Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Ubuntu Nuggets – it's the little things that count

The first Ubuntu release hype is slowly passing away. It’s amazing to see Ubuntu-related articles rise to the top of social bookmarking sites, extolling the wonders of the new Hardy Heron. Too bad most of them stick to the obvious and fail to see the not-so-obvious-but-o-so-beneficial smaller improvements.

The repositories are packed with applications and tools. Hidden in the long lists are some real gems that provide GUI-tools for actions that used to require commandline interventions and hacking textbased configuration files.

Simplifying GRUB
For instance GRUB. There are now two tools to alter the settings of GRUB: kgrubeditor and qgrubeditor. These programs allow you to change the default for booting, to edit the text of the entries and spice up GRUB to your personal liking. Qgrubeditor seems to provide a more user-friendly interface, but both programs take away a lot of the ‘stress’ in fine-tuning and personalizing the bootloader.

Ink Management
How much ink does your printer hold at the moment? It’s a question most Windows-users can answer (apart from correcting for the manufacturers’ margin for pushing the sale of cartridges). Ubuntu users have two tools that provide the same functionality: inkblot and qink. Inkblot is virtually 1.0 stable (0.99.9-something) so it must have been around for some time.

Virtualization made easier
Virtualization is hot, very hot. VirtualBox was already available in the repositories, but VMware Server seems to have disappeared. Instead, the number of GUI tools to set up virtual machines with Qemu seems to have grown. There’s qtemu, qemulator and qemu launcher. It’s still no sinecure to create a new virtual machine, but the improvements in user-friendliness are amazing. The race for desktop virtualization is going strong and provides day-to-day users with powerful and free tools to work with.

Prism is making a strong appearance in Hardy Heron. A range of Google-based applications (Docs, Calendar, Talk, Mail, Groups, Reader), Facebook and Twitter are now available as desktop internetapplications. The performance is quite stunning and when launching Google Docs you actually have the impression of using a desktop office suite. Another online service that found it’s way to the desktop is Flickr via kflickr and flickrfs, so the competition with Picasa can begin.

Modifying fstab
The Storage Device Manager (pysdm) is a GUI-tool to customize the mount points of hard disks and partitions without editing fstab yourself. You don’t have to start looking around to find the proper options for you partitions and drive, because SDM has them listed in the assistant. No program for the novice user, but definitely a must-install for the intermediate user.

EasyCrypt and TrueCrypt
Finally, there is EasyCrypt. Security aware users no doubt know the benefits of having an encrypted file, partitition or drive. TrueCrypt is a great program, but it lacked a GUI for Linux. EasyCrypt has found it’s way to the repositories, thought TrueCrypt didn’t. EasyCrypt directs you to the proper download page to remedy the problem. After that it becomes a matter of going through the various steps to create your own vault.

Yes, the commandline is the first and last line, but in most novice users it provokes a ‘Linux is complicated’ response. The advent of these GUI tools and their maturity shows that a group of developers really understands the needs of these users. Kudos to you all, because you made the work of open source ambassadors a lot easier again.


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3 thoughts on “Ubuntu Nuggets – it's the little things that count

  1. Pingback: Boycott Novell » Links 05/05/2008: Releases of VirtualBox, ELive, Bluewhite64 GNU/Linux

  2. Mark on said:

    There is now also a nice gui tool for batch image processing in the universe repostiories: phatch (= photo & batch). So no more fiddling around with imagemagick on the command line. (Website is

  3. You should take a look at virt-manager, which was a Xen management tool brought into Ubuntu to manage qemu/kvm machines. It’s quite intuitive and gives information about CPU usage, memory, etc.

    Best of luck.

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