Sunday, April 27, 2008

SSC #63 Hardy Heron First Look!

   Wow, its been a pretty exciting week for Linux fans.  Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron was released last week, and I downloaded the LiveCD and set about testing out the new Wubi installer on the only computer in my house that runs Windows XP.  I also did an upgrade on my laptop via the built-in upgrade process. 

   First lemme talk about the Wubi install.  Essentially I just put the newly burnt Ubuntu CD into the computer while it was running Windows XP and it popped up a neat little window asking me if I wanted to reboot and try it out in Live mode, or if I wanted to install it inside of Windows.  I selected the option to install within Windows and was greeted with a second screen, which I will be including in this article.  Here I made a mistake.  I put in a password that was only a single digit long.  The installation seemed to progress properly until it got to the point where it wanted to reboot.  Upon rebooting it went into a LiveCD session off of the Wubi install.  I realized this wasn't correct almost immediately.  So rebooting back to Windows, I went into the Control Panel and clicked on Add/Remove Programs.  Ubuntu was there on the list and two clicks later it was removed. 

   I started up the Wubi install again and this time I put in a password of 8 letters (it turns out you need at least a six-letter password) and commenced the installation a second time.  This time Ubuntu installed flawlessly and I was able to do all of the normal customizations that I like to do just like a normal Ubuntu install. 

   Booting back to Windows was easy, in fact it was the default option.   To clarify, all you have to do to boot into Windows is just turn your machine on.  There is a menu to select between Ubuntu and Windows when it first starts up and if you don't select a choice, it will automatically boot into Windows in about 10 seconds or so.

   From what I hear, it doesn't go so easily on Windows Vista machines.  Apparently Microsoft has done something in an attempt to block the Wubi installer by ejecting the CD during the installation process.  To get around this, if you're a Vista user, you copy the Wubi.exe file from the CD to someplace on your computer and start it from there.  This will allow you to bypass the little MS tripwire and install Ubuntu via Wubi.

   All in all I consider the Wubi installer to be a success.  A few bugs to work out for consistency's sake, but it installed fine and it uninstalled cleanly.  I just wish it had a warning about expected password length. 

   My laptop upgrade went well, all my software was updated to the newest versions and my custom wallpaper and application settings were all left alone.  I didn't even have to reconfigure my wireless card.  One thing that was a little disappointing to me was the loss of XMMS, which happens to be one of my favorite audio players.  Apparently it is no longer supported by Ubuntu.  Thankfully there are about 4 or 5 clones of it (XMMS itself is a clone of the Windows program Winamp) and I've started using Audacious, which looks exactly like XMMS did, but has some advanced features added.

   I haven't yet gotten a chance to mess with the Pulse Audio other than to verify that it was indeed there.  I did notice that while it is installed by default, the Volume Control application doesn't look any different from before.  So I am guessing if you want to utilize all of the special controls then a quick download of some Pulse Audio utilities from Synaptic Package Manager is probably neccessary.  For the most part it is invisible, but when I get into some music making later on I believe I will be very happy that it is already installed and configured properly.

   Something else I noticed was that on the Wubi install, Open Office was not a full install.  It had the word processor and spreadsheet but had left out the database and a couple of the other elements.  Of course installing the rest of it was painless and quick.  Alternately, on my laptop, which already had a full Open Office install, it continued to have the full installation which was upgraded to the latest version.  Just something to be aware of for those of you trying it out via Wubi.  If you need the full office suite, be sure to go to "Add / Remove" at the bottom of the Applications toolbar and add it in. 

   For users wanting to do a full install (not via Wubi) I noticed that they had changed the timezone selection process a little.  Where before was a zoomable map with points to select a city that shares the same timezone as your own, now they have a hyper-sensitive auto-zooming map that does the same job, but somehow seems to make it harder.  I was vastly disappointed in this change and jumped into the #ubuntu chat room--which was a complete mad house with over 1600 users logged in--to let them know how I felt.  I was responded to by a user named Evand who asked me how I thought it SHOULD have been.  After expounding upon the flaws and should-have-beens he told me I should go and make a  bug report.  Upon doing this, I found that Evand was the programmer responsible for that portion of the installer.  So he was basically asking me to make a list of things for him to change to make it better.  That was pretty awesome.  Perhaps Evand will have improved it by the time Intrepid Ibex comes out. 

   If you tried Ubuntu in the past but were stopped by wireless support issues, well (Mr. Moss), from all appearances, Hardy has just about the same wireless support as the last version.  There are minor improvements, but nothing really big.  If you card was supposed to be supported but for some reason you couldn't get it to work, you may have better luck with Hardy.  If your card wasn't supported before, it is likely not supported now.  Although I have been hearing some faint rumors of something major going on with wireless drivers, nothing concrete has manifested as of yet.  I'll be sure to let you know when something does.

   All in all, I think Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron is a good strong release.  It doesn't do the dishes or bring back the dead, but its a solid operating system that does more than the last version did while also being easier to install than it has ever been before.  If you're at all curious about Linux, I invite you to go to and order a CD, or alternately you could just go to and download Wubi which will then download the ISO and install Ubuntu automagically without ever needing to burn a disc.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

SSC #62 Ubuntu Linux 8.04 Hardy Heron LTS release

    By the time this is in print, the new version of Ubuntu Linux, codenamed Hardy Heron will be available.  This new version 8.04 is an LTS (Long Term Support) version and as such will be supported with security updates until 2011. 

    This new version has loads of great new features and improvements that are sure to impress. 

    Included in 8.04 is the Pulse Audio Sound Server.  This software layer audio proxy "makes it possible to mix audio from multiple applications together, assign audio from individual applications to specific sound cards, adjust volume levels of each individual application, and perform advanced operations on audio streams such as transferring the audio to another computer or changing sample formats and channel counts."

    What this means is that audio aficionados will be able to have fine control over what where and how audio is used inside the system and how it outputs as well.

    Another new feature, Likewise Open, available from the Universe repository, enables seamless integration of Ubuntu within an Active Directory network. Users can use their AD credentials to log onto Ubuntu machines and access any kerberized services provided by an Ubuntu server.  Thats even greek to ME.  But if your a fan of Active Directory, this could be a deal maker for you.

    From the Ubuntu site:  'KVM is now a fully maintained option for virtualization, libvirt and virtmanager have also been integrated in Ubuntu, allowing for easy guest creation and basic management of virtual machines out of the box. Virt-manager can be used to administer guests on a remote server.'

    What this means is you can easily create a virtual machine within Ubuntu in which to install guest operating systems.   Not familiar with Virtual Machines?  Its a pretty hot topic right now in the tech world.  A virtual machine is basically a 'pretend' computer that is installed inside of your real computer.  This lets you do cool things like install Adobe Photoshop into Windows XP that is running INSIDE a window in Ubuntu.  Head scrambled?  Its not as scary as it sounds, just unexpected.  Its not something the average user expects a computer to be able to do.  But it works well provided you have decent hardware. 

    "There is a new installation option for Windows users.  Wubi allows users to install and uninstall Ubuntu like any other Windows application. It does not require a dedicated partition, nor does it affect the existing bootloader, yet users can experience a dual-boot setup almost identical to a full installation. Wubi works with a physical CD or in stand-alone mode, by downloading an appropriate ISO to install from. It can be found on the root of the CD as Wubi.exe. A full installation within a dedicated partition is still recommended (for permanent installations), but Wubi is a great way to try Ubuntu for a few days and weeks before committing dedicated disk resources."

    This is the thing that has me the most excited.  If you are kinda curious about Ubuntu Linux but not ready to jump in head first, this allows you to install Ubuntu into a folder within your Windows installation, and if for some reason you don't like it (perish the thought) you can quickly and easily remove it completely via the Add/Remove Programs function in the Windows Control Panel.  Wax on, wax off. 
    If you DO really like it, then with the same exact disk you can boot into the LiveCD session and repartition your harddrives and install it permanently.  I myself will be attempting both kinds of installs and I'll let you all know how it goes next week with my First Look at Ubuntu 8.04.

    There are lots more features to talk about, but for this week I'm going to keep this pretty short.  So tune in next week and get the full scoop!

    I would also like to alleviate any confusion about whether or not I do computer repair work.  Yes I do in-home computer repair and I try to keep my rates low.  Fixing your computer shouldn't break the bank. 

    Its come to my attention that my article header doesn't quite catch the eye like I wanted it to, so I'll be redesigning it in the next few weeks to try to find something that does the job a little better.  So when you think I've gotten it right, feel free to write in and tell me so.  And if you think you can do a better header, feel free to send submissions to the email address below.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

SSC #61 The merits of Microsoft

    This week I was having a heated discussion with a colleague of mine about Microsoft versus Linux and why I hold such an inherent dislike for MS Windows and generally every other product that Microsoft puts out.

    And during this debate he challenged me to write an article saying something good about Microsoft, stating that I was so biased against them that he didn't think I could accomplish it.

    This is that article.  Wish me luck. 

    I must confess, when I received the challenge, I was absolutely stumped.  And I thought I might just have to concede the point.  But after I thought about it, I began to realize some things that had not occurred to me previously.

    Simply put, without Microsoft, and without their backhanded double-dealing monopolistic tactics, computers would not be anywhere near as advanced and as versatile as they are today. 

    When Microsoft came on the scene, there was a plethora of early operating systems such as SCOPE, CP/M, Pick, Unix and a slew of others each with different design scheme and hardware configurations, and each one was vying for dominance in the computer field.

    With the introduction of MS-DOS, and later on MS Windows, Microsoft began its history of interface stealing, bribery, and its habitual "embrace, extend and extinguish" policy, which enabled Microsoft to come out on top and become the de-facto standard operating system for the majority of people around the world. 

    And within this framework of one single dominating operating system, software programming has been able to achieve things that were completely unthinkable just a few short years before.

     Microsoft Windows enabled computers to become popular enough to leave the realm of the hobbyists and businessmen and enter into our collective daily lives.  Without Microsoft, there could still be fifteen or twenty different completely incompatible computer systems out there, and you most likely would not have one in your living room.  If a market leader had never emerged, none of the competitors would have gotten enough money or attention to make the great strides and successes that Microsoft has facilitated.

    Without this growth and expansion of the general computing populace, we might not have such everyday things as webcams or VOIP.  Even the video game industry might not be as advanced as it is today without the massive growth of the personal computing market pushing processor technology to innovate.  This is not because Microsoft themselves invented these things, but because Microsoft integrated computers so far into our lives that innovation of the computer field became a necessity and a natural progression of ideas. 

    We owe thanks for a big part of our culture and daily convenience to Microsoft.  So thank you Microsoft.  Seriously. 

    Does this mean I've changed my mind?  Am I now a Microsoft fanboy? No.  And I doubt I ever will be again. 

    While we may have needed a company like MS to unify the computing industry and innovate and integrate cool technologies into our everyday lives, I personally believe we do not need them anymore. 

    There are very few people left in the world who do not know what a computer is.  They may not own one, they may not know how to use one, but they've likely seen one, or at least could recognize one if they saw it.

    As an agent of unification and emissary of technological achievement, Microsoft's task is complete.  And as a result of this, Microsoft is one of the richest, most powerful and most influential companies in the entire world.  Unfortunately, they are also among the most ruthless of companies in the world. 

    Time and time again Microsoft has demonstrated its willingness to bully competing technologies and companies into extinction.  Sometimes Microsoft even uses its monopoly power to crush its competitors even though they were superior to its own offering.  If anyone can remember the wars between Netscape and Internet Explorer, at the time, Netscape was actually a superior product.  And to this day, the pre-release codename for Netscape Navigator, Mozilla, is still used by browsers when surfing the net to denote that it is a modern full-featured web browser.  Yet due to Microsoft's monopoly power enabling them to give away Internet Explorer for free, Netscape, a clearly superior product was nearly lost.  Netscape has only survived by licensing their code as open source, and as a result of this, the Netscape code provided the backbone for the amazingly popular Mozilla Firefox web browser.

    No fine has ever been levied against Microsoft that was so great as to dissuade them from their unfair business practices and monopolistic tendencies.  Every time they're faced with a penalty, Microsoft simply takes it on the chin, forks over a big cash settlement or fine and then resumes business as usual, completely unrepentant.  No fine has ever been high enough to  compete with their profits made using these business strategies, so why on earth would they stop?

    Microsoft is the big bully on the block.  Linux is the group of nerdy little kids who have had enough and have decided that its time to band together and make a stand.  And you know what?  Microsoft is scared.

    From Wikipedia:  "The Halloween documents, internal Microsoft memos which were leaked to the open source community beginning in 1998, indicate that Microsoft perceives open source software — in particular, freely available Linux kernel-based operating systems — as a growing long-term threat to Microsoft's dominance of the software industry. In marked contrast to the company's public statements, which tend to downplay or ignore open source software, the Halloween documents acknowledged that parts of Linux are superior to the versions of Microsoft Windows available at the time, and outlined a strategy of 'de-commoditize[ing] protocols & applications.'  Opponents of Microsoft have dubbed this strategy 'embrace, extend, and extinguish'."

    Linux is the underdog.  It is for this reason that I love Linux as much as I do.  It is not because I am a geek.  As a geek, I love what can be done with MS Windows.  You can do some really really cool stuff with Windows.  I do not begin to pretend otherwise.  I cut my techie teeth on Windows XP.  I used Windows exclusively for years and its how I got so good at this stuff.  But Windows has flaws.  And if I were to try to crack into it and modify the core of Windows to fix these flaws myself, I would be violating the license agreement, and thereby breaking the law.

    Simply put, I love Linux because I love freedom.  I am motivated to spread Linux and open source software because I believe individual rights are more important than corporate interests.  I believe that sometimes long-standing institutions lose their primary justification for existence.  Sometimes a company or industry just simply isn't needed anymore, such as the music industry and the RIAA.  Corporations or legal entities entering this situation seldom accept this fact and usually spend a lot of time and effort (and often ruin a lot of people's lives) fighting the inevitable.

    Also, I love Linux because I love the community of people who use Linux.  There is an army of volunteers waiting there to help me learn new things, or fix problems day or night.  Linux is not locked away behind activation procedures, CD-keys or Licensing agreements.  I am free to copy it, I am free to give it away as much as I wish, I am free to improve upon it as I see fit.  It is this self-same love of freedom that has me so distraught over the controversies surrounding habeus corpus.  But this is not a political column so I will leave that alone.

    And lastly, I love Linux because it is an operating system that is designed to be beneficial to me.  Not beneficial to its maker.  Open source software did not entice me into the fold to further itself or its agenda.  It was made as a gift by volunteers who only wanted to help make the world a better place.  And that is something that I can believe in.

    Right now there are over five hundred different distributions of Linux.  With Windows you find you are constantly forced to upgrade your hardware to meet its specifications.  With Linux, there is undoubtedly a version that will run on whatever computer you have at hand.  There are versions of Linux that will run on an old 386.  Linux doesn't abandon old hardware.  It is not picky, it is not proud.  This is not to say that any version of Linux will run on any machine.  You have to find the version that is right for what you have.  But at least that version is out there somewhere.

    And there's not much that a Windows machine can do that a Linux machine can't do.  If your computer can run Vista, it would likely run better with Ubuntu Linux or Red Hat or Debian.  If your computer is so old it can only run Windows 95/98, Puppy Linux or DamnSmallLinux would run so fast it would make you think that machine had grown wings.

    It is a diverse planet we live in filled with billions of people with many different needs.  One operating system cannot meet all of those needs.  In light of this, I think 500+ versions of Linux is a low number.  I believe MS Windows should have a place in all of this.  I just don't believe it deserves to be #1.

    Here I am almost finished, and I'm not sure I successfully completed the challenge I was given.  Saying nice things about a company that you pretty much despise is not an easy task.  I did my best.  I leave it up to you, the reader, to decide how I did.

    In summation, Thank you Microsoft.  Without you our lives would not be as rich with technology and convenience.  I appreciate everything you have done for the computing world.  It wouldn't have been the same without you.  Now please go away.  We don't really need you anymore.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

SSC#60 Podcasts aka Delay-dio

    Y'know when you cast your line into those tall reeds at the edge of the pond and get it tangled up in the pods on top, break your line and lose your best lure?  Well, folks, that is NOT podcasting.  Thats just a bad day.

    From PC Magazine's online encyclopedia--Definition of podcast: (iPOD broadCAST) An audio broadcast that has been converted to an MP3 file or other audio file format for playback in a digital music player or computer. The "pod" in podcast was coined from "iPod," the predominant portable, digital music player, and although podcasts are mostly verbal, they may contain music.

    Bring this to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes and you get: an online radio show about topics that interest YOU that you can save and play any time you want to either on your computer, or a portable mp3 player. 
    Anyone can make a podcast.  If you have access to a computer, and a decent microphone to record your voice, and the means to upload your audio show to the internet, you can be a podcaster. 

    That doesn't mean you're going to have anything interesting to say.

    Podcasts vary greatly in quality, length, and substance.  They aren't regulated by the FCC so be warned, there are some out there with explicit language and/or content.  Its not all a bed of roses.  There is nothing worse than listening to someone talk to himself in his basement about things you couldn't care less about.
    On the other hand, it is absolutely fantastic to hear a talk show about a topic that you are very involved in, by people who know what they are talking about.  It makes you want to call in and tell them your thoughts too!  Which is just fine by them.
    Audience participation is usually very welcome on most podcast shows.  You can be part of the show in many ways, either by calling in, writing in, emailing, or chatting in their chat rooms.  Lots of them even use Skype and other web-based phones.  So joining in on the conversation is encouraged and very easy to do.
    One of the great things about podcasts is that once you find a show you like, often you can download archives of it and catch all the ones you missed. 
    Something that you may miss by listening to Podcasts is all of the music you are familiar with.  Many podcasts are run on shoestring budgets with donated time and equipment, and maybe one sponsor to cover the costs of webhosting.  They do not have the money to pay for royalties to artists.  So in order not to get sued, they tend to refrain from using copywritten music on their shows.
    Instead they use either original music that they make themselves, or they use royalty free music from a safe source.
    These safe sources, such as and allow musicians to promote themselves and their bands by uploading their original music up to the site.  Registered Podcasters can then browse the music and find tracks that suit their purposes or that they like enough to promote and then proceed to use them in their shows.
     Non-podcasting visitors can download the tracks from the website or purchase a custom CD for a fee, thereby providing some much needed finiancial support for the artists.   Its really a great avenue into self-promoted musical artists.  One song of mine was already picked up and played on a Podshow from New Jersey.  It felt pretty nice to know someone liked the song, and depending on how many listeners he had, spread it out to other people as well.
    If you're one of those people who complains that everything on the radio sounds the same, this is for you.  You're likely to find something unlike anything you have EVER heard., and just maybe you'll find something you wish you had heard a lot sooner. 
    Conversely, if you are a small-town band trying to get noticed in this great big world, uploading some songs for podcasters is a great way to gain some free exposure beyond your regular gigs.
    Ready to try it out?  There are lots of ways to do so.  If you use iTunes, you are already ready already. If not, you can surf on over to and get Juice.  Juice is a cross-platform (Win, Mac) Podcast receiver.  On the Linux side of things, check your distro's repositories for Icepodder, gPodder, or Podnova.

    My personal top pics for Podcasts are The Linux Action Show ( and LottaLinuxLinks (  They represent two of the extremes of podcasting but deal with the same topic.  The Linux Action Show is a highly polished professional sounding show about what is newest and best in the Linux world.  And LottaLinuxLinks is a great one-man-show  covering Linux, produced by a man during his daily drive home, yes, you read right, he does the show from his vehicle, on a shoestring budget, with an imaginary female co-host (a computer generated voice) to introduce and wrap up the show.
    As you can see, Podcasts are a whole other world of music, people, and opinions.  Consider this an invitation.

See you next week!

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