Category Archives: Technology

New System for the Parents

Koala MiniAfter hearing complaints from my parents about their ailing computer (which is a kludge of used and random bits of hardware) I decided to get them a new machine. A System76 Koala Mini, pre-installed with Ubuntu. Since they currently use Debian, moving them over to Ubuntu should be seamless.

I have used Debian for some years, I have been promoting Ubuntu (or Kubuntu) as my distro of choice for new users. It wasn’t until last July that I installed k/Ubuntu on my own machine. My desktop is still running Debian, and is the work horse of a server, but for my laptop Ubuntu has been the choice.

On to the system. Why did I choose this one? Simplicity.

I wanted a system that could replace that monstrous tower on the desk, and basically wouldn’t be messed with. This machine is a mere 6.5″x6.5″x1.97″ (LxWxH). You won’t be adding any hardware inside this guy. The options i have chosen are Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83ghz, 1gb ram, 100gb sata harddrive.

Some of the features that make this such a great machine are the CDRW/DVDRW (dual layer) drive, integrated wifi 802.11abg, dvi and s-video outputs, and the undocumented remote control and IR.

I should be receiving the computer in a week, where i intend on setting up the accounts for my parents, installing some applications I know they will need, and making sure its ready to go when they get it. They should not have to worry about configuring anything. Although, from what I read, System76 does a great job at setting up Ubuntu for you, they can’t possibly set up accounts for my parents and import all of their data from the existing system.

I will post pictures and more on the system when I have it in hand.

Knee Deep in Bagasse, and the Fire is still burning

Time surely flies when you are pulling 80hr weeks, and having no time off. It has been a long and tiring few months, but this absence from the blog I have managed to:

  • Helped 2 people install Kubuntu on their systems
  • Distributed 12 bootable linux cds
  • Managed to create a Control system development environment
  • Utilized VMware’s Player, and virtual machine installations of Windows 2k & XP
  • Removed my need to ever boot Windows again as the host OS
  • Picked up the pieces of an incomplete sugarcane syrup mill, and get it running in spite of itself
  • Started my quest for fluency en Español
  • Picked up a Sony PSP, and hacked it

I will continue to document, and write about my implementations of Open Source applications for business and personal use.

In the meantime, i just found an opensource Project Management program GanttProject which can open MS Project files, and export to various formats.

?? ?? ? !

*Update: For a limited time, I will have 2 videos demonstrating my use of the Beryl graphics accelerated windowmanager as well as running windows in virtual machines: Demo2 (9.3MB), Demo3a (9.9MB)

**The video playing in my demo is the “Truth Happens” commercial from Redhat

Getting Cut by Edgy

After a successful install of Kubuntu, I was not content to remain on the “stable” release of Ubuntu Dapper Drake. I have successfully been running off of the unstable release of Debian for over a year with very few problems.

As some of the programs I use on a regular basis have been updated since Dapper was frozen as a stable release, the best way to get them installed was to add Ubuntu Edgy Eft (the name of the unstable release) to my repositories and install. Everything was fine, so I just decided to go for the whole update and completely upgraded to Edgy. This was fine for about a week.

Unfortunately, I just updated some packages for Xorg without reading up on the changes first. It seems that with Xorg 7.1, the nVidia video card support has been lost. This has to do with the fact that nVidia’s proprietary drivers have yet to be updated to 7.1. As a result of that, text would disappear at random on the screen. This is no good for a computer you need to do work on. Trying to backout of the update did not have the desired results. Perhaps because I missed something, but I could not spend too much time fixing it, so I just went for a reinstall of Kubuntu. Easy enough. This time I watched the clock, and it took about 20 minutes to install kubuntu, then after installing I updated with all of the dapper updates, and programs I use not in the default install which took about 40 minutes to download.

Results: 1 hr of time to install and update Ubuntu, disk space taken up 2.8gb

Now 2.8gb seems like a lot of space, but one must remember, that this is not just an operating system. This is an operating system and all of the applications I use regularly, with a few games thrown in for fun. This go around I decided to repartition, and just give the operating system and applications 10gb to live in. At the moment I find this to be a reasonable size for an installation of linux, since even with all the development libraries I typically install for custom compilation of programs, I have yet to exceed 4.5gb of space.

Also, I should note that I have grabbed some programs from the Edgy repository, since I still require the newer versions, but I am just taking what I need and leaving the rest for the full stable release in October. Hopefully by then nVidia will have new drivers out.

New Laptop with kUbuntu Action

kubuntuMy new laptop finally arrived. It is a Dell Precision M90. It is an Intel Core Duo 2.16ghz machine with a beautiful 17″ WUXGA screen (1920×1200), DVDRW, bluetooth, and a Dell 1490 Wifi adapter.

Why am I specifying the adapter? Because, before deciding on this laptop, I did a little research into Linux compatability. I found that the Intel Wifi adapter that they try to push on you, is not well supported in Linux, whereas the Dell 1490 is a Broadcom chip, which using the ndiswrapper drivers, is supported.

I gave the laptop a day to “wow” me with Windows XP. I tried out all the features included, poked around at the software and configurations. I tried using Outlook, of which the company had configured for me, and wondered, “Why would anyone put up with this?”

I will admit, Microsoft has done a great job of making the web version of Outlook look exactly like the stand alone client. Though I get the feeling they made the client look/work like the web version. There were some things such as dropping down a menu item, and having it disappear when I moved to select something, that just made it unbearable to use.

But I digress. Since I didn’t have the time the first day to install Linux, I downloaded some Opensource apps that could make using Windows a bit more bearable. Namely: Firefox, OpenOffice, VLC, Gaim, PDFCreator, Spybot.

For the moment, my only “need” in Windows is MS Project, for which I have already described how I got that running under Linux.

Since I have been handing out copies of Kubuntu to friends that are interested in Linux, I must admit, I have not installed it myself. Its based on Debian, and I have loaded the Live CD and it was good enough for me.

My feeling is that the Ubuntu group has done a terrific job of taking some of the great Linux technologies in Debian and Gnome and KDE, and made an easy to use distribution. Why I chose Kubuntu vs Ubuntu as the distribution to hand out and recommend, is that Ubuntu defaults to Gnome, and Kubuntu defaults to KDE for the desktop environment. I have used both Gnome and KDE desktop environments, and I have found that KDE has come a long way as far as usability, and since that is the desktop I use regularly, I recommend it to others. (I also can help them if the need arises since I am so familiar with it)

After getting home I took one of my Kubuntu discs and booted it on the laptop. Although I have had to help some people resolve (or work through) some incompatibility issues, I was lucky to not have any that prevented me from operating.

So far the biggest issues with Linux on laptops is Wifi support. There are so many chip makers out there, and so many just won’t release the code for their drivers, or make Linux drivers, that it is difficult to get every one working. Infact, one of the most common ways to get the wifi drivers working, is to actually use what is called the ndiswrapper, which actually uses the Windows XP drivers (the .inf and .sys files) to work under Linux. That is what I had to do with the Dell M90.

The other issue a friend of mine had was with using a printer…granted he was trying to use a $20k multipurpose 200k page/day Canon network printer, by directly connecting to it with a usb cable. It does work in Windows, and from what I have read should work under Linux…but there is just something we are missing in debugging that problem.

With my boot up, I had network, bluetooth, sound, and full resolution video right from the start. I was content with this, so I started with a resize of my WinXP partition. This is actually in the Installer on the Desktop, but I wanted to make sure the resize wouldn’t trash the Windows partition, so I did it manually before installing.

I resized the 100gb NTFS parition using QTParted (gParted in Ubuntu), to 60gb. Clicked Apply Changes, and away it went. Less than a minute later it was done, so I rebooted to verify Windows was still there. It was, and after it running CHKDSK since the size changed, it rebooted again, and was perfectly fine.

Content with that, I installed Kubuntu, which surprisingly took only about 15 minutes.

Now all that is need is some broadband access, and I can install all the applications that I use on a regular basis. Sadly, by default Firefox is not installed (because it has Konqueror), OpenOffice is there, but many other apps I use aren’t. But then how much can they really put on a CD? Well actually, enough to get you up and running, with web tools, an OfficeSuite, CD/DVD burning, multimedia apps, etc…I guess I am just picky.

Windows in a Linux Box

My company handed me a copy of MS Project, of which I now must learn to use. I was going to write about how I was using Planner under Linux (which is what I started this project on), but since they are going to be getting the Project Server, and I am the first person to use this software, its my job to make the most of it.

One problem is that I no longer have the laptop I was borrowing, and my laptop is not due in for another few days. So my personal computer is in the office, and that is where I am working from now, for all my project needs. So how am I to install MS Project?

I could boot into Win2k, but I really can’t function for very long in that environment, and my desktop machine is really driven by Linux (Debian to be precise).

First off, I tried to just install Project under Linux with Wine. It got about halfway through the install process when it died of an error. I figure there are some underlying pieces that it just isn’t going to find in Wine. My next idea was to get a Virtual Machine (VM) going.

I have used VmWare in the past, but I don’t have that installed on this system. Neither do I have Win4lin, but my experience there says, its really good for running Win98, and not much beyond.

What I do have, and what I have played with most recently is Qemu. Using the programs that come with it, I created a 4gb disk image: qemu-img create WinXPPro.img 4G

Put in the WinXP Pro CD, and then “booted” the system: qemu -m 512 -cdrom /dev/hdc WinXPPro.img

After that, the install process began, and before long XP was installed and ready to go. Next, I installed MS Project, and it went in without error.

Now, the only problem I have encountered is that for some reason my License for XP Pro will not work. I will likely have to call up MS to correct the issue, but I will deal with that when I move this image to my laptop.

Initially, the VM was running a bit sluggish, but after installing the kernel modules (Qemu Accelerator), XP was running pretty much as fast as if it wasn’t under a virtual machine.

The interesting thing to consider here is that I can use this image, install applications, etc, under Linux. But just as easily I can copy this file to another computer, and use Qemu to run it just the same. Even still, I can use the Windows version of Qemu and run this same image in someone elses Windows machine. I am strongly considering installing all of the engineering software I need in this VM, and just carting it around with me. Put it on a >4GB USB drive, and I will have a complete portable workstation that can be run from just about anyones computer.

Believe me, this is not an original idea. The first I’ve seen of this was in Damn Small Linux, which is meant to be a portable linux distribution you can fit on a usb key. Actually, DSL is the first time I had seen Qemu.

Its amazing this things we can learn when we just play.