Category Archives: Linux

gOS Space and myMiniPC: Bling-Enabled Desktop for Myspace

The 100+ million “average joe” Myspace users are about to get mind blowing eye-gasm with the brand new myMiniPC with gOS Space 2.9 – and I’m not talking about some spicy profile pictures. Combining the Avant Window Navigator dock and Compiz Fusion 3D effects is going to provide a desktop experience generations beyond what Redmond’s latest offering in a slim form factor 1.5 inches tall and a mere two pounds.

When I spoke with David Liu about the product, he said, “I enjoy tackling these giant companies that I feel symbolize a huge population of average joes.” Six months after launching the gPC in Wal*Mart in front of 140+ million shoppers for a price the couldn’t refuse, now he’s leveraging freely available content on sites like YouTube, Flickr, Pandora and many others with the myMiniPC.

The icons on the left side of the dock are Myspace, News, Photos, Videos, Music, TV, Tools, and Fun. On the right side, four brand new Myspace Apps are featured: Mood, Clock, Graffiti, and Quotes – one app for each face of the desktop cube.

Myspace icons range from Blogs to Music and everything in between, for users to quickly navigate around the site or launch new instances of Firefox. Stuffy news agencies like BBC or CNN have been replaced with links to popular blogs such as Perez Hilton, TMZ and Valleywag.

Flickr and Photobucket populate the Photos icon along with three others. The videos icon has a whopping nine options: Daily Motion, Google Video, Meta Cafe, MyspaceTV, Revver, Veoh, Vimeo, and YouTube. I could go on all day about how much is a single click away – if you’re interested in more information, feel free to browse the screenshot gallery below, or simply watch my video about gOS on YouTube with a short demo.

The logic behind building an operating system out of web applications quickly becomes obvious as you go down the dock viewing each category. These companies have banked billions of dollars by using content created by their users. Making that content easily accessible is the key to providing a channel surfing experience for the web.

With tax refunds just around the corner, the $499 price on the myMiniPC is perfect. gOS Spaces 2.9 should be available soon, I urge you to test it out and tell your friends who are on Myspace about it. Got a suggestion, question or comment? Go ahead and Ask Dave yourself – I’m sure he’ll be happy to oblige your request. Here are some specs, screen shots and video of gOS Space 2.9 for your viewing pleasure.

myMiniPC specs:
• Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core Mobile Processor T2130 (1MB L2 Cache, 1.86GHz, 533MHz)
• 512MB DDR2 667 SDRAM
• 120GB Hard Disk Drive
• DVD+/-RW
• Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator GMA950
• Realtek ALC268 High-Definition Audio
• (4) USB 2.0 ports
• (1) IEEE 1394
• (1) 10/100/1000 Ethernet Port
• (1) DVI-I Port
• (1) S-Video Port
• (1) 4-in1 Media Card Reader
• (1) Headphone/Line-Out Port and (2) Microphone/Line-In Port

Screenshots:

Video:

Review: Four GPS Software Packages for Linux

I picked up a new Pharos iGPS-500 GPS Receiver from Newegg.com earlier this week for under 60 bones. When I opened it up, found out exactly how absolutely TINY it is. The “Actual Size” denotation on the box is slightly misleading fraudulent. Although the GPS portion of the device is small, the USB to serial adapter that plugs into the GPS unit doubles the “Actual Size in Real Life,” that the marketing droids happily ignored.

That minor quibble aside, I don’t really care how big it is. It could be the size of a banana phone and I would still use it – as long as it was able to find my current location and do it quickly. This USB GPS unit claims to be one of the fastest GPS units out there, sporting the new Sirf III (or SiRFstar III) chipset.
Pharos PB010 USB iGPS-500 GPS Receiver
According to Wikipedia the Sirf III chipset inside this Pharos iGPS-500 is capable of acquiring and maintaining a signal lock in urban or densely covered forest environments. This is great news for me personally, since I’m always lugging around a laptop when I go hiking in the forest.

It is pretty quick to lock onto a location when I’m inside. In fact, I have yet to do any driving tests with it yet (too busy compiling this article) although I’m sure it’ll work just fine. With this particular model, you can even purchase a Bluetooth adapter for it after the fact and use it with something other than a computer – some smartphones have GPS software available and will work just fine with a Bluetooth connection. Pretty rad, if I do say so myself.

Getting it working in Ubuntu Hardy required a bit of research. The information I found assumes a pretty high level of knowledge, and there’s not any centralized location for getting GPS units working that I could find.

Hardware Installation:
I plugged in the unit, and ran dmesg | grep tty to make sure it was detected:

usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

This means the device is available at /dev/ttyUSB0 – pretty simple.

Installing software:
I’m testing four different GPS software suites for Linux: GPS Drive, Roadnav, Navit and VIking. GPS Drive and Viking are right in the Ubuntu repository. Roadnav has a debian package available on their website that worked quite well. Last but not least there’s Navit, which requires installing from source. I’m assuming that the person reading this wants to test out all four software suites. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s best to test out each platform before settling on a choice.

# apt-get install gpsd python-gps gpsdrive viking gpsd-clients libgps-dev libgtk2.0-dev glutg3-dev libcegui-mk2-dev libxmu-dev libsdl-dev libpcre3-dev libspeechd-dev libtiff-dev libdevil-dev build-essential subversion automake

Phew

Now that we’ve got all the software we need to get any of the four programs working, making sure the device works with gpsd is a good starting point. gpsd is an abstraction layer between a compatible device and the mapping software. If your device works with gpsd, you’ll be all set. The reason we need gpsd is because there’s no standard for communication for GPS units. Each company has their own way of doing things. Magellan, DeLorme and Garmin never got together to create an open standard for communication and gpsd is the savior that converts each different GPS protocol into something each piece of mapping software can understand easily.

$ gpsd -N -n -D 2 /dev/ttyUSB0
gpsd: launching (Version 2.36)
gpsd: listening on port gpsd
gpsd: successfully connected to the DBUS system bus
gpsd: running with effective group ID 0
gpsd: running with effective user ID 0
gpsd: opening GPS data source at ‘/dev/ttyUSB1′
gpsd: speed 9600, 8N1
gpsd: garmin_gps not active.
gpsd: gpsd_activate(1): opened GPS (5)
gpsd: client 127.0.0.1 (0) connect on fd 6
gpsd: client(0) turned on raw mode
gpsd: speed 4800, 8N1

Looking good. Let’s make sure that gpsprof can access it.

$ gpsprof -f cycle
gpsprof: looking for fix…first fix in 0.42sec, gathering samples……(27.42 sec) done.
Cycle report Fri Apr 4 04:07:49 2008, Generic NMEA, 4800N1, cycle 1s
The sentence set emitted by this GPS is: GSA RMC GGA GSV
GSA: is emitted once a second.
RMC: is probably emitted once a second.
GGA: is emitted once a second.
GSV: is emitted once every 5 seconds.
Send cycle is once per second.

If all is well with gpsd and gpsprof, we’re all set and ready to rock and roll.




I tested out GPS Drive first – it’s right in the Ubuntu repositories. GPS Drive works fine right out of the box. The maps it uses are fairly good, but could be higher resolution. For an application that’s got “Drive” in the name, it’s got a not-so-driver-friendly interface, and the routing portion is klunky. Otherwise, it’s a nice basic application that has a cool indicator in the status bar for how many GPS signals it’s caught onto.




Next, I downloaded Roadnav‘s debian installer for Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon 7.10 from their website and installed it, had no problems running in 8.04. Roadnav has a really slick looking 3D view. It’s got a pleasing interface, and is suitable for a lower resolution screen. Directions and route finding are dismal at best. I would say that it’s pretty average in most ways – nothing sticks out as great except the 3D viewport.




Next, we’re taking a look at Navit. If you’re a new Linux user or otherwise technophobic, Avert your eyes and skip on down to the next software package, or just go down to the nearest 7-11 and pickup a hardcopy map. It’ll be easier and definitely faster. Navit doesn’t come with any maps by default, nor does it allow downloading maps from the web automatically, which is a huge disadvantage. Here’s the compile instructions for Navit on Ubuntu – should work in both 7.10 and 8.04… watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy!

wget http://superb-east.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/navit/navit-0.0.4.tar.gz
wget http://superb-west.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/quesoglc/quesoglc-0.7.1.tar.gz
svn co http://libgarmin.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/libgarmin/libgarmin/dev libgarmin
tar -xzvf navit-0.0.4.tar.gz
tar -xzvf quesoglc-0.7.1.tar.gz
cd quesoglc-0.7.1 && ./configure –prefix=/usr
sudo make && sudo make install
cd../libgarmin && ./autosh.sh
./configure
sudo make && sudo make install
cd../navit-0.0.4
./configure
sudo make && sudo make install

I added libgarmin support in those instructions – just in case you’ve got a Garmin GPS you’re working with – can’t hurt to have extra support just in case. :) Navit doesn’t come with maps, other than the developers’ hometown of Munich that gets downloaded during the compile process. We probably don’t need a map of Munich, so I went and downloaded a free online US state map of Utah. Navit does a pretty nifty thing here – it can use three different types of maps: OpenStreetMaps, Grosser Reiseplaner (Eurpean), and Garmin. OpenStreetMaps is a free offering for the USA, so that’s what I’ll be using. So now that we’ve got it Navit compiled, there’s one step left – configuration. Probably harder than copy and pasting stuff in, but if you want to get it working, have at it:
Create a folder to store Navit configuration settings:
mkdir ~/.navit
The Utah Map I downloaded from the above link was bzipped, used this command to extract:
bunzip2 Utah.bz2
To parse the map into a format usable by Navit, use the osm2navit tool and copy the resulting file into our configuration directory:
cat Utah.osm | osm2navit ~/.navit/Utah.bin && cp Utah.bin ~/.navit
Configure Navit properly for our location:
mkdir ~/.navit && cp ~/navit-0.0.4/src/navit.xml ~/.navit
The Navit webiste suggests visiting an online mapping application to get your current latitude and longitude so that Navit will startup centered on your general location. I find it’s a little bit easier to Google for “latitude longitude cityname”
Open up navit.xml in the editor of your choice.
Around line 16 you’ll see this:

<navit center=”4808 N 1134 E” zoom=”256″ tracking=”1″ cursor=”1″ orientation=”0″>

I changed the center part to this to point it at Salt Lake City, Utah

center=”4071 N -111 W”

Around line 66 you’ll see the following:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”$NAVIT_SHAREDIR/maps/osm_bbox_11.3,47.9,11.7,48.2.bin”/>

I changed that line to reflect the map file location:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”~/.navit/Utah.bin” />

And…. Done! launch navit and you should have maps for your location (assuming you downloaded something other than Utah maps) and it should be centered on your location (assuming you properly wrote in your latitude and longitude). Hot damn. Navit is great and all, but I’m not quite sure it’s ready. It needs some spit shine and polish before I would recommend using it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a brilliant peice of software aptly named Viking. Historically speaking, Vikings are considered an extinct society of explorers and conquerors hailing from Minnesota who wear purple and yellow uniforms.

Viking – the software – is fantastic. It’s the only program tested today that will download Google Map tiles automagically to render a map. This solves the problem of having bad maps. You can even go as far as downloading maps and saving them to your hard drive. This shatters the Terms of Service for Google Maps in at least two ways:

The Service may not be used for or with real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor)
You may not use Google Maps in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates.

Sorry Google! However, this violation doesn’t quite stop me from recommending Viking. It’s got some neat features such as multiple map layers, all three types of maps from Google (Street, Hybrid, and Satellite) as well as the ability to import data from GPS units that have built-in tracking functions. Also it has a routing function that pulls waypoint data from Google. I didn’t find myself wishing for any features from another GPS package – I think it’s the best free offering available for the general purpose of tracking where you are and easily getting good directions – as long as you have an internet connection.

I’ve read many opinions from varying biases that say GPS software for Linux is not up to par with software developed for Windows or Mac.  I would have to disagree – Viking does what I need and does it well. Did I miss any free GPS software for Linux that should have been included here? Please let me know via email, comments, or twitter.

What Happens When You Call Microsoft Support To Remove Linux?

This April Fools’ Day it needs to be special. And by special, I mean truly EPIC.

I’ve been brainstorming for weeks about what I would do, and I’ve had some real killer ideas that would unfortunately fall flat on their face during execution. One idea I had was to bridge the #emacs and #vim internet chat rooms with clones that relayed messages from one room into another, one clone per person. When I saw there was 250+ people in each room, I figured it would be nearly impossible to pull off without a lot of help – someone would notice all the clones and it would be over.

Then a stroke of genius struck me:  For this April Fools’ day, I’ll call Microsoft to help me uninstall Linux. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft would willingly help me uninstall Linux, they even have a Knowledgebase article on it, and all I would need to do is tell them I’m having some problems following the KB article, and they would helpfully guide me through it.

This prank would need PROOF that it happened, not just my word – and nothing is better to prove that something happened than video. But first there were some legalities to figure out… can I record the phone call?

I did some research, and sure enough, Utah is a one-party consent state. If at least one party (aka me) consents to recording, I’m in the clear. However, I’m calling a company based out of Washington – and they’re a two-party consent state (for the most part).

What happens when you’re calling across state lines? Federal law takes precedence as far as I can tell, and that my friends is where I get carte blanche – federal law states that at least one party needs to consent.

Wayne – 1, Microsoft – 0.

I got the camera ready, found my copy of Windows XP Professional Edition, printed out the KB article in case I needed it while my machine was down, and called their support number and drilled down through the voice menus to get to someone who would transfer me to the right person.

Silly youtube disabled embedding. My appologies! Can view the video at the below link.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, just watch the video and see what unfolded.

Twitter Clients for Linux

I would venture to say that I’m enjoying my time spent on Twitter. I’ve been using it as sort of a micro-blog that lets me connect with friends I’ve made on this site and keep my pulse on the collective tech industry.

In the aftermath of getting my server dugg to hell and back, I thought I had successfully changed my website to serve a static page, instead of bogging down my server with a dynamic one that was causing all the problems. I sent out a message saying it was back up, and less than 30 seconds later someone replied saying they were still getting a “403 access denied.” Oops! Less than a minute later I had corrected the error, and I asked them to try again – it worked.

This real-time interaction with instantaneous feedback to updates is what makes Twitter a great social network for me. I also enjoy tracking Linux topics in an instant messenger and answering questions when people ask them. It’s like a partitioned IRC room just for friends, with optional floodgates. In short, it’s pretty fantastic.

tux-twitter2.pngOne of the things I noticed when looking at the website was that some people were posting updates from desktop clients, instead of the usual channels of web, IM, or txt message. I found the Twitter “Fan Application” website and sure enough, there’s 12 different Linux apps for me to try out. I can send tweets from inside emacs? Sounds geeky enough for me to investigate!

Let’s take a look at what we have available for Linux:

Ktwitter is a simple script for KDE desktops. In Ubuntu curl and kdebase-bin will satisfy them. Ktwitter is simple… after downloading the script, making it executable and creating a shortcut to your desktop or deskbar, click the icon, type in your message, and poof! Twitter is updated. There’s no fancy GUI, just a dialog asking “What are you doing right now?” It works for people who just want to update Twitter from a GUI. It just works the way it’s supposed to – this is the KISS principle at work.

ktwitter.png

ZenTwitter is similar to Ktwitter. It provides a simple “Gimme your tweet” box with OK and Cancel as the only options. Due to Ubuntu’s Dash/Bash mixup, I needed to modify the interpreter to !#/bin/bash for it to work properly. It does what it’s supposed to, nothing more, nothing less. If I were searching for something this simple, I would suggest using ZenTwitter with a GNOME desktop, and Ktwitter with a KDE desktop.

screenshot-zentwitter.png screenshot-zentwitter-2.png

gTwitter is available in Ubuntu’s universe repository. It has general features that most clients should have, like reading your friends’ timeline, public timeline, posting, refresh intervals, and showing user avatars in the timeline, which is a nice addition. It has two different views, one shows pictures inline with the message, the other has a familiar top/bottom window pane reader – like some email clients – that lets you select message in the bottom pane, and read it in the top pane.

gtwitter22.png gtwitter-pref1.png gtwitter-pref2.png gtwitter-tray.png

GtkTwitter is not complicated. I downloaded the source code from their Google Code website and was able to get it to compile after installing libcurl4-gnutls-dev as a dependency. It has two purposes and does them well: Receive updates and post updates. Clicking on an update takes you to the website. Curiously, there are two buttons that seemingly both just refresh the window. There is no auto-update feature that I know of, otherwise it works pretty well at what it does.

gtktwitter2.png

Twitbar, Twit and Wayd are three desktop clients that gives users a chance to tweet right from their GNOME deskbar…. if it any of them worked, that is. Twitbar looks like it’s dead due to some GNOME updates breaking it, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get Twit or Wayd working either. Damnit!

BLT is a tasty sort of sandwich, with bacon, lettuce and tomato with a dozen derivatives. It also happens to be a console client for Twitter, and a pain in the neck to install from source. It’s a perl script and it seems to work well enough for an application currently in Alpha state.. The author says to think of it as a “biff for twitter” – biff notifies users of new mail in a console. and BLT notifies users of new tweets in a console. Found some bizarre dependency libxml-libxml-perl that kept it from working, and I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to run as a daemon (service) that will update you when there are new tweets from your friends whenever you’re working in a console, although it didn’t quite do that for me.

blt-wayne-gutsy.png

twitel1.png

twit.el and twitter.el – there are two scripts for tweeting from inside emacs, a famous text editor. twit.el has more features and I would suggest using it over twitter.el if you’re one of the few “geekier than thou” kinda people. twit.el has the following kickass features: 1. Type your post directly in the minibuffer (screenshot to the right). 2. Post the region 3. Post the entire contents of the current buffer. 4. Create a new buffer and show your most recent messages in it. 5. Create a new buffer show the most recent tweets, and update it every 90 seconds. This is more features than some other desktop clients have, color me very impressed.

Vim Twitter is supposed to be a way to send tweets from Vim, another text editor. However, I couldn’t get the script working. The download site for Vim Twitter says it’s a dead script, which probably means it’s not being maintained. Can anybody actually get this working? I can’t imagine that it’s completely broken, feel free to shoot me an email with a screenshot if you get it running. However, Neil was able to and send some screenshots and the tip that twitter.vim has instructions for getting it installed.  Looks cool!

twitterfriendstimelinevim.pngtwitterfriendstimelinevim-1.png twitterpublictimelinevim.png

mitter is another simple Twitter client. Much like gtwitter, it downloads avatar pictures to display inline with updates in your personal timeline. I couldn’t get the status update function to work properly, and emailed the author. He was kind enough to let me know that mitter is intended to be a Maemo application that will eventually run on Nokia smartphones. He actually updated the code and had me test out the latest version which fixed the problem I was having. I also happen to be the 2nd user he is aware of using the application. :) He’s got some good features coming soon like auto-updating and is open to suggestions from users.

mitter.png

prism-twitter is a fancy container for essentially Twitter inside a special browser window without all the features of a full-blown Firefox installation – it’s just a simple client that runs right off the website. It’s nice in the fact that the Prism container doesn’t share cookies with your main browser, so if you have two accounts and only want to update on the web, this is for you. Prism can be found for every operating system, and if you install prism-twitter on Ubuntu you’ll have twitter preconfigured for you.

prism-twitter1.png prism-twitter2.png

Twitux Last but not certainly not least, is Twitux. It’s probably the most feature complete of them all. It’s got a timeline with avatars, display notifications, auto-updating, spell checking, and the option to view timelines in 8 different ways: Public, Friends, My, Twitux, Direct Message, Direct Replies, as well as updates from specific friends. This is basically the best client I’ve found yet – practically every feature available on the Twitter website is available within this program.
twitux2.png twitux8.png twitux9.png twitux7.png

twitux-pref1.png twituxpref2.png twitux-tray.png

Have you seen any other Twitter clients for Linux? I’ve tested out Twhirl in the new Adobe Air alpha, but it’s pretty bad – lots of texture clipping, didn’t look good at all. Leave a comment or shoot me a tweet and let us know.

Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 Release Notes Rewritten in Plain English

If you have been using Windows all your life, it’s no secret that switching to Linux is not an easy decision to make. Last September I was fed up with Windows Vista and decided to make the plunge.

It wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. The day where I can recommend that my father use Linux (without the fear of him calling me on a daily basis to fix things) is the day I’ll proclaim the “year of the Linux desktop” has arrived.

I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to get things working, and as time goes on, those problems get easier to solve. One problem that I find runs rampant in the Linux community is over-using jargon, acronyms and sometimes even program names that people just assume you know what they’re talking about. It’s not intentional, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to wade through, even after using it exclusively for near 8 months.

Ubuntu, who has made tremendous progress towards making life in Linux easier has it’s own share of problems. One of those problems is highlighted in their release notes.

Ubuntu claims to be a “Linux for Human Beings,” and for the most part they actually do a good job of it. One place they fail miserably is in their release notes – they’re just too damn complicated for anyone who doesn’t know what all the different component names stand for.

I’ve set out to accomplish the simple task of converting the techno-jargon into readable english that anyone can understand, by using simple language and avoiding program names, acronyms and version numbers.

A fantastic example of getting the “Feature List” documented properly, while not overwhelming the end user is the absolutely gigantic 300+ New Features list for Mac OS X Leopard. I’m not kidding.

Just about every documented feature describes what value the change is for the user. This is what is important! Users don’t care about the latest version of Program X, they want to know what benefits they’ll see from the new version.

I’m targeting Ubuntu here, since it’s what I still use on my desktop. They also have a petition on their user-submitted idea website to stop including such technical information in the release notes so “mere mortals” can understand what is changing in the new versions.

With that out of the way, let’s get started. First, the name of the upcoming release, which is less than a month away is called “Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS” Even the name needs to be explained for someone who is brand new:

Ubuntu is the name of the distribution.
Hardy Heron is the “Codename” of the release.
8.04 is the version, which designates that it is being released in 2008, in April (the fourth month).
LTS means software and security updates are provided for three years.

Now that we have the name, codename, version, and support defined, let’s go a little further into the rabbit hole.

New Features since the last release:

The latest version of Ubuntu includes upgraded core software which helps to save electricity for some of the newer 64-bit computers and laptops purchased in the last 5 years. This core upgrade also improves performance as well as new support for more hardware like printers, scanners, and other peripherals.

Enjoy a better first-time installation experience with our improved screen settings detection system. If problems arise with display settings, your computer should be able to recover gracefully.

There is a new utility to change your screen size, which is especially useful if you have two monitors. This also means that if you have a laptop and an external display (i.e. projector or 2nd monitor) you’ll be able to change things like screen size, and choose which monitor is your primary output easier in the latest version.

Hurray! The computer and file browser has been updated! This version has new features for pausing large file transfers, and also makes it possible to undo accidental file moves. If you try to send files to a folder you don’t have permissions for, you will be asked for the system password to complete the requested operation, instead of getting a nasty error message.
nautilus-gvfs.jpg

If you attempt to make changes to the computer that would normally require a system password to access, there is a new “Unlock” button on some dialogs to make it easier to understand what needs to be done to change the setting.
beta_polkit.png

The new sound system is fantastic! Now you can play movies, music, and voice chat at the same time without running into problems.

We have upgraded to the newest version of the award winning internet browser, Firefox. It looks better and runs faster than before, while still remaining as secure as ever. We think you’ll like the improved experience.
firefox3-beta4.png

Downloading large files has a new, more informative interface. You can easily see download speeds, percent completed and estimated time to completion.
transmission-gtk.png

The remote control application has been updated. You’ll be happy to know that accessing multiple computers is now easier than ever, and you can automatically find other computers to connect to on the same network.

Burning CDs and DVDs just got a whole lot easier with an easy to use wizard-based program.
brasero.png

Displaying Time and Weather in other time zones is simplified, thanks to our new World Clock program.
intlclock.png

We added in a program for making posters, signs, family tree charts, and everything else that you might think about taking to a print shop. Now we can save those files in a format that your print shop technician can use.

If you have a “Windows-only network” at work, you’ll be able to login to the network easier if you take your computer into the office.

Many additional security issues have been resolved before they ever became a problem in our latest release, thanks to our development team who specializes in finding bugs – before they find you. We also updated our firewall software, just in case.

If you thought you needed help in the past to get Ubuntu on your computer that has Microsoft Windows on it right now, you’ll be happy to hear that we have integrated a new installer that works right in Windows. Just put in the CD and you will automatically see the Ubuntu Setup menu, just type in your desired username and password and press “Install” – it’s that easy to get started.

One more thing.., we made also changed to the way your computer works with hard drives and other memory so that it runs faster. How nice of us!

Need to know more? Check out our detailed release notes.

Think this is a good idea? Make your vote count, it takes less than 30 seconds to register and vote.


This message was paid for by The Linux Isn’t Just For Geek Types Anymore Campaign.

Interview with John Knottenbelt of Introversion Software

John Knottenbelt is a Director with Introversion Software, currently leading development on the multiplayer game destined for a Linux or OS X computer near you: Multiwinia. For the better part of an hour he answers my questions about the game industry ignoring Linux as a gaming platform, postulating on ray tracing with 100 CPU cores, and proving he is indeed one of the last ‘bedroom programmers.’

Introversion Software has shipped three games in 6 years, an impressive feat for a company who hasn’t broken the magical 10 employee mark, while remaining an independent studio – being fully owned by the people who work there.

Little bit of a warning here, this is about 45 minutes of audio transcribed into text, with some minor changes for grammar and readability. It’s a really LONG read… if you prefer an streaming audio version, just hit the player. Also available to download the MP3 or OGG versions (right click, save as). It’s about 50MB.

Otherwise, if you enjoy a long read, go ahead, make my day.

Tell me a bit about yourself.
My name is John, John Knottenbelt, and I am the fourth director at Introversion Software – the first three being Chris, Mark and Tom who founded the company. I joined near the end of 2006, though I had always been on the sidelines before that. What happened is Mark, Tom and Chris founded the company just following graduation from university, and I went on to do a Ph.D. Which is why at the end of my education, I joined later.

What I started doing at Introversion was looking after the ports. Traditionally what happens is Chris comes up with some great game ideas, and he’s a pretty good coder so he gets down to it. He makes the game in Windows, this is how it happened for Uplink. Then Mark and Tom said “Chris, we think you should sell Uplink,” and they did. Thus Introversion was born.

And then they thought that Uplink might have a Linux market. People who enjoy Linux might enjoy a hacking game. Not to say that Linux users are criminals, it’s a particular kind of puzzle solving in Uplink, and it’s similar to things people do in Linux anyways.

He said to me, Johhny can you help with a Linux port. And I said “Why certainly, of course.” At the time I was using Linux as my main desktop, and was full-time hacking away at Linux.

I did the same thing for Darwinia, but for Defcon we got some help from fans to port it to Linux, while I oversaw the operation. Ambrosia Software is our partner for the Macintosh, and for Uplink they independently ported it to the Mac. Later on when we did Darwinia, we actually did that in-house. They are remarkably similar [...Skype from US to Russia takes a shit] to the original games.

Porting to Mac OS X is very similar for many of the issues with porting to Linux, especially when you use libraries like SDL. So we did that for MacOS as well, we had help from fans for the

What I am doing now – my role has shifted – We are now working on Multiwinia, which is the successor to Darwinia, the multiplayer version if you like. Multiwinia is where you get to have some full-scale battles between teams of Darwinians. It will have maybe up to four players will be able to play over the internet. It has a similar style of networking architecture to Defcon. The game is much more fast paced. The games probably last about 10 minutes on average. Some games are 5 minutes, some are 15 minute long games. They’re much shorter games.

So right now what my role at Introversion is busy developing Multiwinia. We’ll be bringing it to multiple platforms. We’re going to try for a simultaneous Windows and Mac OS release. A Linux version will follow later.

We wont try for a simultaneous Linux release, because it’s hard enough to just to get the PC and the Mac version working together. When I say “PC” I mean windows. When you look at the numbers, Linux users do contribute to sales. The lions share comes from the Windows users. Then maybe 15% are Mac, then around 2 or 3% is Linux.

It’s still worthwhile doing Linux ports, we just have to focus on getting the game out first.

Linux users as a whole are more vocal and have more mind share with other “less techie” individuals. Do you think by overlooking the Linux community, other developers are loosing out on revenue and word of mouth advertising?

Yeah! That’s very true. That’s one thing that helped us hugely, because we had the Linux port. You were saying about word of mouth, and how valuable that is. We’re still a small company, you know, now we’re around 7 full-time employees. And that’s tiny. We don’t have the big budget to advertise in the conventional sense, and when we can get word of mouth support, that ends up really helping.

[Skype cuts out...]

[Dialing Skype...]

[Skype Voicemail loud and clear...]

“Well that’s not good.”

[Dialing Skype...]

[Skype Voicemail again...]

Lots of typing, jet flies overhead.

[John is offline]

[John is online]

I read that Darwinia was designed with multiplayer support in the engine, but it was just a single player game.

That’s interesting, because if you read about the history of Darwinia, you’ll remember that there was this idea just to use the point sprite support in gfx cards to try and render as many of these sprites as possible, and have BIG, BIG BATTLES with them. The game originally started out with more realistic fractal landscapes, and yes – you’re absolutely right – it was originally designed with multiplayer support in it, but it never saw the light of day.

I think the reason for this is at the time, Introversion was going through very hard times. We ran out of money. I think Darwinia took three years to complete, and two years into it, we ran out of money. I think probably because we were concentrating on making the game, and not watching the books, to be honest. What we decided to do was to make a great single player game, and not worry about the multiplayer.

The whole idea behind Darwinia’s multiplayer engine carried across to Defcon’s networking code. Defcon made it work, there’s a lot of states in Darwinia, Defcon, and Multiwinia as well. And there are alot of characters doing their thing. In Darwinia internally, discrete event simulation. You sending changes to the world state. This Darwinian has died. At the coarsest level, this player has selected this unit. Everything else is simulated.

What this means is that your protocol can be very low bandwidth because you’re only sending very high level events. Everything else can be simulated. For example, if you have 2000 Darwinians, and they’re not actively doing anything, if there’s no input, everything can be simulated. This is the same thing that happens in Defcon. Internally, there is a client server architecture used locally so the client is kept busy maintain the world state. It’s also the same with Multiwinia.

So it’s a good architecture if you want to minimize bandwidth, but it also has problems. For example in a shooter, in a death match, you just broadcast the position of all the players. If you’ve got four players with four characters, just broadcasting location, you’re OK. When you have 2000 Darwinians on the screen, or 200 units you’re controlling, you have to be smarter than that.

[Skype dies again, I give up at this point and purchase SkypePro and call his landline at a rate of 0.0211 cents a minute...]
On a side note, This interview cost $0.74 of SkypeOut credit. Not bad.

Let’s talk about Steam. I’ve been a long-time fan of Value, and I think Steam Distribution Network is a way to kind of cut out the middleman, as far as publishers go. How does Steam differ from a regular “publisher?”

Well, I suppose the main difference between Valve as a publisher, Valve doesn’t consider themselves to be a publisher. They consider themselves to be a distributor. They aren’t actually placing any requirements on your game. A publisher will say “here’s some money, go make your game to our standards.”

Say they want to have a game in Wal*Mart, they have to take out the blood, nudity, etc?

Exactly. So Valve is much more interested in distributing games to people who also have Steam. There is a certain amount of “publishing” that they have to do, because they are such a big name. For example, when you get a game onto Steam, there is an advert on the front page for awhile, and so that’s kinda like publishing in the sense, that they’ll see it, they’ll investigate and maybe buy the game. It’s not publishing in the worldwide sense, only in the sense that it’s distributing to Steam users.

They’re a very easy company to work with. They’re not (for example) like trying to bring a game to a console where you have to meet a bunch of certification requirements, which are designed with preserving that platforms’ certain types of games in a certain style, in a PC it doesn’t really make sense.

I’ve Heard Some Rumors that Introversion Software is going onto Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, or the Wii Virtual Console, is that something that is going to happen?
That’s not something that I can say directly, what I can say is that we are very interested in bringing our games to the console world, and that’s about all I can say.

Just as speculation, it would make sense for Defcon and Darwinia to be on a console. It would be a really great fit.
I think that Defcon, Multiwinia and Darwinia would make great console games, but I’m not so sure about Uplink since it’s so text based, but never say never. It’s not that you can’t make a text-based console game. But Defcon, the idea is very easy to comprehend. That would be a very good bet on a console. Multiwinia as well, when it comes out. You will agree that it will make a good console game too. I think because Defcon and Darwinia are relatively small games, if you’re a good gamer, you’ll finish it in a say a day. I think there’s 10 levels in Darwinia. In a console perspective, you couldn’t just put it on there because the content isn’t there. If you start to look at platforms like XBL Arcade or Sony and Nintendo, they have downloadable titles, it makes a lot more sense.

When you download a game, you’re not quite expecting a AAA title with 40 hours of content kinda thing.

It’s more a casual, “I’m bored and 5 bucks to spend, what’s on?”

Introversion hasn’t really gotten into the casual game space, but the casual game distribution method suits us very well. Now I wouldn’t say that Uplink or Darwinia was a casual game. Defcon – the concept – is very easy to understand, but actually getting into it, looking for strategies, I think that’s not really quite a casual game. It’s harder than Tetris.

Is everyone in Introversion supportive of Linux ports?

Oh yeah. I think that certainly Chris and Mark and Tom are very supportive of Mac and Linux ports. I think that we need to prioritize what order we do these things. We need to manage the cash-flow as well.

Mark for example uses a Mac. We use Linux for our servers extensively, and to run the game matching server for Defcon, and so on. I don’t actually use Linux as a desktop platform anymore. Although I have a Linux machine running at home, now that my job has shifted from somewhat to be more focused on Windows development while I’m doing Multiwinia. I would very much like to see and expect a Mac version and a Linux version to follow.

Do you guys just go Windows > Mac > Linux development stages?
Oh yes, that’s it. That’s what we try to do, broadly. Usually we try to do English first, then German or French and then other languages as well. Once you have a game out there, you want to bring it to as many platforms as you can, as long as those platforms are justified.

It has always been justified to bring it to Linux, it has always paid for itself – the Linux ports. It just hasn’t brought in the same degree of revenue Windows does. It just gives me a good feeling to see yep – we got the credit… to check the boxes… Windows? Yes. Mac? Yes. Linux Yes.

It’s appreciated. There aren’t too many companies that do Linux titles. The list is very short.
The biggest problem that we have with porting to Linux, is the growth. Linux is growing very quickly. We not in a position to give away the source code for our games – yet. What bugs us is the rapid evolution of the operating system. The way that core libraries changing over time. The libc library has gone through two major iterations since Uplink was released. And it’s bundled with an installer that relies on a GTK+ library, and as time marches on, new versions of GTK+ come out, version 2 – and Linux distros don’t include the original version for our installer, it’s quite difficult to keep it up to date all the time, whereas Windows and Mac try very hard to preserve backwards compatability.

When I was looking at buying Darwinia (through Steam), one of the boxes that wasn’t checked was Windows Vista. I was running Vista at the time and didn’t buy the game. It’s kinda one of those things that as Windows progresses, that it looses compatibility with older titles.

Right, right right. I must say that the other thing about Windows, it’s probably just marketing for you. Mac did it with OS X, and Microsoft did it with Vista, to provide features that are only available in the latest version, which they want you to use of course – such as DirectX 10, or the latest version of Java in Mac OS X – they didn’t port it back, otherwise they don’t give you a reason to upgrade. You’re right that backwards compatibility is not always preserved. Microsoft is very concerned about pushing it’s own technology any of the others, partiarly apparent with OpenGL. When Vista shipped, they made sure the DirectX drivers worked very well with the vendors. But the vendors were out on their own they tried to get OpenGL working in Windows Vista.

According to a core developer at Epic Games (Tim Sweeney) I read that DirectX 10 is going to be the last 3D API, because the CPUs cores are getting smaller, and faster, and more of them are going on a die.
That’s interesting! Yeah, whoa. That’d be very interesting as we get more cores to play with, I remember someone was suggesting to me that we can do real-time ray tracing with 100 cores, using all the old tricks of rasterizing polygons, now we can raytrace.

When I was browsing through your forums, one of the first things I found was your company mission. One of your goals as a company is “to be the Kubrick or Tarantino of the games industry.” That’s pretty high up there.
What this means is we want to maintain creativity. Kind of a creative independance to create very high quality games. I guess the best example of this is Darwinia is where we focused on just making the game. Everything we did for Darwinia was to keep with a particular style, and maintain a certain type of iteration. It was a challenge. We didn’t have the answers. That’s our dream, we want to create new and interesting games, and that people will know that if Introversion makes a game, it’s going to be something fresh and high quality. We don’t rehash the same game over and over again.

When you do this, when you give creativity such a big role, how do you make sure the risk isn’t too great. You’ve gotta be careful, on one hand you create great times. On the other hand, you gotta think about how this fits in, before you run out of money.

What’s your favorite film from either of those directors?
Tarantino would be my favorite. I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction, but Jackie Brown is my favorite at the moment.

The source code for Uplink is available?
Oh yes. You can buy it as a developer CD. That’s not to say that it’s free. It’s for all people of interest to play with it, to learn how the game is made, to modify it, and a few friends have purchased the code. They wrote us emails and said they learned some coding techniques from it. And I say “oh there are some of the coding techniques in the original Uplink sources are quite frightening to be honest.” [laughes]

Does that come with the actual content, audio, video, artwork, and other Intellectual Property. Yes it does. It comes with everything really needed to make the game. It’s not like “Here’s the developer CD, all the IP is yours.” It’s more like, here’s everything we have, you can make your own version, but you can’t sell it, and you can’t give it away to anyone who doesn’t already own the game.

I’ve watched the video of Subversion, with the Procedurally Generated Content, and that is pretty damn cool. Is it going to be a Real-Time-Strategy? Something Different?

I’m not really the right person to talk about it. Chris is leading the development and the project, and he is keeping it very close to his chest. So everytime he makes a Development Blog post, I am one of the interested parties. We’re way off from the final game.

What kind of visual upgrades are people going to see from playing Darwinia to Multiwinia.
I think it’s going to be very close to Darwinia. The main differences are going to be in the game itself. Of course there will be new elements, but I can’t reveal them now. But it’s going to have multiplayer, short games. Darwinia is a fairly serious game in the way it comes across. One of the things we aim for in the multiplayer is if you’re sitting in the same room with 3 other people, you should hear screams of “oh no you bastard, how did you do that?”

I went to LAN parties every other weekend for months at a time, and one of the draws towards coming back week after week was the “Oh you fucking bastard, you’re gonna get it now!” It breeds friendly rivalry. It would be fun to play a game like that. In Defcon, you can kinda see the end coming

[Laughs]

Or breaking alliances and killing your former allies. I think that’s about it. Thanks for your time.
Thanks Wayne

If you’ve gotten this far, you might want to take a look at my article on Defcon, their latest video game that has demos available for Windows, Linux, and OS X.

Toribash: The Video Game That Dismembers Players, Joint by Joint

Have you ever felt like ripping the arms off an annoying co-worker and beating them silly with their own limbs? I personally haven’t had the urge, but hey – if you have, you will love Toribash. It’s the most realistic fighting game I’ve ever played. Certainly not the prettiest – but I’m working a theme here this week, with Defcon and it’s wireframe graphics, Toribash has real 3D characters… stick figures with spherical joints – but nevermind that. It’s the gameplay that counts, right?

Toribash looks like a ton of fun. I say looks because the game is so complex, it’s really daunting for a first-time player. I’ll give a good example of how complex the game is, taken verbatim from a how to punch tutorial video on YouTube:

Press C
Left Rotate Chest
Contract Right Arm
Contract Right Pecs
Extend Left Leg
Extend Left Pecs
Contract Right Hip
Press Space

You want me to do what? I’ll explain with a visual aide, courtesy of IKEA – they sell these mannequin posing dolls made of wood that illustrate my point almost perfectly, just $5.99 plus tax. It’s a steal! I’m not quite sure what I would do with one of them, but it’s a real bargain. Ok, back to my point – how hard the game is:

That’s a little bit of a exaggeration, but not by that much. It’s like a stop-action IKEA wooden doll posing contest, and whoever happens to deal more damage before time runs out, wins. Part of the beauty is that no two games are exactly alike – it’s near impossible that two separate players would click the same muscles to flex and relax more than once. Now, imagine that you face two of these dolls in front of each other, with each person controlling the stick figure madly clicking away … wait… this reminds me of a childhood game I played…

For someone to have played regular fighting games all their lives and finally meet Toribash, it’s as if Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots Robots gained about 8 more buttons. It’s mind boggling. Now if you saw a bunch of people sitting around, playing with the 10-button Rock’em Sock’em, wouldn’t you be interested in learning how to play? It’s similar to the first impression I had of Guitar Hero – “That’s retarded, how can that be fun?” Hopefully now you know exactly what I’m talking about. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the complexity of actually moving a characters’ muscles one at a time, but it’s FUN.

And that’s what matters most when you’re playing a game.

One piece that is really key to building and maintaining the vast community that never sleeps is rewarding those who put in time and money into it. Yep, I said money. The game integrates into forums, allowing you to spend points gained on customizations for your character. Acid Blood. Custom skins you can upload, just like an avatar on a normal forum. The catch? If you win a game, you win 5 points. Acid Colored Blood costs 16,000 points. Yes, that is not a typo. You’ll need to win 3200 matches to buy Acid Colored Blood. You can buy points, or you can buy a psudo subscription to the game and gain anywhere from 50 to 1000 points per win – at a cost of $5 and up per month. The community is thriving.

Download Toribash for Linux or visit the Toribash website for more information.

This game might be something you’re interested in, it might not be. I guess the best bet is to watch this promotional video of a few versions ago. If it looks like fun to pull off a triple-gainer roundhouse kick to the face, you may want to invest the time required in learning how to actually do something like that. Or maybe you should just stick to the completely boring two-button-knock-their-block-off version. Your choice.

Interview with Ken VanDine of Foresight Linux

A few weeks ago, I saw that Foresight Linux was going to be pre-loaded onto Shuttle computers at an amazing price – just $199. “That’s interesting, another Linux distribution I haven’t heard of.”

The last time this “I’ve never heard of distro X” thing happened to me was when I got an email advertisement for the “gOS developer kit” – I ended up looking into gOS, and they started selling computers in Walmart shortly after I scored an interview with David Liu. That was a pretty big deal, if you haven’t heard about it. By the way, I’m HUGE in Japan.

I was able to catch up with the very busy creator of Foresight, Ken VanDine. He’s got some really interesting answers to thing plaguing my mind, like which pie is best – I only hope that you can also appreciate the internal debate that’s finally been settled by this fine gentleman.

Without more from me, here’s Ken.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
– I am a dog person, *NOT* a cat person. I grew up on the outer banks of North Carolina, spent 6 years in the US Air Force. After getting out I spent some time in the Bay area, San Diego, and Los Angeles before finding my way back to NC. I am now an engineering lead with rPath, Inc. I am also the proud parent of two great kids, and married to a wonderful woman that allows me the time to spend my evenings working on Foresight :-D

The deal with Shuttle appears to be a huge win for Foresight Linux. How did it come about? Who were the major players?kpc.png
– Back in September 2007 I was talking to someone from on-disk.com about selling the future versions of Foresight 2. Then in January, she was contacted by Shuttle looking for suggestions for a disro to go with. She got us talking, and things progressed quickly. The first time I talked to them, I tried to get a feel for what they wanted, hard to do with a brief phone call. I then spent an hour customizing Foresight, changing the syslinux menu, splashy theme, gdm login theme, default wallpaper and changed the gtk theme. And… drum roll, I had installable isos available for them to test. The tools we use to maintain the distro, are designed from the ground up to make managing derivative distros easy.

Would you say that Linux (in general) is making good progress towards becoming a household name?
– PC makers and systems integrators letting Linux play with the big boys.

Which is better philosophically: Apple, Pecan or Pudding Pie?
– Apple pie

What is the relationship between rPath and Foresight?
– Foresight was created just over 3 years ago, using tools developed by rPath. Foresight was actually the first distro derived using the tools. Since then, I have joined the rPath team as an engineering lead. Foresight is great for rPath, it proves the tools work and gets plenty of exposure. rPath doesn’t control Foresight, but does benefit from it.

Foresight Linux seems to have an interesting release cycle, can you explain it in-depth?
– Our package manager, Conary, follows many of the principles found in version control systems. Not only does it maintain the source of our packages in the same place as the binaries created, but there are branches. So we have development, QA, and release branches. We are able to do our development on the development branch, without affecting our users. We then promote packages to our QA branch, and test them as a group. The entire operating system is defined in a group, and the packages are built together for optimal compatibility. We test the group of packages together, as a whole, when the QA cycle is complete the entire group is promoted to the release label for user consumption.

When did you come to realize that Foresight Linux was needed?
– Well mostly frustration with existing distros. At the time I was working for a large enterprise where we managed a very large scale linux infrastructure. We struggled with maintenance and deployment issues, as well as the “we have to customize red hat mentality”. I always hated rpm spec files, and hated that our environment was never easily reproducable. At the same time, I was involved in GNOME Marketing and was frustrated at how long it took distros to provide never releases of GNOME to their users. We would get lots of hype over a new release, but the buzz was over by the time people that didn’t want to build all of GNOME from source could actually use it. Using Conary, I was able to very quickly build a distro that was made up of what I defined as of proper desktop OS using the latest GNOME. There was also some emerging technologies that really improved usuability of the desktop, specifically related to hardware. HAL and udev to name a couple, relative new comers to the scene and being included in distros already, they weren’t really heavily relied on yet and no where near current. Foresight intregrated the absolute latest versions of many things like these and made a really great OS (imho). Desktop Linux has been emerging so quickly, and improving even more rapidly. Six, eight, or even 12 month release cycles just can’t cut it for a desktop. We need continuous improvement, so a rolling release distro is the way to go. Releases for Foresight is really just deciding when we want new isos to cut down on the number of updates a new install my get.

How important are bug reports for open source developers?
– We couldn’t survive without them. Fact is, we don’t have a team of professional QA folks beating on our work reporting bugs. So we rely on the community to file issues. We do try to encourage people to run our QA branch of Foresight and report bugs before people running the stable branch see them.

How does Conary differ to other popular package management systems (such as dkpg, Portage, and Yum) and why is it a better method of doing things?
– Whew… where to start :) Conary does so much more than legacy packaging systems such as apt(dpkg) and yum(rpm). Conary melds version control concepts into package management. Not only on the build/packaging side of things, but even for system maintenance. Conary stores sources with the binaries, in the same package, supports branching, merging, etc. On the flip side of that, Conary does some other very nice things. For example, every operation is a transaction. So you can actually rollback your last update or even all the way back to when the system was installed. And, these rollbacks contain local changes that get merged. Also being transactional, Conary breaks updates into smaller “jobs”. These jobs are dep complete, so if at anytime an update fails Conary will rollback to the previous job leaving your system dep complete and fully functional.

Conary also breaks packages down into manageable components, :runtime, :lib, :devel, :devellib, :doc, etc. So unlike other packaging systems, where you might have 2 packages, firefox and firefox-devel, Conary would have one package with the devel headers split into firefox:devel. This is a great thing, you no longer end up installing -devel packages from random repos in your sources.list just because it looks like a newer version. The devel headers are just part of the same package, you just don’t have to have them installed. These components combined with rich dependancy information really shines. If you need to install an application that needs to be able to talk to a mysql database, only mysql:lib would get brought in as a dependancy. Not all of the mysql package, so you just get the libraries. Not the command line client, etc. You get just enough for your app to work. Apply this concept to say a dependancy that might have an initscript to start a service, you now have less services running. The initscript to start a service would be in the :runtime component which wouldn’t be installed (unless it is needed).

Could you explain a scenario in detail where Conary is a better solution?
– Of course as I described above, Conary is extremely powerful and works well in many situations. Let me touch on something I didn’t mention above, deriving. Lets say you have a need for customizing Linux systems for a large deployment, personal use, corporate standards, etc. You could very easily derive the distro and only maintain your changes and define exactly what packages you want included. The tools make this very easy, as I described the situation with Shuttle. You can also control when updates go out to the users. By deriving, you not only have the flexibility to change the distro, but you can control releasing updates. You can test updates we push out along with your changes on your own devel or qa branches. When you are ready to push these changes out you simple “promote” the group that defines your distro. This is a single atomic operation that puts the updated packages on your release branch for users to update from.

Do you smoke a pipe or have a beard?
– I do have a “Van Dyke”, usually confused with the term goattee. My former boss pointed that out when I was interviewing, and sure enough he was right.

rBuilder and rMake are important pieces of the puzzle. How do they work? What other tools are used in creating a platform?
– rBuilder is what hosts our software repositories, builds installable and live images, hosts our downloads, and much more. rMake is a build tool we use to build the distro. It builds packages in a pristine environment, specifically your target environment. We can do very large builds, even the entire distro and rMake will determine the build order and do the right thing. rMake can then take the resulting build and commit it to a repository in one operations.

rBuilder Online seems very interesting. What does it do?
– It is the online (public) version of rBuilder. rBuilder online is free for use for anything that you can freely redistribute. Our repositories are on rBO, we manage our user accounts (for committers), build images, and provides downloads all via rBO.

Does Foresight Linux fall into any “niches”? Is it for end users who are familiar with Linux? First time users?
– This is a tough question, I really want that niche to be new Linux users. I try very hard to push things down the path of “it just works”. I think we are there now, which makes me quite happy. Foresight is of course ultimately configurable for those power users… you know how Linux users [are].

Where do you see Foresight headed in the future?
– Shipped pre-loaded by more vendors and of course used.

Lastly, how can interested parties get in touch and lend their support?
– IRC and our mailing lists, http://foresightlinux.org/contact.html

Thanks for your time Ken, it is appreciated!

I’ve tried out Foresight Linux 2.0 which was very recently released. It’s pretty damn fantastic, if I say so myself. The entire 1.1GB DVD was a really fast installation, thanks to their new TAR-based installation. After answering the basic installation questions, it was completely setup and ready to reboot in about 6 minutes flat – that’s freakin FAST for an installation! I remember reading awhile back that Windows Vista was supposed to have something like this, they called it an “disc image based installer,” but last time I installed on this same machine it must have taken 45 minutes to complete.

If you’re looking for a user-friendly distro that your uninitiated father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend can use, I agree with Ken that Foresight should be on your short list of distributions to consider. If you’re interested in specs and ordering a Shuttle KPC pre-loaded with Foresight Linux for yourself or someone you love, hit the Newegg banner on the top right, and search for “Shuttle KPC”

shuttle-kpc.png

Twittering from the Command Line

Since I’ve started using Twitter, I’ve been on the hunt for a command line version, so I don’t need to start up a browser or send an SMS on my phone. As I found out, it’s pretty darn easy to Twitter from the command line.

In Ubuntu, install curl with apt-get install curl, then create a file paste the line below into it, modify the username and password strings:
curl --basic --user "username:password" --data-ascii "status=`echo $@|tr ' ' '+'`" "http://twitter.com/statuses/update.json"
Save or copy the file into /usr/bin, and you’re done.

And then you can do something fun like this:

Twitter Command Line Interface CLI for Linux

The result is equally tasty:

Twitter Command Line Interface CLI for Linux

I’m brainstorming a few strange uses for this, something like setting up tweet notifications of long-running batch jobs that finally finish. Or this might be a good way to prank someone, just have a cron job running that spits out random logfile garbage every few days… LOL. You guys got any other ideas?

Would You Like to Play a Game of… DEFCON?

DEFCON is short for Defense Condition, on a numerical scale, with 1 being the highest level of alert or readiness. It also happens to be the name of a video game that lives up to the origins, the movie WarGames, which was released in 1983. The movie is based on the premise that an teenager war-dials every telephone number in his city trying to find the computer system of a video game publisher. One of the telephone numbers goes straight into a military computer, and he thinks it’s actually a computer of the video game company. He figures out the password to the system and starts a “game” of Global Thermonuclear War, which unbeknownst to him, triggers the computer into starting a not-so-video-game nuclear war military simulation.

A large portion of the film takes place in the most expensive movie set ever created at the time, a full-scale replica of the underground NORAD headquarters Command Center. After inflation, the set would have cost nearly 2.1 million dollars to create today.

What’s equally impressive is Introversion Games (or simply, IV Games), the developers of DEFCON (the real life video game) had about 18 months and something like 8 employees to present the world with their version of the movie set turned into a video game.

IV has definitely had it’s share of difficult times, as this forum post goes into detail. Not many independent game developers can say they’ve gone from spending tens of thousands of dollars on speedboats and cars to living on government benefits. Thankfully they kept making video games instead of giving up after going bankrupt. :)

The game seems ludicrously simple at the beginning. You’re automatically assigned a territory, and you place radar dishes, silos, carriers, battleships, subs, and much more around your territory as you see fit. The game proceeds at up to 20x normal speed (most games would take 8 hours in real time), meanwhile counting all the way up to DEFCON 1 where you can actually launch nukes. What starts out as simple ends up being a rather complex strategy game. The “winner” of each game depends on the mode being used, but the goal is to nuke other countries’ population centers while fending off nuclear attacks on your own cities.

Instead of going into more detail, here’s a video I made of three computers playing each other. It’s a pretty good introduction into the DEFCON stages – watch the white text and red countdown timers. I’ve dubbed the video over with some appropriate music to speed things along, but the actual game soundtrack is absolutely epic – just like the original movie. The graphics are wireframe based (much like Darwinia) and they look great, while helping the player focus on what is most important – the gameplay itself.

Each of their previous games, Uplink, and Darwinia have native Linux clients. I would imagine that their next title in development Multiwinia will also support Linux, as well as Windows and OSX. The Linux demo is pretty fantastic, it was simple to install and run. I’ve been reiterating over and over lately, supporting companies that support Linux is very important, and if you check out the demos and enjoy them, send some money their way. They can probably put it to good use getting their fast car polished or something. ;)

If you need instructions, to get all three games running, here they are:

1. Install a couple common files you might need from a vanilla Ubuntu 7.10 installation:
sudo apt-get install libgtk1.2 libstdc++5

2. Install Defcon
wget http://download.introversion.co.uk/defcon/linux/defcon-v1.42.tar.gz
tar xvfz defcon-v1.42.tar.gz && cd defcon-v1.42 && chmod a+x defcon
./defcon

3. Install Darwinia
wget http://www.introversion.co.uk/cgi-bin/countdowndarwinia.cgi?darwinia-demo2-1.3.0.sh
chmod a+x darwinia-demo2-1.3.0.sh && ./darwinia-demo2-1.3.0.sh
chmod a+x ~/darwinia-demo2/darwinia && cd ~/darwinia-demo2
./darwinia

4. Install Uplink
wget http://www.introversion.co.uk/cgi-bin/countdownmemset.cgi?uplink-demo-1.54.sh
chmod a+x uplink-demo-1.54.sh && ./uplink-demo-1.54.sh
chmod a+x ~/uplink-demo/uplink
./uplink

If you don’t need instructions, you should be doing one of two things: reading Linux Journal (see below), or downloading the demos. Both options are free (as in beer) to those of you in the USA, and that LJ promotion has been putting enough money in my pocket each week to buy a cup of joe coffee-flavored-milkshake from Starbucks, along with a muffin or other tasty treat.

If enough loyal readers out there check out the free LJ offer, I might be able to buy… speedboats or fast cars come to mind. Last but not least, I’ve received word that the interview with Ken VanDine of Foresight Linux is about halfway done. He’s apparently a rather busy guy, I’m REALLY looking forward to it. If you had subscribed to my Twitter feed you would already have that delivered to your cellphone.