Get Ubuntu on CD (with FREE stickers!)

Get Ubuntu on CD!

There are many computer users throughout the world that either do not have access to the internet or do not own a CD/DVD burner. In the past, this has made acquiring Linux, or more specifically, Ubuntu, very difficult. Of course, you could always ask your friend for a copy of Ubuntu or use a neighbours computer to burn the image, but lets assume you have no friends and no neighbours. Basically, if you live in an area where there is postal service you can ask Ubuntu to send some discs to you!

I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. While Ubuntu states that it normally takes 4-6 weeks for delivery, I sent away for the discs on May 9th and received them today, May 28th. Why would I want Ubuntu discs when I already have the burned myself? Well, I am hoping to convince friends to convert from Windows and I feel that giving them an official CD shows that Ubuntu (and all Linux distributions) are serious contenders in the operating system arena. The discs, and their packaging, also have notes all over them asking users to “Pass it on!” to others as each copy can be installed on an unlimited number of computers, encouraging sharing. Selfishly, I also wanted the 4 free Ubuntu stickers that come with the discs.

I was very impressed with both the CDs and the stickers. Curious about the packaging and what the stickers look like? Check out these images I took earlier today:

The whole package

Disc art

Interested in requesting some discs? Order them here.

Time for some food,

Cole

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Unable to Boot Linux After Installing Windows - A Solution

TuxSo, you had Linux running perfectly in a dual boot with Windows, but then Windows became “junked-up” and you needed to reinstall. You went through the agony of spending nearly an hour with the Windows setup and then many more hours installing drivers and software. Everything in Windows was now working appropriately so you decided to boot back into your Linux flavour of choice only to find that you could not boot it! Why? Windows took over the master boot record (MBR).

Allow me first to qualify why some Linux users still use Windows occasionally. Some games still do not run well in Linux even with the development of Wine and Cedega. For me, Battlefield 2 installed and ran using Wine; however, online play was not working properly because of the need to use PunkBuster. For this reason I must have a Windows installation on my PC.

When installing Linux after Windows, both GRUB and LILO boot loaders recognize that Windows exists and offers a menu during startup to select the operating system you wish to boot. Windows, on the other hand, believes it is the only operating system around and does not recognize a Linux installation exists and therefore does not offer a menu during the system boot. When I first came across this issue many years ago I figured there was nothing I could do about it and ever since have been installing Windows followed by Linux (however, I often feel my Linux installs do not require being reinstalled).

The solution

Ubuntu

The current Windows XP install on my machine was once again slowing down, possibly due to driver conflicts, but the reason is neither here nor there. I simply wanted to reinstall Windows as many Linux users would like to. I decided this time to find a solution so I would not have to ruin my near-perfect installation of Ubuntu. Venturing to the Ubuntu forums, I quickly found a thread offering a tutorial on accessing the Ubuntu installation. Basically, the issued is resolved by restoring GRUB (or LILO) and then pointing GRUB (or LILO) to both the Linux and Windows partitions, thereby allowing selection of the operating system of choice during boot. You can read the thread here.

Another excellent article on editing GRUB can be found on the tuxmachines.org website, here.

Until next time,

Cole

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The Open Source Initiative

Open Source Logo

Every so often I come across pages on the web that sparks an interest and further research. After a couple of months of running Shift+Backspace, a website with a focus on free and open-source software (commonly referred as FOSS), I figured it was time to share the definition of open-source for the general reader. Now, I do realize that there are many different licenses such as Creative Commons Attribution, GNU GPL, GPL 2, the forthcoming GPL 3 and many other(see most licenses here), but this article is simply a generalization from the simple definition on The Open Source Initiative (OSI) website.

What exactly does the OSI do for open-source? Here is a short blurb from their website about who they are and what OSI sets out to do:

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit corporation formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open-source community.

One of our most important activities is as a standards body, maintaining the Open Source Definition for the good of the community. The OSI Certified Open Source Software certification mark and program creates a nexus of trust around which developers, users, corporations and governments can organize open-source cooperation.

Recently I ordered a few books about open-source software in hopes of furthering my education of the open-source community. It is my hopes that sometime in the near future I can become a part of the OSI and help spread the word of open-source and the good it provides not only to users but to the sharing of knowledge around the globe.

But what classifies a project as open-source? For this we must read the Open Source Definition (OSD). Below are the 10 official OSD criteria (from the OSI website here) projects must satisfy in order to be classified as officially open-source (yes, it’s more than just releasing the source code):

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

If you want clarification on any of these 10 criteria the OSI has provided an annoted version of the OSD here. Stating the obvious, open-source is something I am very passionate about. I am still in the early stages of my research and understanding of everything open-source but hope that with time I will become both an expert and advocate on the subject.

Time for some R&R,

Cole

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DistroWatch Rankings

If you follow the Linux community there is no doubt you frequent the DistroWatch website. For those of you who have never heard of DistroWatch, Wikipedia defines it well by saying:

DistroWatch is a popular website which provides news, popularity rankings, and other general information about various Linux distributions as well as other free software/open-source operating systems such as OpenSolaris and BSD. It now contains information on several hundreds of distributions.

It is by far the best resource for comparing different Linux distributions and being the first to provide release information for hundreds of Linux and other OS flavours.

One of the greatest features of DistroWatch is how they rank all of the distributions in their database based on the number of hits each gets per day. You can see the rankings on the right side of the landing page or (for more details) check out the popularity page here. When I looked at the rankings over the different time periods I noticed some pretty cool stuff. There is definitely a relationship between ranking and major releases, most notably on the shorter time periods.

Here are some other semi-interesting observations:

  • the same 4 distributions (Ubuntu, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, and Fedora) make up the top 4 in each of the last 4 time periods
  • Ubuntu is the overwhelming most popular distribution; however, with the release of PCLinuxOS 2007, Ubuntu has been pushed to a distant 2nd over the last month
  • Ubuntu Studio has started off strong since its release and is current #10
  • prior to 2005, Red Hat and Mandrake (now known as Fedora and Mandriva) dominated the top 2 positions

If you’re interested in Linux but are not quite sure what distribution to try, search around on DistroWatch, you will definitely find something that appeals to you. As always, if you have any questions about choosing a distro please feel free to , I always love talking Linux!

Cole

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Gmail Increases Attachment Size to 20MB

Gmail

Once again, RSS brings me good things in the morning! Todays feed included an article mentioning that Google’s Gmail has increased allowable attachment size from 10MB to 20MB. On the Gmail help site it is officially stated as:

With Gmail, you can send and receive messages up to 20 megabytes (MB) in size. However, the precise amount allowable will depend on the attachment.

Many readers have probably noticed the “the precise amount allowable will depend on the attachment” and are not quite sure what that means. For this reason I quickly jumped into Google Groups in search of an answer. This is the one I found and it makes a lot of sense:

When you add an attachment, the size of a file may increase because
transport encodings are automatically added. (Transport encodings are
the information that allows your message to be safely sent and read.)

The 10MB increase is very welcomed, but I will take th greedy route and say I wished it was increased to around 50MB. I have been treating Gmail as a safe storage place for many of my documents just in case of disaster (that is to my computer, my backup DVDs and my portable hard drive all at once). Hopefully Google is noticing this trend with users and will eventually offer a Google Storage allowing users a simple interface to upload any sized file with a maximum storage capacity of that remaining with the Google account (I would gladly pay monthly for 10GB in Google Storage). Think about it Google!

Embracing the Google,

Cole

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Zonbu

Zonbu

 

Earlier today my Google Reader fed me some news about Zonbu, the new “$99 Linux PC”. The first thing I should point out about Zonbu is that in order to buy one for $99 you must sign a 2-year contract ($249 without). But what would a contract be without monthly payments? Well, Zonbu has 3 different plans (25GB, 50GB and 100GB models for $12.95, $14.95 and $19.95 respectively). Assuming the middle-of-the-road 50GB plan this amounts to $457.80 (US dollars without taxes) over the 2-year period. What exactly does the subscription get you? According to their website subscription costs provide:

Zonbu offers three different storage plans, all of them with automatic backup, applications and OS maintenance, free upgrade to the latest version of all the applications, three-year free box replacement guarantee, and unlimited Internet support.

Time to get into some of the Zonbu technology. On the Zonbu website the hardware is summarized as follows:

Zonbox

  • Intel-like ultra-low power CPU
  • 256 MB RAM + 2GB flash-based local storage
  • Graphics up to 1400 x 1050 (16 million colors).
    Hardware graphics and MPEG2 acceleration
  • PC-compatible ports for keyboard and mouse
  • 6 USB ports to plug-and-play all standard USB accessories
  • Broadband ready: 10/100MB Ethernet built-in.

While many of components appear lower-end we must realize that this is not a gaming PC or media-editing powerhouse. It is built to be quiet and functional for the average user. Also, the operating system is a custom version of Gentoo that has been tweaked for the specific hardware in Zonbu.

The different capacities mentioned with the three subscriptions revolve around allocated storage space on Amazons S3 servers. This means that all user data is stored on remote servers and uses the flash storage in Zonbu as a cache for the data. I think that this is a brilliant idea, particularly for ensuring protection against data loss. Problems with this concept may include speed of uploading/downloading but I feel that most Zonbu users should not have a problem with these factors. Lets take a look at Amazons S3 pricing. Assuming 50GB of storage and 25GB of uploading/downloading of data throughout the month the total is $12.50 per month. This makes Zonbu’s monthly pricing look even better as it includes all of the other services mentioned previously.

When reading the Zonbu “hands-on” article on Gizmodo I was initially skeptical about the inability to install software, but further reading provided me with a better feeling. First, the subscription services includes OS updates such as new software (and apparently the people behind Zonbu are committed to high-quality open-source software. Also, while I require control over the software on my computer, I do not feel that the target market for Zonbu needs this control. The software list includes most of the open-source software I use right down to using Nvu as a development environment for websites. My readings on both news sites and the Zonbu site I have the feeling that if increased function is required (via software) it will be implemented.

In the hopes of avoiding a comments flame-war I want to say that I do not believe Zonbu will change the way computing is done overnight, but instead, provide an option to the average home user that wants to create documents, browse the internet and interact with media. I think that the use of Amazons S3 servers is a fantastic idea. As network speeds increase I believe that computing in the Zonbu way will take off, but until then slow speeds (even 10Mbit connections) will hinder this adoption.

For a much more complete article (with images and a video) about Zonbu please check out the Gizmodo article here.

Ciao,

Cole

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Some Aptitude Fun!

For those of you out there that use APT as your package manager in Linux, I have something fun for you to try! Open a Terminal and type the following commands:

apt-get moo

aptitude -v moo

aptitude -vv moo

(continue until 6 v’s)

Users of GNOME give this one a shot! Press Alt+F2 to run a command then type “free the fish” and run it!

Not a Linux user? I took a screenshot of Terminal with each command being executed. See it here! If you come across any other “easter-eggs” or fun commands please or post them in the comments.

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Recent Dabblings

Over the last week I have been testing various Linux distributions to ensure that Ubuntu is the best one for me. There really is not anything scientific to this article as I basically only spent a few hours with each to get a general idea about the system. Yes, I do realize that Linux is meant to be customized and that any distribution can basically look like any other; however, in this case I am just looking at the clean install with no customization. Below are my brief notes on each distro.

openSUSEopenSUSE is arguably the second most popular Linux distribution, next to Ubuntu. I have installed SUSE years ago, but it never stuck with me, which is why I decided to give it another shot. I downloaded the openSUSE 10.2 image file and burned it to disc to install on my laptop. My laptop is a Dell Inspiron 8500 and is approximately 4 years old, but hey, Linux is not so fussy on requirements so I figured it should be more than adequate to run any Linux distribution.

Okay, lets get to the notes on openSUSE. First, the installation wizard is extremely user friendly and anyone who has ever installed Windows will have no problems installing openSUSE. However, installation speed is my biggest caveat. It took almost an hour and fifteen minutes, whereas Ubuntu installs in about 15 minutes. I realize there was more software for openSUSE to install, but anything over 30 minutes is unacceptable. Once installed, openSUSE is a breeze to use. I felt the support for my hardware (particularly wireless card and videocard) was top notch and even better than Ubuntu. During the install you have the option to install either the GNOME or KDE desktop environment (more on this in a future article). Other than the slow installation I can definitely see why openSUSE is one of the most popular distributions.

DebianWhile Ubuntu is based on Debian , I have never actually used the Debian distribution so it was next on my list to try. For this installation I decided to use the “net install”. This allowed me to download a small 200MB image file which begins the install process and then fetches the other packages over the network. Even with the Debian installer grabbing nearly a gigabyte of data over the network the entire installation took approximately a half hour. When I booted Debian for the first time I noticed the desktop looks almost identical to that of Ubuntu. Actually, nearly everything is just like Ubuntu; however, it lacked much of the Ubuntu ease-of-use. While Ubuntu is easy to use for anyone who has ever used Windows, Debian requires a stronger background and should generally only be used by those comfortable with the command line.

Site Map MEPISFinally we have a Linux distribution named SimplyMEPIS. I installed version 6.5, which was just recently released to public. The MEPIS image disc can be used to load a “live CD” version of MEPIS, allowing users to try it out before committing to an installation (Ubuntu and many other distros have this feature as well). Once the live CD loaded I went ahead and began installing. The installer for MEPIS is very well organized and just as good as those in Ubuntu and openSUSE. Installation was similar to that of Ubuntu and clocked in around 16 minutes. Once complete, I immediately booted into MEPIS and was extremely impressed. The hardware support of my laptop was top-notch and apparently Beryl installs automatically during the MEPIS installation (and works likes a charm). I can’t say enough about the default interace as everything just seems to be perfect. KDE is the default environment, but seems to be customized better than any other KDE default I have seen. MEPIS has remained on my laptop since I installed it and I am confident it will remain. I am hoping to get an install of MEPIS going on my desktop to see how it performs with everyday tasks including virtualization of Windows installs.

If you do not want to give Ubuntu a shot then I highly recommend you give SimplyMEPIS 6.5 a try. I am really looking forward to using it more often in the future. At the moment I am downloading the image files for FreeBSD 6.2 (BSD is Unix-based but different from Linux in some ways…I am hoping to find out how different). I should have more on this and more in the coming weeks.

For those in Canada, have a great long-weekend!

Cole

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The Best of Open-source for Windows and Mac

Open-source logoMany times since the inception of Shift+Backspace, friends have approached me asking what open-source software they should be using and where they can get it. Usually I toss out names such as FireFox, VLC, Nvu, and Filezilla. This prompted me to start compiling a list of open-source software I regularly use along with descriptions of the applications. This list is still nowhere near complete; and, after coming across a single website this past weekend it may be transfered to the trash bin.

On the weekend I found opensourcewindows.org, a site listing on the best in open-source software for Windows. They have information and links to over 40 different Windows-based applications with each under a certain category based on the use of the program. Anyone who has tried to download certain open-source applications from sourceforge.net have probably realized it takes digging to get to the actual executables and installation wizards. Well, opensourcewindows.org takes care of this and offers links directly to the download.

Now, I realize that some of my visitors use Mac computers. Lucky for you there is an opensourcemac.org! This is nearly identical to the Windows version of the site but offers links to your crazy .dmg files.

Of course, both of these sites are not showcasing all of the free and open-source applications out there, but rather the best of the best. The creators best sum up their site and open-source software by saying:

“Free and open-source software is good for you and for the world. This is the best Windows [and Mac] software that we know of. No adware, no spyware, just good software.”

I hope you check the site and give some of the applications a try. In the future I will be profiling specific free and open-source programs from the list to give readers further knowledge before jumping aboard. If you have had either pleasant or unpleasant experiences with any of these applications please post in the comments or !

Until next time,

Cole

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Rockbox for iPod

After posting the article on Ubuntu coming to mobile devices I finally remembered that I have been using open-source firmware on my iPod (5th generation) for the last few months. What exactly does this mean? Essentially, I have replaced the existing closed-source Apple firmware with the Rockbox open-source (and multi-platform) firmware. Rockbox allows the user to fully customize the graphical user interface (see screenshot here). While customizing the interface with the hundreds of available skins is fantastic, the true beauty of Rockbox comes from the increased function it offers. Most notably of which is offering far more file formats that can be decoded and played compared to the Apple firmware.

While installation of Rockbox was a breeze for myself I would not recommend it to those that are not technically savvy or do not want to “brick” their media player; although it would be fun to take it apart! Another reason for the less tech savvy to avoid Rockbox is that the initial interface is quite “geeky” and may be intimidating/confusing. However, for those tech nuts out there I highly recommend you give Rockbox a shot! If you do not like it you can easily revert to the firmware you initially had from Apple.

At this point you may be intrigued or just want this article to be done. I realize most of my readers with portable media devices most likely have iPods. What exactly does Rockbox add for iPods? Here is an excerpt from the Rockbox FAQ:

“Rockbox for the iPod 4G, Color, Nano and Video models supports a large number of plugins, including games, applications, and “demos” - have some fun when you’ve got some free time to kill, open files with the text viewer, make use of the stopwatch, view some JPEG photos, or turn your iPod into a desktop clock. Also enjoy On-The-Go playlist creation and adjustment, full file bookmarking support and much more.”

If you are interested in reading more about Rockbox check out the website here.

Also, if you want to play with Rockbox on my iPod, and I will be happy to show you (this does require you to know me).

Even nerdier,

Cole

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