Category Archives: Linux

Roadmap Analysis For Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS Revisited

Five months ago, I wrote an article about the next version of Ubuntu’s roadmap for Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS, with my own personal ideas of ideas were most interesting that had been proposed.

Let me itterate something important: these are just my ideas, I’m just a spectator. Nobody called me up and said, “Hey Wayne, thanks for the heads up on dual monitor support, we’ll get right on that!” I’m pretty sure Ubuntu developers know that dual monitor support is pretty important for those who have two monitors.

That article generated over 60 thousand unique visitors since it was published, which means roughly 450 people per day on average have been looking at my thoughts on the roadmap. With approximately one more month to go in the Hardy development cycle, I’m extremely curious – of the 28 items on that list, what has been accomplished, and what hasn’t? We’re about 10 days away from the Beta release, which should be feature complete.

Now for a little background: Many of the items scheduled on the Ubuntu roadmap were discussed at the Boston Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), and it seems at least a few of the Blueprints were scribbled on napkins. According to the Ubuntu Wiki, the summits are “an opportunity for Ubuntu developers — who usually collaborate online — to work together in person on specific tasks.”

The most interesting improvements I noted at the time were in three key groups: User Experience, Networking/Security and Support. A grand total of 28 ideas that had been proposed that I thought were worth mentioning.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

User Experience
1. Human Theme: Received a minor touch up. Less brown, more white. Nice abstract penguin desktop background. The major overhaul for the Ubuntu Human Theme has been delayed for 8.10.

2. Make Adding Third Party Apt Repository Easier: GUI still in the Software Sources application, but no .APT file format has been finalized or work started other than a guideline. I guess it will still remain difficult (if you call adding a line to sources.list difficult) to add third party software repositories like WINE to get the latest releases.

3. Upgrade to X.org 7.3: Done. We’ve got bullet-proof X, compositing by default, “themed” unlock screen, and a disabled CTRL+ALT+Backspace? Ugg… I liked the ability to kill X when it crashes.

4. Automatix Collaboration: Not sure on this, there isn’t a package available for Hardy Heron on their website yet, but it’s marked as being “started” on the blueprint. Your guess is a good as mine.

5. Dual Monitor Suport: Untested (I don’t have two monitors), and as of yesterday, was marked as deferred on the Blueprint. However, the developer of this posted on his blog in late February that he had uploaded a new GUI for Xrandr. And there’s been an update today on the blueprint, it’s now marked as Beta Available, if you’re interested, hit the link above. Great progress! This recent progress is a indicator that this update is a bit premature in the Alpha stage, but I think it’s a good thing to update people on what’s happening so far.

6. Super-Slick-Boot: “Pending Approval” status on Launchpad, not implemented. This is one of the cooler things that I thought would add some flair and polish to Ubuntu – but there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed first. It would be fantastic to have a smooth transition from BIOS into window manager, kinda like how Macs boot up – you turn on the system, get a nice loading sound and splash, and then everything smoothly loads up in the background. We’re not getting that just yet for Ubuntu.

7. Don’t Overwrite the /home partition during new installation: This appears to be superseded by a new spec called “Ubiquity Preserve Home” which is linked above, and there is a beta available. Didn’t see it in action when I installed Alpha 6.

8. Warn About Impending DOOM Full Disks: Also linked to a blueprint regarding Making Free Space Wizard, does not appear to be implemented, yet.

9. Prefetch: There has been a beta available for quite some time, this has been worked on since April 2007. Deferred until 8.10.

10. Easy File Sharing: Appears like this will be merged with Easy File Sending, marked as low priority. I don’t know about most of you, but I’ve got more than two computers in my house, and this is highly desired. OpenSUSE uses Giver, which looks like a good option.

11. Single Click Install: Still being discussed at this point, nothing appears to have been coded yet – this is in the same boat as 3rd Part Apt repositories, and I would imagine at some point would be merged.

12. Add/Remove Programs “Storefront” with featured applications: Not implemented. The main point is that Add/Remove programs is not nearly as robust as Synaptic (which is a little bit “kludgey” in my opinion). The idea is to add in a ratings system (votes up/down), and use some sort of web front-end to create a “Featured Applications” screen when loading up the Add/Remove application. Sure would be nice!

13. Simple Samba: Reports of Shared Folders upgrades have been greatly exaggerated! Not gonna happen this release.

14. Redesign of “About Ubuntu” Menu: This has been superceeded twice by newer blueprints. This is currently in a beta stage, and I would imagine this is going to be included in Hardy unless something goes terribly wrong. It doesn’t seem like a difficult proposition to create a screen that displays information about the computer and distribution version.

Network/Security
15. Modular /etc/network/interfaces: Splitting the interfaces file into multiple directories or files has been throughly shot down, dragged behind a car for a few miles, burned at the stake, and ashes spread at a landfill. I do genuinely appreciate the input provided by Soren Hansen on this idea, but I’m not surprised on the outcome.

16. Dialup/ASDL Support: I’m confused – only a medium priority for people to get on the internet and manage their connections easily in Network Manager? Same with NDISwrapper – it should be included in the distribution by default. At least 3400 people voted on this idea at Ubuntu brainstorm, and is the 2nd most popular idea on the website.

17. Encrypted FS: Not started, low priority, not going to see it. :(

18. Live-CD Share This: Manual scripts have been created and floating around for awhile, but as of yet no integration into Hardy. I don’t think we’ll see this.

19. Stop running GKSUDO for Administrative Tasks: Not implemented. “The process of requiring the user to enter a password before they even open the dialog is a bit disruptive.” Agreed! Why can’t this be fixed? It’s not gonna happen.

Support
20: Measure Install Success: Not approved. This was semi-interesting for me since we would have a better idea of how many Ubuntu users are using the latest version. Right now the numbers in the millions keep getting floated around, but how accurate can they be?

21: Locate Local User Groups Upon Installation: I’m really disappointed this was not approved. What should happen is after a successful installation, your local user groups would be displayed to you in an application, or a website – instead of the current About Ubuntu page that nobody actually reads. Poor form. And to top it off, someone decided to add in some horrible “map zooming” function in the time zone selection step during the installer… to explain it better, just think of using a telescope without a tripod to locate your city on a world map from about a foot away. It is difficult to click on the correct city/area since the sensitivity is set very high.

22: Make Use of “hidden” Packaging Forum: This nook of the Ubuntu forums seems like a good place to expand, but it’s not going to happen before Hardy Heron.

23: Screencasts in the Help Menu: Help>Tutorial Videos – Not approved.

24: Forum Content Certification: To date, no team has been created to police forum content and keep original forums posts with how-to instructions updated, however, a “Thank you” system has been implemented – which is a fair compromise for the time being. This is the kind of thing that is taken care of on an as-needed basis.

25: Teacher Input on Edubuntu: You might think that someone asked a teacher about what they needed in Edubuntu before it was created, but apparently that is not the case! Surprised? I was. The blueprint hasn’t been updated, but it’s plausible that it happened at some point.

26: Automatic Bug Reporting: Privacy concerns stopped this idea from becoming the next big brother feature.

27: Ubuntu Mobile Browser: Ubuntu Mobile announced instead. Good judgement call, I say.

28: Install Ubuntu from within Windows: I am very pleased to announce that Wubi installer is included on the installation ISO image now – I’m not sure if it’s integrated into the autorun menu that popped up before, but it’s certainly there.

By my count, there are 9 out of 28 “important” ideas that are at the very least partially implemented. Everything else is deferred or never started. Does this mean that Ubuntu is loosing momentum? I don’t think so. Does it mean people are going to look elsewhere for their Linux fix? Perhaps.

As time goes on, I am of the opinion that Ubuntu needs to buckle down after 8.04 is released and really focus on getting the big features mentioned here implemented as soon as possible. I know that some issues exist upstream, that they have no control over. However, things like the updated Human theme that get delayed are extremely visible to users, especially after being so heavily touted as being a major feature – until 8.10 you get to enjoy a small palette change.

It’s not like I have much to complain about, I’m colorblind. That’s the luxury of being an “armchair critic” – I can sit back and enjoy the show and comment on things as I see it. Am I going to switch anytime soon? Probably not.

Tiny little bit of website news here, I’m going to start twittering more often about upcoming articles I’m working on here, my RSS feed is pointed at it, so you’ll get updates on twitter when there are new articles posted, feel free to follow me. :)

Review: Amazon MP3 Downloader for Linux

When I heard that Amazon finally released the Linux version of their MP3 Downloader, it was an epiphany: I don’t have to make a trip to the overpriced record store ever again.

I headed over to Amazon.com last night, and after a few minutes of surfing around the available albums, I found something that I really wanted: Alive 2007 by Daft Punk for $8.99.

And I’ve been on a “support companies that support Linux” kick lately, so why not? The release of the Amazon MP3 Downloader for Linux has the interesting side-effect of allowing you to purchase full albums instead of just singles – for this particular album it saved me $4.68 – nice!

The program works as advertised. When you complete a purchase, an AMZ file is downloaded to your computer, and you’re prompted automatically to open it using the MP3 Downloader program. The downloader does it’s dirty work very quickly and efficiently. The ~165MB download for Alive 2007 took a grand total of about 3 minutes to finish – approximately ~1MB/sec transfer speed – very impressive! The GUI couldn’t be more simple, since all it does is download MP3 files. There are some preferences to set, such as where to save the music files, and a button to return to the MP3 store.

The MP3s were in 256kbps bitrate, and played flawlessly as expected in MP3 players on my computer, in my car stereo that has MP3 support, as well as on my iPhone.

For those of you looking for an alternative for the iTunes Music Store and the DRM files that don’t quite work in Linux, Amazon MP3 Downloads and the Linux client are a terrific substitution.

Here’s my first 100% legal music CD burned in Linux!
Amazon.com MP3 Downloader for Linux Legal CD
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Unboxing the Asus Eee PC and First Impressions

Supporting companies that offer Linux support or Linux-based products is extremely important for the alternative operating system to succeed in the retail arena. This alone is the most compelling reason why I decided to buy an Asus Eee PC.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for myself, buying Linux supported video games solely for the reason that they support Linux has become my new hobby.

Ever since the diminutive laptop was announced at Computex in Taipei, June 2007, the idea of having a small laptop for school, coffee shops and elsewhere has been lingering in my mind for quite some time, and finally I’ve found the perfect device.
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How To: Run Call of Duty 4 (COD4): Modern Combat in Linux

Here in the city I affectionately call Salt Lake Shitty, Utah – it’s about as cold as a witch wearing an iron cupped bra doing push ups in the snow.

pretty-excellent-gun-wank.png

To offset this chilly weather, my best friend in the entire world* Yahtzee, who does a little piece for Escapist Magazine every Wednesday called Zero Punctuation warmed up to Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, calling it a “Pretty Excellent Gun Wank” which in my book means it’s a 5-star title, and worth playing – but only if it runs in Wine.

*I am not actually friends with Yahtzee.

The Wine Application DB website says the compatibility rating of the game is Silver, which means it works excellently for ‘normal’ use. In less generalized color coded terms, this means that it works near perfectly after recompiling Wine.

I can hear the groaning and murmurs in the background – stop it!!! All this requires is a little bit of brainless copy and paste from this page into a terminal.

I spent a significant amount of time getting this to work on my own, and apparently I *did not* quote the source of most of what I posted here, for which I apologize. As far as I can recall, I had gone though the process of recompiling Wine with the 3dmark patch, downloading the D3D DLL and found a guide on Ubuntu Forums by ahaslam that had all my work plus more already posted.

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Exporting From WebMail into Gmail/IMAP Using Thunderbird

Most of you have heard the news, as each day goes by, Yahoo will likely succumb to Microsoft’s advances. As such, I’ve decided that now is a good time as any to migrate all of my email from Yahoo and MSN accounts into a Google-Apps-Powered fsckin.com account.

The easiest to use tool I’ve found so far is a plugin for Mozilla’s Thunderbird called WebMail. This extension is so slick, it sets up a local POP3, IMAP, and SMTP server that proxies requests from the mail client to the web interface for a ton of different webmail sites, like Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and more.

So I had several thousand emails loaded into both an old Yahoo mail account, as well as an MSN.com email address I’ve been wanting to get rid of forever. The problem with both of these services is that you have to pay around $20 apeice to get POP3 or Office Outlook Connector access, respectively.

I’m not willing to pay money for something that their biggest competetor (GMail) provides for free. This is MY email, MY correspondance, and MY time invested. Similar to the problem Robert Scoble had with Facebook and a beta version of Plaxo, I did get temporarily banned from Yahoo for accessing their webmail with a third party program, and got a nasty error 999 message, and absolutely ZERO support from Yahoo until it cleared itself up – took a few hours and the IP-address-ban was gone.

The most upsetting part is that they provide a “free” service to switch to Yahoo! Mail, including importing all your contacts, mail, etc and pulling it all into a walled garden that you’re not allowed to remove anything from after it’s in there. Vendor lock-in is a crutch, and thanks to the WebMail extension for Thunderbird, it’s a weak crutch now.

How well does it work? Let’s just say that as of today I’ve got some emails in my Gmail account that go back to 1998!!! Hot damn!

The method is pretty easy. Install Thunderbird, then pickup the WebMail Extension plus add-ons for each webmail service you’ll use, configure the plugin to use whatever ports you like, then add your webmail accounts into Thunderbird.

The WebMail extension works as a proxy between your email client and the website that has your email on it. When you click “Get Mail” in Thunderbird, the addon actually goes to www.yahoo.com (as an example), logs in as you, and clicks on Inbox, then reports back to Thunderbird what it sees in the language Thunderbird understands, IMAP, POP3, or SMTP.

It’s really non-techie friendly too, there’s no major configuration needed or anything really technical to figure out.

The best part is once you have the email inside Thunderbird, you can drag and drop or cut and paste emails from one account into another at will. I was able to move several thousand emails from my Yahoo! and MSN accounts into my Google Apps account very quickly. Sometimes it chokes on emails without a subject or very large (10MB+) emails, but those are easily forwarded manually.

Big thumbs up to the WebMail folks, this extension is hot and works like a charm! So what’s stopping you from importing email from your old accounts? You could be find some pictures from Argentina that your friend Rick sent you two years ago. :-)

rich-y-agueda-2.jpg summer.jpg

For those of you who aren’t into the whole Valentine’s Day thing, if I don’t see you until tomorrow, Happy Ubuntu Bug Hug Day!

Browse Anonymously In Thirty Seconds and Three Easy Steps in Ubuntu

Here’s a quick little how-to guide on setting up Tor and Privoxy in Ubuntu and installing the Torbutton for Firefox add-on to surf anonymously in about 30 seconds.

1. Installation:
First we need Privoxy and Tor, then start the services:
sudo apt-get install privoxy tor && sudo /etc/init.d/privoxy restart && sudo /etc/init.d/tor restart

Then we need to install the Torbutton for Firefox to toggle the proxy on and off in the browser.

2. Configure:
Save the contents of this Configuration File to /etc/privoxy/config, overwriting the entire file.

3. Use:
Startup Firefox, go into the View > Toolbars > Customize menu and add in the Tor button. Click the button to enable anonymous traffic. Tada! You’re anonymous.

Microsoft to Yahoo – “We Will Add Your Biological And Technological Distinctiveness To Our Own.”

I’ve gotta give Steve Ballmer and crew a pat on the back. The Microsoft acquisition offer for Yahoo is the most fantastic idea they have come up with since the release of Vista. Unfortunately, Microhoo is not going to topple the top player Google anytime soon in the online advertising world.

You can’t take Microsoft, add Yahoo juice and get something magically better. Microsoft and Yahoo have relatively poor search results when compared to Google. Combined, they also do not have anywhere near the online advertising inventory that Google has available. Google dominates the online office suite (at the moment) with Google Docs, which is what I think got Microsoft on their case.

According to the WSJ, Yahoo is going to reject the offer on Monday. I speculate that Microsoft would raise their offer to $40 a share, they’ll do anything to be second best.

The Giants Didn’t Win Super Bowl XLII – The Website Wars

The New York Giants did not win Super Bowl XLII in my book. I’m not much of a sports fan myself, but I certainly can enjoy having a few beers with friends and family to sit down and watch the Super Bowl. I’ve never lived in a city that has gone into the post-season so that might explain things.

As such, I was rooting for the commercials, which until the 4th quarter were winning, although not by much. What I want to know after watching all these commercials is who won – Microsoft and IIS or *nix and Apache.

What would an inquisitive person do? They would probably visit each company website and keep score using a Firefox extension called Live HTTP Headers which makes it “easy” to determine what operating system a web server is using. They also might utilize Netcraft to lookup their server information along with historical data and finally probably check out NMAP for a though-and-through analysis.

That’s exactly what I did. I watched 65 commercials all over again, lasting more than 30 minutes of advertisements. Am I a consumer whore? You bet! *wink*

There are few technicalities that need to be addressed before getting an accurate score. For example, many companies are using web-acceleration platforms which may skew results. One such company that provides a caching platform is Akamai who claim they serve various media (video, advertising, etc) for over 50% of the companies in the Super Bowl. So at least 50% of company websites use Linux, right? Not quite so fast.

If a company uses Microsoft IIS and Akamai caching which is a fairly common technique, using both Microsoft and Linux – what should get counted? One? Both? Count .5 for each? Furthermore, how should the number of companies be counted? Even Microsoft’s own website serves up content using the Akamai caching network that consists of tens of thousands of Linux servers located around the globe running Linux.

Should we even consider counting all the Fox/News Corporation ads (who runs a Microsoft-only ship), or just count them once? Undoubtedly if a different TV network such as NBC or CBS were televising the Super Bowl, they would undoubtedly tip the scales the other way with ads for their own TV shows and movies towards Linux or FreeBSD, respectively.

Similarly, Budweiser ran 6 commercials – should they get counted six times? Probably not. I must raise the question of if “Joe Sixpack” will ever visit budweiser.com to figure out what kind of beer to buy. Mr. Sixpack will hit up the nearest convenience store and never even use the computer to find out about micro brews available in his locale.

Would Joe Trader visit etrade.com? If they’re in the market (pun intended) they might. Should they get counted twice, once for each appearance of the puking baby?

I think the best way to count is by looking up every company or product website that was advertised in the Super Bowl, regardless of if the domain name was mentioned in the advertisement, then figure out what’s running the server. That decision thins the crowd a bit. Instead of 65 websites with duplicates included, we’re down to 41 domains. I’m not even going to count NFL.com which is completely powered by Akamai/Linux.

There were some interesting bits found in my research. etrade.com runs Ubuntu. They’re actually the only server that replied with an OS by name in the HTTP Header. Everyone else had generic responses like “Apache”, “Apache (Unix)”, “Microsoft-IIS/6.0″, or “Sun-ONE-Web-Server”. Victoria‘s Secret replies with a simple “Webserver” which is a front for Akamai. Kudos to E*Trade for pimping Ubuntu.

The last check I ran was using nmap with an input file containing the list of domains to scan. It took about 20 minutes since a few servers decided to slow down the scan, undoubtedly after an IDS identified the scan attempt.

One such domain that had EVERY PORT OPEN and delayed a response on each port was www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov. They were in the list for the commercial about the out-of-work drug dealer because kids are scoring from their parents’ bathroom cabinets. Oops, I wasn’t expecting to port scan a government website. Nmap did not give any additional insight into the operating system running on any server. Netcraft is pretty good. :)

In the end, the best option is to score on what is reported by the HTTP headers. In this case we have two sites that report Akamai and are indeterminable – Life Cant Wait (Sunsilk) and Victoria’s Secret. Otherwise, the major players are Apache, IIS, Sun, and finally IBM – which is actually based on Apache.

So who actually wins?

http-headers.PNG
(click to enlarge)

At the end of regulation time, it’s a tie! Both Apache and Microsoft are powering 17 servers! If we were to count IBM which is Apache based, then Apache wins. Add in Akamai which uses Linux, and I think it’s a safe bet to say that Apache and *nix win by a hair.

These results are impressive. Who thinks we can round up enough people and/or vendor support to advertise a Linux product in the Super Bowl next year?

Using Mozilla Prism To Run Web Apps Seamlessly

Prism is a new side project by the Mozilla team. It’s a nifty way to run specific web applications in an embedded browser of sorts.

If you haven’t seen it yet, imagine a letterboxed web browser – all you see is the content. There is nothing else showing in the window – back/forward navigation buttons, location bar, status bar, all gone.

I’ve found a dozen uses for it, but I think my two favorites are embedded videos (like Chris Pirillo) and Google Reader.

Prism is available for all major platforms – Linux, Mac and Windows. It’s really simple, just install it (or unzip it) and open up the Prism progam, and fill out the information it asks for, like URL or Name.

Prism does not share cookies or any other settings with Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari. This is nice if you have separate accounts and don’t want to mix things up.

In Ubuntu 7.10, I setup a Widget Layer rule in Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm) to match all windows set to be “Always On Top” using the following rule: state=above This setting lets me easily toggle windows to be set as a widget (or not) by simply setting the window as “Always On Top” after right clicking the title bar. Really simple to setup, then just F9 by default to view the widget layer.

Here’s a screenshot of my current setup:
prism2.png

Do you use Prism or Widget Layer rules in a creative way? Let me know in the comments.