Open Source

Rockbox for iPod

by Margaret Wilson on

After posting the article on Ubuntu coming to mobile devices I finally remembered that I have been using open-source firmware on my iPod (5th generation) for the last few months. What exactly does this mean? Essentially, I have replaced the existing closed-source Apple firmware with the Rockbox open-source (and multi-platform) firmware. Rockbox allows the user to fully customize the graphical user interface. While customizing the interface with the hundreds of available skins is fantastic, the true beauty of Rockbox comes from the increased function it offers. Most notably of which is offering far more file formats that can be decoded and played compared to the Apple firmware.


While installation of Rockbox was a breeze for myself I would not recommend it to those that are not technically savvy or do not want to “brick” their media player; although it would be fun to take it apart! Another reason for the less tech savvy to avoid Rockbox is that the initial interface is quite “geeky” and may be intimidating/confusing. However, for those tech nuts out there I highly recommend you give Rockbox a shot! If you do not like it you can easily revert to the firmware you initially had from Apple.

At this point you may be intrigued or just want this article to be done. I realize most of my readers with portable media devices most likely have iPods. What exactly does Rockbox add for iPods? Here is an excerpt from the Rockbox FAQ:

“Rockbox for the iPod 4G, Color, Nano and Video models supports a large number of plugins, including games, applications, and “demos” – have some fun when you’ve got some free time to kill, open files with the text viewer, make use of the stopwatch, view some JPEG photos, or turn your iPod into a desktop clock. Also enjoy On-The-Go playlist creation and adjustment, full file bookmarking support and much more.”

Also, if you want to play with Rockbox on my iPod, and I will be happy to show you (this does require you to know me).

Even nerdier,


Dell + Ubuntu

by Margaret Wilson on

DellIt’s official! Dell has picked Ubuntu 7.04 as their Linux distribution of choice for offering an alternative to Windows with select computers. It appears as though Ubuntu will be offered and supported by Dell on a few offerings including both desktops and laptops. A Dell spokesman told CRNtech:

“We are finalizing some final details and will provide an update in the coming weeks as to which products will be available. We will offer Ubuntu 7.04 on select Dell consumer products with a range of configuration options.”

You can read the full article here. also posted an article with speculation regarding the specific models that will initially have the Ubuntu option. DesktopLinux followed this with another article about Dell’s move to offering Ubuntu means to the Linux community.

“Dell also is saying something else that’s equally important about the desktopLinux Logo world. It’s saying, for the first time in more than a decade, that standard x86 PC users have a choice. For the first time since OS/2 mattered, users have a choice again. No more are users stuck with Windows. No more are they forced to pay the Microsoft tax.

Even users who never intend on using Linux should be glad to see Microsoft’s iron hand finally lifted, albeit just an inch. Just as the arrival of Firefox forced Microsoft to improve Internet Explorer, the arrival of Linux on a mainstream desktop will force Microsoft to make significant, rather than cosmetic, improvements to its own operating systems.

This isn’t just a big day for desktop Linux users. This is a red-letter day for all PC users.”

-Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of

It makes me happy to see that Linux advocates are not trying to push Linux operating systems on users but are pointing out the benefits competition has on existing (specifically Microsoft) products. As the Linux and open-source software market share grows, classical software companies will need to adapt to, embrace and flat-out accept the demands of the consumer.

The revolution has begun!!


I apologize for the lack of activity on the site the last few days. As some of you may know, the latest installment of Ubuntu was released today (April 19th). However, on the 16th the release candidate version was released and I jumped on this opportunity to get Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn installed on my desktop.Ubuntu

I am happy to say that since the installation I have not even once booted into Windows Vista. This was, by far, the simplest installation and configuration in all of my experience will Linux. Now I have spent the last 3 days playing with configurations and settings but that is because I have been playing with so many new features and added functionality from better hardware support. In the past I have had the hardest time getting and Linux distribution to function with accelerate support from my ATI video card. I always spent days trying new techniques but not once did I ever get my card to work with the wonder that is Beryl (I had no issues when using the Nvidia card in my laptop). The first time I booted into Feisty Fawn I was presented with the option to use the open-source ATI drivers currently in use or to use the proprietary drivers. I tried using with along-side Beryl but got the best performance out of the default drivers and have been using them ever since.

What else did I like? Well, the Feisty installation has a “Windows migration tool” which recognizes that you want to perform a dual boot and asks you if you want to pull bookmarks, wallpaper, etc. over from your Windows installation! I thought I would give this a shot and guess what? It worked.

Unfortunately a lot of computer users are unwilling to switch to Linux because of the lack of gaming support. This is actually the main reason I required Vista to remain on my machine. However, I was actually able to install the system-heavy Battlefield 2 by using Wine (allows installation of many Windows programs in Linux).

Possibly the coolest thing I have done so far is customize the desktop. I am getting close to perfecting the look but am not quite there yet. Here is a sneak peak. I will be posting an article with the sources I used to perform this transformation along with more screenshots and hopefully a video showcasing the power of Beryl (read previous article for more on Beryl).


Feisty+Beryl Cube

I am really hoping to get a video showing the power of Feisty+Beryl up within the next week. The application dock at the bottom of the screen works almost identically to that of Mac OSX.

Hopefully this article has sparked some interest in Ubuntu Feisty Fawn. It is a tremendous operating system and I am hoping to remove the dual boot and work exclusively with Ubuntu in the near future.

And as always, if you have any questions or comments either comment below or email me at .


UPDATE: Apparently Michael Dell is running Feisty Fawn on his Dell Precision M90 notebook (not even a dual boot!). Way to go Michael! Read more at Engadget.

VLC media player

by Margaret Wilson on

Here we go! The first open-source program recommendation. Have you ever had the proVideoLANblem where you open a media file in Windows Media Player and you see it looking for something called a codec but then it either fails to find one and the video does not play or the audio begins to play with some useless visualization in the video window? No longer will that happen to you!

Let me introduce the software to you. It’s called VLC media player and comes from the VideoLAN organization. It is released under the GNU General Public License, aka it’s open-source and free. Basically, if you install VLC it will install nearly every codec (coder/encoder or compressor/decompresser of digital data) that you will need to play your media files. It comes with its own stripped down, very resource friendly, media player. However, just installing the VLC will allow Windows Media Player and other media players to use the codecs from VLC, thus allowing you to use Windows Media Player to watch DivX and other media files.

If you do choose to use the VLC media player (which I highly recommend), the interface may not be quite like what you’re used to. Below is screen shot showing the VLC media player interface.

VLC Main Screen

You open a file like you regularly would with File, then it just works! Unfortunately my media remote control does not work with VLC, but I am sure I could configure it if I dug deeper. If you are watching full-screen and access to the controls simply right-click anywhere.

Well, there you have it! The greatest multimedia package I have ever come across. Oh, did I mention just how cross-platform it is? It runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, and BSD. Get VLC. You’ll be glad you did.



by Margaret Wilson on


Let’s start this off with an introduction of Ubuntu. Have you ever heard of the linux-based operating system? Well, Ubuntu is one of the many thousands of distributions available free-of-charge to anyone who wishes to use it. According to, Ubuntu is still the most used distribution used by both enthusiasts and general users. sums up their operating system far better than I could ever:

“Ubuntu is a community developed, linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need – a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more.”

In the past I have dabbled with many different linux distributions such as Suse (now known as OpenSUSE), Red Hat (now known as Fedora), Mandrake (now known as Mandriva) but none of them captured me quite like Ubuntu. What was it that made Ubuntu my ‘flavour’? It was the combination of:

  • easy transfer from Windows (even easier with the upcoming release of 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) towards the end of April
  • amazing support forum where other users will gladly help you with any problem you may encounter
  • extremely easy repository system and easy installation of any open-source software you could imagine
  • fantastic, albeit sometimes time consuming, device support
  • extremely secure and safe environment
  • open-source movement has produced some amazingly professional pieces of software (you would be surprised at some of the free software available even for Windows)

I have been using version 6.10 (Edgy Eft) and before that 6.06 (Dapper Drake). I am very excited for the next major release 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) towards the end of April. I’ve been lucky enough to be run a beta version of this operating system and feel like it will convince many Windows users to switch over. Not only is Feisty coming out in April, but another edition Ubuntu Studio (based on Feisty).

“Ubuntu Studio is aimed at the linux audio, video and graphic enthusiast as well as professional. “

I feel confident that Ubuntu Studio will replace my Windows Vista operating system as my primary desktop environment.

Ubuntu is something that I am very passionate about and I encourage anyone with questions to email me at . Let’s get to the second part of this article and the reason why Beryl may be the answer to the future success of linux!



In techno-jargon, Beryl is a compositing windows manager for the graphical system within various linux distributions. Beryl is completely free, open-source, and has an extremely active peer-support system similar to that of Ubuntu. Beryl is installed within the operating system. Installation is extremely easy with Ubuntu and even ships as the default windows manager in other distributions.

I imagine many of you have no idea what I’ve been talking about the last few sentences. Basically, Beryl is what brings the eye candy to linux. In the past many Windows power users understood how efficient and secure linux was; however, the desktop environment was never comparable. Well, everything has changed! Beryl absolutely blows away any of the effects of the Vista operating system and even manages to build on and beat the effects of Apple’s OS X. The effects include wobbly windows, pull-and-peek windows, the amazing multi-desktop cube and many more. Talking about the effects is nothing like looking at them! Please click the images below to see the full screen image.

Wobbly Windowsz

Pull and Peek

Close Window - Flames

F8 Organization

Inside Cube

Outside Cube

Now, most the images are much more impressive in video form. Rather than create a video myself I figure I would provide a link. This video shows the visual effects of Vista then those of Ubuntu+Beryl. The music is not that bad so I urge you to watch the entire video. Trust me, you do not need a high end computer to get those effects. My nearly 4-year-old laptop can perform all of these.

If any of you ever want to “geek-out” and talk about operating systems, open-source software or anything tech please fire me an or IM. I would also appreciate any feedback regarding this article and suggestions on future tech-related articles you would like to see on Shift+Backspace.


Every so often I come across pages on the web that sparks an interest and further research. After a couple of months of running Shift+Backspace, a website with a focus on free and open-source software (commonly referred as FOSS), I figured it was time to share the definition of open-source for the general reader. Now, I do realize that there are many different licenses such as Creative Commons Attribution, GNU GPL, GPL 2, the forthcoming GPL 3 and many other, but this article is simply a generalization from the simple definition on The Open Source Initiative (OSI) website.


What exactly does the OSI do for open-source? Here is a short blurb from their website about who they are and what OSI sets out to do:

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community.

One of our most important activities is as a standards body, maintaining the Open Source Definition for the good of the community. The OSI Certified Open Source Software certification mark and program creates a nexus of trust around which developers, users, corporations and governments can organize open-source cooperation.

Recently I ordered a few books about open-source software in hopes of furthering my education of the open-source community. It is my hopes that sometime in the near future I can become a part of the OSI and help spread the word of open-source and the good it provides not only to users but to the sharing of knowledge around the globe.

But what classifies a project as open-source? For this we must read the Open Source Definition (OSD). Below are the 10 official OSD criteria (from the OSI website here) projects must satisfy in order to be classified as officially open-source (yes, it’s more than just releasing the source code):

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

If you want clarification on any of these 10 criteria the OSI has provided an annoted version of the OSD here. Stating the obvious, open-source is something I am very passionate about. I am still in the early stages of my research and understanding of everything open-source but hope that with time I will become both an expert and advocate on the subject.

Time for some R&R,