Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fun with Chromium and HTML5

Not Linux related, but I wanted to share a nice HTML5 demonstration put together to showcase Google Chrome abilities on the field. I was quite impressed with this "experiment" and found it fun and original, so I want to make sure you guys don't miss it. Simply click on the link below:


As you can imagine, Chromium is perfectly suited for this page as well. Just go ahead and have fun watching, listening and interacting. Just remember the demonstration is quite intensive on the CPU, so try and give Chromium enough resources to make it through safely.


Monday, August 30, 2010

A bit about Parted Magic 5.3 and UnetBootin

Today I want to talk about a specialist Linux distro which has saved me from pretty nasty situations more than once, Parted Magic 5.3. I believe that the best introduction to this fabulous distro is its feature list (extracted from the Parted Magic Official SITE).

- Format internal and external hard drives.
- Move, copy, create, delete, expand & shrink hard drive partitions.
- Clone your hard drive, to create a full backup.
- Test hard drives for impending failure.
- Test memory for bad sectors.
- Benchmark your computer for a performance rating.
- Securely erase your entire hard drive, wiping it clean from all data.
- Gives access to non-booting systems allowing you to rescue important data.
- Runs from CD or USB, no install required.

So as you can see, Parted Magic can indeed pull some impressive magic tricks off. Don't let that "specialist" flavor intimidate you, though, it simply means that this is not your typical full blown desktop, but a set of tools aimed at data recovery and partition management wrapped up in an optimized in a top performing package.


The Parted Magic team used to split their releases in two formats, a Live CD ISO image and a ZIP file containing files that were meant to allow the user to manually put together a Live USB. However, the latter option was complicated, specially for the average (unexperienced) user. As a result, the distro developers have decided to reduce the release format to a single one, the ISO image, and count on UnetBootin as the official tool to create a Live USB. For those who don't know or have not heard of UnetBootin, I wanted to briefly introduce it in this article, as it is a pretty neat tool that dramatically simplifies the creation of a Live USB.

Unetbootin is available on most major distros repositories, so you should be able to install it using your distro software manager of choice, no additional repositories required. Once installed, you only need two things: a USB drive with enough space available and the ISO image of a distro supported by UnetBootin.

Click on image to enlarge.

On the image above you can see UnetBootin in action on PCLinuxOS 2010. The interface is simple and intuitive. In order to create a Live USB, simply select the specific distro (in this case Parted Magic), the location of the ISO image (which I downloaded from HERE), and finally the mount location of your USB drive (make sure you get this last bit RIGHT!). In just a few minutes I had a bootable USB drive with Parted Magic on... Pretty neat stuff!


Because Parted Magic is a specialist distro, I won't cover all of its features in depth here. Instead, I would like to provide just a high level view of what's available so you can tell if it is for you or not. Having said so, I would recommend keeping it with you on a Live CD or USB regardless. Believe me, you may find something miraculous about this magic at some point later down the line.

One neat feature about Parted Magic is that, given its extremely light weight, it can boot straight into memory, not requiring any hard drive interaction of any kind to function. In other words, you may use a Live CD or USB to boot and once the process completes, you may eject them for they are no longer needed. This is not only convenient, but it also allows for some impressive performance!

Click on image to enlarge.

The Parted Magic desktop, as depicted above, is clean and simple. There is a convenient text based widget monitoring the system resources on the fly. The most important and useful applications are easy to reach from desktop launchers, but lots more are available from the main menu, let's take a quick look.

The Accessories menu entry holds many interesting applications, as shown above. As expected, there are no fancy office suite apps in here and even the Sonar file manager feels a bit simplistic, but it's all perfect for what the distro is aimed for.

The Internet menu entry contains just a handful applications, but they are all good choices. Chromium takes the Internet browser role, something many should welcome. On top of that, a VNC client, which is good for access to remote computers, a few FTP clients and an IRC client, just in case we may need the occasional live discussion to clarify any doubts.

The System menu entry is where it is at, though. Ghost4Linux, GParted, Clonezilla, TestDisk and UnetBootin itself, among many others, make up for a host of terribly powerful applications which will help you mount many different filesystems, monitor drives and run healthchecks on them, fix potential problems and even clone entire systems.

All in all, Parted Magic is an awesome tool that can provide some invaluable help under difficult circumstances. Once again, I encourage keeping it around just in case. It is better to spare a CD or a small USB drive and never need to use Parted Magic, than having a problem and missing its company!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Introducing Windows users to Linux

Like many current Linux users, I once used Windows exclusively. Luckily, I learnt that there are alternatives that are just as good, if not better. When I started using Linux, I was constantly surprised as I unfolded its many impressive features. I quickly became a Linux enthusiast, passionately presenting it to friends and family. Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way that there are many things that can get in the way of a smooth transition, resulting in frustration and eventual rejection by the potential new user. I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences here, so that anybody reading can avoid them.

To begin with, I would like to share a simple thought that is somehow linked to most issues I have found:

When one is excited about Linux and wants to let others experience it, it's easy to miss details that may seem unimportant at first sight, but may end up being critical for the end user. Always put his/her interests and needs first.


The first and most important question. Will the end user really benefit from moving to Linux? Yes, it is virus free, better performing in general, boots quicker, etc. That's all very nice, but will the user appreciate that? Even more importantly, will s/he even care when comparing that to the learning curve required to get to grips with the new operating system?

For the average Linux enthusiast it is very difficult to understand that the many benefits of his/her favorite OS will go unnoticed, but believe me, some people couldn't care less. If on top of that there is risk that certain applications/features may be lost in the process, I would recommend leaving that person alone with his/her current setup.

As an example, I remember when I tried to get a friend of mine to use Linux. We eventually found that her iPod settings were not fully supported. She could manage her music library, but lost her playlists. I tried several things to workaround the problem, but she got increasingly frustrated and eventually asked me to install Windows back. That was a clear case of a user who was not interested in computers, using a minimal set of features. The benefits coming from Linux were clearly outweighted by the challenges related to its adoption, which eventually resulted in rejection.

While I didn't back then, I now realise I should have never tried to get such user to migrate to Linux in the first place.


Sometimes users that don't have computer skills may be intimidated by even the slightest change. The Linux complicated reputation, if they know about it, doesn't necessarily help either. As a result, those users are often unconfortable with the idea of migrating to a new OS, which will set them in the perfect position to reject the idea. The best way to aproach it with this type of users (actually, with any kind of users) is by selling the idea and having the user buy it, as opposed to imposing it just because "we know better".

In my experience, the best way to get users to like Linux is by letting them experience it. Leave their computer alone and bring yours along or have them visit your place. Have them sit in front of your machine and let them experience the many features you love. As far as I have seen, a guided tour is by far the most powerful way of getting users excited about Linux. Bring to their attention details that they may appreciate but not necessarily pay attention to. Here are some ideas:

- Fast bootup and shutdown times.
- Great overall performance
- Fast Internet browsing partially resulting from the lack of antivirus software
- Desktop effects and animations.
- Open source applications are similar to their Windows counterparts and easy to use

The idea is to get the users excited and wanting to give Linux a chance. A willing user is key, because that is the only thing that will keep a positive attitude when challenges appear, and believe me, they will. In fact, it is also critical to try to explain some of those challenges before hand. Here are some examples:

- Limited hardware support.
- Limited support for applications and games designed for Windows.
- Some very specific Windows applications may not have an open source counterpart.

Like I said before, it is important that the user gets excited about using Linux, but it is also important that s/he holds the right expectations.


They say an image is worth a thousand words, and sometimes looks are the best presentation card for Linux. The extreme customization available makes it easy for a Linux desktop to become a piece of eye candy. Unfortunately, most distros don't really focus on getting their default profiles to be eye catching, so a bit of help on this department is surely welcome.

With just a few tweaks you can make the default profile of a new installation look very appealing, which should get the user's attention straight away. In fact, if you have the time, I would encourage teaching a few simple visual tweaks, such as changing the wallpaper, setting up a new icon theme, etc.


One of the most sensible parts of migrating a user is the transfer of his/her data. Depending on the user profile, this may be a huge task or a piece of cake. Regardless of its complexity, make sure you get it right, or else the rest of the process will pretty much mean nothing.

In my opinion, the best way to go about it is by avoiding drastic changes. A step by step approach usually works out best in the long run. In other words, start with non intrusive approaches that will let the user keep his/her setup intact. Using Wubi to provide a safe dual installation or installing Linux on an inexpensive USB drive, there are many ways to let users taste it without compromising their current installation. In addition, users can pace their adaptation by using Linux when they please.

When facing the eventual full migration, in case it is required, be sure to understand everything the user needs. In fact, I would encourage to backup the full user profile, which would obviously include personal documents, everything under the desktop folder, etc. In addition, be sure to understand external devices such as media players, cameras, etc., as well as their settings on the computer.


A wise man once said: "Sh*t happens", and he was spot on, so you better be prepared to roll up your sleeve and do some troubleshooting. Users will quickly think Linux is not worth it if not even the "expert" that is introducing them to it can work around problems.

Just knowing a bit about the user's Windows instance should already provide good hints on the areas that could present problems. As always, booting from a liveCD is more than recommendable and should highlight areas of potential risk.

If possible, do a bit of reasearch before the migration takes place. For example, if the user owns a specific photo camera model, it is often simple to find if such model is supported in Linux, as well as maybe how to work around problems that may be specific to it.

It is usually the case that many troubleshooting tips are intensive on the terminal. It is also true that many of those tips can be carried out using GUI applications and wizards. This approach may be a bit boring for experts, but will surely be less intimidating for the person that is being introduced to Linux, so I would recommend using it.


Being passionate about Linux should not get in the way of accepting its shortcomings or potential errors in the migration process. Blaming any problems on the lack of experience of the end user is the most common excuse, but it should really be the last one.

Being humble, critical about Linux's weaknesses and your own is always better than being arrogant and self complacent. In fact, such approach will surely make the user more confortable and understanding, more willing to stick with Linux even if not everything goes absolutely perfect right off the bat.

On a different note, as the introducer, get the most out of the experience, because there will surely be things you can learn from. Make sure you understand what to repeat and what to avoid when facing similar situations.


Linux is all about its community. Therefore, it is always good news when new users join and start adding their two cents. Donations, translations, help in bug fixing, documenting, coding... You name it, it's all needed and welcome.

Bringing new users onboard and becoming a Linux "evangelist" is clearly an important thing, but it is even more important to do a good job at it. One happy user will maybe bring another one, but frustrated users make lots of negative noise, effectively defeating the purpose of trying to bring them in in the first place. By carefully managing the migration process, we will dramatically increase chances of bringing users in and keeping them in, which is the mission objective, after all.

Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's your favorite Ubuntu so far?

Ubuntu is clearly the most popular Linux distro right now, a position that far from changing, seems to be getting more accentuated with every release. Considering the youth of the project, the Ubuntu phenomenon is nothing short of amazing. Since its first release, just six years ago, the former "brown" distro has managed to convince both the expert as well as the novice all across the world.

The following list contains all Ubuntu releases so far:

VersionReleased onCodename
Ubuntu 10.04April 2010Lucid Lynx
Ubuntu 9.10October 2009Karmic Koala
Ubuntu 9.04April 2009Jaunty Jackalope
Ubuntu 8.10October 2008Intrepid Ibex
Ubuntu 8.04April 2008Hardy Heron
Ubuntu 7.10October 2007Gutsy Gibbon
Ubuntu 7.04April 2007Feisty Fawn
Ubuntu 6.10October 2006Edgy Eft
Ubuntu 6.04April 2006Dapper Drake
Ubuntu 5.10October 2005Breezy Badger
Ubuntu 5.04April 2005Hoary Hedgehog
Ubuntu 4.10October 2004Warty Warthog

No matter when it happens, though, there is an ongoing trend with every release: Endless discussions about that particular release being better or worse than the previous ones. However, I have noticed that people usually settle down with any release and are happy with it as soon as the corresponding maintenance patches are made available.

So, are those discussions and comparisons a waste of time, a result of the initial lack of stability which is often part of a brand new release? Is there anything about certain releases that made them stand out? I want to know what you think and if you have any favorite Ubuntu release.

Please vote on the poll applet at the top right of the page.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Good times to install Ubuntu 10.04

If, like me, you suffered from a number of stability issues when installing Ubuntu 10.04, the time to give it another go may be about now. Canonical released the first maintenance update, Ubuntu 10.04.1, just two days ago (check the official release notes HERE, which includes links to download a number of ISO images available.)

The list of updates/bug fixes is huge, which is good news, and will hopefully take care of the many annoying problems this release had (specially concerning given its LTS nature). If you are curious about whether that particular problem that was a nightmare for you is now gone, take a look at the official BUG-FIX LIST.

Having said so, if you passed on this release because you didn't like what it had to offer (count me on that group), I think it is a wiser choice to simply wait until Ubuntu 10.10, the Maverick Meerkat, goes live some day late October.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


The wait is finally over: KDE SC 4.5.0 finally came to my PCLinuxOS 2010 tablet today as part of a distribution upgrade. There are loads of improvements and new features, so I want to run through a very high level review to give readers a hint of what they are in for.


Many of KDE SC 4.5.0 features and improvements are easy to spot. From changes in the Oxygen icon theme to a complete rework of the system tray, many changes are Look&Feel related.

Click on image to enlarge.

The default plasma theme (Air) has seen some subtle changes and refinements. The end result is a more polished look, which is further improved by the new system tray icons. In previous KDE SC reviews, I referred to this area as one that needed an urgent update because its icons and overall looks were dated and not up to par with the rest of the environment. Fortunately, things have been improved, and quite significantly.

One of the most obvious changes is that update in the overall looks, which is mainly led by a new set of icons that I personally love. They look simple, yet modern and refreshing. The system tray settings interface has also been reviewed and improved. Hidden icons are now shown via a pop-up menu, as shown on the image above. Another very welcome enhancement, or perhaps bug fix, is that property menus are no longer behind the panel, regardless of its height.

The Oxygen default icon theme also gets a revamp, and quite a nice one at that. The changes are most visible when using the KickOff menu style, but also look good on the classic menu and all over the desktop environment. Improvements don't stop there, though. Flexibility has been pushed even further and now we can modify Oxygen's widget style and window decorations to the minute detail. Oxygen settings can easily be accessed by typing the following line on krunner:


Speaking of krunner, it also got its share of improvements and new features. Among other things, it can be used to handle open applications, contacts and even open windowed widgets.

A set of new wallpapers (one of them was used for the screenshots on this article) also comes along with KDE SC 4.5.0, and I have to say that all twelve desktop backgrounds are beautiful and top quality. Another welcome change makes the wallpaper selector look better and easier to use.

Click on image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, not all visual elements have been improved. As was the case on previous KDE SC versions, the add widgets applet still appears behind the panel, partially covered by it, which is clearly not the way it should be. (EDIT: This problem seems to be related to Compiz being enabled. The problem does not appear when Compiz is off.)

Click on image to enlarge.

System notifications have also received some improvements, specially in terms of Look&Feel. In my opinion, they now look much more polished and better integrated within the KDE desktop. I have to say, though, that Amarok notifications are not yet part of knotify, which I thought would be the default setting under this KDE SC version. (EDIT: Amarok notifications default to its own notification system, but may be set up to use knotify)


One of the coolest improvements in KDE SC 4.5.0 comes from the performance department. As soon as the upgrade happens, one needs to reboot the system for all the changes to make effect, and on that first boot one can already tell that everything feels a bit quicker and snappier. Among other things, there have been improvements around common cached elements, such as icons, which now load much faster. This simple detail has a system wide effect that has an impact on menus, widgets, windows, etc.

The KDE control center has undergone a deep make over. Categories have been reorganized, new items added, and the overall feel is that the whole thing makes more sense now.

Both Dolphin and Konqueror also got improvements, along with many other typical KDE applications, such as Gwenview, Kopete or Kinfocenter, to give just a few examples.


Not all distros will offer upgrading to KDE SC 4.5.0 straight away. Fortunately, PCLinuxOS 2010 continues to shine as one of the (if not THE) fastest distros to release stream changes to its users. I know Fedora users got this release on their unstable repositories five or six days ago, but I am not sure if they got it on the standard ones by now.

In any case, the upgrade is simple, but I would recommend using the dist-upgrade apt-get option to ensure you download everything that's required. Simply open a terminal and type the following as root.

apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade

Note that upgrading with this option can take a bit longer than the usual update.


As I was playing around with KDE SC 4.5.0 and unlocking its secrets, I was feeling like I was going to spoil the fun to others about to start using it, so I decided to keep some details (and screenshots) out of this article.

All I can say is that KDE SC 4.5.0 is by far the most exciting KDE release I have used and that it is a huge step in the right direction. Better looks, bug fixes, better performance and a host of new features make this desktop environment the best it has ever been.

The question is... What are you waiting for?

Thanks to the guys at http://fedoreando.com/ for their great KDE SC 4.5.0 review, it was a great reference!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ubuntu theme updates coming for Maverick!

Canonical has continued evolving the Ubuntu themes that made it to release 10.04, codenamed Lucid Lynx. In a BLOG ENTRY by Otto Greenslade, we can start to see some of the updates that will go into the new release for October, Ubuntu 10.10 Maveric Meerkat.

The last Ambience updates look incredible!

The blog entry is very interesting and covers in detail some of the changes that have taken place so far, as well as the rationale behind them. Personally, I am glad they noticed some areas that I thought needed more work. The result is very promising and I now find these themes VERY appealing!

I am particularly interested in the fonts, which look like the new Ubuntu branding theme ones. In addition, they seem to be concentrating now in the creation of a new Ubuntu icon theme, which should see the light in about a year. I think that is well overdue, something I have missed myself in the last few releases. The guys are doing a great job at improving Ubuntu's Look&Feel, and that is precisely causing the standard icon theme to stand out as a poor piece in the puzzle.

All in all, I believe these new themes, fonts and a new improved icon theme will make Ubuntu look as good as it deserves!

KDE 4.5 is coming!

KDE has just released Development Platform, Applications and Plasma Workspaces 4.5.0. This is awesome news and since the KDE community is asking everybody to speak up and pass on the message, I wanted to add my two cents.

Note that this is not the window manager (KDE SC 4.5.0), which is still to be released.

KDE Applications 4.5.0

"10th August, 2010. The KDE team today releases a new version of the KDE Applications. Many educational titles, tools, games and graphical utilities have seen further enhancement and usability improvements. Routing backed by OpenRouteService has made its entry in Marble, the virtual globe. Konqueror, KDE's webbrowser can now be configured to use WebKit with the KWebKit component available in the Extragear repository."

KDE Plasma Workspaces 4.5.0

"10th August, 2010. KDE today releases the Plasma Desktop and Plasma Netbook Workspaces 4.5.0. Plasma Desktop received many usability refinements. The Notification and Job handling workflows have been streamlined. The notification area has been cleaned up visually, and its input handling across applications is now made more consistent by the extended use of the Freedesktop.org notification protocol first introduced in Plasma's previous version."

KDE Development Platform 4.5.0

"10th August, 2010. KDE today releases the KDE Development Platform 4.5.0. This release brings many performance and stability improvements. The new KSharedDataCache is optimized for fast access to resources stored on disk, such as icons. The new KDE WebKit library provides integration with network settings, password-storage and many other features found in Konqueror."

Read more about it from the OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

POLL RESULTS: Best Linux Packaging Strategy?

Looking at the results of the poll that just finished, one thing is clear: Most people would like to see Linux moving to a single packaging format. Out of all voters, only 10% were happy with the current situation.

The next question is, if moving to a single packaging format, then which one? Surprisingly, most people agreed the DEB format, or a derivative from it, should be the perfect candidate.

Click on the graph picture to enlarge.

As can be seen in the graph above, the DEB packaging format gets massive support when compared to other alternatives. In any case, I don't think it is wise to get too caught up in the "battle" of which one is the absolute best, but maybe acknowledge that it would be best for the OS and the whole community to use a single format and target that as a future objective.

Thanks for voting!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Play and record guitar on your Linux box!

I have recently found about GUITARIX, a very interesting project for Linux. Essentially, this software modeling amplifier is similar to other products already available from companies like Line6, only 100% open, available for the most popular Linux distros and, of course, free of charge.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Not sure how many a video is worth, but watch (and listen to) this demo, it is quite impressive!!

As you can see, all guitar tracks came from Guitarix. They are mono tracks, which are then routed into the JACK audio server, which in turn can patch them through to Ardour track inputs. All the recording was done in Ardour, apparently.

I am yet to try Guitarix myself, but wanted to share it over here because I think it is a great tool for all of us doing Audio production in Linux. Should you want to install it, please follow the instructions from the official site. In the case of Ubuntu/Ubuntu Studio, instructions are simple:

1.- Add the Guitarix repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:falk-t-j/lucid

2.- Update your sources:

sudo apt-get update

3.- Install Guitarix

sudo apt-get install guitarix

If you do install it or have done so already, please share your experience by posting a comment here!

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Android rootkit created in just two weeks

You may not know that Android mobile phones are actually built on top of a modified Linux Kernel. According to the definition found under ANDROID.COM:

"Android relies on Linux version 2.6 for core system services such as security, memory management, process management, network stack, and driver model. The kernel also acts as an abstraction layer between the hardware and the rest of the software stack."

It is because of that Linux link that I wanted to start sharing Android news and concepts over here.


For those of you who don't know much about Android or maybe are not up to date with the project progress, I recommend watching the following video, which concentrates on demonstrating the great new features that come with the latest release, Android 2.2, codenamed "FROYO". The video is long, but very interesting, definitely worth watching. It includes demos depicting what Android is capable of today, as well as hinting at what is in store for the near future.

As Mr. Gundotra himself stresses at the beginning of this video, Android is roughly 1,5 years old. At such young age, it has made some incredible accomplishments, but some areas are still a bit immature. This is understandable, not only because of the project's youth, but also because of the crazy evolution pace the mobile device market is under. In fact, given that Android activations are now up to 160,000 a day (!!!), you can imagine how its market and community are bursting with creativity and continuous change.


Now, it would be naive to think that all that development power would go in one direction. There will surely be people with malicious intentions, interested in exploiting potential vulnerabilities. Therefore, it is wise to keep an eye on security and continuously watch for security holes. A couple experts at Spider Labs seem to have thought of that as they created a rootkit for Android, as a proof of concept for a vulnerability they found. That malicious piece of software they built allows its developer to gain total control over the Android device.

The most concerning bit is that they apparently built this piece of malware in roughly two weeks, and, as they acknowledge themselves, "there are people who are much more motivated to do these things than we are." You may read the full story from this ARTICLE.


I think it is important to not overreact to things like this one. Making a system rock solid and fully secure takes time, and it is specially challenging within an environment that evolves as quickly as the Android one. The fact that such a vulnerability was brought up is actually good news. To begin with, that vulnerability will be fixed, but it will also trigger much more robust security features and audits from now on.

Unfortunately, the article does not really explain how that piece of malware actually works, but I found a bit more information at SLASHDOT.ORG:

"...(The piece of malicious software) is able to send an attacker a reverse TCP over 3G/WIFI shell upon receiving an incoming call from a 'trigger number.'"

Therefore, this apparently means that the actual malware must be installed on the device (they don't really explain how this would happen) before the device owner picks up that 'trigger number' call in order for it to work. It's hard to judge the real impact of this vulnerability with so little information, but it sounds to me like installing software that exclusively comes from verified sources should avoid the problem.

NOTE: It is important to understand that this vulnerability is NOT a Linux one, but specific to Android.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Linux Kernel 2.6.35 announced by Linus Torvalds

Just two days ago, Linus Torvalds posted a message informing that the latest release of the Linux Kernel was available. Release 2.6.35 brings some interesting features and improvements with it. A few highlights include:

- Transparent spreading of incoming network traffic load across CPUs
- Btrfs improvements
- KDB kernel debugger frontend
- Memory compaction
- Support for multiple multicast route tables
- Various performance and graphics improvements

You can read the actual message from Mr. Torvalds HERE.