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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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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


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”


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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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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