Why you should be excited about Ubuntu 7.10

ubuntulogo.pngI always enjoy it when a new version of an operating system hits the streets. I like moving through all the new features, finding out what was included and what was left out and generally enjoying myself for a few hours just looking around. But then, I’m a geek. I know not a ton of other people share this passion on the public blog.

Even if you’re not as passionate about new operating systems as I am, if you’re at all a Linux fan you should be excited about the latest Ubuntu release. Why? Because it’s going to fix one of the four major issues keeping Linux off desktops.

In short, here’s my major beefs with my favorite operating system.

  1. No way to configure X.org without hacking a text configuration file.
  2. Lack of modern games developed for Linux.
  3. Lack of minty, fresh off the shelf drivers for all the latest video cards.
  4. Inability to purchase bare metal machines without paying the Microsoft Tax. (Starting with Dell however, this may be going away fast).

Notice that three of them are interrelated? Graphics, graphics, graphics. This is the major blockade that’s keeping Linux from moving more swiftly on to the desktop. Thankfully with the new X.org (7.3) which will begin to make appearances in Gutsy (7.10) will go a long way towards fixing this issue.

Not only does X.org 7.3 have much better monitor autodetection, come with a new Intel driver and have RandR support (think output hotplug – or fast switching of monitors or output devices) but it will also jive with BulletProofX and DisplayConfigGTK.

So what the heck are those things? BulletProofX is an attempt to have Ubuntu always boot into a graphical environment, even if the xorg.conf file is bad. Think of it as a failsafe mode. From this 800×600 or 600×400 screen you can use DisplayConfigGTK to configure a new xorg.conf file.

dualmonitors.jpgAnd what’s so special about DisplayConfigGTK? It’s a graphical way to adjust your display! Not only does that rhyme, but it’s bringing Linux in line with every other major operating system out there. You can now adjust your display settings, set up a dual-monitor system or have several display profiles and you can do it all graphically. Finally!

All of this is new stuff, and it may not all make it into Ubuntu 7.10, as many aspects are fairly modular but it’s a damned good start.

Hats off to all the folks who are working on these projects, from the X.org folks to the Ubuntu developers to the Janes and Joes like you and I who test the Alpha and Beta releases and provide bug reports. This is a huge step forward and we should all be proud.


Two Gnome easter eggs

Want to have a little bit of fun with your Gnome desktop? here are a few easter eggs covered by the ArsGeek tech specialist.

First, hit the Alt-F2 keys together to bring up the Run Applications dialog.

Type “gegls from outer space” (sans quotes) and hit the enter key. You should get the below game, a la space invaders.


Next, try typing “free the fish” (sans quotes) into the Run Applications box. You’ll get Wanda on your desktop. Here she is checking out my Zen Stone.


If you have any other Gnome, KDE or Ubuntu easter eggs, feel free to post them here.


Is the world ready for Ubuntu’s six month release cycle?


With Ubuntu hitting the main stream (don’t argue with me, being sold by Dell is about as mainstream as you can get) I’ve been thinking about their constant upgrade/release cycle among other potential obstacles that may stand in the way of more widespread adoption of my favorite operating system.

I’m a die-hard Linux and Ubuntu enthusiast. I love the OS, I love using it and I love encouraging others to do so as well. I’m not a zealot however and I’m hoping that gives me a bit of an open mind when considering some problems and obstacle that Ubuntu still has to face if we’re going to see more mainstream adoption. “Dude you’re getting a Dell” is amazing, it’s awesome, it’s wonderful and it’s not going to get Ubuntu all the way there, where ‘there’ is a significant share of desktop installs. I still use windows on a number of machines and OSX on one or two more and these operating systems have a lot going for them as well. Particularly in the realm of usability and pure and simple name brand recognition.

So what obstacles have to be overcome? The first two are obvious and have been much discussed, so I’ll mention them to get them out of the way. Games and device drivers. (Are you listening ATI? Ahem). Moving on, let’s look at some of the issues that may not be as apparent but I feel are just as important.

The first is visibility. There are lots and lots and lots of computer user out there who know nothing about Linux. And know what? They don’t really care. They buy a computer to have it turn on and do some basic activities. They don’t know much about Windows or any operating system that’s on their machine. They’re expecting not a complicated device, but an appliance. I see this day after day when I ask a user “What operating system are you running” and they say something like “Uh… office 2006” or “Osk”, which is how you’d pronounce OSX if it was said as a three letter word. They grab a random computerish name from their memory and spit it out.

While visibility is certainly an issue, the invisible OS syndrome can actually play in favor of Linux as well. If john and Jane user purchase a Dell with Ubuntu because it’s $50 cheaper, bring it home, turn it on and start surfing the web and checking email then more power too them. This is now a possibility not through a small custom install workshop, but a massive industrial giant, Dell. It could also be a problem. I recently talked a small business owner out of purchasing two Dells with Ubuntu preloaded on them, as he runs a Windows only application as his POS software. Purchasing two Ubuntu installed Dell’s would have saved him $100 and given him two computers he couldn’t really use.

The second is the 6 month release cycle. This is what really drew me to Ubuntu in the first place, before it was the much easier to use instance that we have today with 7.04. A (mostly) hard and fast rule of six months per development cycle and release ensures that serious issues are addressed soonest and that new features continue to come down the pipe in a very timely manner.

Lots of people the world over will hate this. These are the folks who are running Windows XP and haven’t quite made the move to SP2 yet. Why? Not because they’re lazy but because they don’t want to have to change things on their computer, either through fear or ignorance. You don’t have to update your TV every month do you? Why do it to your computer, which in many mind sets is just another appliance. On the one hand, there’s the combination of automatic updates (and alerts) without having to reboot each time. On the other hand, in order to get the latest and greatest, albeit free upgrades, you’ll need to do a complete system upgrade at least twice a year or stick with a Long Term Support versions of Ubuntu.

Granted there’s a shift in computer literacy right now, as more and more kids grow up with technology and computers present in their lives from day 1. This may ameliorate the upgrade effect a bit in the future but we’re going to have to wait until these folks are purchasing computers for themselves en mass. Here’s a population group that’s going to have to get used to a new and better cell phone every week, they should be fine with two upgrades a year.

I’m all for the popularization of Linux in general and Ubuntu in specific but I’m also very curious to see how well the Dell deal plays out and what sort of complaints we’ll get both from new Ubuntu users and those long time users in the forums and groups who may have to deal with a sudden influx of folks completely new to Ubuntu and who may not have expected to dive head first into Linux. Yeah, it will be their “fault” for purchasing an Ubuntu machine, but we as a community would do well not to act with exasperation when the pop up in the forums asking questions that are answered in the FAQ’s or complaining that MS Office isn’t available. Here’s our chance to educate and accept a new face in the crowd. We shouldn’t see them as at fault, rather we should look at the opportunity to educate and increase acceptance. Hell, apply that to lots of areas in our lives and we’d get a lot further.


5 steps to create a PDF printer (print to PDF) in Ubuntu

Ever wanted to print a document of just about any sort to a virtual printer that would then turn it into a PDF? It’s pretty easy to do in Ubuntu, especially if you follow this ArsGeek tips. In fact you’ll need just 5 steps and about as many minutes of your time to set this up.

Step 1. Get cups-pdf installed. Open up a terminal session (or use Synaptic) and type the following:
sudo apt-get install cups-pdf
Step 2. Go to System -> Administration -> Printing and then Printer ->Add Printer.


Step 3. Take a good look at this screen. You won’t have to change anything, but it sure is nice to see. Click the Forward button.


Step 4. Set the Manufacturer to Generic and the Model to PostScript. Click the Forward button.


Step 5. Set the name to something simple and easy to remember, like “LeChicArsGeekPDFPrinterMakerThingy”. Click the Apply button and you are done.


Now you can happily churn out PDFs to share with your friends, family and co-workers.


How to track and recover your Linux laptop if it gets stolen

laptop.jpgFacing the possibility that your laptop (or even desktop) could get stolen, lost or otherwise disappear makes me think of what I’d do. While it wouldn’t be earth shattering for me, there’s a lot of work I’ve put into this blog on ArsGeek and it has a lot of data on it I’d like to get back.

Note: This tutorial was written for Ubuntu or Debian based Linux distros. It will work with other distro’s with only minor modifications, mainly the way to install new programs.

That got me interested in some security measures I could take and more, what I could do to locate my laptop if it ever did get stolen? Here’s a quick guide to setting up a ‘Lojack’ for your laptop. If it’s taken and put on a network somewhere (obviously without being reformatted or reinstalled) you’ll be able to find it.

First, you’re going to need an account with a free dynamic DNS provider. DynDNS is a great one to use and will be focused on in this tutorial. This allows you to alias a dynamic IP address to a static hostname. They offer a number of domains from which you can choose. I have a DNS entry now at dnsdojo.net.

Once you’ve got an account with DynDNS, set up a dynamic DNS host by clicking on Add Host Service, and then Add Dynamic DNS Host. dyndnssetup.png

You’ll see in the image above that it has defaulted to BLANK.selfip.info. If you set this to your computer’s host name (in this example we’ll use arsgeek) it would be arsgeek.selfip.info. This is your host name. Jot this down, you’ll need it in a few minutes.

Then we’re going to install a client that will keep DynDNS updated as to what the laptop’s real, actual IP address is. This is important as, especially with laptops that tend to roam around a bit, you’re IP address will change a lot. We want to be able to pinpoint your computer’s IP no matter what it is.

The client we’ll use is one called ddclient. Let’s install it.
sudo apt-get install ddclient
Once the install begins, you’ll be asked a couple of questions. When it asks you for a fully qualified domain name for your host, you’ll plug in what you just jotted down above (in this example:) arsgeek.selfip.info.


Then you’ll be asked to type in your DynDNS username and password.

Lastly, it will ask you what interface you’re going to use for this. Type in ‘web’ without the quotes.interface.png

That’s pretty much all you’re going to do to set this up. To verify it’s working, head on over to DynDNS again, click on My Services at the top. Once you’re on the My Services page, look at the Host Level Services at the bottom. You should see your Dynamic DNS services listed. Click on it and you’ll see a report containing a message that looks like this:


Alternatively, you can try pinging, sshing or otherwise connecting to your own machine via the new DNS entry that you’ve set up.

If your laptop ever is stolen, start looking for your DNS entry by pinging it. Once you see that it’s online, you can use a program like traceroute from another machine to find your laptop’s default gateway. Once you have that, notify the police and the ISP in question and get your computer back!

(Note – if you have another Ubuntu machine that you want to use to trace your laptop, be sure you install traceroute on it: sudo apt-get install traceroute)

With props to the UbuntuGuide for the tips.