Last night I was sitting around watching some baseball when I decided to bring out my aging and dying laptop in hopes of writing a new article for Shift+Backspace. I booted the old Inspiron 8500 to find out that I still had an old beta version of Linux Mint 3. This spawned a great idea! I immediately downloaded the image file of the full-release version of Linux Mint 3.0 Cassandra. I now had my topic for the evening…a review of a complete operating system!

What is Linux Mint? For a nice succinct summary lets go to DistroWatch, the all-knowing Linux information site:

“Linux Mint is an Ubuntu-based distribution whose goal is to provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories.”

According to the DistroWatch ranking system, Mint has quickly jumped from a ranking of 44th in 2006 to 9th over the last 6 months to 5th and then 4th over the last 30 and 7 days, respectively.

FSDaily.com

by Margaret Wilson on

fsdailyJust a few minutes ago I was looking through statsistics as to where my site traffic comes from and noticed a new website, FSDaily.com, on the list. I had never heard of this site, even with all of my research into free and open-source software. The name stands for Free Software Daily and the site is essentially a user-contributed community like that found on on Digg, but with a focus on free software. My Amarok review was posted on the site and I was very impressed with how popular it appeared to be with the FSDaily community. FSDaily also uses the Pligg Content Management System, which I have been considering for the upcoming redesign of Shift+Backspace.

I was so impressed, not just with the content, but also the overall design of the site so I decided to email the creators in praise of their work and what they appear to be contributing to the free and open-source community. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any contact information, although I do believe I added one of the creators as a friend. Hopefully one of the creators will find this article and as I would love to learn more about FSDaily, its purpose and perhaps grab an interview.

I encourage anyone interested in free and open-source software to bookmark FSDaily.com, visit often and add me as a friend (username: antiprophet).

Keep up the great work FSDaily,

Cole

It’s true! This morning, Apple Store websites around the world were temporarily taken down while the update was being made. Both the 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros were given a very welcomed upgrade without any increase in price. All MacBook Pro flavours were given LED-backlit displays that are much more energy conscious as well as the new Intel Santa Rose platform in addition to to an upgrade to the Nvidia 8600M GT series of video cards. Also, the base model of the 15″ MacBook Pro now comes standard with 2GB of RAM and a new option for 1920×1200 resolution is available for the 17″ model!

Even more news, the Apple Eduction discount is now offering a FREE iPod Nano with the purchase of any Apple computer before September 16, 2007. That means that for me, in Canada, I can get the 15″ MacBook Pro + an iPod Nano for $1999 (ignoring taxes) with my educational discount! If anyone wishes to fund or put money into an “Apple for Cole” fund do not hesitate to contact me! Oh, and do not worry, as soon as I get one I will install Linux to dual boot with OS X.

For more details check out Gizmodo, Engadget, and the Apple.com.

Shockingly excited,

Cole

For those of you who use Ubuntu and have not heard of Automatix, stop reading and go get it! If you do not use Ubuntu, Automatix does support Debian Etch, Mepis, and Pioneer. Sorry, but other Linux distributions are out of luck, hopefully the team develops installers for other distros such as PCLinuxOS and Mandriva in the future. For those who use Windows or a Mac, well…continue reading to support Shift+Backspace!Automatix

Straight from their website, Automatix is:

“a graphical interface for automating the installation of the most commonly requested applications in Debian based Linux operating systems.”

Automatix contains many dozens of applications that help make the initial Ubuntu set up so much easier. While it does not contain some of the applications I commonly use (ie. Nvu and Amarok), it does contain 24 applications that I do install immediately. The most useful of which are:

  • many multimedia codecs
  • Java JRE with Firefox plugin
  • Flash player for Firefox
  • Extra fonts

Of course I install many other items from Automatix, but these specific ones make the transition much easier. For the Ubuntu beginner, the Flash player and Java JRE are extremely necessary and particularly difficult to install without Automatix. I also believe that the extra fonts package is a fairly recent and very welcomed addition as installing fonts one-by-one was getting to be a little tedious. For those who want to see what the program looks like, here are two screenshots:

Automatix is the first application I install when setting up Ubuntu and if you use Ubuntu, it may very well be the first for you as well. Currently, Automatix also offers some commercial applications such as CrossOver Office and Data Architect; this list should continue to grow after this announcement on May 8th:

“Automatix is collaborating with Technalign Inc. to bring a lot of new and exciting commercial software to Automatix users. An updated list can be found here.“

I look forward to seeing further development on this project and hopefully we will all see some releases for other non-Debian-based distributions. Unfortunately, Automatix may get some competition when CNR.com goes live. Once again, you can read more or get Automatix.

Cole

Everyone has software that they always install whenever they format their computer. There are dozens of such applications for me. One of which is the Avant Window Navigator. Apple has had tremendous praise for their OS X operating system and one feature simply known as “the Dock“. This is exactly what Avant attempts to replicate and I must say the creator, Neil Patel, has made a great piece of software.

As with nearly any software designed for Linux there are tons of customization options for the Avant Window Navigator. Colours by the bushel, fonts, behaviours, layout, and more can all be changed through the “Avant Preferences” menu. Applications can be added to the navigator by simply dragging the icon from the applications menu to Avant. When these applications are opened (by a single-click), the triangle below is removed notifying the user that the software is open; even applications that have not been added to the bar (for shortcut purposes) appear as Avant is designed to replace the taskbar and therefore shows icons for all running applications.

My AWN screenshot

Above is a screenshot of my Avant Window Navigator with my various programs appearing (as you can see I am rocking a sweet icon set based on OS X) including Firefox, Amarok, The GIMP and Audacity. One thing that I am particularly fond of when it comes to Avant is that when an action occurs in a program that is not currently active (ie. get and instant message), that icon begins to bounce and therefore directing attention towards that application.

If you are looking to acquire Avant Window Navigator you can get the source as well as some .rpm’s at the Google Code site; or, if you are an Ubuntu user, you can find instructions on how to use the repositories. I am looking forward to seeing future programs designed by the author of the Avant Window Navigator. Once again, be sure to check out his blog.

Before my full-time migration to Linux, I always used iTunes for playing my music and managing my iPod. I had always thought iTunes was as good as it could get as far as playing and managing MP3 files, especially when I after testing Linux software such as Banshee and Rythmbox. I have nothing bad to say about these 2 pieces of software, but they just did not seem to have the overall polish iTunes presented. All of this led me to trying the feature of this article, Amarok.

When I began to use Amarok (1.4.5) I immediately noticed a sense of polish and completion. Lets face it, when it comes to media players the interface is what can make or break a program as any player can playback a file by using the necessary codecs.

Personally, I find the interface extremely informative and easy to use. As you can see with the screenshot below there is a general menu at the top, another menu along the left-hand side, a control menu with visualizations at the bottom, and a list of the songs that makes up the bulk of the interface. You may have also noticed the list of artists that makes up about the left 1/4 of the screen. Depending on what left-sided menu item is chosen this area changes and is the focus of some great features that Amarok offers.

Amarok Interface

(Mis)adventures

by Margaret Wilson on

Yesterday afternoon I realized it was time for me to change my main Linux distribution in hopes of learning more about a different offering. At the time I was using Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) and was considering 2 other flavours of the Ubuntu code-base:

  • Kubuntu (KDE version of Ubuntu 7.04)
  • LinuxMint 3 Cassandra (based on Ubuntu 7.04)

As with any Linux distribution it is possible to make it whatever you want, as interface and software packages. Before installing I did to create two rules to ensure that I was choosing a sustainable flavour. After default installation (little, if no tweaking necessary) the distribution had to:

  • run natively in 1680×1050 resolution
  • run Beryl with no extra configuration of xorg.conf

Yes, both of these requirements involve my video card, but that is because I use an ATI X800XL and Linux has always had poor support for ATI vide cards (mostly due to ATI not supporting the open-source community; however, it looks like that will be changing shortly). Before Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, I was never able to configure these video drivers properly and easily spent many days trying to get acceleration to function. This is why I want them to work out-of-the-box.

KubuntuKubuntu 7.04. I decided to give Kubuntu a shot because I have always found myself using GNOME and thought it would be nice to give a go to the KDE desktop environment. I popped in the LiveCD and was immediately concerned about driver issues as my screen was at a low resolution of 1024×768. I continued on as I thought this may just be due to the use of the LiveCD and that after installation everything would be great. I was wrong. The resolution remained low, but I thought it should be working so I tinkered for a half hour and managed to get the resolution back to 1680×1050.

After that, I installed Beryl and gave it a run. Oh, it is not working! More issues with my video card configuration. I really wanted to give Kubuntu a shot as one of my friends swears by it, so I thought I would at least play around (without the goodness of Beryl). I was not as impressed as I had thought I would be. The menu seemed so cluttered with application after application starting with “K” (I realize why they do this) and installing .deb files was not nearly as clear as when using GNOME. I gave Kubuntu the axe (for now) and moved on to LinuxMint.

LinuxMintLinuxMint 3 Cassandra. LinuxMint is known for being a complete “out-of-the-box” distribution of Ubuntu. What do I mean by this? While Ubuntu is lean on the applications included (with such a large user base this is necessary), LinuxMint focuses on users that do not want to install additional, and common, applications after loading the operating system on their computer. Such software includes Java, Amarok, Pidgin, Azureus, Envy, Beryl, and the list goes on. Mint also uses the SLAB menu by default, which I find is particularly useful. So, LinuxMint is now installed and the same video issues exist. Once again I was able to get back the 1680×1050 resolution, but Beryl refused to work.

At this point I was frustrated, not at these wonderful distributions, but at the fact I am using an ATI video card. Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and LinuxMint all work great on my laptop at native resolution with Beryl working like a charm, even with the old, but Nvidia, video card. I realized it was time for me to return to Ubuntu and the commonalities provided by the GNOME environment and a functioning Beryl. But wait! Those Ubuntu discs I received in the mail have the exact problem Kubuntu and LinuxMint had with the video card. I kept trying to figure out why Feisty was working so well before without any video card configuration needed, then it hit me. I had always been installing the release candidate of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn.

I returned to my RC version of Ubuntu (which easily updates to the full-release edition) and I was able to have Beryl working as easily I had hoped it would be with Kubuntu and LinuxMint. Now, all I have to do is wait for AMD/ATI to release some open-source drivers that actually work or wait for Ubuntu to return to whatever driver they used in their release candidate of Feisty Fawn.

There you have it! Let me finish by saying this is by no means a review of these 2 other distributions, but a tale of my misadventures with my video card. I definitely believe that LinuxMint will have much success in the future because of the “bundle” they offer to users.

Cole

So, you had Linux running perfectly in a dual boot with Windows, but then Windows became “junked-up” and you needed to reinstall. You went through the agony of spending nearly an hour with the Windows setup and then many more hours installing drivers and software. Everything in Windows was now working appropriately so you decided to boot back into your Linux flavour of choice only to find that you could not boot it! Why? Windows took over the master boot record (MBR).

Allow me first to qualify why some Linux users still use Windows occasionally. Some games still do not run well in Linux even with the development of Wine and Cedega. For me, Battlefield 2 installed and ran using Wine; however, online play was not working properly because of the need to use PunkBuster. For this reason I must have a Windows installation on my PC.

When installing Linux after Windows, both GRUB and LILO boot loaders recognize that Windows exists and offers a menu during startup to select the operating system you wish to boot. Windows, on the other hand, believes it is the only operating system around and does not recognize a Linux installation exists and therefore does not offer a menu during the system boot. When I first came across this issue many years ago I figured there was nothing I could do about it and ever since have been installing Windows followed by Linux (however, I often feel my Linux installs do not require being reinstalled).

The solution

Ubuntu

The current Windows XP install on my machine was once again slowing down, possibly due to driver conflicts, but the reason is neither here nor there. I simply wanted to reinstall Windows as many Linux users would like to. I decided this time to find a solution so I would not have to ruin my near-perfect installation of Ubuntu. Venturing to the Ubuntu forums, I quickly found a thread offering a tutorial on accessing the Ubuntu installation. Basically, the issued is resolved by restoring GRUB (or LILO) and then pointing GRUB (or LILO) to both the Linux and Windows partitions, thereby allowing selection of the operating system of choice during boot. You can read the thread.

Another excellent article on editing GRUB can be found on the tuxmachines.org website.

Until next time,

Cole

 

There are many computer users throughout the world that either do not have access to the internet or do not own a CD/DVD burner. In the past, this has made acquiring Linux, or more specifically, Ubuntu, very difficult. Of course, you could always ask your friend for a copy of Ubuntu or use a neighbours computer to burn the image, but lets assume you have no friends and no neighbours. Basically, if you live in an area where there is postal service you can ask Ubuntu to send some discs to you!

I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. While Ubuntu states that it normally takes 4-6 weeks for delivery, I sent away for the discs on May 9th and received them today, May 28th. Why would I want Ubuntu discs when I already have the burned myself? Well, I am hoping to convince friends to convert from Windows and I feel that giving them an official CD shows that Ubuntu (and all Linux distributions) are serious contenders in the operating system arena. The discs, and their packaging, also have notes all over them asking users to “Pass it on!” to others as each copy can be installed on an unlimited number of computers, encouraging sharing. Selfishly, I also wanted the 4 free Ubuntu stickers that come with the discs.

I was very impressed with both the CDs and the stickers. Curious about the packaging and what the stickers look like? Check out these images I took earlier today:

Interested in requesting some discs? Order them here.

Time for some food,

Cole

If you follow the Linux community there is no doubt you frequent the DistroWatch website. For those of you who have never heard of DistroWatch, Wikipedia defines it well by saying:

DistroWatch is a popular website which provides news, popularity rankings, and other general information about various Linux distributions as well as other free software/open-source operating systems such as OpenSolaris and BSD. It now contains information on several hundreds of distributions.

It is by far the best resource for comparing different Linux distributions and being the first to provide release information for hundreds of Linux and other OS flavours.

One of the greatest features of DistroWatch is how they rank all of the distributions in their database based on the number of hits each gets per day. You can see the rankings on the right side of the landing page or (for more details) check out the popularity page here. When I looked at the rankings over the different time periods I noticed some pretty cool stuff. There is definitely a relationship between ranking and major releases, most notably on the shorter time periods.

Here are some other semi-interesting observations:

  • the same 4 distributions (Ubuntu, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, and Fedora) make up the top 4 in each of the last 4 time periods
  • Ubuntu is the overwhelming most popular distribution; however, with the release of PCLinuxOS 2007, Ubuntu has been pushed to a distant 2nd over the last month
  • Ubuntu Studio has started off strong since its release and is current #10
  • prior to 2005, Red Hat and Mandrake (now known as Fedora and Mandriva) dominated the top 2 positions

If you’re interested in Linux but are not quite sure what distribution to try, search around on DistroWatch, you will definitely find something that appeals to you. As always, if you have any questions about choosing a distro please feel free to , I always love talking Linux!

Cole