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Goodbye Ubuntu, Welcome Back SuSE

Posted by Andrew at 7:09 AM on February 18, 2011

Some of you may recall that early last summer, I left my long-term Linux partner OpenSuSE for Canonical’s Ubuntu – the post is here. I thought it was going to be forever but I’m afraid it hasn’t worked out and SuSE has taken me back.

The original problem was that I couldn’t get SuSE 11.2 to install on new hardware and while Ubuntu 10.04 happily installed onto the new motherboard and harddrives, it’s been the legacy hardware that has been the root of the problem. Specifically, applications that wanted to access my SCSI scanner had to run as root, I completely failed to pull DV video from a video camera over Firewire and I couldn’t configure, never mind watch, my TV card. Scouring the newsgroups, I wasn’t alone. Perhaps naively, I thought that these problems would be fixed with Ubuntu 10.10 but alas, they persisted.

During the Christmas holidays I’d finally had enough – I can’t remember what finally caused me to snap but I downloaded OpenSuSE 11.3, burnt the DVD and rebooted. This time I didn’t encounter any of the previous problems from 11.2 and the installation went smoothly. It was like coming home – everything worked. Scanner – check, DV – check, TV – check.  And although returning to KDE desktop from Gnome, I have decided to keep some of the Gnome-based apps in preference to the KDE equivalents. gPodder is now my default podcatcher and Amarok has been replaced by RhythmBox.

It’s interesting times for OpenSuSE. In November, parent company Novell was sold to Attachmate but allegedly it’s business as usual. Version 11.4 will be out in a few weeks too.

There’s no doubt that some parts of Ubuntu were very seductive, such as package management, but I’m sorry Ubuntu…you’ve been dumped.

Amarok & KDE Crash Reporting – FAIL

Posted by Andrew at 7:44 AM on December 30, 2010

Sigh. I love Linux but there are times when you realise it’s never going to take over the world…

I was working with Amarok, but the program crashed completely every time it hit a certain file in my audio library. This wasn’t a big deal but being a helpful soul, when I was presented with the option to send crash information back to the coders, I clicked on “Ok.”  And this is where it all went wrong.

First of all, after showing the stack trace (whatever that is), the crash handling dialog tells me that it’s not much use without the debug symbols, but the package to do that isn’t installed.  Did I want to install the necessary package?  So I said, “Yes,” still being a helpful soul.

Next, an error pops up saying that it can’t find the package and could I add a repository via the package manager?  Of course, the error message doesn’t tell me either the package that’s needed or the name of the repository needed. Being an ever-helpful soul, I figured out by myself that I need to enable the debug repository in the package manager, after which the crash handler was able to load the package and add the debug symbols. Hurrah!

So I hit  “Next” and I get presented with a username and password dialog for the KDE bug database. Apparently I can only log crashes if I’ve registered with the bug database. At this point I gave up being a helpful soul and closed the dialog.

So, for Amarok and KDE developers, here’s a clue. If you want feedback from your users on what’s going wrong with your applications, don’t make it so hard to give the information. Having agreed to give the feedback, that should be it, job done. I should not have to install a package, configure a repository and get a username for some website I’m never going to visit.

Even Dr Watson wasn’t this stupid.

WobZIP, An Online Unzipper

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 12, 2010

Have you ever downloaded some data off the ‘net only to find it’s in a compressed or archive file format that your PC doesn’t have a helper app for? Or you’re fixing up a friend’s PC, you download some drivers and ditto, you can’t get them unpacked?

If so, you’ll be interested in WobZIP. It’s a web site where you can upload an archive file and it will uncompress it for you.  Once uncompressed, you can either download the files one by one, or else the site will bundle the files back up into a zip archive for you to download.

The site is still in beta but claims to support the following archive formats – 7z, zip, gzip, bzip2, tar, rar, cab, iso, arj, lzh, chm, z, cpio, rpm, deb and nsis.  Obviously quite a few of those formats are Unix and Linux, but there’s a fair collection of DOS / Windows ones too.  As it’s a website, it doesn’t care what OS you’re running either. From the FAQ, WobZIP uses the open source 7-zip program as the decompression engine.

Cleverly, there’s also a feature to unpack or uncompress from a URL so you don’t always have to download to your PC and then upload back to WobZIP – you can just enter the URL and it will go and get the file for you.  Also, it will scan the unpacked files for viruses.

Put this site in your bookmarks.  You may not need it right now, but you will one day.

Ubuntu 10.10 Released 10/10/10

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 9, 2010

The latest version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, 10.10 will be released tomorrow (if all goes to plan). Otherwise known as the Maverick Meerkat, this release focuses on improving the desktop experience and stability rather than radically updating it.

As usual, the kernel has been updated along with the Gnome desktop and there has been one change to the default apps (Shotwell for F-Spot in photo management) but apart from that, it’s pretty much upgrades and improvements.  Allegedly boot times have been improved as well, but 10.04 already booted pretty quickly.

If you haven’t figured out from the post title, Ubuntu releases aren’t numbered by simply incrementing versions.  The numbers are the year and month that software was released in thus October 2010 is 10.10.  The last release, Lucid Lynx, came out in April of this year so is 10.04.

As a further joke, this release is coming out on 10/10/10 which in binary is 42, homage to Douglas Adams’ answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I’ll report back on how my upgrade goes.

Shuttle Adds Blu-ray To XS35 Series

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 7, 2010

If you haven’t seen how small Shuttle’s XS35 series of ultra small PCs are, then you need to look more closely at the picture on the left.  The PC is the unit stuck to the back of the monitor.

The XS3510M is now available with a Blu-ray player making this a full hi-def media device.  Powered by Intel’s dual-core Atom D510 coupled with Nvidia’s Ion graphics, it’s capable of 1080p playback via HDMI.

At only 38mm thick, it’s just a little bit bigger than an external USB 3.5″ HDD unit and yet there’s both the Blu-ray / DVD writer combo drive and a 500GB disk drive (I assume that it’s of the 2.5″ variety) crammed in there, along with a 4-in-1 card reader on the front.  Round the back, there are four USB ports for your mice and keyboards.  11n Wi-fi is built in too.

Shuttle also touts the low power credentials, claiming a maximum of 29W, which would hardly get my standard desktop PC started.  Power is supplied via an external power brick, much like a laptop.

There are no fans in the XS35 series and all cooling comes from air circulating through the many holes in the case.  Consequently, the PC has to be stood upright, not on its side, but it makes the system totally quiet apart from the gentle whirr of the Blu-ray drive.

Windows 7 comes pre-installed with the XS3510M but the range has also been tested with Novell’s OpenSuSE Linux.

Prices start at £171 for barebones systems and around £650 for the unit featured above (depending on options, exchange rate, etc.)  Brochure (.pdf) available here.

All pictures courtesy of Shuttle.

Goodbye SuSE, Hello Ubuntu

Posted by Andrew at 3:18 AM on July 5, 2010

Some of you will know that I’m a Linux user from my previous posts.  I’m not a distro-tart: I tend to stick with a particular Linux distribution rather than swap between the different flavours.  I started out over 15 years ago with an early Slackware release before moving to Red Hat around version 5 (1998?).  I then hopped over to SuSE for 7.3 (2001?) and have been with SuSE ever since.  After I moved to SuSE Linux, I ditched Ms Windows and never looked back.

A few weeks ago, I decided to upgrade my PC for a bit more oomph.  It was basically a complete rebuild as my motherboard was still AGP graphics, so everything’s new – new ASUS mobo, AMD AM3 processor, DDR3 memory,  all SATA drives, ATI (PCI-e) graphics, the works.  None of this stuff was cutting-edge but none of it was complete rubbish either.  All the gear had arrived in the post and Sunday afternoon was free – I was ready to go.

New drives meant new install of SuSE 11.2….or not.  First of all, I couldn’t get SuSE to see the SATA drives until I changed some BIOS settings.  Then the bootloader wouldn’t install unless I only had one HDD and disconnected the two mirrored drives.  And even then, when I rebooted after the initial install, I got buckets of SATA data errors and the OS failed to boot.

After tinkering with BIOS settings and kernel modules for a couple of hours I gave up.  Life’s too short.  I bunged in a Linux Format magazine coverdisk that had Ubuntu 10.04 on it.  Twenty minutes later, I had a working system, with all my drives, including the RAID mirror and it had also installed the proprietary drivers for the graphics card.  No fuss, no muss.  Boy, was I relieved!

I sometimes feel that it’s a bit churlish to complain about an OS which is essentially free, i.e. no cost.  In my defence, I have previously supported SuSE and Red Hat by buying the box sets, but in this day and age, if Linux wants to have any chance to succeed against the Redmond machine, it has to just work.  I’d consider myself somewhere between a power user and an expert and if I can’t get it to work on a fairly ordinary system, there’s no hope.

I’ll probably replace Ubuntu (which uses the Gnome desktop) with Kubuntu (which uses KDE) tonight to keeps things a bit more familiar but I’m afraid it’s goodbye SuSE, hello Ubuntu.

Music Downloads for Linux

Posted by Andrew at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2010

Last night, I downloaded some music from Amazon for the first time and I was both irritated and pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I’d gone to Amazon because I’m not an iPod owner and wanted to get some DRM-free music for playing via a DLNA media server and also my Palm Pre.

(I know this is a tech site but just in case you are interested, the tracks were “Heartbreak” by M’Black.  It’s a pumping euro dance track with a great vocal from Nicol – it’s going to be my summer theme.)

But I digress.  As I was downloading a number of tracks, I had to use Amazon’s MP3 downloader, which I didn’t like the sound of as I run Linux.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Amazon offers the downloader for four flavours of Linux, including OpenSuSE 11.2….except that I’m still on 11.1.  Tried the 11.2 version but didn’t work – too many missing dependencies.  If there’s two things wrong with Linux, it’s fragmentation and dependency-hell.

So I had to borrow my wife’s laptop and download the Windows version which worked flawlessly.  The downloader also added the tracks to the iTunes software library on the laptop (she is an iPod-owner) but I found you could easily turn that off.  The tracks were left in a download directory as well, so it was then simply a case of copying the tracks to the media server and Palm Pre for my listening pleasure.

Overall, I can see that if you are Windows user, the experience is flawless and gives the benefit of DRM-free music, quickly added to either iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries, but also direct access to .mp3s for copying to media servers or other music devices.  As a suggestion for improvement, it would be good if the album art was included in the download.

As a Linux user, slightly disappointed that you had to be on the latest version and if you weren’t, the options were limited.  Great that Amazon is at least supporting Linux in some shape, though.

Checking Your Website with Browsershots

Posted by J Powers at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2010

I always forget about this website.  When I finally go there to check my site amongst OS browsers, I always find one small problem. Quick change in the CSS and everything is all better.

I am talking about Broswershots. They simply take my site and call it up using different browsers on all Operating Systems. Linux, PC, Mac and BSD checking the following browsers:

  • Avant
  • Chrome
  • Dillo
  • Epiphany
  • Firefox
  • Flock
  • K-Meleon
  • Galeon
  • Iceape
  • Iceweasel
  • Internet Explorer
  • Kazehakase
  • Konqueror
  • Minefield
  • Navigator
  • Opera
  • Safari
  • SeaMonkey
  • Shiretoko

I can also view the many versions of the browsers. Let’s say I am optimizing for Internet Explorer. I can check IE 4.0, 5.0, 7.0 or 8.0 on a Windows format. Check the boxes, enter the URL and away we go.

What Dillo sees of my websites from Browsershots

The process is not instantaneous. The service will set a 30 minute time limit which you can extent, but you have to physically be there to do so. If you checked all boxes, then you will definitely need to extend the process a couple times. It can also really show you how slow your website might load if you have an influx of users. One website I checked came up with all versions in about 10 minutes, yet another website (a little more PHP process driven) took a little more time.

Once your screenshots appear, you can view and download. Of course, this is dependent on the Internet connection at both sides, so you may have to request a new screenshot if you don’t see the proper results. For instance, IE 8.0 came back with a blank screen. I then told Broswershots to retry and the end result was perfect.

This website is pretty useful in detecting problems. Although I do have a PC, Mac and Ubuntu machine, I am really happy I don’t have to load up every browser on those machines. It’s about 80 different browsers and their versions to choose from. I am hoping soon they will also check across phone browsers. That will be a perfect addition to Browsershots.

Ubuntu 9.10

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 6:00 PM on November 30, 2009

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu Desktop

I have an old Mac Mini that I wasn’t using, so being bored I decided to install Ubuntu on it. Ubuntu is a well know distribution (distro) of Linux. The latest distribution is 9.10 also known as Karmic Koala, (all Ubuntu distribution are named after animals.). The first thing I did was I downloaded the latest distribution of Ubuntu as an ISO. An ISO is simply a single image of all files needed to install an application, in this case Ubuntu. I then burned the ISO to a CD using the burn option available in Disk Utility on the Mac. I did burn it at a lower speed then normal, which is recommended. I then placed the CD in the Macmini and restarted it, while holding down the C key when the chime rang. The first screen that came up asked me if I wanted to run Ubuntu without installing, install Ubuntu, check disk for error, or start from first hard disk. I decided that I wanted to do a full install, so I made that choice. (If you make that choice remember that you are erasing all data on the partition that you install it on.) The next choice I had was whether I wanted to use the full hard drive or a partition. I chose to use the full hard drive, hit the continue button and the installation ran without any problem. Once the installation is finished I set up my login name and password. I removed the CD and restarted the computer, Ubuntu started up without any problem.

I love Ubuntu, it is one of the easier distribution of linux to use. Ubuntu comes with Open Office, Firefox, Pidgin Internet Messanger. already installed. It also has audio, video and image applications already available. The great thing about Linux today especially Ubuntu is you can stick with what it comes with when you download it. However most likely there are going be some programs that you will want to change. Unlike in the past a lot of applications can be downloaded direct from the Internet and installed automatically. However, by learning either Terminal commands or using the Synaptic Package Manager you have a lot more options. If you run into trouble or have a question, there is help available either through IRC, a very active forum or a wiki. Most of the people on the forum are helpful, although they do expect you to do some work on your own behalf.

If you are sick of the Windows vs Mac battle or if you have tried a Linux distro before and decided it wasn’t worth the effort, I recommend giving Ubuntu a chance it is easy to install and use. However, if you want everything done for you and don’t want to do any work, then Ubuntu or any linux distribution is probably not for you. Do you use Ubuntu or another distribution of linux. If you use another distribution of Linux, which one and why

Less is More – The Microsoft Spin

Posted by GNC at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2009

windows7logoLess is more.  Less trouble equals more value.  Lower learning curve equals increased value.  That would be the theory of Microsoft in the recently leaked training notes for their operating system (as covered by www.appleinsider.com).  To install Microsoft Windows 7 means that the PC user has less to learn compared to switching to a Mac, making it is more valuable.  Switching to Mac OS X involves a steeper learning curve so stay with what you know.  It’s worth it.  Ok.  Sort of.  Isn’t that like saying, “Stick with the old.  Stay with what you understand. Change is too difficult.”  Washington’s premier spin-masters and New York’s newsrooms should be proud

Let’s talk straight.  Investigate and choose an operating system and applications that will best fit your present and future. In learning to drive a car I took part in a driving class.  I drove for several months with another adult driver.  I was monitored by my parents for several years. And now for 20 years I have driven cars.  The training was worth it.  Now I’m living in a developing country and learning to drive all over again.  Learning is inevitable.

In my former job I often worked in Photoshop.  The tasks involved cropping, resizing, adujsting, and re-coloring photos for publication.  For every photo I would do many of the same exact steps which involved several dozen clicks and commands.  One afternoon I decided to train myself in Photoshops ability to record and automatically apply those steps.  It took me several hours and much failure, but in the end I reduced my labor by 75%.  The hours of training were more than worth it.  Less to learn does not mean increased value.  Learning the features increased the value for me.  It may be that switching to another operating system, Linux, OS X, or Windows may do the same for you.

If a person has little to gain in terms of functionality then stay with the familiar. If your current operating system and portfolio of applications has everything you need while offering efficient productivity, then stay with the familiar.  Value is based on price, need, ability, and finally time available for learning.  When I see a person will gain ability and increase their enjoyment in working on their computer then I recommend a switch.  Even though I love Macs, based on the previous criteria, I do not recommend them to everyone.  But of course we can’t expect Microsoft or Apple to be that balanced now can we?