Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “May, 2007”

Loose ends and future planning

With just four days to go before the publisher’s deadline the book and the DVD are almost finished. Today I solved the final issues with the DVD. I am waiting for my co-writer to finish up his part and then the whole thing can go into the final phase.

No matter how well (or not) it will do in the bookstores it was an interesting time. I don’ t think I ever dug this deep into Windows or Linux before. And there is enough material left to write another book or a whole series of articles.

With the end of this project in sight it is time to make preparations for the time ahead. I want to write extensive reviews about the top ten distributions on Distrowatch. There is work to be done to expand the idea of the Linux Proliferation Agreement and I want to add rich e-learning materials to the Ubuntu W2L edition, which I want to give the nickname ‘ Renaissance’

Why ‘Renaissance’? For some time I am attracted to the concept of the ‘Renaissance man‘. No, I am not talking about the movie with Danny Devito, but the concept that describes someone who is educated in multiple fields. I truly believe that developing multiple skills and gain wide and deep knowledge make someone more complete.

Linux is about empowering people in the field of computing, but it also gives them access to a wide collection of specialized software to develop other abilities, only being hindered by their own choices. The Ubuntu W2L edition comes with a wide variety of software, so the nickname ‘Renaissance’ seemed appropriate.

In line with this concept, I also have some projects in the making that have nothing to do with IT or Linux, but everthing to do with the work I do in the congregation. Two public talks about scriptural subjects, the first one in July and the second in September. I guess I don’ t have time to get bored.

Ubuntu W2L edition beta 2

What is the Ubuntu W2L edition about?

We are working on a book about Ubuntu Linux that aims at Windows users who want to migrate to Linux or are considering it. The book is a step-by-step migration guide, but also want to provide a wide overview of what Linux has to offer for office applications, multimedia (audio, video, graphics and webdesign) and communications (chat, blogging, e-mail, newsgroups, peer2peer, voip and browsing). We made the decision not to use the default Ubuntu CD or create a multiboot Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu DVD, but to integrate the three desktop environments and add about 80 more programs. In this way no install or download is needed to follow all that is discussed in the book. We use the perspective of the Windows user (the graphical interface) as a starting point and go deeper into the system from there on. We don’t shun the commandline, but introduce it gradually and provide more information later in the book. Sorry (and I don’t want to spoil things here) but the book will be in Dutch. Our deadline with the publisher is June 1st (no we are not worried yet 😉 ) and the book will be in the stores late August, early September.

Anyway, the first beta had some downloads and we did get some good feedback on the first beta. We would like to thank all for that. Between that one and this release a few things changed:

(1) Reconstructor was updated to version 2.6, and

(2) UbuntuStudio was released.

The release of UbuntuStudio provided me with metapackages for audio, video and graphics software that I previously had to select and add one by one (well, one big apt-get install instruction, but you understand the difference). We also had some discussion whether we should add all restricted codecs and drivers to the DVD.

This is the second and final beta release and -if you have the time to spare- we would really appreciate some test rounds with this one as well. What will you find:

– the following repositories in the sources.list: universe, multiverse, restricted, medibuntu and canonical commercial

– kubuntu-desktop, xubuntu-desktop, edubuntu-desktop and ubuntustudio-desktop

– ubuntustudio-audio (without the low latency kernel), ubuntustudio-video and ubuntustudio-graphics

– language packs (Dutch)

– koffice, korganizer, gnome office, gnucash, kmymoney2, grisbi, amsn, kmess, blogtk, drivel, gnome-blog, azureus, skype, banshee, exaile, streamtuner, streamripper, kstreamripper, lastfm,, kaudiocreator, lame, wine, amule, frostwire, pan, knode, liferea, mplayer, mozilla-mplayer, istanbul, gtkpod-aac, acidrip, p7zip-full, rar, unrar, zip, unzip, amaya, anjuta, gnome-art, beryl-manager, beryl-settings, beryl-settings-simple, bluefish, bum, krusader, gnochm, devede, dosemu, gcompris, etherape, firestarter, gdesklets, hubackup, jpilot, multisync, libmultisync-plugin-all, kerry, kpilot, kwifimanager, bcm43xx-fwcutter, ntfs-config, planner, qcad, quanta, kompare, kxsldbg, kimagemapeditor, cervisia, rawstudio, rsibreak, scite, screem, taskjuggler, ttb, ndisgtk, xaralx, xchat, abiword-plugins-gnome, tuxpaint, gnumeric-doc, gnumeric-plugins-extra, msttcorefonts, beagle-backend-evolution, vlc, mozilla-plugin-vlc, googleearth, ffmpeg.

– Picasa, VirtualBox and Opera

– for Windows added (which you will see when mounting the DVD under Windows).

We didn’t change anything in the artwork, so everything is vanilla Ubuntu, Kubuntu of Xubuntu with the Edubuntu and UbuntuStudio themes available. You might also call this a ‘fat’ version of Ubuntu.

The DVD can be downloaded via bittorrent through LinuxTracker.

Tags: Ubuntu

Column: Sturm und Drang

It can never hurt to get yourself a Communications 101 course. I did get some more than that during my university years, but let’s stick to a simple model of communication. You have a sender/transmitter, the message and the receiver. To make it somewhat more complete: also take the medium into account as the carrier of the message. Just keep this model in mind with basically all forms of communication and see how much the wiser you get.

Who could avoid the uproar in the Linux world in the last week. The Big Enemy from Redmond U.S.A., known in some circles as Microsoft -the near monopolist in desktop operating systems- went a bit “loco” in the head and accused Linux of patent infringes. 235 infringes! This was such a veil attack that forceful countermeasures were warranted. A how forcefully the responses were on numerous websites and weblogs. A real “Sturm und Drang” with a sprinkle of primal scream  here and there.

Back to Communications 101. The article that caused the uproar was an interview of Fortune reporter Roger Parloff with some Microsoft head hotshots Brad Smith en Horacio Gutierrez. What was the medium or carrier? The CNN Money website!. Indeed, the number one website for hardcore IT-news. Not! The message was never intended for the Linux world, but for Corporate America, to the CEO’s and board rooms of the Fortune 500 companies (or the wannabe’s and wanna-be-there’s). In the U.S.A.. Why is this important? First, we do well to realize that litigation is an integral part of the business warchest of American corporate culture. It is an acceptable instrument and one no company will want to blunt in public. The shareholders accept nothing less than a company willing to do everything to legally protect their interests.

What was the message for Corporate America? The description of the Linux world is a tale in itself. Richard Stallman was presented as someone with a heartfelt loathing for patents -considered part of the life blood for companies and their R&D departments- and the look and lack of flexibility of and Old Testament prophet. The reporter makes a side remark about Eben Moglen that he is professor in the history of political economy. Short translation: Moglen is a Marxist. Stallman then appears as accommodating as Bin Laden. Since Fortune refused to comply with Richard’s demand to be consistent in the use of GNU/Linux he did not cooperate in preparation for the article. And then the world of Linux itself. Ridiculous, it is an amorphous mass of developers and companies and nobody can be held accountable. No one is accountable!!! That must some communist ragtag band. The article really pulled out all old images of Capitalism versus Communism. Why did the reporter not present the CEO’s of IBM, Canonical or Red Hat? Imagine, Linux might even appear “salonfähig” (to use another good German phrase) enough for the board rooms.

We -in the Linux world- really want to know specifically which Microsoft patents are violated by our favorite operating systems. Personally I am convinced that I violate one or more patents when I open my eyes in the morning, completely aware that some company had that action patented. Anyway, Microsoft came up with some numbers. Linux kernel: 42 patents, graphical user interface: 65 patents, 45 patents, e-mail: 15, all others: 68. Only 45 infringes for Gee. Maybe the boys and girls in Redmond need to take a closer look because there should me more. The complete interface and functionality is so Office97 that it hurts my eyes. Anyway, the accusation is nothing new and we still have the same information we had a year ago.

Is it all bluff? Or can the claims be substantiated? It is part of a poker game. Not with Microsoft and the Linux community as the key players, but with Microsoft and Corporate America who may thin migrating to Linux is a bargain. The majority of the patents appears to focus on the desktop side where Microsoft makes it’s money through Vista and Office. At the same time it also the market place where it can not act too aggressively to push a small, minute competitor away. Now, the server market is a whole different ballgame. Microsoft is meeting tough and fierce competition from Linux and Unix derivates. Sun (with Solaris in the field) is buddy buddy with Microsoft. Novell is playing nice at well, at least for the next couple of years. It is fighting on a par with the other players to get the contracts for the Fortune 500 companies. Linux is not the underdog here. Now, it might not seem nice to present your competition as a group of fundamentalist communist thieves without respect for intellectual property, bit how often does the Linux world refers to Microsoft as some capitalist monopolistic robber baron. That’s also not nice, don’t you think?

Suppose for a moment that Microsoft is correct and that Linux infringes 235 patents. As far as I am concerned Microsoft can make a full disclosure tomorrow in exchange for a promise that we will stop using all code that is tainted. All of it, with no exceptions and no questions asked. No counter litigation. Nothing. I really believe we should deal with these threats by following two established traditions. One is the example set by the Debian project. There has been some criticism about the decision to remove the name and logo of Firefox and Thunderbird due to limiting copyrights, but it does prevent software with any limiting rights entering the repositories. The other example is BSD. In the early days of BSD the developers created a list of code that was not free and wrote new code to replace it. The didn’t fight the position of the rights owner, but focused on making new, free code. How long would this take for the 235 infringes? I have no idea, but it didn’t take the BSD team long when they had to do it and it only consisted of a handful of people. 235 problems to be solved by a worldwide community of hackers in cooperation with multiple big companies. It could take maybe two or three years but it would be done with the tide on our side. Endusers who know why we take one step back now will wait out this period.

Microsoft plays the game well. It’s message was directed at Corporate America, a warning that Linux might be less cheap than some CEO’s think. Maybe the Linux world should remember the Carly Simon song: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, don’t you…”.

This column was originally written for the Dutch website Digiplace, a meeting place for Linux users.

Tags: Linux, Microsoft

Adding Ubuntu Studio packages to Feisty Fawn

The information provided yesterday about adding the Ubuntu Studio theme to my Feisty Fawn box opened the way for another experiment. With the Ubuntu Studios repositories added to my sources.list it should be possible to install all specific packages via Synaptic. I know, you can do it also via the commandline, but I was curious how it was organized.

Using “ubuntustudio” as search phrase revealed the list of specific packages. First, the three ‘main’ sets: ubuntustudio-audio (and -plugins, to be complete), ubuntustudio-graphics and ubuntustudio-video. Then the “look and feel” materials for artwork, GDM, theme, wallpapers, icons, usplash and an all-out ubuntustudio-look metapackage.

In creating my “own” Ubuntu W2L edition I added most music, graphics and video programs one by one, using the “apt-get install” instructions (with multiple programs after “install”, of course). I was curious how many of those programs found their way into Ubuntu Studio. So I tagged the whole list in Synaptic and installed all.

When everything was finished a reboot was required and found myself with a system without the X server. It didn’t work anymore. dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg wasn’t a big help, but another reboot and a very fast ESC was. Ubuntu Studio apparently uses another kernel for low latency. With GRUB in sight I could boot into the generic kernel. From then on I edited the /boot/grub/menu.list file and removed the entries for the new kernel. Just to be sure I did a /usr/sbin/grub-install.

Now, what I don’t know is how this will influence the functionality of some programs that come with Ubuntu Studio, but since this was only an experiment this was the fastest solution I needed. The list of packages that was added to my Feisty Fawn box was impressive. Really impressive. It would be nice if the Sound & Video menu was somewhat more organized (one long list now). I saw all that I used in the W2L edition and then some more. Does Ubuntu Studio live up to it’s goal to give artists the software they need to get working instead of first mastering a new program? Hard to tell, but it took me only five minutes to create a great sounding drumloop in Hydrogen and I am not an artist at all. And knowing the prices for some professional closed-source packages Ubuntu Studio is great value for it’s price, not only because it is free, but because it is good.

Tags: Linux, Ubuntu

How to install the Ubuntu Studio theme

This is fun. Ubuntu Studio has just been released and some handy thinkerers have found out how to install just the theme on your default Ubuntu 7.04 box. The good thing is that it isn’t that hard to do.

First, edit the /etc/apt/sources.list (for instance by using $ sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list) and add the line

deb feisty main

Then add the gpg (security key) for the repository with

$ wget
$ sudo apt-key add ubuntustudio.gpg
Now you run

$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-look

When all is done you have to set the wallpaper manually (right mouse click on the desktop -> set wallpaper), select the Ubuntu Studio Theme in System -> Preferences Themes and set the GDM correctly as well (System -> Management).

It’s a nice dark theme, reminiscent of Windows Vista. Together with Beryl this is a nice combo.

Thanks and kudo’s to the Ubuntu Studio team.

Tags: Ubuntu

Focus: Rhythmbox and Amarok

Rhythmbox is the default music player for Ubuntu/GNOME and Amarok for KDE. Both are ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ style programs and both are featured in our upcoming book. Why not revive the GNOME vs KDE debate a bit and compare these two programs.

Amarok: first preference
I am slightly biased towards Amarok. When I wanted to listen to Last.FM under Dapper Drake there was no Last.FM client available, but it was supported by Amarok. That, along with the context browser, made it my player of choice for the last few months. My previous experience with Rhythmbox were less positive. I used it to sync podcasts with my MP3 player, but that was more annoying than helpful.

Rhythmbox rematch
Maybe I missed it previously, but finding the plugin section was a pleasant surprise. Rhythmbox has plugins for lyrics and for three music sharing communities: Last.FM, Magnatune and Jamendo. When you like an artist served through Jamendo downloading the whole album is just a rightmousebuttonclick away. The Last.FM plugin doesn’t seem okay, since it crashed Rhythmbox most of the time.
The three panel/left sidepanel layout is used almost consistently, though not enabled by default in the podcasts section. As we can expect from a GNOME application the interface is simple, smooth with few apparent bells and whistles. The preference option is easy enough and adding/managing your podcasts is no big problem either. Rhythmbox keeps an eye out for your music folder.
Synchronizing music and podcasts with your MP3 player is not there by default. The workaround for the podcasts is still the same: pointing the Rhythmbox podcasts folder to your device. One problem: when the device is not connected there is no option to queue the podcasts for later on.

Amarok again
As you might expect from KDE based program Amarok is packed with easily accessible options. There is always more than one access point to doing things. For me that makes for a cluttered and restless interface, which is not always pleasing to the eyes.
Amarok can keep watch over your music folder and does a good job at that. Browsing your collection isn’t really hard (simple tree structure), but compared to the filters in Rhythmbox a bit awkward. Each albumfolder gets its own cover icon, but you have to search manually in the Amazon collection and select the right one. I have found this option less than perfect and somewhat below Rhythmbox’s abilities to select the correct cover.
Magnatune has it’s own tab and is easily accessible. Last.FM is a simple menu entry that just works. In combination with the context browser it’s a great way to discover new artists.
How does Amarok handle podcasts and my MP3 player? Well, adding and managing your podcasts won’t win first prices for looks and ease of use. Can anyone explain why the podcasts folder need to be red? It rings the wrong kind of bells. Anyway, the right mousebutton is your big buddy and from then on it is a matter of downloading your podcasts. Amarok does have a feature to queue episodes for the next sync with your player.
My player is a no brand generic one without a fancy name (nor the high price tag). When you plug it in Amarok recognizes an external device and asks whether you want to set it up for synchronization. From there you are just a Connect and Transfer away from adding the latest podcasts to the player. Or anything else you want to transfer.

What is lacking?
One feature I really missed, looked for and couldn’t find is the option to rip CD’s. Even the Windows Media Player has that feature and when you are designing the kitchen sink anyway. Besides this I have begun to develop a real fondness for Streamtuner and it’s easy access to loads of radiostreams. To have that integrated in both players along with a streamrip option would be nice.

Amarok still comes out strong with the context browser and the way I can use my MP3 player with it. The interface could use some polish, but that is personal preference. Rhythmbox did climb quite a few places on my popularity list. It’s simple and smooth. In the end I am still looking for the best of both worlds. Let’s say a Rhythmbox with a better context browser and better synchronization, or a smoother looking Amarok with a few extras thrown in for the both of them.

Tags: Ubuntu, Linux, Amarok, Rhythmbox

Ubuntu W2L Edition beta

We are on a countdown to June 1st. Why? Well, we have a contract with a publisher and the publisher expects a complete copy of a book on Linux at that date.

The book targets Windows users who want to migrate to Linux. We started writing when Dapper Drake was still hot and we are wrapping things up now that Feisty Fawn is the talk of the town. That happens when you are writing parttime and run into a couple of snags. For me it will mean a complete rewrite of some chapters simply because Feisty really makes things a lot easier and solves some problems that had to be dealt with before. For the endusers this is a good thing.

We will offer a DVD with the book which contains all software that is discussed. I used most of today to create that DVD. What did I do?

The book uses Ubuntu Linux since it is one of the most userfriendly distributions around with a great community and splendid online documentation. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other suitable distro’s out there, but we had to make a choice. When you want to customize your own Ubuntu version Reconstructor is your friend. It extracts all information from an Ubuntu ISO file or CD. Reconstructor has a nice GUI to customize the look and feel of Ubuntu and to add software, but after some fiddling I did everything through the commandline.

First I added extra repositories to the sources.list. Besides the universe, multiverse and restricted repositories I added the Canonical commercial, the medibuntu and the automatix2 repositories as well. Automatix2 is still under consideration since it is not recommended by Ubuntu and the Ubuntu community and basically all is solved through the other repositories.

From then on it was one big apt-get install series. A short list:

  • – restricted codecs
  • – Java, MP3, Flash etc. through ubuntu-restricted-extras
  • – kubuntu-desktop, xubuntu-desktop and edubuntu-desktop
  • – language packs (Dutch, since the book will be in Dutch)
  • – Picasa, VirtualBox, GoogleEarth and IE4Linux (though I am still struggling with the latter two)
  • – KOffice and Gnome Office, besides over 80 other applications the book will discuss.
  • – Wine and VMware Player. I would like to add VMware Server, but that one requires registration so I need to contact the company first.

The idea is to give a broad introduction into Ubuntu Linux with a wide range of software and spanning the three major desktops. At the same time we want to take into account that not everyone has a broadband connection to download all the extra packages. This also allows W2L migrators to play with everything we discuss in the book without actually having to install Ubuntu on a harddrive.

Do you want to help?

This is the first version of what we might call the Ubuntu W2L edition and I would really appreciate some feedback. There are a few things that need some work. The artwork will change when we have a better idea on the artwork in the book. The menu is quite cluttered and needs to be cleaned up.

But you can help out by downloading the ISO file and test it out on your own box. I know it works on my own box and what I need to do to iron out the problems with the graphics card etc. What I would like to know is how you solve those final issues with graphics cards, sound cards, any peripherals you have and add those solutions to this post. That way I have extra reference material for the chapter that deals with installation. Your help is much appreciated.

<- This will not be the final artwork for the book, just a silly five minute exercise in GIMP.

Tags: Ubuntu

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