Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Been a long time...

So I'm back in school now, which means I'll have plenty of time to write again.

Over the summer, I've experimented with installing several linux distros on several different machines with varying degrees of success. Here are the distros I try and the order I try them.

If the computer has over 256MB RAM.
1. Linux Mint Cassandra
2. Linux Mint Bianca
3. Ubuntu
4. Linux Mint xfce
5. xubuntu

If the computer has less that 256MB RAM.
1. Linux Mint xfce
2. xubuntu

I've had really good luck with both Linux Mint Bianca and xubuntu as far as working on every machine I've tried.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I love beryl

Just put beryl on the main family computer last night. It's great. The window switcher alone is worth the 10 minutes (if that) it took me to download and install. For those of you who are also running Linux Mint, the instructions for installing beryl are here. It was easy and quick- just copy and paste. I believe the method for installing on ubuntu is exactly the same.

If you decide to try beryl (and I highly recommend you do,) after you install and open the beryl-manager, hold down ctrl and alt and then right-click and move your mouse. You'll be pleased. :)

I'll write more soon about beryl. I'm still experimenting.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What is this thing, anyway?

The other day, a friend brought over an old computer that she didn't want. The windows 98 that was on it was not working properly (big surprise), and I didn't want to go through the pain to get it working since I was just going to install linux on it.

So I tried the new xubuntu, but it would just hang when I clicked install. This really confused me since the liveCD booted no problem. So I went and checked the xubuntu system requirements. It said you need 128mb RAM to boot the liveCD, but 196mb to install, and I had.... you guessed it.... 128mb!

But all was not lost! xubuntu offers an alternate cd for situations such as this. It offers an install using a text-based installer rather than the GUI (Graphical User Interface) on the regular cd. I installed and was up and running with no problem.

At this point, I became very curious about the hardware in the machine (mainly the processor speed.) On a windows machine, you could right click on "My Computer" and it would tell you information about the computer, but I didn't know the linux equivalent of that maneuver.

So, finally, on to the point of this post. I did some looking and found a great command to give you information about the hardware in a linux machine - lshw - just be sure to run it as root. For those of you scratching your head- Open a terminal and type:

sudo lshw

This will tell you more than you probably ever wanted to know about your hardware.

If this doesn't work for you, you probably don't have lshw installed. You can do this easily by searching for "lshw" in the package manager, checking the box next to it and clicking "Apply."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Your own linux desktop available from anywhere!

Here's a great way to get a basic idea of what it's like to use a linux os.

Desktop on Demand offers a free online "computer" that you can access securely from anywhere.

First go to the download page at nomachine and look for the "NX Client Desktop Edition." Download and install the version for whatever operating system you are using.

If you're on someone else's computer, you can use the java plugin I'll talk about later.

Then go to and sign up for your free account. Open a new window and check your email for your new login information. Then you'll want to login to manage your services in order to change your password to something you'll remember. After this, you can enter your username in the box to the top left of the page and select either:
  1. Desktop - This is what to use if you have installed the NX Client Desktop Edition that I mentioned previously.
  2. Desktop (java) - This is what to use if you're using someone else's or a public computer. It will ask to install a java plugin the first time. It doesn't take long.
  3. File Manager - This is what to use if you want to transfer files from the computer you are on to your remote computer.
Login to the nomachine window that pops up.

The first two options may cause windows security to freak out. Don't worry about it, just click "unblock" or "allow."

In no time, a new window should open with your brand new linux desktop. Look around and see what's there!

One of the nicest features of this remote desktop is the file sharing. Any file that you have on your remote computer can be put into one of the share folders and accessed by any other Desktop on Demand user you allow, or you can put something in the "public shares" folder and share with the entire community of users.

You can also check out gimp, the open source equivalent to photoshop.

Have fun and enjoy!

A couple beryl videos

Here are some linux users running beryl.

Beryl comes pre-installed on the MEPIS distribution. I'm currently using it on my new hp laptop and loving it.

Me loves the eye-candy!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Three good reasons to switch from windows to linux

In the relatively brief time since that beautiful day that I finally switched, several differences between being a windows user and a linux user have really jumped out at me.

  1. Peace of mind. You don't have to worry about going to this or that website for fear of malicious code (programs that want to screw you), because that code is written for windows. It simply will not run on linux. This is a hard one for me to explain to my friends sometimes. Most people think that linux has some sort of blocker or something, but it doesn't. These malicious programs simply don't run properly (or at all) on any operating system that ISN'T windows. The only programs that run on a linux os are written FOR linux, so any virus that could potentially hurt your computer would have to be written FOR linux. Writing/creating a linux virus simply makes no sense when linux users are such a small and more educated (and therefore better protected) percentage of computer users. Why write something to break into 6% of computers on the web when you could write something to break into 80%?
  2. Ease of use. Linux looks and responds almost exactly the same way as windows. Distributions like ubuntu, MEPIS and linux mint all have utilities to manage the use of all of your SD cards, USB drives, CD's and DVD's. One of the other nice things that I never anticipated is the cleanliness and straightforwardness of open source applications (programs like gimp, amarok, etc.) because features are only added if they are useful and work properly. These program developers care more about having a functional application than trying to sell you something, and I can feel that as I use these applications. But everything I've said so far about this pales in comparison to the Package Manager. This program is a nice graphic-user-interface (GUI) that allows you to search repositories filled with debian packages. These packages contain everything you need to install a particular application on your computer. Say, for instance, you need an application to write music notation. It's as simple as opening the package manager, doing a search for "music notation", perusing the list of available applications, checking the box next to the one you want to install and clicking "Apply." Oh, and it's all free: any application to do any task you can imagine.
  3. Community and Support. Since I switched, I've really felt a part of a community that cares about one another. Many problems have been solved by a kind, more knowledgeable soul responding to a question I posted on one of the various linux user forums- usually within a few hours. I've even been able to help others that are dealing with a problem I've encountered, and it's been very satisfying. And it's all free. Free community support. I'd rather be a member of a supportive community than pay to suckle the teat of some huge corporation that cares about money above all else.

So there it is. You're thinking about switching now, aren't you... admit it.

A nice free image hosting site

A friend turned me on to this site, and I've been using it for a while now. It's great.

Check it out.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Do it! Do it now!

There IS an alternative to windows! Don't be afraid. You can always keep windows on a different partition (but you won't need it.)

Just think, you'd never have to run another virus scan (I don't.)

C'mon, at least burn a liveCD and give it a try. I did, and now I smile more than I used to.


Attention hp and compaq laptop users!

Just wanted to let anyone who has a newer hp or compaq laptop (such as an hp dv6000 series like I do or a dvwhatever) that MEPIS linux, available at, may be the distribution for you.

Like many others (judging from several linux usergroups I've perused) I've had some frustrating problems getting linux to use my built in broadcom 4311 wireless. MEPIS had no problem whatsoever using the broadcom- it even worked using the liveCD with ABSOLUTELY NO EFFORT on my part!

One other cool thing to check out is beryl, which also comes installed and working right out of the box (the figurative, virtual box, of course.) It does all sorts of cool eye-candy type stuff like wobbly windows, transparency and multiple desktops on a cube. It's sure to make your vista-using friends jealous.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A simple guide

So you want to try linux, and you're totally clueless about how to do it. Here's a quick guide to help you out. (This isn't the only way, mind you, it's just a really basic way.)

First you will need:
1. One computer (preferably connected via ethernet to the internet.)
2. One hard drive that can be totally erased.*
3. One keyboard
4. One mouse
5. One monitor
6. One liveCD of your favorite ubuntu derivative.

So chances are you don't yet have number six, so let's go get it.

I'm going to go with the Linux Mint version (because it comes with just about everything you would need right out of the box.) Go to and click on download at the top of the page. Then under "Full edition" find your closest location and click on the "HTTP". This should redirect you to a page that has a download link for the cd. Again you want the full version. (If you're having a lot of trouble with this step, just click here to download.) You want to save this file somewhere that you can find it. This is the cd "image" which we'll use to burn the cd.

After the download is finished (which may be a while) you need to burn the image file to a cd. Most cd burning software will be able to do this. If you can't find anything that will burn a .iso file, you can use ImgBurn which is available for free here. (In ImgBurn you will want to select from the top menu mode->write. Under source you want the file we just downloaded. After you select this file, click the big cd icon at the bottom to begin burning the cd.)

Put the cd we just burned into the cd drive and restart the computer. Hopefully, the cd boots and you can get to the next step and skip the next paragraph. If it doesn't, you'll have to read the next paragraph.

Restart the computer again, but look right at the beginning and somewhere on the screen it should say something like "press del to run setup." You want to look for whatever key it says to hit to run setup. Sometimes it's delete. Sometimes it's F1 or another function key, so if you can't see what it is, just start hitting delete or random function keys right as the computer starts. You only have a couple seconds before the computer will boot. Now hopefully you get a scary looking screen called the BIOS. We're looking for something called the boot order. Many times it will be under the advanced tab at the top. There should be a guide somewhere on the page to show you how to navigate through the menus. After you find the boot order, you want to change it so that the cd drive is before/above the hard drive (again use the navigation guide if you're not sure how to change things.) Then after this is done, you want to "Save and Exit" which should be an option under one of the tab menus. Be very careful not to change anything else except the boot order!!! It will ask you if you really want to do this- don't worry, click yes. Now hopefully the cd boots and you can move to the next step.

Now you should be looking at a somewhat familiar desktop with a couple of icons, one of which says "Install." Double click on it.

Now it's easy. Just answer the questions it asks (like what language do you want and what time zone do you live in, etc.) When you get to partitioning, select the guided partition using the entire disk. Make sure to remember what you enter for your name and password. About twenty minutes after you finish answering all the questions, you'll have a brand new linux mint operating system ready for the internet or whatever else you want to do.

Congratulations and welcome to the world of open-source!

*You don't actually have to erase the entire disk, it's just easier that way. You can partition any way you would like- you could even keep your current windows os if you have enough room. I also, for example, like to make an added partition for my /home directory. If you're feeling adventurous select manual and see what you think- you can always go back.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Those damn Mac ads drive me crazy

These are great (although I'm not a novell fan.)

Here goes!

So the first thing I needed to do was move all my files (music, documents, etc.) to my external usb hard drive because I would need to reformat that drive in order to install linux. As I did this, I found that several of the folders with music files in them would not copy or even open. Luckily, I had most of that music saved somewhere else, but it did show me that the drive was in need of some work anyway, so this linux install was looking like a better idea already.

One thing I'll mention right now that I didn't know when I started is that windows and linux use different filesystems. Chances are any newer windows drive is formatted NTFS, but linux uses ext3. As of right now, linux (without some help from some software) only mounts NTFS drives as read-only, which means that you can open the files on the drive, but no changes can be made to any of the files and no new files can be saved to the drive. Linux Mint (available at is one version that comes with a utility for mounting NTFS drives read-write right out of the box if this is especially important for you. As far as I can tell (although I'm not totally sure about this) windows doesn't recognize the linux filesystem at all.

I had installed ubuntu on a different computer and couldn't figure out how to install some drivers necessary for viewing web pages (java, flash, embedded windows video.) This was totally unacceptable to me and fed my fear of switching, as everything I saw on the web about it was command line stuff with lots of sudo's and such. I envisioned hours of searching the web for the appropriate commands and endless frustration when it still didn't work.

Then my computer programmer friend sent me a link to the Linux Mint website. Mint is an altered version of ubuntu that includes all of these drivers, as well as the NTFS and FAT drive mounting utility I mentioned above and even some common wireless drivers. We installed it on the machine we on which had previously put the ubuntu, and it worked great right out of the box, so I decided to use it for the family computer at home.

Just a moment to assure you that I'm not a Linux Mint salesman. Lately, ubuntu has released their new feisty fawn version that has made installing plugins, drivers, and codecs easier, and I'm a big fan. I'm also a very big fan of the xubuntu version which uses the xfce desktop instead of gnome. I recently installed the alternate version of xubuntu on a machine with only 128mb of ram that I friend gave to me and was watching streaming video on the web in less than 45 minutes! You couldn't even wipe your ass running windows with 128mb ram!

I'd speak about installing the linux mint on the family machine, but there's really not much to say. It was pretty easy; since I was just going to erase the whole drive, I could use the guided partitioning using the entire disk (the partitioning seems to me to be the hardest part of the install.) Everything went smoothly and in about twenty minutes, I had a brand new linux mint os. I plugged in my ethernet cable, opened firefox and checked my email.

It was a beautiful day.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I've really done it now...

Well, here goes.

This is the running story of my switch from the Windows operating system to the linux operating system (from now on, I will just say OS.)
I'll start with a little background info.

I'm a first year computer science student at Southern Oregon University. I'm married to an extremely non-technical woman and have a brilliant baby girl. Until very recently, my experience with linux was limited to having some fedora cds that a friend gave me. He even made a partition on my hard drive in which to install a second linux OS, but I was consumed with fear.

A second os? Wouldn't that mess up the Windows os? How does this work? How do I tell it which one to boot? If my Windows programs won't work, what programs will I use? And finally (and most importantly) what does it look like?

I knew I could probably find out all of the technical things I needed on the web, but there was one more non-technical wife. If she couldn't check her email or get to her lyric sheets, there would be hell to pay.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, "Why would someone with a perfectly good Windows XP system want to go through the trouble of figuring all of this out?" Well, there are two reasons:
1. I have a deep hatred of everything corporate, and what could be more corporate than Microsoft?
2. I've had trouble with viruses, spyware, etc. It got to the point where I was running a ridiculous number of anti-this-and-that programs, all of which seemed to do nothing, and I had heard that linux was impervious to such attacks.

Finally, after going back to school and meeting a friend that's a computer programmer here in town, I decided I should do it... I should switch the family computer to linux. (Well, all of those reasons combined with the fact that my Windows os had slowed to the point that I couldn't even successfully burn a cd.)

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.