Posts tagged ‘Open Source’

How To Test Out Linux

I won’t bore you with my personal journey with Linux (it’s pretty much try, give up, try again, give up, try again, distro hop, pick a distro), but based on this comment, I thought it would be worthwhile discussing how best to try Linux out and the reasons you could find it useful to do so and why you may not find it so useful…  Call it a belated Christ-/Mithras-/Horus-mas present to the world.

First, the reasons people test out Linux.  These are many and varied, but the main ones seem to be: they heard it was cool, it was sold as a major panacea for all computing ills, they are geeks and think it’s de rigeur to do so, it looked good on a friend’s PC, it solves a problem they have, they are sick of lock in and viruses.  There are other reasons, but I think these are representative.  Here’s the thing: none of these reasons are bad reasons.  I have tried various things out over the years for similar reasons – some I have stuck with and some I haven’t.  The more rabid Linux evangelists will tell you that you have to try it and that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.  I’m not going to do that.  It would be great if the balance were tipped from proprietary OSes to the FOSS way, but I am realistic enough to know that this isn’t going to happen soon.  We are making major inroads, particularly on the server front, but by being realistic I have more chance of being persuasive.

If you are planning (however vaguely) to try out Linux I cannot stress this enough: do your research.  Look at the more popular distributions and check that your hardware is supported and won’t have any major issues.  Google is an excellent resource for this, Linux is an operating system that wouldn’t have come in to being without the internet and problems and fixes are discussed widely all over the place.  Head over to Distrowatch and see what people are looking into, hit the various websites that distributions have and see what they look like and make sure that you feel comfortable with the look and feel of the distribution.

An amazingly cool resource that will be of great help is the Live CD.  This gives you an entire operating system on either a CD or DVD.  Many distros offer this and you can use them to see whether Linux is for you and to test out what a distro will look like and get a great feel for the usage.  You can use them for diagnosing and fixing problems or as a handy and portable method for always having Linux on whichever PC you use.  They do not make changes to your hard drive and so you don’t have to install anything.  For the price of the download and a blank CD or DVD you can save yourself a lot of hassle.

Investigate dual booting.  You don’t have to wipe your current OS to test out another system, you can simply give it space on your hard drive and switch between.  This will give you the best idea of how it will work with your system and whether it will be for you on a daily basis.  Dual booting is pretty simple and straightforward.  It will also enable you to research problems on your known working OS if you do hit snags.

Don’t give up on your first failure.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen posts about how crap Linux is only to find that the poster has used it for a few hours and given up at the first hurdle.  Remember that Windows has a major lock in with a number of hardware vendors (and Mac restricts the hardware it will run on) and also software vendors.  This means that hardware and software will always work on those systems because the vendors will make it work.  Most of the drivers and software on Linux only run because the coders are dedicated and intelligent enough to make it work.  (I won’t go into the “Linux is a kernel not an OS” here because it’s irrelevant to the discussion)  For a good chunk of it’s life, Linux coders worked for the joy of coding and the fact that it runs so well on such varied hardware is testament to their skill and dedication.

Finally, research, research, research.  I’m going to mention this again because it is all important.  Think about what you want to run it on – if you have any obscure hardware or important hardware (webcams, scanners, ISP provided modems) look around the web to see if they are supported.  If you have a particular piece of software that you absolutely must have running look to see if there’s a Linux version or if there is a different piece of software that will run just as well.  Read Linux Is Not Windows – it may be a few years old, but it is still relevant.

None of this is rocket science.  It’s been a few years since Linux emerged from the “geeks only” state to an “anyone can get it running state.”  You can install Linux in around 20 minutes (from start to finish) and you will have a full desktop and a varied amount of software.  There are some 40,000+ software packages available for it from a variety of resources, so it’s likely that you will find the software you need.  You don’t have to reboot after each software install or update.  There are no real viruses available for it and malware just isn’t there.  Out of the box, it is more secure than Windows and will cost you a lot less in monetary terms.  You can distribute it freely and legally and this is explicit in the licence.  You don’t have to agree to EULAs or other restrictive licences.

So there you are, that’s how to do it.  If you want to know how not to do it, just don’t follow my advice.  The vast majority of people who fail to install and run Linux (or one of the BSDs or any other alternative OS) do so because they went in with the wrong attitude.  Before you can ride a bike or drive a car or do most tasks, there are steps to take before you do it – and computers are no different.  There is no magic bullet which will make you an automatic expert, despite the advertising, the only real way to do it is to research and persevere.  If you do decide to stick with it there are any number of resources that will assist you, from hard copy books to online forums to blogs like this.  If you stick with it you will be part of a community and a movement and will meet many interesting and fun people.  My first trip to the US was off the back of Linux – so how’s that, run an OS and travel the world?

Google Chrome for Linux

I have seen a variety of stories around the web extolling the virtues of the new browser from Google: Google Chrome.  At the moment, it is still a beta available only for Windows and Mac, but it seems to be an, erm, internet browser I suppose.

To be perfectly honest and frank, I find it incredibly difficult to get excited about a web browser.  To me, the browser is a tool, not a way of life.  For comparison, go now and find a carpenter – I’ll wait.  Got one?  Good.  Now explain to your carpenter that there is a new hammer available.  Gauge the carpenter’s reaction.  Now contrast and compare with all the hoopla over Google’s offering.  Now decide who the hammer should be used on.

Gosh, I sound grumpy, don’t I?  The fact is that Chrome looks like a decent offering.  It has tabbed browsing, which we all should now expect.  It has a way to import your bookmarks from your existing browsers, again, we should all expect that.  It displays pages from the internet.  The best thing, in my opinion, is that it is very minimal and there is little that is not functional about it:

Chrome tab and menu bar

Chrome tab and menu bar - click for full pic

As you can see, it has a very clean look.  Unless Google decide to add masses of bolt ons, it should be a very useful browser indeed.  But they didn’t release it for Linux.  The bastards.  Many of Google’s apps have Linux counterparts – Picasa being one of them.  Now these aren’t direct ports, they usually have Wine embedded in them to make them work.  But not Chrome – Chrome can be beta tested by Windows and Mac users, but not Linux users.  This seems a little unfair to me.  After all, it is arguable that the only reason Internet Explorer was forced to improve and to offer tabbed browsing was down to the success of the Mozilla and Firefox browsers.  Even now, does anyone really care at all about Safari?

Luckily, innovation and awkwardness come naturally to the plucky programmers with an interest in Linux.  CodeWeavers have, again, stepped up to the mark.  With Crossover Chromium available for free (as in no cost) they have enabled us to use Chrome via the CodeWeavers Wine implementation.  Which means that I am able to download it and show you this (click the pic for full size):

Chrome on Debian Linux

Chrome on Debian Linux

In an ideal world, there would be no need for Wine, Cedega, Play on Linux or CodeWeavers to exist.  In an ideal world all apps would be available for all platforms.  In this world, though, they are needed and gratefully so.  It is the work of CodeWeavers and Wine that helps to break down the final barriers for a lot of people – those people who really need to run Microsoft applications but who want to also run Linux.

Anyway, to step down off my soapbox, Chrome (in it’s beta state) looks to be a useful addition to the current crop of browsers available.  It is one in a line of Google applications, along with GMail, Calendar, Talk, Docs, Video and the rest.

Test Driving Kubuntu 8.04

For all of my love of control and the other great stuff that comes with my usual distro, I also like to try out new thingsThe Kubuntu Logo and see what’s going on elsewhere. To that end I decided to give Kubuntu a go. And I have been pleasantly surprised.

Firstly, the install itself. When you first boot up the build disk you are given several options, the one to use the disk as a live disk is still there, but you can choose to install directly from boot (as with other distros), I chose that and it went very quickly, as you would expect. I won’t go through the steps here as there were only a small number. Kubuntu installs a limited number of apps on first install, leaving you to use them or add to them as you wish.

The basic Kubuntu desktop with DVD inserted

All of my hardware was detected and installed, even my wireless card, with no tweaking from me. On first boot you are presented with an empty KDE 3.5.9 desktop – the trash icon is down by the clock. Very clean, very attractive. All the apps (where possible) are KDE apps – Kopete for IM, Konqueror for browsing, digiKam for photo management and so on. Oddly, the office suite is rather than KOffice – probably because OO.o is the most well known. Loooking through Adept (rather than Synaptic) you can also choose to install Firefox 3 instead of (or as well as) Firefox The software is new enough without being totally bleeding edge and seems very stable.

As I’m a laptop user, I have the suspend/hibernate options available and so far have briefly tested suspend. It works absolutely fine with no tweaking – though it should be said that I am on a Thinkpad R40 which is old enough that it should work: there are no brand new bits of kit to get used to. I suspended for a few seconds and it came back with only one problem: randomly keys repeat even though I only press quickly. This may not be down to Kubuntu, though I haven’t seen it in either Debian or Slackware. Small gripe number 2: my wireless card had to be removed and reseated as hibernation disabled it. It’s PCMCIA though, so a matter of a second to get it redetected. Otherwise, suspend seems to work well and with minimal problems. To compare with a well known OS, I have known of Windows laptops to also have great issues with suspend and hibernate, so it shouldn’t be taken as a showstopper or that Kubuntu is left wanting.

For those of us who find sick pleasure in having to search for solutions to things that you would expect to work well, Kubuntu comes up trumps. I wanted to test playback of commercial DVDs and so assumed that they would work out of the box. Not so. Because of legal limitations on libdvdcss in various countries, you need to install that seperately. This is a 2 step process as I have learned: first you install the Medibuntu repositories. Medibuntu stands for “Multimedia, Entertainment & Distractions In Ubuntu” and provides for all the codecs you need to play various multimedia files but are restricted from doing so in various countries. This will give you win32 codecs and libdvdcss – among others. The latest version of libdvdcss is 1.2.9 and does not work. Instead, you need 1.2.5 and everything works fine. Unfortunately, when Kaffeine loads up it tries to find this itself and looks to which doesn’t have the required files. Hopefully this will be fixed in future releases because it gave me a frustrating time. Instead you should run /usr/lib/kaffeine/install-codecs and, after accepting the legal warning, it installs the older version and gets things running.

Kaffeine playing \

(click for better quality)

In previous versions of Kubuntu, I have fallen foul of the root user/password restriction. Some programs require root rather than sudo access. So far, this hasn’t been an issue. Frankly 8.04 seems, within the first 24 hours of usage, to be the first version I could envisage keeping on my system for more than few days. It seems stable and doesn’t have any long term quirks that would prompt me to remove it.

A good first system for the average computer user and a decent system for someone who doesn’t want to have to delve too deeply into the inner workings of the OS.

Download the current version here. Get the KDE 4 Remix version here.

Installing KMyMoney

Windows users have long had the very well known apps MS Money and Quicken to enable them to manage their finances. Both have been around for a number of years and are mature products in software terms. Those of us running Linux, however, have our own options. If you really need either of the 2 Windows applications, Crossover Office by CodeWeavers can be of great help.

But we don’t want to do that now, do we? As Linux users, we much prefer to use native apps because of their stability, the fact that we can be sure that we can use all the features and because we like to support free and open source projects. There are several options available to us, GnuCash and KMyMoney are the more popular ones (MoneyDance is also available, but you have to buy it to use it beyond a free trial). Because I’m a KDE user, I will be going with KMyMoney and because I’m a Slacker I’ll be installing it from source.

As usual, I will be talking us through installing any dependencies and using copious screenshots where applicable. And, as usual, we will see that installing from source is not scary and is quite easy. This will all start after the jump.

Step 1, obviously, is to download KMyMoney itself. There is a download link on the site’s homepage which takes us to the download files. You can follow the link I have provided, but I would strongly recommend going via the site itself – at this time of writing, the current version is 0.8.8, but by the time you come to do this, it could well be at a different version or different location.

Step 2 is to check the mandatory requirements for installation. For versions above 0.7 you need KDE 3.2 or above. I have KDE 3.5.7 so I’m covered. Qt is also a requirement, it is required for KDE so KDE users are fully covered. If you do not run KDE on your system, you will need to install the kde-libs file and other base files. And of course, qt. If you already run other KDE programs you should be nicely covered.

Open a terminal and cd to the location you downloaded the installation files to. If you prefer to work in the GUI for these things, open your file browser and extract the files as you would normally. Since I am working in a terminal, I type tar jxvf kmymoney2-0.8.8.tar.bz2. There is good reason for this – the archive is in bzip2 format rather than the usual tar.gz format. The slower extraction route is to use bunzip2 to reduce the file to a tar file and then untar it, but the method I listed does it all in one. You should now have a folder called kmymoney2-x.x.x (where x.x.x is the version number). Now cd into the new folder.

As ever, the two most important files to read are the INSTALL and README files as they will tell us whether we need to pass any arguments to the install process or if we need any extra dependencies. The INSTALL file is the generic one, which suggests to me that we can just run the standard ./configure, make and make install process but I will be reading the README file to confirm this.

The README is very detailed and gives us a table to look at for when we are planning our installation. Unfortunately, the README file seems to have been frozen at or about Slackware 9.0 and so is incorrect. Prior to Slackware 12.0, the KDE files were stored in /opt/kde, but are now stored in /usr. No big deal, if you are using Slackware 9.0 – 11.0 use the instructions in the README file, if you are on 12.0 follow mine (for this step).

Type in, as your normal user account NOT as root: ./configure --prefix=/usr (using the prefix tells the installer where KDE can be found. It may not be necessary as the installer will probably look there anyway, but do it). Let it run and then check the bottom of the output for any errors – as ever, this will also tell you if there were unfound dependencies.

At the end of all that, I received the following message:

Configure results:
Memory leak check support: no

KBanking support: no
You are missing the KBanking headers and libraries
The HBCI support won't be compiled.

OFX plugin: no
You are missing the libofx headers and libraries
The OFX plugin won't be compiled.

OFX direct connect: disabled

CPPUNIT support: no
You are missing the CPPUNIT headers and libraries
The unit test framework support won't be compiled.
This is not relevant for the usage of the application.
Unit tests are only required by the developers.

Good - your configure finished. Start make now

So I know it went well. The support sections that I am missing are unimportant to me as I neither need them or will want to use them – read the site to find out more.

Next step, still in my normal user account, is to run make. This will take a little longer, so feel free to make a drink, walk the dog, go relieve yourself or whatever. Once that is complete, switch to the root account and run make install:

<enter root password>
make install
su -c "make install"
<enter root password> – it’s entirely up to you.

Once this is all done successfully, you will now have KMyMoney installed and available in your menu – for me it’s under Office. Open it and you will see this (click all thumbnails to see full size):

Start Screen

Enter your personal details to start the setup process
Personal Details

Select your base/home currency (this can be changed later if needs be)
Select Base Currency

What’s new in this release
What’s new in this release

Additionally, the KDE Handbook now has a section for KMyMoney which can talk you through the sections. If you use internet banking, download statements in .qif (Quicken) format and you can then import the files to your template and use them. You can also export KMyMoney files to Quicken format.

Enjoy but remember, this program can only show you your current financial status, keeping your head above water is entirely up to you!

2007 Members Choice Awards

Yep, it’s that time of year again, go now to the Members Choice Awards Forum and cast your vote for the following:

The winners get a nice framed certificate and you get the warm glow from making your vote count.

Slackware 12 in Da House

Having tried a number of different distros over the years, I always enjoy reinstalling and running Slackware. For a number of reasons, I was running Kubuntu for a while – if you need to be up and running in little time and have a fully functional and straightforward desktop, you could do a lot worse than use one of the *buntus.

However, Pat released Slackware 12.0 and I had to have it. One of the reasons that I was using Kubuntu was that 12.0 was a release candidate (meaning it was almost finished) and the pain of going from 11.0 to 12.0 via the upgrade route just seemed a bit too much like hard work.

So, what did I do? Well Drew kindly suggested a download site for the .iso (since my torrent download seemed corrupt). I tried getting just CD1 and it wouldn’t work. I even installed the USB boot disk to an old Dell 64mb USB stick I had lying around and still no go. I eventually obtained the full DVD iso file form – it was fast, just 4 hours for a full download and the file worked. And lo, I was ready to rock and roll.

So, what’s it like then? Pat has cut down on the number of kernels in this release – in fact, there are just 3 kernels available: speakup, huge and hugesmp. All are kernels and none are acpi enabled. Which is a shame because I liked the old 2.4 bareacpi kernel. Maybe in the next release eh?

KDE is at version 3.5.7 and Pat has moved it out of /opt and into /usr. This will take a little getting used to but is a minor annoyance. X is now far more modular, so there are a lot more packages to choose from than before. Again, fairly minor, but future updates should be quicker as the whole X system is split across many smaller packages. XMMS is gone and replaced by Audacious – no biggie for me as I didn’t use XMMS. And Pidgin is in this release – - I think (though don’t quote me) that this is the first Linux distro to include the new name in the install. Others still have Gaim. As I said, don’t quote me. Also, you are no longer prompted to make a boot floppy, you are now prompted to make a boot USB disk.

The install is very quick and as easy and straightforward as ever. If you dislike the options in the kernel supplied with 12.0 either recompile it or grab the latest kernel (like what I did) and compile it instead. If you wish to take the latter route, the latest kernel is 2.6.22 and Alien Bob has a very easy to follow article on his wiki about compiling a kernel for Slackware. He also has a large number of Slackbuilds and are, I believe, recompiled for 12.0. If that’s not enough, had 12.0 compatible slackbuilds available within hours of 12.0 being released. Incidentally, Alien Bob and at least one of the nice people at post on (the Slackware sub-forum is the official Slackware forum – accept no substitutes – and Pat has endorsed it) and I am one of the moderaters there, so you have no excuse for not believing either of us.

Anyone who has run Slackware before will know what to expect – a lightweight, very configurable system that has most things you need out of the box. Hunt down my post here on installing MPlayer and the mplayer-plugin and you really can’t go wrong. If you are new to Slackware, you are most definitely in for a treat.