Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the tag “Journey into Ubuntu”

YES! My new book about Ubuntu Linux is hitting the bookstores.

ProbleemloosOverstappen It finally arrived. Today I got a box with the first five copies of my new book entitled “Probleemloos overstappen op Linux”, translated “Switching to Linux without problems”. The book aims to help W2L migrators and guides them through the various steps of securing crucial data from the Windows installation to installing Ubuntu Linux on the computer and acquainting them with a large collection of applications. I believe we (Dennis Leeuw and myself) succeeded in writing a book that takes the daily experience of the Windows users as focus and from that point explain the strengths and challenges of using Linux every day.

Of course, such a book can not be written without the help of others. I like to thank Gijs van der Poel who has been our mentor and coach throughout the process and who took care of the many mundane aspects of dealing with the publisher. Jos Herni, our co-writer who had to leave the team but continued supporting us with encouragement and the vast experience he has build up in using and writing about Ubuntu Linux over the years. And then, of course, the proof readers who had to wrestle with the rough drafts of the book: Ivo Jossart, Hans Lunsing, Toine Koops, Kees van der Staak and both Gijs en Jos. Finally, the team at SDU/Academic Service. I wonder whether there were times they thought it might have been a better idea to be involved in another project.

And, one thing we can not and should not forget in the realm of Linux and open source. This book couldn’t have been written without the long and relentless effort of the thousands of hackers, coders, programmers, howto writers and active users who are responsible for a great operating system and immense collection of valuable applications. We can only hope our book honors your hard work and make a contribution to a wider use of Linux.

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Bye bye Dapper. Hello Feisty.

One wisdom in the realm of Linux says: “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. Well, after a year of playing with Ubuntu Dapper Drake it was time to move ahead. It was getting broken. If I was surfing the interweb, checking my e-mail while at the same time burning a dvd, the whole system would freeze. Granted it still looked better than the Blue Screen of Dead, but dead is still dead. It didn’t happen too often, about twice a week, but it was a signal that something was really amiss.

With two main projects finished and nothing new in the immediate future it was okay to sit down for the upgrade. Last year I had the good foresight (well, I listened to some good advice) to create a separate /home partition. Of course, it didn’t hurt to make a complete backup of it, so I did. To install Feisty Fawn I used the dvd that accompanies my book, due to come out in mid September. It’s the Ubuntu W2L Rennaissance version, which comes with three desktops and some 80 more programs. Well, if anything is wrong with the disk, at least I will suffer as much as the readers of the book.

But, everything went smooth. Within one hour my new Ubuntu box was installed, updated and enhanced (using Envy to install the nVidia driver). I used Ubuntuzilla to update Thunderbird to 2.x and that was it. For good measure I added the Ubuntu Ultimate repository to the sources.list (deb http://repoubuntusoftware.info/ feisty all) and the job was done.

Amazing. I still remember the hours and hours I needed after my Windows box collapsed and when I had to install all programs one by one. Now, after one hour, I could check the e-mail, start browsing and burn some disks. And no freezes this time.

Enjoying a brief sabbatical

This is basically a “I don’t feel like writing” period. There are other things in life than Linux or open source, really. This doesn’t mean there are no articles brewing in my head, but those deal with topics that are less time-sensitve. In the mean time I am playing around with some new releases, like Sabayon Linux, Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon and the Jacklab Audio Distribution (JAD). JAD is a specialist distribution comparable to Ubuntu Studio and it targets musicians who just want to make great music.

Personally, I can’t make any sensible music. If you would ask me anything about music chances are you would an answer not unlike the indian doorman in “Music and Lyrics¨: ‘Actually, I am tone deaf’. But I am interested in making Linux as easily usable as possible, so that people spend more time in doing their real work with the applications than in figuring out how to keep their OS running and get the applications to do what they want. JAD is built on OpenSuse 10.2, uses the Enlightenment desktop and comes with a ton of audio applications. I just have to find an empty harddrive (hail to the swappable harddisk!) and give this distro a spin. Who knows, there might be an artist in me after all.

Another distribution that passed by in the last month was Elive Gem. Elive is a Debian based distribution that tries to create an innovative desktop build with Enlightenment. Eye candy on older hardware, which would make it suitable for low cost projects using refurbished computers. So far it looks good, impressive even and definitely something to keep an eye open for.

For now, I enjoy the sabbatical in writing, but on the other hand there are things happening out there that are crying out for a post here. Maybe it’s time to wake up.

Ubuntu W2L Renaissance RC

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 and it will be in the stores late August, early September.

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 makes 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.

Between the beta 2 and the RC a few things have changed. We cleaned up some errors and annoyances in the sources.list, removed just about everything that would give the publisher possible heartaches (mostly because of license issues) and updated all packages as to June 22, 2007. Reconstructor 2.6 was used to build this custom version Ubuntu Feisty Fawn.

What will you find:

– the following repositories in the sources.list: universe, multiverse, restricted, medibuntu, canonical commercial, seveas and opera
– kubuntu-desktop, xubuntu-desktop, edubuntu-desktop and ubuntustudio-desktop
– ubuntustudio-audio (without the low latency kernel), ubuntustudio-video and ubuntustudio-graphics
– ubuntu-devel (metapackage from the seveas repository)
– 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, 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, lives, smbfs, opera
– Picasa, Kompozer and Frostwire (installed via dpkg -i)
– OpenOffice.org for Windows added (which you will see when mounting the DVD under Windows)

Since “Renaissance” is tied to the book that aims to be an introduction to Ubuntu and Linux in general we didn’t change the Ubuntu artwork. You will find the default Human theme, with the default Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu and UbuntuStudio themes close at hand. For those who wish to play: in the examples folder you find GNOME2Vista, which contains all you need to change the GNOME desktop into a Vista look-a-like (only cheaper, faster, more stable and -combined with Beryl- much better looking). Of course, kudos and thank you’s to all developers, maintainers and artists that made the materials available which make up this customized version of Ubuntu. For questions concerning “Renaissance” there is a forum on my website.

From this point forward there will be one final release of “Renaissance” for the book. Then it will serve as a basis for another version of “Renaissance” as part of the OpenSourceLearning project. In that project we want to create rich content, multimedia e-learning materials. Those materials are to be integrated into “Renaissance”.

The DVD can be downloaded via bittorrent through LinuxTracker.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on your USB

The Xubuntu blog has this very nice workaround to restore the feature I liked in Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake, the ability to use a USB drive as a persistent /home/user directory. The articles gives credit where credit is due. You have to love those thinkerers. Kudos to y’all

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

– OpenOffice.org 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

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 http://archive.ubuntustudio.org/ubuntustudio feisty main

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

$ wget http://archive.ubuntustudio.org/ubuntustudio.gpg
$ 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.

Conclusions
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

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