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


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 website.

Until next time,



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,


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!



by Margaret Wilson on

Earlier today my Google Reader fed me some news about Zonbu, the new “$99 Linux PC”. The first thing I should point out about Zonbu is that in order to buy one for $99 you must sign a 2-year contract ($249 without). But what would a contract be without monthly payments? Well, Zonbu has 3 different plans (25GB, 50GB and 100GB models for $12.95, $14.95 and $19.95 respectively). Assuming the middle-of-the-road 50GB plan this amounts to $457.80 (US dollars without taxes) over the 2-year period. What exactly does the subscription get you? According to their website subscription costs provide:

Zonbu offers three different storage plans, all of them with automatic backup, applications and OS maintenance, free upgrade to the latest version of all the applications, three-year free box replacement guarantee, and unlimited Internet support.

Time to get into some of the Zonbu technology. On the Zonbu website the hardware is summarized as follows:

  • Intel-like ultra-low power CPU
  • 256 MB RAM + 2GB flash-based local storage
  • Graphics up to 1400 x 1050 (16 million colors).
    Hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
  • PC-compatible ports for keyboard and mouse
  • 6 USB ports to plug-and-play all standard USB accessories
  • Broadband ready: 10/100MB Ethernet built-in.

While many of components appear lower-end we must realize that this is not a gaming PC or media-editing powerhouse. It is built to be quiet and functional for the average user. Also, the operating system is a custom version of Gentoo that has been tweaked for the specific hardware in Zonbu.

The different capacities mentioned with the three subscriptions revolve around allocated storage space on Amazons S3 servers. This means that all user data is stored on remote servers and uses the flash storage in Zonbu as a cache for the data. I think that this is a brilliant idea, particularly for ensuring protection against data loss. Problems with this concept may include speed of uploading/downloading but I feel that most Zonbu users should not have a problem with these factors. Lets take a look at Amazons S3 pricing. Assuming 50GB of storage and 25GB of uploading/downloading of data throughout the month the total is $12.50 per month. This makes Zonbu’s monthly pricing look even better as it includes all of the other services mentioned previously.

When reading the Zonbu “hands-on” article on Gizmodo I was initially skeptical about the inability to install software, but further reading provided me with a better feeling. First, the subscription services includes OS updates such as new software (and apparently the people behind Zonbu are committed to high-quality open-source software. Also, while I require control over the software on my computer, I do not feel that the target market for Zonbu needs this control. The software list includes most of the open-source software I use right down to using Nvu as a development environment for websites. My readings on both news sites and the Zonbu site I have the feeling that if increased function is required (via software) it will be implemented.

In the hopes of avoiding a comments flame-war I want to say that I do not believe Zonbu will change the way computing is done overnight, but instead, provide an option to the average home user that wants to create documents, browse the internet and interact with media. I think that the use of Amazons S3 servers is a fantastic idea. As network speeds increase I believe that computing in the Zonbu way will take off, but until then slow speeds (even 10Mbit connections) will hinder this adoption.

For a much more complete article (with images and a video) about Zonbu please check out the Gizmodo article here.


Some Aptitude Fun!

by Margaret Wilson on

For those of you out there that use APT as your package manager in Linux, I have something fun for you to try! Open a Terminal and type the following commands:

apt-get moo

aptitude -v moo

aptitude -vv moo

(continue until 6 v’s)

Users of GNOME give this one a shot! Press Alt+F2 to run a command then type “free the fish” and run it!

Not a Linux user? I took a screenshot of Terminal with each command being executed. See it here! If you come across any other “easter-eggs” or fun commands please or post them in the comments.

Recent Dabblings

by Margaret Wilson on

Over the last week I have been testing various Linux distributions to ensure that Ubuntu is the best one for me. There really is not anything scientific to this article as I basically only spent a few hours with each to get a general idea about the system. Yes, I do realize that Linux is meant to be customized and that any distribution can basically look like any other; however, in this case I am just looking at the clean install with no customization. Below are my brief notes on each distro.

openSUSEopenSUSE is arguably the second most popular Linux distribution, next to Ubuntu. I have installed SUSE years ago, but it never stuck with me, which is why I decided to give it another shot. I downloaded the openSUSE 10.2 image file and burned it to disc to install on my laptop. My laptop is a Dell Inspiron 8500 and is approximately 4 years old, but hey, Linux is not so fussy on requirements so I figured it should be more than adequate to run any Linux distribution.

Okay, lets get to the notes on openSUSE. First, the installation wizard is extremely user friendly and anyone who has ever installed Windows will have no problems installing openSUSE. However, installation speed is my biggest caveat. It took almost an hour and fifteen minutes, whereas Ubuntu installs in about 15 minutes. I realize there was more software for openSUSE to install, but anything over 30 minutes is unacceptable. Once installed, openSUSE is a breeze to use. I felt the support for my hardware (particularly wireless card and videocard) was top notch and even better than Ubuntu. During the install you have the option to install either the GNOME or KDE desktop environment (more on this in a future article). Other than the slow installation I can definitely see why openSUSE is one of the most popular distributions.

DebianWhile Ubuntu is based on Debian , I have never actually used the Debian distribution so it was next on my list to try. For this installation I decided to use the “net install”. This allowed me to download a small 200MB image file which begins the install process and then fetches the other packages over the network. Even with the Debian installer grabbing nearly a gigabyte of data over the network the entire installation took approximately a half hour. When I booted Debian for the first time I noticed the desktop looks almost identical to that of Ubuntu. Actually, nearly everything is just like Ubuntu; however, it lacked much of the Ubuntu ease-of-use. While Ubuntu is easy to use for anyone who has ever used Windows, Debian requires a stronger background and should generally only be used by those comfortable with the command line.

Site Map

MEPISFinally we have a Linux distribution named SimplyMEPIS. I installed version 6.5, which was just recently released to public. The MEPIS image disc can be used to load a “live CD” version of MEPIS, allowing users to try it out before committing to an installation (Ubuntu and many other distros have this feature as well). Once the live CD loaded I went ahead and began installing. The installer for MEPIS is very well organized and just as good as those in Ubuntu and openSUSE. Installation was similar to that of Ubuntu and clocked in around 16 minutes. Once complete, I immediately booted into MEPIS and was extremely impressed. The hardware support of my laptop was top-notch and apparently Beryl installs automatically during the MEPIS installation (and works likes a charm). I can’t say enough about the default interace as everything just seems to be perfect. KDE is the default environment, but seems to be customized better than any other KDE default I have seen. MEPIS has remained on my laptop since I installed it and I am confident it will remain. I am hoping to get an install of MEPIS going on my desktop to see how it performs with everyday tasks including virtualization of Windows installs.

If you do not want to give Ubuntu a shot then I highly recommend you give SimplyMEPIS 6.5 a try. I am really looking forward to using it more often in the future. At the moment I am downloading the image files for FreeBSD 6.2 (BSD is Unix-based but different from Linux in some ways…I am hoping to find out how different). I should have more on this and more in the coming weeks.

For those in Canada, have a great long-weekend!


Linux Cartoons

by Margaret Wilson on

I was stumbling across the ‘net last night and came across a website devoted to popular cartoons and their strips that have involved Linux.

Dilbert, March 29 and 30, 1999

Foxtrot, August 16, 1999

Foxtrot, February 2, 2000

If you would like to see more please check out the site. Also, if you ever come across other geeky comments or fun stuff please send the links !Maximizing and minimizing since 1992.


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.


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.