of slightly connected functionality. Anyway, there are some redeeming aspects to it, like it can import .ics files and display daily events and appointments from Google Calendar (Found this useful:

Battery management is more intelligent as well. If you upgrade to the beta 0.6 version of XFCE terminal it supports dropping down ala Guake terminal, which I find indispensible in everyday usage. One last thing to note, is the keyboard editor is great. It is minimal but makes it super easy to define define keyboard shortcuts for running what-ever you want. The main problem with this is that a lot of XFCE only programs don’t come with a default set of keybindings, you have to read the documentation to find out what you want it to do then go into the keyboard editor and define your keyboard shortcut to run it. Not a deal breaker, but a little odd the first time you encounter it.

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New life for an old lapdock

The thought of a ‘pocket computer’ really intrigues me. Being able to carry my computer around in my pocket but then being able to plug it into an larger dock and get a full-sized experience out of it sounds really cool. Imagine my excitement when Motorola came out with the Lapdock. I was on Verizon so I couldn’t get in on the original Atrix, but I got a Razr and immediately went out and got the Lapdock 500. Then there was the disappointment of actually running the Webtop application for the first time. From what I could tell they booted up a full linux distro then tried to run Firefox ontop of it. To say it was pokey is a complete understatement, it was unusable. However, I had heard that the Razr was due for a major upgrade in ICS and so I kept my fingers crossed.

The Ice Cream Sandwich update came and I hesitantly plugged the Razr into the Lapdock. It switched display mode and started behaving like a tablet. The keyboard worked good, and it was finally usable as a netbook. That’s all I really wanted, just a simple netbook-like experience, nothing crazy. After using it for a while I started to encounter annoyances. The trackpad was on all the time, so when I was typing I would bump it and move the cursor. Sometimes it just freezes, for no reason, so I have to reboot the phone. It was still usable in my opinion thought.

I started thinking about what is going to happen if I were to ever change my phone. Then I realized that the life of the lapdock was tied to the phone. This just wouldn’t do, it’s a nice piece of hardware and I would hate to just have to throw it away. Then I found this article: I should have never doubted the modder community, of course the Raspberry Pi could breathe life into my laptdock! There were other options I had never heard of as well. I am actually looking forward to getting this project going in the near future. We will see if I can follow-up with some articles on my experience. There have to be enough lapdocks out there that someone might find it interesting.

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Gnome 3 and new shows

I’ve been pretty much absent for a while. This is in no small part to me being in the final year of my graduate degree. I am now counting down the day by saying what activity this year will be my last whilst enrolled in school (ie. last Christmas, last January 9th, etc.) We got a one of those shiny new iMac’s for Christmas for my wife. That left the old family laptop available to be re-purposed (read:liberated) to be my own personal playground. You know what that means, I started installing Linux on it.

I tried Mint, it didn’t live up to the hype, then I tried Debian, still too rough around the edges for my liking. Then finally I installed Ubuntu, again. While it’s a very polished distro, it ran like crap on my old laptop. I tried shutting down as many desktop effects as I could but it still lagged pretty bad. I liked XFCE but I decided to give Gnome 3 another shot, or Gnome shell or what ever people call it. I remember when I first tried it out when the 3.0 version came out I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so I quietly uninstalled it and went on my merry way. Now, version 3.8 is out and let me say I am nothing short of impressed. It does present a paradigm shift in how you interact with your desktop, but it took me about 5 minutes to get used to it and now I am zipping around faster than I ever could on Windows/Unity/Gnome2/etc. Most impressive thing for me is that I can interact with the desktop without needing to use my mouse. That’s huge for me, the less I need to use the mouse the faster I go. Rooting through menu’s and sub-menu’s and sub-sub-menu’s takes time and is really annoying. I tend to interact with the same 5-10 programs in any given day so typing their name is faster than rooting through a hierarchical menu system.

It’s snappy too. My laptop is pushing 8 years old with only 2 GB ram and an aging processor, but the whole experience feels fast and I have never experienced desktop lag. Forget what everyone said when this DE first came out, the Gnome devs have been working to make this a quality product and its showing. I installed a few extensions and now I feel right at home.

Oh, and one a side note. The whole time I was messing with this, I was watching past episodes of the CW’s new show Arrow. I didn’t start watching it since most major networks have a tendency to really screw up super hero shows. After it got a ton of really good reviews from places that I would have expected to eviscerate it, I decided to give it a shot. Long story short, this series wrocks. Finally a gritty super hero series that isn’t Melrose Place with capes. I had to pay Amazon on-demand to watch the first couple of episodes (well worth it) but then I was able to pick up the last couple episodes on Hulu. Highly recommended if you want super hero action that doesn’t suck.

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unRAID Home Server complete

In my last post I was talking about building a home server to replace my dying Linksys NAS200, which was dying from day 1 unfortunately. I priced out and built a home server for under $226 by mixing and matching retailers ( ). This price didn’t include the existing two 1 TB drives I already had from my existing NAS device however. I put it together and it worked great, the little Sempron processor easily overclocked to 3.6GHz and has been stable since I turned it on.

First I tried FreeNAS and quickly remembered why I hate BSD. As a Linux user, the slight command differences on the terminal quickly drove me to remove it. I played around with OpenFilr with little success and ended up settling on unRAID ( It’s based off of Slackware so it felt more like home than the others. The initial install WebGUI is pretty minimal and ugly, so I quickly replaced that with a plugin called SimpleFeatures, muuuuch better. The whole distro runs off of a USB key so I don’t have to use any of my array for the OS, a VERY nice feature. I got a Sandisk Cruzer micro 16GB and its working great.

unRAID limits you to only three drives on an unregistered version of the software. So with my three 1TB drives I have around 1.9TB of storage space. More than enough for my current needs. The best part is I have two paths for upgrading. 1) Upgrade each drive with a larger drive 1 by 1; 2) Purchase a license and add more drives to the array. Believe it or now #2 is actually the cheaper option. The license is $69 and a good 1TB drive is less than $100. Just adding 1 more drive gives me 2.8TB of space, and I can add 1 more if wanted. Any more than 5 drives and I would have to upgrade to the next license level, but its still cheaper than buying all new drives.

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Oneric right around the corner, vpn woes

So according to the countdown timer, we have about a day left until Oneric (Ubuntu 11.10) goes gold and there is a mad rush to download it and complain about Unity. The problem for me is that I have a feeling I will never get to enjoy the new release. At work they recently moved to a new two-factor authentication system where first a certificate is traded then you auth with the usual u/p creds. Great..

First problem, vpnc has been working fine for me, but won’t work with the new scheme. I recompiled vpnc to support ssl certs, but after running it I found it only supports a hybrid client-only cert mode. Not compatible with the new vpn.

Second problem, I can’t get a 64-bit version of the official Cisco vpn client. The Cisco client does support certificate exchange, but I can’t find a 64-bit version that works. I was using this site, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. Then once I get the ipsec module compiled and installed, when I try to connect to it with the vpnclient, it dies a nasty death that takes the whole networking subsystem with it. Only a reboot can get my networking running again.

So what are my options? I am going to request a MacBook, but they take the better part of a year to get. So that means I will have to boot into Windows to use any company resources that require a vpn to access. I can still run Linux when I am at the office, but I end up needing a vpn much, it might become a major pita if I have to keep switching back and forth.

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The Windows 95 paradox

Unknown to most (sarcasm), I am an avid Linux user. I know a great many other Linux users. As Linux users I feel we have a certain free spirit that comes with using our free OS. But I am finding a disturbing paradigm in regard to the response to the Gnome 3/Unity desktop environments that have surfaced recently. The number one rant I have read about online has been about how hard the new interfaces are to use. People want their program button with its flyout menus back.

Now I realize that many of the reviews were knee jerk reactions to the new interfaces. I had much the same reaction, when I upgraded to Natty. I couldn’t figure out how to use it, and I just wanted my familiar interface back. But wait, at some point inmy life, the familiar had to have been unfamiliar. When was that.. lets see, when was a little button in the bottom left corner of the screen for accessing programs and settings introduced… oh yes, Windows 95!! People want their Windows 95 like desktops back! For gods sake, that OS has been setting the desktop top standard for the past 16 years. This is almost the EXACT same reaction I get from people when I try to introduce LibreOffice to people that are used to MS Office.

Them: “This sucks, I can’t find anything.”
Me: “But what about the functionality, how does it compare to Office?”
Them: “Oh that, its fine, I just can’t find anything”
Me: “What options are you having trouble finding precisely?”
Them: “I have found everything I was looking for, it just sucks that I had to look for them.”

The problem isn’t the interface, you can teach old dogs new tricks. Its the fact that people don’t like new things. But wait, what about when MS changed the Office menu bar to the ribbon? Well, people were forced to use it, so they bitched, then got over it. And started to realize, maybe it isn’t so bad after all, they just needed to retrain their brains a little. You never know, you might find that your better with the new interface.

I for one love the Unity interface. There are quirks that annoy me, but what doesn’t have annoying quirks? Usage note with Unity; people love to complain about how hard it is to launch programs. If you have ever used Launchy, or Gnome Do, then this will be easy. Hit the super key, type in the first couple letters of the program you want, hit tab when it shows up, then hit enter, your done. I can launch a program in under a second, try that with a fly out menu and a mouse. Learn the keyboard short cuts, or stop complaining about using your mouse so much.

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UbuntuOne now with more of the GB

UbuntuOne, the service that integrates seamlessly with your Ubuntu desktop to store your files online, now offers 5GB of storage with their free account. The question is, how long will it take the likes of Sugarsync and Dropbox to follow suit? I have been syncing with Dropbox at work and home for so long now, I probably won’t be in a huge hurry to move. But it will most likely happen, probably on my servers first.

One of the things that prevented me from using UbuntuOne was the fact that they didn’t offer the simplicity of Dropbox’s public download URL’s. I use this so much I can’t even count. No work if UbuntuOne has pushed this out, or is still working on it (most likely).

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