Archive for Open Source

What’s Left to Push Linux Into The Mainstream?

Linux has come a long way.  I am sitting here writing this on a netbook tricked out with the Alpha Release of Ubuntu Karmic Koala.  It’s amazing.  Ubuntu One is included by default, giving users an immediate opportunity to backup and sync all of their computers without batting an eye.  Empathy has finally replaced Pidgin as the default IM client, reducing the memory load drastically.  The interface has been tweaked and is much cleaner than previous versions.  And like little kids in the back seat of the family station wagon, we can finally start asking “Are we there yet?” and get the response “Almost”.

What still needs to happen?  How do we get this thing off the ground?  In my opinion, the answer is a lot simpler than most believe: Start using it, in public, with the lights on, in front of our families, without wincing when we explain it to people.  I am going to share some of my ideas of how to attain the mainstream below.

  1. Ditch the cost discussion.  Let this be a bonus for using Linux, not the determining factor.  Linux users have diverse political views and this is not about rainbows and flowers from a technical perspective.  This is about techs no longer having vague errors, spyware, and viruses to deal with.
  2. Do not explain that the cd-rom for their printer/scanner/toaster with all the fancy software that lets them burn designs in their toast isn’t necessary in a way that makes them feel stupid for buying the multifunction device.  Tell them in a way that explains the advantages and disadvantages of said device.
  3. Treat them like a business partner, not a student.  Show them that we aren’t going to loom over them, keep them from playing with scissors or running in the hall.  They now have the freedom to explore the computer without messing things up.
  4. Don’t talk trash about the competition unless they start it.  It was hard to believe how many applications and OS’s I bought over the years.  Some people are going to exhibit grief over the money they have wasted prior to this development model.  Empathize with them, sharing your own frustrations as you see fit, but don’t over do it.
  5. The “Try it for a month and you’ll never go back.” method does work, especially if the colleague is frustrated with their current computer situation.  Give them options, offer to help with the backup and install.

Linux needs ambassadors more than ever.  Long-winded speeches about freedom and TCO are not going to push as hard as a grassroots, tech savy group of people sharing the joys of being an everyday Linux user.


Pidgin is arguably the de facto open source instant messaging client.  The biggest advantage you have using it is the multi-protocol support which allows you to connect to AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, Jabber, IRC and a few others I’ve never even heard of by default.  Plugins add additional services and features.  Here is a look at the services I currently connect to all at once:


Pidgin is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac here.

The Twitter plugin can be found here.

The Facebook one is available at this site.

Adventures in GPS

I have been in need of a new GPS receiver for a while.  While I love my Garmin eTrex and it has been a lifesaver on several occasions, the netbook lacks serial ports.  Carrying a serial to USB adapter is out of the question.  I wanted ultra-portability for my kit, especially on vacations and while traveling. Whatever solution I came up with, I knew from previous experience what package would need to be installed first:

sudo apt-get install gpsd

Enter this device:

No brand name, no fancy package.  I plugged it in and it functioned beautifully.  Ubuntu detects it as a Prolific PL2303 USB to Serial Bridge Controller as revealed by dmesg:

[  950.076139] usb 2-2: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 3
[  950.242660] usb 2-2: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
[  950.246324] pl2303 2-2:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
[  950.271393] usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That last line is important.  I needed it to issue the next command:

gpsd /dev/ttyUSB0

As this device lacks a screen to indicate satellite fix, my next step was to install xgps:

sudo apt-get install gpsd-clients

I mostly use xgps for testing connectivity.  It is a very basic interface with limited information.  Pretty useless for navigation unless you work with satellites all day and know where they are supposed to be in the sky.

Eight years ago when I started experimenting with laptops and gps, I quickly found GPSdrive.  It was really the only map-based GPS software available.  Recently, using a netbook’s small 16:9 screen became a major problem when I realized the application wasn’t written for the Gnome toolkit.  I was unable to maximize to my screen resolution of 1024×600, making any buttons at the bottom of the app hidden. TangoGPS has most of the functionallity necessary to track where you are on a map. Like GPSDrive, it is compatible with the Open Street Map project,  works with gpsd, and even allows for friend updates.

For now, I have a system that tells me where I am, how fast I’m driving, and allows me to contribute to open street map.  I will be eperimenting with another program called viking shortly and will discuss it here when I know more about it.

After The Fact…

All of my computers are now on Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex).  That’s a Dell D820, a Precision 650, the GQ computer  that I picked up at Fry’s a couple years ago, and even the One.  I’m usually cautious about moving from a LTS edition to a newer version, but for some reason I decided to pull the trigger on upgrading each of my systems instead of performing complete reloads.  All four machines upgraded without catastrophic failures.  I did have to reload the kernel modules for my sound card on the Aspire, but it’s not a big deal.  On the Precision, some lunkhead sysadmin (who is reamining nameless) forgot to move /home to the second drive last time.  All I needed were these instructions and I was back in business:

My Own Aptitiude Repos

I now have several machines running Ubuntu and Debian on my home network.  Each one had an inconsistent version of the packages on it, and I finally decided this morning I was done upgrading each machine individually and downloading updates when I got around to it.  Mikey’s got his own repo now and Mikey likes it.

I found some very simple, very focused instructions at this link:

Next step:  Add a GPG key.

More AA1 Tweaking

Okay, so the Acer Aspire One now has a nickname of AA1.  I kind of like it, so we’ll see if it sticks. I received my own Acer netbook for my birthday and am in the process of tweaking it to my satisfaction.  My biggest annoyance so far has been the lack of codec support out of the box.  XVID has been my favorite codec for a couple years now and I am not about to go back to wmv, especially on a Linux machine.  One little tip I can throw everyone’s way though, the Fedora Repositories were intruded upon back in August.  VLC is the package I noticed this with, but if you tell yum to install vlc, you will receive these errors:

Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc
Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc-core
Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc-core

This is a result of the security breach (looks like file corruption to me).  To fix it, you need to run this command:

sudo yum install fedora-release

Information can be found on the following page:

Acer Aspire One

Acer recently released the Aspire One.  My wife was looking for a laptop to check email and visit her forums while on the road.  The tech details were GMail and phpBB, for those interested.  We met at MicroCenter after work to look at netbooks on her birthday.  I will not criticize Asus.  They have made large strides in creating the market for the cheap ultra mobile pc, and I love them for it.  But there they were, right next to each other, the EEE Surf and the Acer Aspire One.  Comparing the two, spec to spec, the Acer made the Asus loook like a toy.  It has a standard resolution width (1024).    It has a larger keyboard (80% of a standard keyboard).  To be honest, the “triple-E” looked breakable.

So anyway, we picked one up at a store after dinner.  The clerk gave us the question that I often get hit with when trying to purchase items.  “Now, you know, this isn’t exactly what most people expect from a computer…”  I promptly interrupted, “It runs Linux, right?” Then we walked out the door with her new laptop and weren’t concerned about the price we paid.

I am more than impressed with the thing, mostly for it’s flexibility.  The distribution that it runs standard is called Linpus.  It’s essencially Fedora with a Mobile interface.  It’s very easy to get to a terminal and start customizing to your heart’s content.  I have already added Skype and upgraded the browser to Firefox 3 with AdBlock Plus to prevent the annoyances, both easy tasks if you already understand how Fedora.  For the sake of resource management, Linpus uses XFCE and it’s a simple matter of editing an XML file to modify what your default apps are on the screen interface.

Due to it being Fedora based, I was able to successfully get the Citrix Presentation Server client functioning for her work stuff.  The only major hiccup in this was replacing Thawte’s security certificate in the Citrix package.  It wasn’t very difficult, just a minor annoyance of downloading from elsewhere.  I could see this being a problem for someone with less computer experience.  Here’s my suggestion to Citrix:  Make your software update the certs automatically.  This is the only reason the RPM didn’t work properly.

Well, regardless, the Acer Aspire one is very impressive piece of hardware and I am considering getting one myself just to have the convenience of an extra machine with ssh and a web browser.   Acer really thought this one out.

Wake up call for Mozilla

Today, Google relased Chrome Beta, an open source web browser based on Firefox and Webkit.  I am currently writing this post from Chrome.  The biggest benefit I see to Google’s method of writing this program is the intense resource management.  If one tab locks up, the others are fine.  From a technical perspective, this is the best idea since tabbed browsing itself.  Here is a link to the download:

Critical Security Updates to Ubuntu and Debian

Just a heads up to Ubuntu and Debian users out there. There is a major bug in openSSL that needs to be patched on all Debian and Ubuntu systems and you must regenerate your ssh keys. I’ve included some links to the gory details:

SSL in Firefox 3

To my dismay today, I ran into a problem with Firefox 3 Beta 5 on Hardy Heron.  Apparently, Mozilla has decided to put the screws to people who sign their own certificates or use certs not issued by their own domain by creating a four step process to bypass the error message.  Here is an explanation:

I was attempting to access an APC UPS inside my company’s network (translated If I am subjected to a man-in-the-middle attack, it is no one’s problem but mine and my department’s.)  APC signed the cetrificate and I was accessing it by IP address inside my network.

So, explain this one to me Mozilla… Is APC supposed to drop their encryption on their UPS systems or do they just have to pay their employees to rewrite the code so I can go out and buy a certificate for this device?  Do I have to register this with my internal dns so it’s easy to remember the way back to it and the students where I work can memorize it’s name?

Perhaps this needs to be removed out of the final version of Firefox 3 and you can write an extension that makes everything break!