Friday, December 26, 2008

CentOS, Java, and RPM Hell

I was trying to use a Java application within my web browser on a CentOS box I set up, and was a little disappointed to see that the folks over at Redhat still have not figured out how to make the act of simply surfing the Internet with a PC using Linux easy. You still have to go through the process of symbolically linking your java plug in file file with your Firefox browser.

What is the deal with simply including the command lines needed for int installing this plugin? Ubuntu has been doing this for what seems like ages now. Granted, Centos 5 is an older flavor Linux, being an Enterprise OS. But, I did a search and found that in Fedora 10, the latest and greatest offering STILL does not get it right.

It is stuff like this and the problems people have had with rpm installs that are causing Redhat to fall behind Ubuntu in the "user wars" Getting Java to work on browser in a desktop with Ubuntu is as easy as a sinlge click or two.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

PC Equals Windows. NOT!

We have all seen them. The Mac vs. PC ads that Apple uses for their main advertising campaign. Apple has poured millions into the ad campaign, and why not? It has been hugely successful for them and the commercials are funny.

The Mac ads mock Microsoft in a fun-loving manner, by pointing out many weaknesses that are inherent with Microsoft products. They also reinforce the idea that there is only one operating system that you can run on a PC, and only one operating system that is able to run on a Mac. They leave it up to the public to decide one or the other. Are you a (Conservative) Republican (Windows) or a (Liberal) Democrat (Mac)?

Ahh, but there is a third party that is on the scene, and that is (Independent?) Ubuntu. It can run on either machine. I think the Linux community should do more to promote the fact that the Mac ads are misleading. Other options are out there that work just as well, if not better than Microsoft or Apple.

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu has stated that he wants to make Ubuntu as easy to use and seamless as a Mac. This is a hefty order when you consider the variety of devices that Ubuntu and Linux as a whole is tasked to run on. It may not be possible since hardware is always evolving and Linux is always playing catch-up. Apple will always have the advantage since they basically create the hardware around their software, not the other way around.

However, the past year I think there have been great strides in bucking the two party system. I have come across certain PC advertisements in print that are starting to showing Ubuntu PCs along side their Windows brethren. Perhaps there is hope!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ubuntu Setting Its Sights on College Students?

I has been a little while since I visited the Ubuntu website. Usually, I make a visit or two once or twice a month, but sine Ubuntu 8.10 was released, I have just been having fun using my recycled and old PC to some productive work. Plus, I am thinking that we are still a few months off from the next release.

But today, I did pay a visit to the site, and noticed that they upgraded the number of products that are being offered in the Ubuntu Shop. There a a couple of new bags and newly designed T-shirts, and other items. It looks like to me that these would make for desirable items for college students looking to make a statement on campus.

If a student wants to make a statement about oneself, why carry around an Ipod. Everyone has one!

Could it be that Canonical be looking to make inroads on college campuses just like Apple?

This is where Apple is killing Microsoft and Dell in PC sales. It may be that this is the start for an Ubuntu push onto college campuses.

And why not? I think this is the right move for the Ubuntu folks.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Music on Ubuntu Rhythmbox

I have been learning to use Rythmbox's Radio Station a little more, and found that it is pretty easy to get all of's radio station feeds integrated with Rhythmbox. I added the Christmas Music stream offered by and it was very easy to do.

Simply go to this link, and mouseover the Listen Now! tab to select the the channel you want, the MP3 streams and 96K. Once you have the channel you want selected then right click to select "Copy Link Location."

Next open up Rythmbox and right click on Radio and select "New Internet Radio Station" then paste in the link into the url window that come up.

You then have the radio station saved in your radio list. You can right click on it to change the title from the properties menu.

With a little time spent, you can get the entire directory integrated right into Rythmbox.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Running Linux on a Slow Computer

I use a pretty old computer to keep this blog up to date. Some of you may be surprised to hear that it is a Dell L667r sporting a 667 Mhz processor with 320 MB of RAM. Yep, that's it! Everything works great on this old beast. The only 'upgrade' I made to it was to drop in a 160 GB hard drive. I use the disk space to dump in my music database.

I easily run Firefox and Rythmbox at the same time and can listen to music and surf at the same time. I use just one add-on in Firefox to help with performance, and that is Flashblock. This add-on keeps flash video advertisements from running as you surf the web. You have the option of clicking on them if you want to see them, but who wants to see adds, right? It really helps when visiting sites like CNN and ESPN which use a lot of Flash.

The version of Ubuntu I am using is 8.10. I figure to have another couple of years of support with this version of Ubuntu. This is what makes this operating system so great! I wont have to buy hardware for a long time! At least as long as it does not burn out...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Agent.BTZ Virus infecting Military Computers

Another virus is making headlines, and it is being passed around the old fashioned way with the modern day equivalent of floppy drives. I remember years ago there was a lot of hand wringing by "security experts" about floppy disks. Back then, viruses could pass from disk to machine quite readily. It looks like only Microsoft machines are being targeted. I have not heard anything about Linux being targeted by this virus.

Now these older infection methods are back, yet they have added a little twist. The Agent.btz virus has been around for a couple of months and gains entry onto your system through an infected USB thumb drive. After infection it replicates itself and starts looking for networked drives on your system and downloads a binary file from a website. What this binary does, nobody knows. Yet some say it will go active when January 20th rolls around, which happens to the day our President is sworn in. May make for an interesting inauguration.

The thumb drive have become the modern day floppy, and it was just a matter of time before the old methods of using floppies to pass viruses have now made a comeback to use USB drives.

I am really happy that I have switched to Linux. For now, there is now worrying about virus software updates, windows updates, etc. I just turn the machine on, and it is ready to go. I guess it is only a matter of time before Linux desktops gets targeted. Linux Servers have been hit with worms, etc. in years past, but that all seems to have died away.

At home, I do run a few server processes, like sshd, etc. I contemplated running Samba and setting up a file server that I would be able to map drives to my Windows box. But for now, I am keeping it simple.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Speed Up Ubuntu Boot Time

Here is a simple way to speed up the boot time of your Ubuntu system. It involves recreating the readahead profile. Readahead is a daemon that runs in Ubuntu that loads a set if files into page cache that accelerates the first time of loading of programs.

The initial install of the OS comes with its own default set of files. But every system is a little different and you can rebuild this profile in one easy step once you have every thing installed.

Your run this profile program once during boot-up, then after that you are set. I tested this out on a couple of different system and found that you can shave between 5 and 10 seconds off of the boot up time.

Here is how it works.

First boot your system. At the Grub prompt hit the 'esc' key.

At the next menu the default kernal should be selected, so hit 'e' for edit. Then arrow down to the line the starts with the word 'kernel'. Arrow all the way to the end of this line (after the words 'quiet' and 'splash') type the word:


Then hit 'enter' and then hit 'b'

Your system will then boot. For this first boot-up your system will take about twice as long as the profiling program sets up for the readahead. But after the next boot, you just bring the system up the regular way, and you will notice a little faster boot time.

This procedure is not something that I would do everyday, but if you install a new system, do a major upgrade, etc. then it may be helpful to run through this procedure.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Partition and MBR Restore Using TestDisk

After a little poking around with my Windoze PC, the one that would not boot, I decided that either the partition table, or the Master Boot Record (MBR) were somehow corrupted. The machine would boot using other disk drives, so the motherboard was not bad. The manufacturer sent this machine without any restore disks, or Windows XP disks, so I was pretty much SOL in simply re-installing the OS.

After backing up the data that i needed from the drive, I decided I would try to rebuild the partition table and boot record using an open source software package called TestDisk.

Here is the general procedure, I booted the PC using an Ubuntu Live CD. I went to the menu: Sytem --> Administration --> Software Sources

and enabled the Universe Repository and re-downloaded the available software information. Then at a command line: sudo apt-install testdisk

Then ran testdisk from the command line by typing

sudo testdisk

Then I followed the step by step instructions for restoring a partition table here.

This utility worked like a charm! The computer is back up and my wife is happy. When the wife is happy, the husband is happy!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Using Ubuntu to Recover Data from an XP Drive

I have several PCs in my house. One of them, a Microsoft Windows XP stopped booting for me. I was not sure if the motherboard went bad or the disk drive. This PC had a lot of files on it that were important for my wife and her on line studies. Unfortunately, I was a little re-miss in making routine backups. I did not want her to lose here files, and wanted to at least get the latest copy of her files saved off before I performed major surgery o

Luckily, I had a couple of Ubuntu Live Cd's on hand.

I simply placed a live CD in the bad computer and booted into Ubuntu. The live CD noticed the bad drive, which was no longer bootable, and mounted it. It seemed that just the boot record od the drive was bad, as all of the data was still there. I sort of lucked out, that I was able to recover all of the data in her Windows directory.

I copied the files I needed from the disk that was not longer bootable onto my usb thumb drive. This is done under the "Places" menu. The process was really easy, as you can just use click and drag.

Once I had the file copied I exited out. I am not sure if the motherboard is bad, or if it is the disk drive. I may just wipe the drive and start fresh. Still have to make a decision on that one.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Find Your Hardware and Parts in Ubuntu

In Ubuntu, the best information can be gleaned from the system using the command line interface.

Here is an Ubuntu command that will tell you just about every thing you need to know about the hardware that is running on your system

From your desktop hit -F2. Check the "Run in Terminal" check box

and enter:

sudo lshw |less

Then enter your password when prompted.

You will then get a listing of all the hardware and parts that make up your PC or laptop

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ubuntu vs. Centos

I have been using Ubuntu at home for my desktop, while at work, it has mainly been Redhat.
In recent years, we have not had to build systems at our site, since they were sent to us pre-loaded with the OS, or we just install a CD, run a script, and the OS and associated software self installs. So easy a monkey can do it.

Today I had the chance to set up a server using CentOS. If you do not know, CentOS is basically a Redhat OS with all of the branding removed. CentOS is built from Redhat source code, so it is essentially completely compatible with any Redhat system. I have installed a lot of systems in my earlier days, but have been out of the fresh install game for quite some time since all of our programs and operating systems come pre-loaded. My recent install experience has been confined to just Ubuntu on a couple of home PCs.

Well, as mentioned, today I had a pile of CD's downloaded from the Centos site and proceeded to set up CentOS 5. Everything went as planned. The only difference I noticed was that the disk partitioning portions was not quite as intuitive as with Ubuntu. In addition, the number of CD's that were needed was a little bit of a pain.

I find that the method that Ubuntu uses for software updates a little more intuitive. Plus, it is easier to find information in the internet if something goes wrong. On the plus side, since there are so many initial packages to choose from (with all of the CD's), you get a much more complete installation for development work.

With CentOS, it was a just little struggle to compile some needed software from scratch where a few header files were missing. With Ubuntu, I thing I would have a much greater problem, since it is "desktop centric." Not really a bad thing, just a different focus.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 Install

Tonight I was able to get the latest version of Ubuntu downloaded (Version 8.10). I was a little surprised I was able to get it since I assumed the servers were would be swamped on the first day. The download was a little slower than usual, but I was able to get it!

I installed it on a test machine, and right away I noticed the snazzy new wallpaper. A lot of people complain about the ubu-brown themes that ubuntu uses, but the elephant skin-like backgrounds will always be my favorite.

The install went pretty much the same as 8.04. One change was that there is now a graphic that shows your before and after disk partitions. This was a helpful feature, especially if you plan on dual booting. Do people still do that? Virtual Desktops like the one provided by VMware pretty much negate the need for dual booting anways. Anyway, so far so good with the new 8.10. Things are working great as expected.

My test system for this install was a Compaq Presario SR1010Z with 512 MB RAM and a AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3200+ chugging at 1.8 Ghz, and a nVidia 128 MB GeForce FX 5200 video card. This machine is quite speedy and performs very well with Ubuntu.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ubuntu Everyday PC

This is going to be a diary about my daily use of the Ubuntu Operating system as my main household PC. Actually, I am running it on several of my machines, plus a version called xubuntu on one of my older boxes.

Since Ubuntu 8.10 is due to be released tomorrow, I though it would be nice to start entering some thoughts and ideas about using this operating system over Windows or a Mac.