Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mighty Mouse

My recent bluetooth upgrade is not the only hardware addition to my laptop this week: I've just added a Logitech Wireless Mouse (Logitech M505).

Notwithstanding the lamentable lack of technical support from Logitech for Linux users, this is a beautiful piece of hardware: it has a superb form-factor and works out of the box on my DELL Inspiron 6400 - including the side-scrolling function. However, as this is my only unifying device, I'm not sure if the unifying protocol will work on Ubuntu. Nonetheless, it's a great replacement for my Microsoft Wireless 3000 device (with its 67mm usb dongle), which is likely to find a more permanent home on the Inspiron 1501.

Sources & References:
Logitech Wireless Mouse M505 - unifying
Logitech What is Unifying?
Amazon M505 Wireless Mouse

Errant Apps

If you ever experience problems starting an application from its menu icon, you may be able to diagnose the problem by starting the program from the command line. However, with so much software, it's not always easy to remember the command used to invoke any particular program: fortunately, you don't have to remember!

From the Preferences menu (System > Preferences) select Main Menu.

Then click the Properties button.

Copy and paste the text in the Command box into a terminal and press Enter.

This should invoke the application and any errors or problems will be recorded in the terminal window.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Giving the Lynx More Teeth

Last May I blogged on adding bluetooth functionality to my 6400 using a USB dongle. At the time, my Inspiron was running WinXP and the experiment was not a great success, hence the dongle found a new home plugged into my Ubuntu box where it proved to be a far better acquisition. However, despite protestations to the contrary, my Inspiron 6400 has now joined the Ubuntu family and I thought it time to revisit the problem.

The Inspiron 6400 is designed to house an integrated bluetooth adaptor but, for various reasons, I never specified a card when I bought the machine from DELL: however, retro-fitting the adaptor proves to be simple and (reasonably) cost effective. I found a suitable adaptor from a company called Justop.

The card is housed behind a cover in the battery compartment: simply remove the battery and then open the card-door. Behind the cover, you should find your cable (it's a good idea to make sure that this is installed before you order the part!): connect the adaptor and slide it into the rear of the cover.

Carefully, replace the adaptor cover and then the battery. Reboot and, if all's well, you should see your bluetooth indicator light up during the boot sequence.

Ironically, I use bluetooth to connect my Ubuntu machines to Windows mobile devices - oh well!

Sources & References
Justop Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth V 2.0+EDR Module-GK103-(Module Only)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Office

I've been playing with LibreOffice.

To be honest, I don't have much of interest to say on the matter and that's probably because there is absolutely no difference (that I can discern) between LibreOffice and OpenOffice!

Ok, so there is some cosmetic difference in the opening splash screen, but take a look at the word processor applications:

Actually, it's not such a bad thing: after all, the fact that the two applications are so similar should make migrating to Libre from OpenOffice relatively painless! Moreover, it's easy to understand why the two should be virtually indistinguishable when one realizes that the has simply been renamed as “The Document Foundation” (source: OMG!Ubuntu!) and continued as if nothing much had happened!

However, there has been some development over the last week or so that has been of interest. OMG!Ubuntu! reports that work has begun on updating the icon set in LibreOffice and giving it a more "Ubuntu" feel: let's hope that the interface graphics can finally be brought into the twenty-first century and compete with some of the better known commercial packages.

As the demise of OpenOffice draws closer, it may be time to give LibreOffice a test run.

Sources & References:
OMG!Ubuntu! Home
LibreOffice Home
The Document Foundation Blog

Monday, 25 April 2011

More Eye Candy

This is my (current) Inspiron 6400 desktop - beautiful! What's even better is that the superb TFT screen displays the wallpaper and dock application (Avant Window Navigator) to the best effect!

Sources & References:
National Geographic Picture of the Day
Avant Window Navigator Wiki

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Spit and Polish - Adding Chrome

My upgrade to Maverick a week or so ago resulted in some time spent reconfiguring my setup. One of the things I've decided to try is the Chromium web browser to see how it compares to Firefox.

So far I confess to being somewhat ambivalent to the browser. There's no doubt that it's much (MUCH) faster than Firefox 4.0 and the page rendering is vastly superior, but I have found the interface to be less intuitive and user-friendly than Firefox. I suspect that it's a sign of (my) age when a new interface grates on the nerves of the user: after all, browsers are really just delivery vehicles and Chromium does focus the attention on the page content rather than the bling that surrounds the application! However, it took me a while to figure out rss feeds and bookmarks although, once I'd done my homework, importing data from Firefox was simplicity itself.

You can install Chromium in 10.04 and 10.10 from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Update Update

Now that my Meerkat issues have been resolved, it's time for an update on my OS updates!

Both Lucid and Maverick are running contentedly on my two laptops and the Inspiron 6400 just got a whole lot faster: the boot time of Lucid turns out to be over three minutes faster than my old XP installation and, surprisingly, Maverick takes about the same time on the 1501.

Computer (RAM) Operating System Network Connection Login Dialog Time (mm:ss) Total Boot Time (mm:ss)
DELL Dimension 8400 (3.0GB RAM - Desktop)Ubuntu 10.04 LTSEthernetc 00:3001:05.75
DELL Inspiron 1501
(1.0GB RAM - Laptop)
Ubuntu 10.10Wirelessc 00:3601:14.0
DELL Inspiron 530s
(3.0GB RAM - Desktop)
Win Vista Home Premium (SP2)Ethernetc 00:4502:02.75
DELL Inspiron 6400
(2.0GB RAM - Laptop)
Ubuntu 10.04 LTSWirelessc 00:4501:14.0

In fairness, I have made some other changes that affect the results:
  • I've migrated to Google's Chromium web browser on both my laptops, so that means that useful work is achieved faster than would otherwise (i.e. using Firefox) be the case.
  • Some of the Compiz eye candy (specifically window management and 3D/rotating cube) has not been restored on the 1501.

I confess that I'm amazed at how well Maverick is running on my old DELL Inspiron 1501: I wonder how Win7 would perform on the same platform.

More Plymouth for Lucid & Maverick

In an earlier post I promised to describe the process for adding button icons and a banner message to the login dialog: I always try to keep my promises, so here it is!

Login Dialog
Login Dialog

Customizing the computer icon is most easily achieved using Ubuntu Tweak, but you can also configure it manually by copying your selected icon to the /usr/share/icons/Loginicons/apps/64 directory (for Ubuntu 10.04 & 10.10). First, you'll need to rename the existing icon. Open a terminal and type:

sudo mv /usr/share/icons/Loginicons/apps/64/computer.svg /usr/share/icons/Loginicons/apps/64/computerBAK.svg

Next, copy your new icon to the directory making sure that it is renamed computer.svg:

sudo cp /icon_location/icon_name.jpg /usr/share/icons/Loginicons/apps/64/computer.svg

Now, let's add a bespoke login greeting or instruction to our login dialog:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --type string --set /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/banner_message_text "text"

Where text is the text that you want to appear on your login dialog. Now we need to invoke the message at start up:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2--type bool --set /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/banner_message_enable true

Your bespoke message will now appear next time you boot your system.

Icon Buttons
Adding Icon Buttons

Adding button icons is just as easy. The icons will follow the system's default theme (in Ubuntu 10.10, the system theme is Loginicons). In a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --type bool --set /desktop/gnome/interface/buttons_have_icons true

There you have it; a few minor tweaks and you have a customized boot sequence.

Sources & References:
Towheed Mohammed: A Comprehensive Guide to Customizing the Graphics in Grub, Usplash, Xsplash and GDM
Artwork Backgrounds & Icons - Ubuntu Tribal Pack by thewer Download

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Firefox Sync

One of the problems with running multiple computers is syncing your browser's bookmarks, passwords, preferences, history, and tabs. Well, Firefox 4 comes with an add-on that allows you to sync this information across multiple devices (running Firefox!).

It's more convenient than backing up bookmarks because the service allows you merge data on different computers. Moreover, the data is encrypted on your PC before it's uploaded to the server, so data such as passwords should be safe.

Firefox Sync works with Firefox 3.5 and 4.0.

Sources & References
Mozilla Firefox Sync 1.7
Mozilla Privacy Policy

Update Upset

My upgrade to the Meerkat didn't go quite as planned: or rather it did, I just didn't realize!

Having downloaded and installed the Ubuntu 10.10 update, I started to suffer from some strange rendering problems: my workspace wallpapers wouldn't render at all and application windows left ghost images when I closed them. To top this off, AWN also started behaving erratically and and I suspected that I'd found the limits of the 1501's hardware. However, as it turns out, it wasn't a problem with either the laptop or the upgrade, it was a problems with Compiz and AWN.

Installing Avant Window Navigator from scratch resolved the dock related problems (although I had to forgo the workspace switcher applet and a Python Menu app) but I had to turn off the Compiz wallpaper plug-in to get my wallpaper to render. Of course, this means that, in 10.10 at least, I can't have individual wallpapers for each workspace. There is one workaround that resolves the rendering problem during a session (start a tty session (Ctrl + Alt + F1) and then switch back to your desktop (Alt + F7)), but the problem returns on each reboot. There is also a patch for the problem, but I haven't had time to implement it.

Apart from these minor issues, 10.10 runs happily on my Inspiron 1501: so far, still so good!

Sources and References
Launchpad Bug Report Bug #629391
Ubuntu Forums Compiz Wallpaper Plugin Broken with 10.10

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bye bye Lucid...

Well, not quite goodbye.

My recent decision to replace XP on my Inspiron 6400 with Lucid means that my Inspiron 1501 gets to test drive the Meerkat! I've just started an incremental upgrade and so-far, so-good!

Bye bye OpenOffice

On Friday Oracle announced it's decision to
"move to a purely community-based open source project and to no longer offer a commercial version of Open Office."
I'm not entirely sure what such a statement means - but I can guess!

Perhaps it's time to give LibreOffice a test run.

Sources & References
Marketwire Oracle Announcement
The Document Foundation LibreOffice Home

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bye bye XP

It's been a busy week and there has been precious little time for blogging. However, my daily cycle to work has given me plenty of time to think about my recent OS benchmarking exercise.

To be honest, I am rather fond of XP: I found it to be a stable version of Windows and it rarely let me down. Nonetheless, I've blogged before on the relative cost of running a Windows system as opposed to Ubuntu and a boot time of over four minutes seems a lifetime to wait in this age of smart phones and PDAs. It may have taken a week but I finally decided to bite the bullet and convert my Inspiron 6400 to Lucid Lynx.

The upgrade was painless; partly because, over the last two years, I've accumulated quite a lot of experience of upgrading operating systems but mostly because Canonical makes migration to its flagship OS so damned easy! I have no hardware issues to report and the 160GB hdd is properly partitioned with a boot partition and a /home partition, so future upgrades should be even easier.

In some respects I'm sorry to realize the demise of Windows XP but the truth is that it was inevitable: as a Windows machine, the 6400 was seeing less and less use and that was just a waste of a great laptop. Of course, the upgrade also means that there is no reason not to try out Maverick Meerkat on my Inspiron 1501 test machine!

I am still using Windows on a couple of machines, but it won't be very long before my personal network is entirely open-source and I confess that, when I started this journey, I never thought that possible.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Getting Turned On

My employer is considerate enough to provide its customers with free WiFi access and occasionally my IT skills (such as they are) are called upon to help guests connect to an access point. One such request was made as recently as last night and I managed to connect my customer's laptop to the network by switching on his wireless and rebooting his machine!

Although pleased the problem didn't require a technical solution, I was struck by how long it took to boot the machine (a Sony Vaio running WinXP) into a state in which useful work might be done - a staggering four and a half minutes! I have fond memories of XP and I didn't remember my XP machine taking so long to get started: nonetheless, I thought that I'd benchmark my own machines anyway and I confess to being surprised by the results.

Computer (RAM) Operating System Network Connection Login Dialog Time (mm:ss) Total Boot Time (mm:ss)
DELL Dimension 8400 (3.0GB RAM - Desktop)Ubuntu 10.04 LTSEthernetc 00:3001:05.75
DELL Inspiron 1501
(1.0GB RAM - Laptop)
Ubuntu 10.04 LTSWirelessc 00:3601:16.05
DELL Inspiron 530s
(3.0GB RAM - Desktop)
Win Vista Home Premium (SP2)Ethernetc 00:4502:02.75
DELL Inspiron6400
(2.0GB RAM - Laptop)
Win XP Professional (SP3)Wirelessc 00:4504:26.6

For the purposes of this test, useful work meant opening a web browser (actually, Firefox on all the machines tested) and navigating to Google's front page. I realize that there are plenty of reasons why this test is not likely to be error free; however, it does give a reasonable estimate of the boot times of each operating system on the various installation platforms. You'll notice that my XP machine takes almost as long as my customer's! Moreover, whilst my Vista machine appears to have performed reasonably well compared with the two Ubuntu machines, it is noteworthy that I was able to perform the test (open a browser and navigate to Google) before everything in the startup routine had loaded.

This post is not intended as a platform to bash Microsoft, but it does illustrate yet another advantage of Ubuntu over its commercial rival.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Chip's Cheats

Here's something that wasn't around the first time that I played Chip's Challenge: a cheat sheet!

This Strategy Wiki gives you a walk through of each of the levels in CCLP2 and provides level maps for those of us that sometimes have trouble visualising the puzzle.

Sources & References:
Strategy Wiki Level Pack 2

The First 20 Years

No, not my first twenty years; twenty years of Linux!

I came across this video when catching up on the news at OMG!Ubuntu! and thought that it would be rude not to share.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

An Old Friend

All of my early computing revolved around the Windows OS: initially, I had a Windows 3.1 machine at work and then Win95 machines both at work and home. One of the most enjoyable features of those early incantations was an arcade style game called Chip's Challenge that, sadly, seems to have fallen from favour as pc games have become more sophisticated.

The good news is that there is an alternative: Tile World is an emulation of the game that, unlike the original, is freely available to download and play. Rebuilding my desktop has presented me with the perfect opportunity to give this old favourite a trial run and I've finally installed Tile World with the Chip's Challenge Level Pack 2 (CCLP2). If you enjoyed Chip's as much as I did, this game is definitely worth installing as one of those amusing coffee-break diversions. You can install Tile World from the Ubuntu Software Center but this version only has the basic level set and fans will almost certainly want the more difficult CCLP2 level set created by enthusiasts.

Install Tile World with CCLP2

First, make sure that you have the libsdl1.2-dev package installed. The easiest way to install the package is to use the Synaptic Package Manager: type libsdl1.2-dev into the search dialog box and mark the package for installation.

Alternatively, you can install the package using a terminal:

sudo apt-get install libsdl1.2-dev

or, a third option is to download it directly from the SDL website.
  1. Download the Tile World package (complete with the CCLP2 level set) to your Downloads directory.
  2. Once the download is complete, navigate to your Downloads directory and right-click the tworld-1.3.0-CCLP2.tar.
  3. Click the Extract Here option.
  4. Open a terminal and change directory to the Downloads folder.

    cd /home/user_name/Downloads/tworld-1.3.0

    (Change the user_name and location to suit)
  5. Configure the package for installation with:


  6. Make the package with:


  7. Finally, install the package with:

    sudo make install
You can add Tile World to the Games Menu (Preferences > Main Menu > Games > Add Item) using the command, tworld and the resourceful can even find a copy of the original icon on the Internet!

Those lucky enough to own either a copy of the Windows Entertainment Pack or Best of Windows Entertainment Pack (sadly, my Win95 install disk had neither!) can use the original level set that shipped with Windows (the chips.dat file): copy the file to Tile World's data directory.

Sources & References:
Tile World Home
Muppetlabs About Chips Challenge
Tile World Downloads Page
Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) Downloads

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Success.... Sort of!

It's been an interesting week since I partitioned the hard-drives on my two Ubuntu machines.

My laptop has been running 10.04 like a trooper but, a few days after my changes, my desktop started to display some rather erratic behaviour with boot problems and random freezes. A quick review of my system logs told me that I had some serious problems (a couple of my logs exceeded 1.5GB in size!) but I couldn't pin down any particular error. Moreover, just as inexplicable was that the used space on my root partition now exceeded 25GB (that's just the operating system and software apps)!

I've always been suspicious about upgrading operating systems; in part I suspect that this is my experience with Windows upgrades. So, I decided to do a vanilla install of Lucid on my desktop.

Installing Ubuntu is easy: just follow the instructions on the installation disk. However, if you have partitioned your hard-drive so that your files and settings are on a separate /home partition, caution is required when it comes to creating the mount points. When the installation sequence arrives at the partition menu, select the Specify partitions manually (advanced) radio button and then click Forward. Click on the partition that you want to house the root partition and invoke the Edit partition dialog. Set your parameters and, for a clean install, check the Format the partition option. Click OK.

Next, you'll need to tell Ubuntu to mount your /home directory. Select the partition where your files and settings are stored and invoke the Edit partition window. Leave the settings at the default values and make sure that the Format the partition option is unchecked (for obvious reasons, this is really important!) and that the Mount point: option is set to /home from the drop-down options box. Click OK and then Forward to complete the partitioning sequence.

This worked flawlessly for me and all my files and settings were waiting for me in the /home/user_name/ directory when I booted into my clean install. However, be prepared for some odd behaviour and error messages until you have installed any applications that look to the /home/user_name/ directory for their configuration files!

So, the bad news is that my installation of Ubuntu caused me some problems and had to be re-installed: the good news is that my partitioning strategy worked and saved me from a tedious restoration of files and settings!

Sources & References
Ubuntu Wiki Release Notes - discussion about known installation issues.