Tag Archives: review

Ubuntu Manual – A Great Addition and Must for Beginners


I must say, we have been pleasantly surprised at the content and quality of the manual developed by the community for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. These past few days, we have had the opportunity to share it with non-techies and people new to Linux. To our great satisfaction and delight, they not only found the manual extremely easy to follow but were able to do most of the tasks (including installation) without anyone’s help.Ubuntu itself is probably the most intuitive Linux distribution out there. But the manual is a great addition, making adoption of Linux even more easy. The document is divided into 9 distinct chapters that deal with its installation, the desktop environment, security, hardware and software management.  There are even some advanced topics on how to use command line interface to accomplish tasks the traditional way, among others. It even has a chapter on how to use Word, Spreadsheets, web browser, Instant Messaging, including Twitter making it easy for people to migrate to Ubuntu without any glitch.

The documentation is well supported by clear and extremely helpful screen shots of various Ubuntu features, that visually guide the user through many cumbersome tasks. This makes life easy for someone who has never used Ubuntu or Linux before. Considering that it is a community driven project, it is a remarkable achievement and will go a long way in making Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular get mainstream acceptance. We for one are recommending it to anyone who wants to migrate/move to Linux and is unsure of where to begin.

If you prefer to get a printed version of the manual, you can get it through Lulu otherwise, the electronic version in PDF can be downloaded free of cost from Ubuntu Manual Website.

Ubuntu 10.04 is Awesome!

Whenever Apple releases a new gadget, there are scores of people lined up in front of their stores, sometimes for days, just to be the first ones to get their hands onto the next cool gadget. On April 29, thousands of Linux aficionados were glued to their computer screens patiently waiting for Ubuntu to release their latest Linux. And the new 10.04 aptly named Lucid Lynx, was released with much fanfare on schedule with blogosphere covering its launch like traditional media covered the iPad release. We too were among the millions downloading it the moment it was available and giving it a try on our PCs. After tinkering with it for an hour, we were convinced, it is now the most superb OS available in the market.
Over the past two years, since the release of Ubuntu 8.04, the Operating system has matured at a very high pace. Today, it is no longer a hobbiest tool nor just a tool for geeks to tinker with in their basements, it is now a mainstream player which can hold its own in front of Apple’s MacOS X and Microsoft’s Windows.Times have changed as well. Today, Dell, Toshiba, Intel, HP and other major hardware vendors are supporting Linux for their devices. If you buy a computer be it a laptop, netbook or a desktop, it will run Linux perfectly well out of the box. To give you an example, I hooked up an HP P1005 laser printer to my 10.04. It not only recognised it immediately, without me needing to install any additional drivers, but also got me the official HP software to manage the printer.

There are many advantages of moving to Ubuntu over other operating Systems. Here are some of my favourite reasons:

  1. It is totally free: No cost for life including upgrades. Every six months, Ubuntu comes out with a major upgrade and all of them are totally free.
  2. Runs on any hardware: Unlike Microsoft and Apple machines, it does not require any specific highend hardware requirements. Even a computer with 256MB of RAM and 5GB of free disk space can easily run Linux. Try doing that with any other OS and you will see your hardware stall.
  3. Free Software Catalog: There is a built in catalog of over 25,000 free softwares to install. No CD/DVD needed. Just choose what you want and get it installed over the Internet. For example, a music player, a mail reader, or chatting software. It not only lets you choose the software, but also automatically installs if for you. And if any software requires certain other software then it will get it automatically for you. Hence, it does not crash like other OS when it does not find what it wants.
  4. Automatic Updates: On a regular basis, Ubuntu will prompt you to update the Operating System with new updates. All one has to do is click a few buttons and it will happen automatically. In fact, Ubuntu will also support all future upgrades totally free through this interface. So no need to reinstall the OS as it will happen automatically.
  5. Office suite: Openoffice is really popular openoffice application developed by Sun Microsystems now Oracle. But it is not the only one. There are similar office applications from IBM (Lotus Symphony) among others to choose from. And all of them are backward compatible with Microsoft Office. No one will ever feel the difference between the documents created using OpenOffice or Microsoft. I personally have been using it as defacto software for over five years. Not once has someone ever complained that they could not read any document that I have created or shared with them. Sun/Oracle and IBM are companies that are as big as Microsoft. The office suite that they produce are well supported and work wonderfully well. Therefore, qualms that it is not as good as Microsoft Office are but a Myth.
  6. Web Browsers: You get Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox working fine on Ubuntu. These are currently two of the most popular browsers available and are easily available here. So surfing the web and doing chores online will always be a breeze.
  7. Messengers: I installed Skype without any issues and Pidgin messenger software. Using Pidgin I can use all major messengers including MSN, YahooIM, GoogleTalk among others. In fact, now I am easily able to manage all my chats through one software.
  8. Mail Client: You can use Mozilla Thunderbird or Novell’s Evolution. Both do a perfect job. However, if you are like me and use webmail, then Mozilla Prism is perfect. It turns my webmail into deskmail. Try it and you will not regret it.
  9. File sharing: You can seamlessly share files between Windows and Linux machines using Samba and other available tools. This makes Linux machine part of the network that you have at home or in offices.
  10. Side by Side Installation: Yes, you can run it with ease with your Windows Operating Systems. Simply follow the instructions and it will make your machine dual boot. Linux and Windows. This will give you the best of both worlds.
In the coming years, Linux will no longer be a novelty used by the few. It will gain immence momentum and the mainstream will embrace it. Many hardware vendors will pre-install it with their systems for users to use right out of the box. Linux is already prevalent on the mobile platform and is making good inroads onto netbooks. Android and WebOS are just two popular examples of Linux customized to run on your Google and Palm phones. Even Google’s much anticipated ChromeOS is based on Linux for the netbooks.

My advice is to give it a try and install it on your system. Once you go Linux, you will not go back to Windows.

Google Chrome for Linux is Out and we think it is Superb

Chrome for Linux is truly a superb product. Not only does it render the pages faster, as claimed by Google, but it is fast. This is interesting news for Firefox as so far on Linux it dominated the browser market share with Opera coming in a distant second. However, all that changes with Chrome with its nifty features making a home on all major Linux distributions.

It does seem to consume a bit more memory than Firefox (when the same set of websites are open) but since Linux itself does not consume a lot of memory, we have enough spare out there for it to use.

Firefox still has an edge when it comes to customized add-ons and extensions. Chrome does have a gallery of some impressive extensions but not as comprehensive a list as Firefox. So those, like me, who rely on those extensions for many tasks, will still take a while to switch to Chrome as default browser.

Even though it is still in beta, it is turning out to be a cool Internet user experience.

Stellarium – Planetarium for the Masses

Some softwares are just too fun to be let go off and this weekend I discovered Stellarium, a free, open source planetarium software that shows a “realistic sky in 3D”. Stellarium is designed from ground up as a simple, easy to use, open source software to observe and learn about the breath taking beauty of the night sky.

This weekend, I happened to be visiting a village in rural Mardan, Pakistan (where we are supporting a rural Tele-healthcare project). The electricity in this remote part of the world is patchy and highly unreliable. Mardan District is composed primarily of a farming community and little or no industry and technology in this rural part of Pakistan. Hence, the night sky is not only clear but dazzles with the beauty of billions of stars. In fact, on a clear night, one can see the Milky way all across the night sky.

Tonight was just one such nights, when the electricity, went out, the night sky lit up brightly with its displaying its full array of stars. The moon was at half crescent and thus it blurred a bit of dim stars out there, but over all, it was a feast for the eyes.

The software asks you to select your city through its fairly simple configuration file. And if your hometown is missing (in my case Mardan was not there), one can enter the basic information like the Latitude, Longitude and height in meters above sea level and the software then automatically sets itself to the night sky in your area. It then slowly tracks the night sky as it changes with time so that the observer is always objects slowly rise and set over the night sky.

I trained my Stellarium on the planets first. Tonight, Saturn was visible in the night sky. With the help of a basic compass and the Stellarium software, I was able to pin-point the magnificent planet Saturn with some fairly good accuracy. This was the first time I had identified any night sky object with accuracy. And the best part was that I did not have to know a lot about Astronomy nor the need to have complicated equipment. The software is designed to be easily operated by a kid as well and requires little or no prior knowledge of Astronomy. All night, I would simply find something interesting on Stellarium and then using the provided grids, a hand held compass and using other known stars as references, would get to the desired object.

One can zoom in and out of the objects (planets, nebulae, etc) and some of them do have fairly detailed images and information associated with them. If any detail is missing, one can always download it from their website and add it to the catalog. For example, if I would find something of interest in the night sky, I could get basic information including a detailed image of the object. Here in this image on the right, I got to see how Butterfly cluster looks like at close proximity and how far away it is from earth. For example, Saturn here is reported to be 8.5AU (Astronomical Units). 1 AU is equal to approximately 149.5 Million KM or in simple terms, 1AU is equal to the average distance between the earth and sun. Hence, Saturn is approximately 8.5 times farther from earth than the Sun from us. That is approximately 1.2 billion KM from earth.

The software has many cool features, including red eye mode to assist eyes remain adjusted to darkness. An essential requirement if we want to truly observe dim and distant objects with ease. Stellarium has many features but some of the fascinating ones are listed below:

  • Default catalog of over 600,000 stars
  • Extra catalog with more than 210 million stars (easily downloadable through the Stellarium website). The additional data is divided into further four separate files totaling around 1Giga Byte.
  • Images of nebulae (full Messier catalog)
  • Realistic Milky Way
  • The planets and their satellites (yep, even details of moons for the planets)
  • And many more

The joy was short lived as the power was restored later in the night. With the light pollution dimming many of the stellar objects in the night sky. However, this unexpected power outage has inspired me to spend the coming summer gazing at night sky with some basic telescope and track numerous objects in the night sky.

There is also a method to link the software with your telescope (if it supports computer tracking) which one can read online for more information.

The software can be easily downloaded for MacOS, Windows and Linux platforms. It is also available through Ubuntu repository of pre-compiled software packages.

Ubuntu 9.04 Linux Beta Released

This week, Ubuntu 9.04 beta was released for general public. By the last week of April, the final release will be available for download for Ubuntu 9.04 Linux distribution.

Ubuntu is slowly gaining ground not only on the desktop but also beginning to flex its muscles on the server side as well. It is now taking on the SUSE and Red Hats of the world for its own pie in the sky. There are many great features unique to Ubuntu for corporations including:

  • It has a regular release cycle (April and October annually) and the product is supported for three years. This gives organizations the ability to install and maintain a release for almost the length of the PC/laptop that they are using without the need to reinstall.
  • It also supports easy upgrades from one version to the other, which some distributions struggle to do nicely. This once again gives users the ability to seamlessly move from one version to the other without needing to redo the whole install.
  • Numerous versions to whet ones apetite. There is the regular Ubuntu (with gnome desktop) and then Kubuntu (with KDE), then Xubuntu (for older systems) and Edubuntu (for educational purposes).
  • There are also numerous distributions based on Ubuntu, namely Mythbuntu (an open source Tivo to say the least). Even XenStreet’s favorite Linux, gOS relies on Ubuntu to function.
  • A huge repository (over 25,000 in default configuration) of applications which come pre-compiled and ready to use on Ubuntu through packages.
  • Available on Amazon EC2 cloud computing. But I guess many other Linux and Windows versions are too. But still, it is out there.
  • It is a Debian release!

The latest release 9.04 is packed with lots of new features that will further strengthen its hold in the Linux market. Some of the most interesting features that the new release will feature on the server includes the open source cloud technology, Eucalyptus. It will give us techies a chance to build a cloud in our office (there goes another weekend), and then we will try to find some application to use it. Maybe a gaming cloud for the office. Hmm.

It also includes out of the box and fully configured dovecot-postfix package. It provides an easy-to-deploy mail server stack, with support for SMTP, POP3, and IMAP with TLS and SASL.

There is also support for ext4 file system. Not sure we need this but it is supposed to help protect files when the system suffers from sudden outages. A nice feature for developing economies like India, Pakistan and China where electricity is as reliable as the weather in England.

The desktop edition will feature an updated Gnome for better desktop experience and updated Xorg library with (hopefully) better support for wide screen monitors, graphics drivers and S-video interfaces.

If you ask my opinion which Linux flavor will dominate the Linux distros for the next few years, then my vote is hands down for Ubuntu.

KnowledgeTree – Open Source Document Management System

Every organization these days produces lots of electronic documents. Even a one man home office will generate enough files in various formats (including Office and PDF formats) over the course of the year that it will become a nightmare just finding the right file in the nick of time.

KnowledgeTree, Document Management System, is web based and therefore easily accessible from across the organization without the need to install any client software on users machines. It supports multiple users within groups with proper permissions and role definitions. It allows for easy upload of documents including support for bulk upload through a one large zip file. There is support for search within all the popular file formats as well. Email alerts can also be generated on various criteria including when a document is available to be viewed by the group. The software supports an organization work flow and even generates it automatically on specific folders and document types. The document’s are version controlled to minimize overwriting of documents when shared within a distributed environment.

The software now is supported across various platforms including Linux, Windows and even Mac. There are installers for each of these platforms (yes even for Linux a self installing binary) which guides you through the whole process with little or no glitch. Source code version is also available for those who prefer to tweak install it based on their own requirements.

I used the binary to install it on my Ubuntu Linux computer. The installation went smoothly but I ran into a small problem. It forced me to install a separate copy Apache and Mysql (on custom ports) for this software and did not give me an option to integrate it with the existing Apache and Mysql running on my machine. With the result, now I have two instances of each running on my machine on different ports. It would be nice if the installer gave us an option to choose whether we prefer to integrate and run one instance of each or not.

KnowledgeTree document management system is definitely the right choice for not only large corporations but even for Small and Medium Enterprises. It will greatly improve the organizations productivity and easy of share of knowledge within their organization.

Elisa – A Great Open Media Center

I recently installed and started using open source Elisa Media Center. Its a great little media player that works wonderfully well with all my media types for video, music, dvd and photos. It even connects to the internet and imports media from websites like youtube and flickr. The configuration is still command line based and is stored in “elisa.conf” file. All configuration information is stored in your home folder as mentioned below:


There are lots of interesting perimeters that you can configure but most importantly, you may want to specify specific directories from where to read your media. It can be done easily by configuring it as follows in the xmlmenu section:

locations = [‘file://media/da/videos’, ‘file:///media/da/itunes’]

Specify as many directories as you want by separating them with com
ma across your network.

Elisa website mentions lots of features including support for remote controls and touch screen. There are even ports available for Windows and MacOS platforms along with Linux.

Download your copy from its official website at http://elisa.fluendo.com

ClamAV – A Must Antivirus for Linux Systems

You may have heard that Linux machines do not need an anti-virus software. That may be true generally, but what if using our USB flash drive on a public computer and inadvertently copying a virus onto our system? Granted, the virus may not work on Linux but what if we inadvertently forward that file to a friend (with Windows) and send the virus along. What if we still use POP to access our email and get a virus infected email that we forward to others (along with the virus)?

To overcome such issues, especially shared USB drives, ClamAV is the simple but ideal solution. It is still command line so one has to power up their Terminal (or ssh if you prefer to remotely manage it) to run the software.

Installation is a breeze on any Linux system. On Debian release try the following:

~$ apt-get install clamav

Once installed, just type the following on command line to fire it up.

~$ clamscan -r /home

where -r option lets u scan recursively in your specified /home directory.

You can find out other options by typing clamscan –help on command line.

Once the scan is complete, it prints out the result in a neat report. Similar to the one I got from scanning my /home folder.

———– SCAN SUMMARY ———–
Known viruses: 513569

Engine version: 0.92.1
Scanned directories: 3454
Scanned files: 15656
Infected files: 0
Data scanned: 33120.57 MB
Time: 3503.674 sec (58 m 23 s)

The software keeps its virus database up to date automatically by using freshclam to download the latest definitions. Freshclam is automatically installed with ClamAV.

So my advice is to keep this software handy especially when you are copying files back and forth from a public PC.

Marvell has a marvelous plug computer

For a while, I have been searching for a really miniature computer which I could use as an “always on device” to manage various tasks within my home network. Like act as a media repository, file share for home office, manages automatic backups for all PCs on the network and even acts like a small firewall against possible intruders. Marvell plug computer seems to be all that and more.

This little device, called SheevaPlug, is literally built into the power socket. It sports a nice little Gigabit Ethernet for communications and USB interface for external device connections (storage for example). According to Marvell, the device has a Marvell Kirkwood 1.2GHz CPU equipped with 512MB of flash and 512MB of DRAM.

There are also some wonderful commercial uses as well. Here are a few that I would like to use it for:

  • At Trade Shows, no need to carry numerous bulky laptops/PCs/Servers. The organization can carry a bunch of these plug-computers and be in business within minutes.
  • For demos at client location, these plug computers can run applications right off the device and therefore no need to carry luggage around.
  • Act as a miniature firewall within the office environment
  • Act as a small file server for the office
  • Act as a proxy server for all internet traffic
In the coming years, the possibility of other vendors getting into this market including big boys like Cisco who may convert some of its Linux based Linksys devices into miniature servers. And most of them might be powered by Linux OS similar to Damn Small Linux distribution. That will give developers an awesome platform to program and distribute their applications.

Awesome Game – Warzone 2100 Resurrection – for Linux

I must admit that I have not played any kind of computer games that seriously for a while. Atleast since I sold my Sony PS2 a few years back and got back into the real corporate world. But Warzone 2100 has completely changed that for me. This game is something special. It seems I cant get enough of it since I downloaded it last night to my Ubuntu Linux laptop. I was literally glued to the screen for well over 6 hours straight.

The official story line for this awesome strategy game is that we build and control a military force to retake the world for mankind which was, incidentally, destroyed by Nuclear Missiles. We not only design our own forces but build them and have to run campaigns in a certain time to win. Since its a strategy game, expect to be glued to your monitors for a few hours straight. And for serious games, expect a whole weekend if not more.

The graphics are awesome as compared to many other games available on Linux. It is full 3D with wonderful sound. The maps are editable and we can create our own if we want. And for super gamers among us, we can use the Source Code provided to change the game as we please.

The game is also available for Mac and Windows platform and full source code can also be downloaded for our favorite platform. For those with Ubuntu Synaptics Package can download it directly without any glitches.

The game was created by Pumpkin Studios and published by Eidos Interactive and is currently developed by Warzone 2100 Resurrection Project team.

Download your copy from Warzone 2100 website.