July 28, 2009

Five Essential Apps for the Ubuntu User

Five Essential Apps for the Ubuntu User

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ubuntu is arguably the most popular Linux distribution available. It's solid, stable, and well packaged. On top of that, the developers have made some good calls about the software that they package with Ubuntu.

There's a lot of software for Ubuntu (and other Linux distributions). A lot of it's good, some of it's OK, and there are a few duds. But the five applications that this TechTip covers are great additions to anyone's installation of Ubuntu.

Note: Some of the software discussed in this TechTip can also be installed on other Linux distributions.

Ubuntu Tweak

There are many different ways you can modify or just fiddle with the configuration of Ubuntu. You can edit configuration settings in a little application called gconf-editor. You can mess with configuration files in a text cheapest viagra in uk editor. Or you can choose one of the options from the System > Preferences menu. A better option is to use Ubuntu Tweak.

Ubuntu Tweak, as its name implies, lets you change the configuration of an Ubuntu system right from a single user interface. With Ubuntu Tweak, you can install a number of popular or third-party applications, change the look and behavior of your window manager, set up shortcuts, and more.

Two of my favorite features of Ubuntu Tweak are the third-party software installer and the package cleaner. While you can install a lot of software using Synaptic Package Manager (the default software installation tool for Ubuntu), there's a lot of interesting software that you can't get through Synaptic. The third-party installer lists some of these – like VirtualBox and the Chromium browser – and installs any additional software or libraries that they require.

The package cleaner frees up space on your hard drive. Whenever you install a new piece of software using Synaptic, Ubuntu saves a copy of the installer (called a package) and information about that package on the drive. The thing is, though, that you don't need those packages. With Ubuntu Tweak, you can clear all of that out easily.


Firefox is the default Web browser for Ubuntu. It's a great application that has some nifty features. But the problem with Firefox is that it's fairly large and can be quite slow. If you want to speed up your Web browsing, then Epiphany is for you.

Whereas Firefox is plodding, Epiphany is lean, fast, and mean. In fact, it's almost spartan. The browser window contains a set of menus, a button bar, and an area in which to type Web addresses. That's it. No search box and no other eye candy. If you want to do a search, just type the term that you want to find in the address box and press Enter. You'll be taken to a Google page with the search results.

What you'll notice, though, is that Epiphany can do everything that Firefox can do. Only faster. From clearly rendering Web pages to logging into secure sites, Epiphany does it all.

While Firefox comes with a massive array of add-ons (which extend the features and functions of the browser), the pickings for Epiphany are pretty slim. There's an ad blocker, one that lets you subscribe to an RSS feed, and one that lets you look up text that you select with a bookmark.

Epiphany's not everyone's cup of tea. Some people who try it are frustrated by its lack of features. But if you want to see how fast Web browsing can be then give Epiphany a look.

Ubuntu One

Sharing files between computers can be a chore. Emailing files or copying them to a USB flash drive gets really tedious really quickly. A more efficient way is to share your files online. Shortly after the release of Ubuntu 9.04 in April, 2009 Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) opened a service called Ubuntu One to users by invitation only.

Ubuntu One is an online service that enables you to upload, share, synchronize, and store files. You install the Ubuntu One client on your computer, and it integrates with Nautilus (the file manager for the Ubuntu desktop). You can copy files into the Ubuntu One folder in your /home directory, and the client synchronizes them with the Ubuntu One Web site.

On the Web site, you can specify which folders to share and with whom. At the moment, service is in beta testing which means there may be a few problems. But it looks like it will be quite useful. And you get 2 GB of free storage, which isn't too shabby.
Note: An upcoming TechTip will look at online storage and file sharing services.


Inspired by a Mac utility called Quicksilver, GNOME Do is a very powerful utility that lets you start applications, search for items on your computer and on the Web, and a whole lot more. Once you've given GNOME Do a shot, you'll find it indispensable.

When you start it, GNOME Do sits out of sight. You launch it by pressing the Windows key (also called the Super key) on your keyboard along with the space bar. From there, you type the command or search criteria that you want to execute and press Enter. GNOME Do then fades into the background.

While GNOME DO is a powerful tool, it gets a lot more power and flexibility from its array of plugins. There are dozens of them – some you can download with GNOME Do itself, and others which have been created by enthusiastic users. These plugins do a lot of things, like allowing you to access your files in Google Docs, microblogging, searching for files on your computer, shortening URLs, and looking up words in a dictionary.

GNOME Do can do a lot. And it's fun exploring the application's capabilities.


One persistent myth about Linux is that it's all command line (also called the terminal). Or, at least, you need to use the command line as much as the graphical user interface. Nothing can be further from the truth. I know several Linux users who've never gone to the command line.

That said, using the command line can enhance your experience with Ubuntu (or any other Linux distribution). For an interesting perspective on why you should learn the command line, read this article.

To get to the command line in Ubuntu, you'd normally select Applications > Accessories > Terminal. That's a lot of work. I like to have the command line at my fingertips. Literally. Which is why I love Guake. Whenever I need it, I just press a hot key (in my case, F9) and Guake literally drops down from the top of my screen. I do whatever I need to do, and then press F9 again to make the Guake window disappear.

You can tweak Guake in a number of different ways. You can change the size of the window to best suit your LCD monitor, set the transparency and background of the window, change the font, and modify the keyboard shortcut to call Guake. You can even configure the behavior of tabs. Yes, you can have multiple terminals in a single Guake window.


Ubuntu really shows the flexibility and potential of the Linux desktop. And the various applications – like the five discussed in this TechTip – add to that flexibility.

Are you an Ubuntu user? If so, what are some of your favorite applications? Leave a comment and share your favorites.

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March 2, 2009

Has Ubuntu hit a plateau?

Ubuntu,Netbooks,Nettops & MIDs,Linux,Operating Systems…,Hardware,Software

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes @ 8:52 am

The other day I downloaded the alpha 5 release of the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04 (which is curiously codenamed Jaunty Jackalope) just to see how things were progressing in the Ubuntu world. What surprised me was that there was very little to get excited about (OpenOffice.org 3.0 … woohoo … yawn). In fact, even the next release (9.10, or Karmic Koala) which is over six months away, has nothing that really gets my blood moving. Sure, there’s dedicated netbook support, but I don’t see myself getting all that enthusiastic about that.

Has Ubuntu development plateaued? Is the best that we can expect the from now on evolutionary changes rather as opposed to revolutionary ones?

Don’t where to buy cialis online get me wrong, I like Ubuntu. Of all the Linux distros that I’ve tried, it’s the one that seems to show the most promise of being able to go mainstream. Like every other Linux distro, it’s fast, reliable and secure, but Ubuntu manages to add a few cherries on top of all that in the form of a slick interface and a good selection of software applications. Another compelling feature of the Ubuntu distro is the six monthly update cycle – as regular as clockwork, a new version of Ubuntu (complete with daft code name) is released. Unlike Apple and Microsoft, both of which are coy about release dates until what feels like the final hour, with Ubuntu, users get plenty of notice of a new release, as well as a clear idea of what will be in that new version. Problem now though is that it seems like the next few updates feel like service packs rather than full-blown releases. It’s almost like the dev team have a final product in mind and are now working to make that vision a reality.

Here’s an example of what I mean, from the 9.10 announcement:

First impressions count. We’re eagerly following the development of kernel mode setting, which promises a smooth and flicker-free startup. We’ll consider options like Red Hat’s Plymouth, for graphical boot on all the cards that support it. We made a splash years ago with Usplash, but it’s time to move to something newer and shinier. So the good news is, boot will be beautiful.

In case you’re thinking that I’ve deliberately chosen a boring bit, the only other improvements mentioned to the desktop is better netbook integration and something about the “desktop will have a designer’s fingerprints” all over it …

I’m left with a few random thoughts …

  • Maybe there really isn’t enough you can do to an OS to warrant a release every six months (after all, both Windows 7 and Mac OS X “Snow Leopard” also seem more evolutionary than revolutionary).
  • Developing a new operating system relies on shaking things up and redefining the wheel periodically (new interface, different ways of doing what you’ve been doing for years, a few tweaks here and there).
  • The OS is slowly becoming irrelevant, and it’s the applications that matter.


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November 8, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 release candidate is out

October 24th, 2008

Posted by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

For those interested in taking the latest incarnation of Ubuntu for a spin, you might like to know that a release candidate of Ubuntu 8.10 “Intrepid Ibex” is available for download a few days ahead of the full release.

Ubuntu 8.10 is here

Only one thing stood out in the release notes to me:

The 71 and 96 series of proprietary nVidia drivers, as provided by the nvidia-glx-legacy and nvidia-glx packages in Ubuntu 8.04, are not compatible with the X.Org included in Ubuntu 8.10. Users with the nVidia TNT, TNT2, TNT Ultra, GeForce, GeForce2, GeForce3, and GeForce4 chipsets are affected and will be transitioned on upgrade to the free nv driver instead. This driver does not support 3D acceleration.

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August 20, 2008

10 quick tips to make Linux networking easier

  • Date: August 14th, 2008
  • Author: Jack Wallen

Linux makes networking simple and secure — if you know a few tricks. Jack Wallen shares some pointers to help admins knock out various Linux networking tasks with a minimum of effort.

Networking is a must-have on all levels of computing. Be it home or corporate, networking is the one aspect of computing that is, without a shadow of a doubt, a deal breaker. And with some help, the Linux operating system can be the king of networking, in both ease of use and security. But that doesn’t mean the average (and sometimes even the above-average) user can’t use some help. These tips should help make Linux networking go a little more smoothly.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Make use of your /etc/hosts file

The hosts file is used for static host names and offers a quick way to create networking shortcuts. One of the first things I do on a Linux machine is add various machines to the /etc/hosts file. This saves me from having to type a lot of IP addresses. The format of an address for this file is:


For example, if I use one machine for a backup location at IP address, I could enter: backups

Now if I have to connect to that machine, say with secure shell, I can just type ssh -v -l username backups to make the connection.

#2: Keep out unwanted users with /etc/hosts.deny

Yet another helpful “hosts” file is the hosts.deny file. This file allows you to create access control based on client or server names. This is helpful in many ways. You can block blacklist domains from gaining access to your network or you can block certain users from gaining access to certain machines. But no matter how you use it, the format is the same.

Let’s say you want to block the domain bad.domain.name from gaining access to a machine. To do this, open up the /etc/hosts.deny file (you will need either root or sudo privileges) and add this to the bottom of the file:

ALL: bad.domain.name

Save it and you’re good to go.

#3: Let WICD handle your wireless woes

I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself banging my head against a server rack. For the longest time Linux and wireless networking were simply not good bedfellows. But that is quickly becoming a thing of the past. With modern distributions, wireless card detection has become a no-brainer. The issue now is encryption.

Many of the Linux wireless tools have trouble when any encryption is involved. But the WICD tool takes care of this. Now, connecting to WPA or WPA2 encrypted wireless networks is simple. Add to that the amazingly easy GUI employed by WICD and you can check one nasty headache off your list.

#4: Download and install a front end for iptables

You can’t assume that just because you are using Linux, you are secure. You still need some security. And the best security you can have with Linux is iptables. The only problem with iptables is that it can be challenging (especially for the new user). Fortunately, there are outstanding graphical front ends for iptables. One of the best is Firestarter. This front end makes employing iptables a simple process, so you won’t keep bypassing security out of fear of the learning curve.

#5: Get to know the command-line tools

Let’s face it: If you’re running Linux, there might be an instance where you will need to restart your network and you won’t have access to the GUI. In this particular case, knowing that /etc/rc.d/network restart will do the trick will solve your problem. Of course, that’s not the only networking command-line tool. You’ll also want to know tools like dhclient, traceroute, samba, ping, and netstat.

#6: Hard-code your DNS server addresses

I don’t know how many times I have had networking problems that pointed directly at missing DNS server addresses. To this end, I have made it habit to hard-code my DNS servers into the /etc/resolv.conf file. The format of the entries is:

nameserver IP_ADDRESS

where IP_ADDRESS is the actual address of your name server. You can have as many name servers listed as you need.

#7: Install ClamAV

If you run a mail server, an antivirus is essential. Even though you are running Linux and you know your mail server is immune to 99.9999999% of the viruses in the wild, that doesn’t mean all those clients that download mail from your server are immune. With this in mind, you will make your administrating life far easier if you install an antivirus like ClamAV onto your Linux mail server. It will give you peace of mind and enough security to ensure that your users most likely won’t come knocking at your office door demanding retribution.

#8: Know how to configure an IP address manually

Yes, there are GUI tools for this. And yes, they all work very well. But as you will eventually find if you administer any operating system long enough, it’s never bad to have backup tools to help you do your job. And one of the best backup tools for Linux networking is the ifconfig command. Not only will this command return to you (with no arguments) your network card information, it will also allow you to configure your network card manually. This is done like so:

/sbin/ifconfig eth0 netmask broadcast

Of course, you will want to plug in your particular information as it applies to the above.

#9: Get to know your /etc/interfaces (Ubuntu) or /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts (Red Hat/Fedora) file(s)

This file (or files) is where the information for each network interface is stored. The format for this file is:

auto lo iface lo inet loopback

auto eth0 iface eth0 inet dhcp

auto eth1 iface eth1 inet dhcp

auto eth2 iface eth2 inet dhcp

auto ath0 iface ath0 inet dhcp

auto wlan0 iface wlan0 inet dhcp

As you can see above, all of my interfaces are set up for dhcp. This is my laptop, which goes with me everywhere, so dhcp is a necessity. But what if I use the wired interface in only one location? For that, I can hard-code the information here under the eth0 interface like so (for Ubuntu):

iface eth0 inet static address netmask broadcast network gateway

Or like so (For Red Hat/Fedora):


Again, you would plug in all the information suited to your network and your device.

#10: Don’t forget smbpasswd when setting up Samba

Nearly every time clients come to me with Samba issues, the problem is that they haven’t added the user and a password with smbpasswd. Without doing this, propecia msd the user will not be able to authenticate to the Samba server. And when using smbpasswd to add a new user, you have to add the “-a” switch like so:

smbpasswd -a USERNAME

After you hit Enter, you will be asked for the users’ password (twice). NOTE: You must have root access (or sudo) to pull this off.

These 10 quick tips should help make various aspects of Linux networking easier. You never know when you’ll wind up having to rely on the command line or you’ll need to enlist the help of a graphical front end for iptables. Now, if you do, you should be good to go.

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July 4, 2008

Bringing Windows to the Linux Desktop


By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, June 29, 2008

pullquote 174In a perfect world, the operating system that you use wouldn't matter. We're moving towards that with the growing use and availability of Web applications. But the day when the operating system is irrelevant is still awhile off.

Right now, though, Windows is the dominant operating system. And there are no Linux versions of the popular and most widely-used applications for Windows — programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop.

If you're a Linux user and you need to play nicely with the Windows world, conventional wisdom dictates that you either need a separate desktop computer or laptop computer that's running Windows or a system that dual boots. If you're adventurous, you can install a virtualization tool like VMWare or VirtualBox. This software recreates Windows on your Linux box. The only problem with those solutions is that they need a lot of hard drive space and CPU.

There is another choice: fake it.

Faking it

What do I mean by faking it? Using software that fools Windows applications into believing that they're actually running on Windows and not on Linux. It does this by creating what's called an application layer between the Windows program and Linux. The application layer simulates the Windows environment — calls to the operating system, DLLs, drivers, and the like. Unlike the other solutions mentioned earlier, using an application layer only adds a bit of extra load to your computer — a few megabytes of disk space and a couple of megabytes of RAM.

There are a number of good Windows emulation tools for Linux, including Wine, Win4Lin, and the application that this TechTip will be focusing on, CrossOver Office.

Overview of CrossOver Office

CrossOver Office is the commercial version of Wine, and is actively developed by a company called CodeWeavers. CrossOver has a user-friendly, graphical interface which makes installing and maintaining Windows applications easy. CodeWeavers also, in the true spirit of Open Source, turns its code over to the Wine Project.

bottle_IMThe central feature of CrossOver Office are bottles. Bottles are miniature Windows environments in which you install applications. Each bottle is a separate entity, and doesn't interact with other bottles. So, if one bottle becomes corrupted or fails it won't affect another bottle.

The main drawback (for some people anyway) is that the personal standard edition of CrossOver Office costs $39.95. However, support is good and you're getting the latest updates to the underlying Wine software.

Getting Going

The first thing to do is download and install the software. You can get a trial version, and there are installers for a number of popular distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, and Linspire. There's also a generic installer that you can use with just about any Linux distribution, which you run from the command line. The installer also bundles a copy of Internet Explorer, Windows Notepad, and Windows Media Player.

Once CrossOver Office is installed, it adds a menu item to your task bar or panel. On my laptop running Xubuntu, it's Applications > CrossOver Office.

Install_IMTo install a piece of Windows software, select Applications > CrossOver Office > Install Windows Software. After a few seconds, the CrossOver Office installation window appears.

You'll notice on the installation window that there's a list of programs that will definitely install using CrossOver Office. These are ones that have been tested and certified. Chances are, though, that you'll want to install some other application. You can also take the chance with others by clicking Install unsupported software and then clicking Next.

CrossOver Office will warn you that you might want to check the big list of compatible software at the company's Web site before you proceed. You can do that if you want to, or you can just click Next.

You're asked where the installer for the Windows application is located. The default is your CD-ROM drive. If the installer is on your hard drive, click Other installer file and then click Browse. You can search your hard drive for the installer program, and once you've found it click Open and then click Next.

Next up, choose a bottle for the program. It's recommended that you create a new bottle; installing an application into an existing one has the potential to mess up that bottle. Create a bottle by typing its name in the New bottle field. Then, from the Create from template list choose a version of Windows that the bottle will be compatible with. Your options are win2000 (Windows 2000), winxp (Windows XP), and win98 (Windows 98). The CrossOver Office online pharmacy propecia viagra user guide recommends trying a win98 bottle first, then trying win2000 and winxp. I've had better luck going the other way.

Click Next. CrossOver Office begins the installation process. After a few seconds, the installer program for your Windows application should appear. Just go through the installation step. When you're done, you'll be returned to the CrossOver Office installation window. Click Finish.

If all goes well — it doesn't sometimes; more on that later — you'll have an icon for the application on your desktop and in your menu. Just double-click the desktop icon or select the application from the menu. Then, you're ready to go.

Word_IMHow well does it work?

Quite well in most cases. With some software, it's just like running it under Windows. For example, I sometimes have to use Microsoft Word. I have Word 2003 installed on my laptop and it starts as quickly (if not faster) than on a comparable Windows machine.


Sometimes, though, funky things happen with a program's interface. You can't resize dialog boxes, the edges of the interface are transparent, and there's some other general weirdness. However, I've found with each subsequent release of CrossOver Office, these problems become fewer.

Run_imBut, what happens if you have a Windows application that doesn't have an installer? It's just a lone executable — the ubiquitous .exe file? Just open your file manager, find the executable, and right click on it. Then, select Run with CrossOver (or whatever variation appears). In many cases, the application should run smoothly.



Not every application that's written for Windows will install. Either the installation won't start, or it will fail part way through. Once in a while, an application will install, but refuse to start. In my experience the recent version of the publishing tool FrameMaker hasn’t played well with CrossOver Office and neither has the Windows Live Writer blog client. Any application that requires the .NET Framework (a Windows-specific environment for running applications), or access to Java or ActiveX definitely won't run.

You can find a list of compatible programs at the Codeweavers Web site. If you really want to get a program working, you can become an advocate. Advocates help test various Windows programs and even post tips and tricks for other users.


CrossOver Office is an easy-to-use and powerful way to run Windows applications under Linux. There's a version for Mac, too. It only adds a bit to the overhead of your desktop computer or notebook. CrossOver Office isn't perfect, but definitely beats dual booting!

If you need to be pragmatic and have to run Windows applications, then the price of CrossOver Office is definitely a worthwhile investment.

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