Thursday, November 17, 2011

Linux Mint 12

Just a quick post to say I have just downloaded the release candidate for Linux Mint 12 and I am in the process of installing it in Virtual Box to give it a test drive before deciding if I will upgrade my current system when it goes to distribution release. I currently run Linux Mint 11 on my main working PC and find it quite a stable release. On first look I'm not sure I like the desktop layout. One of the reasons I like mint is the single task bar (panel) at the bottom of the desktop and the Mint menu layout. With the move to Gnome 3.2 if you want a more traditional Mint look and feel you need to log off the session and in the log on screen click on the cog on the right of the user log in panel and choose the option 'MATE' then re log on. You will now be presented with a desktop that is more akin to the current Mint 11 layout although the menu is more akin to the old traditional Gnome menu and not the current menu as in Mint 11 which I love.

On first look apart from the locked panels at the top and bottom of the desktop and the lack of the Mint 11 menu, the installed software is much the same as the current stable Mint 11. You get all the video and audio codecs installed out of the box and with the addition of Ubuntu restricted extras you will have MS fonts installed and other less 'Free' applications that Ubuntu does not include as part of the underlying operating system, this is clearly Ubuntu 11.10 under the hood but with Gnome 3.2 and without the Unity interface favoured by Canonical in their Gnome release.   

I'll post more after I have had more time to explore the differences and made a hardware install on one of my test PC's

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blackpool Linux Use Group

This morning was spent at the regular meeting of my LUG here in Blackpool.

It was quite a constructive meeting, my friend, fellow member and fellow 'Flying Handbag' podcaster, ( Les Pounder, helped me set up a couple of things on My Acer Aspire One Net book, which is currently running Lubuntu 11.10, and running it very well. We configured my Dropbox account as I had not yet done this since installing Lubuntu a week or so ago. We also downloaded and installed Skype and I set myself up with an account.

Mike another member and our host (We meet in the premises he runs a PC Recycling business, and Blackpool computer Club from),

helped me set up an Adsense account. This enables you to use web sites that you own, to show adverts and potentially generate an income from people who visit your site and then click on the adverts. Given that I have only started to Blog in the last 2 weeks, I'm not expecting to become a millionaire overnight, but the thought of a little extra cash is always appealing.

I always come away from the meetings having learnt at least one thing during the morning, and it is always good to be able to have a chat to other like minded folk without being thought of as a geek. The main thing is we learn from each other and if one of us has a particular computer or Linux (or in some cases another commonly used OS) related issue that they cannot solve, there is a good chance someone at the meeting can help out. We also share resources, lending each other books and magazines. As a LUG we are also members of the O'Reilly Books, 'User Group Programme', so we get discounts on purchases and review copies of books that we can use within the LUG.  

So when I'm not working or we're not taking the LUG on the road to an Open Source event somewhere in the Northwest and beyond, on a Saturday morning I'm generally to be found supping coffee and generally geeking at Blackpool LUG.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eureka moment

I'm sat here this evening checking out my install of Lubuntu 11.10 in Virtual Box. For those not familiar with this software Virtual Box allows the running of virtual PC's within the host operating system.

On the home desktop PC this is useful as it enables the user to test other operating systems within there current operating system, without the risk of damaging their current install, which can be a risk when attempting a dual boot system where you install a second or multiple operating systems on the hardware either on the same hard drive or another bootable drive within the PC. This has a number of dangers as it involves re partitioning the drive and if this is a working system this runs the risk of data loss if things go wrong.

While you can use Virtual Box to install any number of virtual PC's it will only emulate the hardware of the host PC, If you wish to run another OS for different hardware say an ARM CPU based PC, then you would need different software that can emulate hardware as well as run the virtual PC. An example of this is QEMU (
Anyway back to the Eureka moment, I currently run Virtual Box 4.0.6 on my Core 2 Duo 2.66 based desk top PC with 8 Gig Ram and running Linux Mint 11. I find VBox to be very good and often use it for testing out new Linux Distributions prior to trying a hardware install on one of my testing machines. However since upgrading to the 4.x version of this software I had not been able to get USB connectivity with the attached USB devises hooked up to the host PC.

In previous versions of VBox before I could get it to work at all after install, I had to go into users and groups and enable myself as a group VBox user. But with 4.x I was able to use it without doing this and I forgot to do it. I had installed the USB extension pack to enable USB 2 support but USB was still unavailable. Well tonight I just happened to be exploring the menus in Lubuntu and noticed the ' manage users and Groups' menu, hence the Eureka moment.

I shut down VBox and went into users and groups on my host PC and checked the setting for VBox and yes it was not checked for me to be a member of this group. I checked the relevant box put in my sudo password and exited. I then logged out of the session and re logged in to ensure the change took affect. I rebooted up VBox and hey presto I now have USB access to all my hardware when in a virtual PC.

Not a massive issue but I do now have access to my printer from a virtual machine which in the case of my Win XP install is quite useful. Sometimes it is the simplest things that you sometimes forget that fix problems, but it would be good if software that I had installed having had to give my admin password during the process had added me to the VBox user group from the installation.

It is small things like this that can make Linux seem difficult for windows users trying Linux for the first time, and in my opinion is hampering the take up of what is a very good OS, which, depending on the distribution used, can run on very low powered legacy hardware, to the latest high spec i7 rigs. A couple of years ago Canonical ran a project called 100 paper cuts to address some of these little niggles but there is obviously still a lot to do before it is as good as it could be.       

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My First Post - What is this Blog about, an introduction.

I've spent a few days thinking of what I want to talk about in this Blog and I have come to the conclusion that I should post about Linux, Free Open source software and things related to this, such as new hardware discoveries.

First a little bit of an introduction to me and where I come from in relation to using Linux and Open source software. 

I am one of the in between generation having left school in the mid 70's to embark on to the world of work, computers missed me by several years at school and I did not get my hands on one until the late 80's when I found myself trying to get myself back into work after being made redundant and a period of unemployment. I was undertaking a control systems engineering course and we were using early IBM clone PC's for CAD/CAM applications. I enjoyed the experience but did not envisage having one for myself as I could not see what I might use it for and the cost was definitely prohibitive at that time in my life (as I am sure it was for many others).

It was to be another 6 years before I got, or rather my then fiancĂ©e, later wife, got a PC. This was a second hand Intel 386 running Windows 3.1, with a vast 1Mb of Ram which at extortionate cost was upgraded to 4Mb, I do mean extortionate, it cost £120 for the 4Mb, and that was in 1993. This PC was for my partner to write assignments for the university course she was doing, and run a specialist statistical software package relating to what she was studying. I used it for the odd letter but my main use of computers was now through work. I was now working in health and social care and computers were starting to be used to record data on contacts and in some of the smaller organisations I worked in, to create assessment templates and other documents relating to case work.

Over the next 5 years I used PC's at work, getting acquainted with the ubiquitous MS Office packages, but it was not until late 1998 when I returned to full time study and we were in a better financial situation that I bought my first NEW PC. By this time Pentium 2's were the big thing and I went to one of the consumer computer companies of the time (Tiny) and got a system package running Win98. The specification was as follows;

Intel P2 350, 128Mb SDRam, 6Gig HDD, DVD Rom, and Office 97 small business edition with, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher and some other free software. There was also a printer and scanner in the package and the PC had an internal 56kb modem for connecting to the internet via the telephone network. This was for the princely sum of £1400, and at the time, I thought I had got a good deal.

I signed up for a pay as you go internet package with 'Freeserve' which at a 1p/min was a relatively cheep way of accessing e-mail and doing a little surfing from home considering most ISP's were costing £15/month for a limited download package at that time and I had access to the internet at collage or work for most of what I used the net for at that time.

Over the next 5-6 years I started to use the PC to edit a news letter, do some basic photo editing and keep accounts for a couple of charities I was involved with. With a bit of help from a couple of friends who were more computer literate than me at the time, I even did a few hardware upgrades such as a memory upgrade and installing a CDRW drive when they became affordable. When the P2 350 started to show its age I had a new system tower built, I can not remember the specs for that PC but it was later rebuilt in around 2004 with a new mother board and an Intel P4 2.5GHz CPU and a legit OEM copy of Windows XP, 512Mb Ram and a 40Gig HDD. Also by this time I had upgraded to what passed for Broad Band at that time, which was a 512Kbps ADSL line, 10 times faster than dial up and you could use the phone at the same time as being on line, it seemed blisteringly fast at the time.

Over the next couple of years I became a little more confident with not only using the PC for office and other tasks, but I started to learn more about Windows and became adapt at rescuing broken systems, and reinstalling Windows from scratch onto systems that were beyond rescue. In 2006 I decided that I would have a go at building a PC from the ground up using some old parts I had acquired over the years and a couple of old PC Towers I had, nothing modern in fact they were both early P2 base units and as such were not really capable of running Windows XP very well, even though in theory they met the minimum specification for the original XP release, which can be seen here:

This was when I thought I would give Linux a shot. I had been reading more and more about Linux in particularly a new distribution called Ubuntu which in it's Xubuntu variant was supposed to work on old, low specification hardware. I got one of the PC's into working order and having downloaded an ISO of the Xubuntu live CD, (by this time I'm a cable customer with a 2Mbps connection) I set about installing it onto the PC, remember that this was late 90's hardware but running a modern OS. The install went smoothly and in a short time I had a fully functioning XFCE desktop, and as a bonus I had a fairly comprehensive package of free software from the start. What I did not have was the ability to play all video and audio formats such as DVD's and MP3's out of the box, but visiting various forums and remembering an article I had read in one of my computer magazines I found the Medibuntu website and was able to figure out how to install the necessary repositories into the OS to enable the necessary codec’s to run DVD's and MP3 files in a media player.

Having a working PC with Xubuntu on it I was able to explore what it had on offer, and if it was really a full replacement for Windows. Over the next few months I realised that I could use software that was freely available for Linux that would just about replace all the windows software I had been using. I set up a dual boot system on my main desktop PC and started to find and become familiar with the software I would need if I was going to replace Windows as my main OS. At the same time I was also refurbishing and recycling old PC equipment through the Freecycle/Freegle networks and the experience of configuring these systems to run Linux (as many did not have a Windows licence) gave me a crash course in this new (to me) OS. In 2009 I finally did away with the dual boot and have Linux installed on my desktop PC and  on several laptops and my 2 net books.

Fast forward to 2011, I now run an Intel core 2 duo system running Linux Mint for all my day to day computing needs, including photo editing and all the office tasks I need to do. for the one piece of windows software I can not replace I run an XP install in Virtual Box which is booted up as necessary and runs the required task in the background while I get on with other things. I am also an active member of my local Linux user Group here in Blackpool, and have taken part in a number of events in the North West of England, to promote Linux and other free Open source software. This evening while writing this blog I have just installed Lubuntu 11.10 onto my Acer Aspire One Net Book (1.6 Atom, 8Gig SSD and 768Mb Ram) which could well be the subject of my next post.