Security Update Notifier

A while back I installed apticron to get an email when updates were outstanding on our servers. However, it emails for all updates, and there are updates released every day, which means I get one email per server per day, useless noise that I end up ignoring.

Today I built a solution, security-update-notifier. It’s a very simple (crude!) shell script that can be scheduled with cron to generate an email each day when there are security updates pending. It relies on apt-check, part of the update-notifier package.

We manage our machines with puppet, so I built my first ever public puppet module, a simple wrapper around the script. Tomorrow morning at 4:44am I’ll hopefully get an email for one server. I’ve left one with updates outstanding, one with only non-security updates outstanding, and one up to date, to test each case. Fingers crossed.

MySQL and SSL on Ubuntu Precise 12.04

I’ve had a nightmare the last couple of days getting mysql replication setup over SSL. Turns out some things have changed since upgrading to Ubuntu 12.04 Precise. In the end, the solutions were simple.

First, the server-key.pem file needs to have RSA in the header. I manually edited the keys and added the RSA part, it worked, like so:


Second, I learned that certificates generated by openssl on Precise do not work with mysql on precise. To get around that issue, I generated my certs on an old 10.04 box and it worked fine. Prior to that, when trying to connect, I got the error:

ERROR 2026 (HY000): SSL connection error: SSL certificate validation failure

Finally, after two days of messing about, replication is once again running, and SSL enabled.

Turning off an Ubuntu webcam

I was a little horrified to see the webcam light on illuminated as I opened my laptop this morning. Who was watching I wondered! Took me a while to figure out what was using the web cam, then I found a simple solution. The command lsof | grep video0 told me skype was the culprit. Restart skype, problem solved, web cam off. Happy morning. ๐Ÿ™‚

On the way, I found this which suggested using modproble -r to disable the kernel module. I tried modprobe -r uvcvideo but I got “FATAL: Module uvcvideo is in use.” Then I figured out lsof would tell me what was going on.

PHP 5.2 on Ubuntu 11.04 Oneiric

For the time being, we need PHP 5.2 on some of our servers. From version 10.04 Lucid Lynx, Ubuntu started shipping PHP 5.3. I found info on how to install PHP on Lucid by using the packages from the previous version of Ubuntu, 9.10 Karmic Koala.

However, those packages are no longer online, Karmic is long past end of life. The only currently supported release that still has PHP 5.2 is 8.04 Hardy. I was able to get PHP 5.2.4 installed (eventually) using the packages from hardy.

I created two files /etc/apt/sources.list.d/hardy.list and /etc/apt/preferences.d/pin-php52. Then the following met my needs:

sudo apt-get install apache2 apache2-mpm-prefork apache2-utils apache2.2-bin apache2.2-common libapache2-mod-php5 php5-cli php5-common php5-curl php5-gd php5-mcrypt php5-mhash php5-mysql

I constructed the two files mostly from things I read about how to get packages from Karmic to install on Lucid. YMMV.

Skype in Ubuntu Precise alpha

Last night I installed Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04. I was inspired by Mark Shuttleworth’s post and figured because this is an LTS release, it might be ok to upgrade this early, instead of going to 11.10 first.

My biggest hassle was getting skype working. I documented the steps in the hope that it might save somebody else some hassle. This worked for me today, 8 Jan 2012, it might get out of date fast, and should be totally obsolete soon.

First, I installed a bunch of packages from oneiric. I don’t think these are available in precise yet. They are:

They can be downloaded in one go with this command (I believe, I haven’t actually tested, I downloaded them one by one). That command makes a new directory “skype-downloads” then downloads all the packages into it. From there, I ran:

dpkg -i *.deb
sudo apt-get -f install
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install libxss1:i386 libqtcore4:i386 libqt4-dbus:i386 libasound2:i386 libxv1:i386 libsm6:i386 libxi6:i386 libXrender1:i386 libxrandr2:i386 libfreetype6:i386 libfontconfig1:i386 libqtgui4:i386

This installs all the downloaded files, upgrades / fixes some of them, then installs a whole load more i386 dependencies. Finally, after all that, I was able to install the skype .deb I downloaded from After downloading the file, I’d suggest using dpkg to install it like this:

dpkg -i /path/to/downloaded/skype-ubuntu_2.2.0.35-1_amd64.deb

Then I was able to start skype. However, it wouldn’t show in the systray. To solve that, I used this command:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Panel systray-whitelist "['Skype']"

This command sets the value found in dconf-editor at desktop > unit > panel, called systra-whitelist. This value sets which programs can appear in the old fashioned system tray (now that we’re onto bigger and better things with unity and indicators). There’s a bug which means setting “all” in this value doesn’t work. So you need to add each program you want, in single quotes, separated by a comma. See this for more.

I don’t really understand what all of this does, I copied various bits and pieces from a few places and pieced it altogether through trial and error. This forum post talks about installing from oeneric, and this blog post listed the extra requirements.

I’m on skype video now, so this all worked! ๐Ÿ™‚

Fixing NTFS on Ubuntu

James had a hard drive problem. He pulled the disk out of his laptop and brought it to me. Firstly I created a full image of the broken partition like so:

sudo dd if=/dev/sdb2 bs=1k conv=sync,noerror of=/path/to/image

Then I tried TestDisk. It worked like a charm and fixed the apparently broken NTFS boot sector. I thought that when James put the drive back in the laptop, it might “just work”, but apparently it didn’t. I had saved some of the most important files, but not all. James then wiped the drive to get a working machine again.

So now I had to restore files from an image of a broken partition. Turns out to be dead easy. The key ingredients were loopback and TestDisk.

sudo losetup /dev/loop0 /path/to/image
sudo testdisk /dev/loop0

It took me a while to figure out that I needed to choose partition table type none. I was dealing with an image of a single partition, so there was no partition table. After that, TestDisk behaved just like normal. I rebuilt the NFTS boot sector and then mounted the image like so:

sudo mkdir /mnt
sudo mount /dev/loop0 /mnt

This warned about the disk not having been shut down properly, ran something or other to clean it up, and then bingo, all the files were mounted and visible. I copied all the data from /mnt to an external drive, and will give that to James to restore from. Too easy!

Audio CDs on Ubuntu on Lenovo X301

Quick geektastic post. Under Ubuntu 10.04 lucid lynx I can’t play audio CDs. When I put them into the drive, an error pops up every few seconds saying:

Unable to mount Audio Disc
DBus error org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.NoReply: Message did not receive a reply (timeout by message bus)

Eventually I stumbled upon this bug and found a solution. I open Nautilus, Edit > Preferences > Media > Never prompt or start programs on media insertion. Bingo, now I can insert a CD and it will play. I don’t think it’ll work in Rhythmbox because that’s so tightly integrated with Gnome, but I was able to play the CD in VLC and presumably I’d be able to rip it in something equally unconnected to Gnome.

Glorious, now I can rip some of my 6 year old CDs I just found. Happy days. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s a random picture from flickr for the non techy readers to enjoy…

Insufficient boot space on Ubuntu

When installing the latest batch of updates to Ubuntu 10.04 I hit a problem, I ran out of space on my /boot partition. A dialog popped up warning of low space on /boot. Then the install of updates failed because the new kernel couldn’t be completed.

The solution was remarkably simple, I post it here in the hope it might help others. Firstly, I removed the oldest kernel I had installed. I opened Synaptic (System > Administration) and then searched for my current kernel version (2.6.32). I saw I had 4 kernels installed. I then searched for 2.6.32-21, the oldest kernel. I marked these packages for complete removal:

  • linux-headers-2.6.32-21
  • linux-headers-2.6.32-21-generic
  • linux-image-2.6.32-21-generic

Then I removed those and to finish, I marked for re-installation the same packages but the -24 version (the latest kernel that failed to install). Now all is happy once again. ๐Ÿ™‚

Regenerating nautilus thumbnails

Sometimes nautilus will try to generate a thumbnail for a video file while it’s downloading. Thenร‚ย  nautilus remembers that it tried, and failed, to generate a thumbnail for that file. Once the file has finished downloading, the thumbnail remains broken. I’ve had this issue for a while, today I chose to find a solution.

I found this post by Barak Korren. Barak wrote a short nautilus script in python to allow the easy deletion of a thumbnail in Nautilus. Here’s a step by step guide to getting it working.

Download this file and put it into your ~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts directory. The script is by Barak, I uploaded a plain text version here to make it easier to download. Make the script executable, you can run chmod +x ~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts/ in a terminal to do this. Now go to that directory in Nautilus, and you’re in business.

To test, right click on a file with a thumbnail. You should see a new menu, Scripts, under which you’ll see “”. Click that option and the thumbnail will be deleted. Press F5 to reload the folder in nautilus, and you should see a new thumbnail generated.

Thanks for a such a handy script Barak.

Installing lyx without the bloat

For a few months now I’ve been researching programs to write in. I have OpenOffice, I tried AbiWord, I use gedit for text files. They’re all good programs, but they’re not what I want to write in. I want something ultra simple. Very basic formatting, spellcheck, light quick load time. The best option I found was Tomboy, a sticky note application. It supports very simple formatting, has a spellcheck, and is dead simple. It loads almost instantly. But, it saves notes automatically in its own format. There’s no way for me to save different versions, choose a file name or location, etc. It’s fine for the writing, but I need to go elsewhere to save.

In the last couple of days, I discovered gwrite. It’s a very simple WYSIWYG HTML editor. It has the potential to be exactly what I want, but it’s very young software and still has a few usability bugs. I’ve reported them to the program’s author, so maybe it’ll improve in time. I might even look at the source code and see if I can provide some patches myself.

But, that’s not the point of this post. This post is about lyx, which is a seriously cool application I’ve just discovered. It’s a “writing tool”, not a word processor. It’s a tool designed for scientific and other authors to simply write text. It’s based on an underlying technology called LATEX. As I understand it, and I’m completely new to this whole thing, LaTeX allows an author to just write. The layout of chapters, titles, indentations, bullet points, and all that jazz, is handled by LaTeX macros. What does that mean? Well, I think it means I just write, then lyx, LaTeX and TeX make it look beautiful.

So, all excited, I decided to install lyx. This is where I hit a problem. I was prompted to download 438MB of data and use 745MB of disk space. That’s outrageously huge for a single program. I was blown away, it makes installing lyx many times larger than OpenOffice. I was strongly intrigued by what took up so much space, so I had a little sniff. It turns out that more than 70% of the download size and almost 60% of the disk space is used by documentation. Mostly, documentation for underlying applications which I didn’t specifically choose to install, they’re required to make lyx work.

Being on a slow internet connection, I decided waiting the day or two for 438MB to download was just too much. There must be another way. A little research later, I found my solution in a program called equivs. Equivs is a pair of tools to create shadow or dummy debs. In my case, this meant creating a dummy package to make apt think that I had already installed the massive collection of documentation that was necessary to install lyx. Thus I was able to install lyx by downloading only 117MB of data and using only 302MB of disk space. Still astronomically huge, but less than half of what I was originally facing.

And so, onto the point of this post. How does one do that? If you want a simple answer, here it is. Step 1, install this file. Step 2, install lyx as normal. Bingo, jobsagoodun. ๐Ÿ™‚

For those who are interested, I’ll explain the process on Ubuntu 10.04. Install equivs in the usual way (sudo apt-get install equivs will do the trick). Now create a new directory, I called it equivs-texlive-dummy-docs. In that directory, run equivs-control texlive-dummy-docs.ctl. Now edit the newly created file. Mine looked like this. Next run equivs-build texlive-dummy-docs.ctl. This command creates a new file called texlive-dummy-docs_1.0_all.deb. That file can be installed with sudo dpkg -i texlive-dummy-docs_1.0_all.deb.

It took me a few hours to put all this together. Hopefully if you’re facing the same challenge, you can install one file and be done. ๐Ÿ™‚

Update: I discovered that all these packages are installed because apt is configured to install recommended packages by default. I tried installing lyx without any of the recommended packages using sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends lyx, but previewing documents from lyx didn’t work. Instead I reverted to my equivs texlive-dummy-docs package. If you feel passionately about this topic, as I do, please chime in on this bug.

VirtualBox host to guest networking

Update 2013: This article is out of date. VirtualBox now includes a host-only network type. On my laptop I create 2 networks, one NAT to provide the VM with internet, and one host-only to provide the laptop access to the VM, even if the laptop is not on the internet.

Update: I just repeated this process with Ubuntu 11.04 host, 10.04 guest. It worked as described here. I also automated the setup on the host, and added a note at the bottom of the post explaining how I did that.

I’m creating a new development server on VirtualBox. I was using VMWare until recently, but since upgrading to Ubuntu 9.04 64bit, I’ve decided to try VirtualBox instead. I also recommended VirtualBox to my brother, so by using it myself I’ll be better able to support him if he has any issues.

Installing a new virtual machine was a breeze. After I activated hardware virtualisation in my bios, I installed a 64bit version of Ubuntu server 8.04 LTS. The install failed a couple of times, not sure why, but third time lucky.

My first major stumblingร‚ย  block was connecting to the virtual machine from the host machine. By default VirtualBox gives the guest (virtual machine) a NAT ethernet connection. So the guest can connect to the network, including the internet, but the host can’t connect to the guest. I’m creating a development server, so that’s precisely what I want to do, connect from the host to the guest. With a little research, it turns out there’s an easy solution (on Linux hosts).

The VirtualBox article on Advanced Networking in Linux was my guide. I’ll document all the steps I took here.

Install bridge-utils, vtun and uml-utilities:

sudo apt-get install bridge-utils vtun uml-utilities

Create the bridge:

sudo brctl addbr br0
sudo ip link set up dev br0
sudo ip addr add dev br0

Create a tap device for the guest to use, put your username in place of USER:

sudo tunctl -t tap0 -u USER
sudo ip link set up dev tap0
sudo brctl addif br0 tap0

If you need multiple guests connected, repeat this step replacing tap0 with tap1, tap2 and so on. Always use br0.

Now modify the virtual machine settings and map one of the network adapters (probably the second one) to the device tap0. Choose Attached To Host Interface and select the device tap0. I left the first network adapter as a NAT adapter so the virtual machine has internet access. In this configuration, I can disconnect the guest from the internet and / or the host separately.

When the virtual machine has started, setup the network. Assuming the guest is an Ubuntu machine, run these commands on the guest. If you linked the first network adapter to tap0 then use eth0 on the guest, if you chose the second network adapter use eth1, 3 to eth2, 4 to eth3 andร‚ย  so on.

sudo ip link set up dev eth1
sudo ip addr add dev eth1

Now test it all works. On the host machine try ping -c4 and on the guest try ping -c4 Assuming both machines are set to respond to pings (default in Ubuntu), you should see 4 successful pings.

If this works, you can set the address permanently by editing /etc/network/interfaces and adding this text.

# Host only network
auto eth1
iface eth1 inet static

I’ve used the 10.9.*.* addresses as an example. You can use any private network address (10.*.*.*, 192.168.*.* or 172.16.*.*-172.31.*.*). The most commonly used addresses are 192.168.*.* and 10.0.*.* or 10.1.*.* so I recommend staying away from them. You want to choose addresses that won’t clash with anything else on your network.

Edit: Finally, I added a script to automate the setup on the host machine. I created a script called /etc/init.d/virtualbox-bridgenetwork with the following contents:

# Create the br0 interface
brctl addbr br0
ip link set up dev br0
ip addr add dev br0
# Create tap0 for the vm to connect to
tunctl -t tap0 -u USER
ip link set up dev tap0
brctl addif br0 tap0

You need to change USER to your own username and modify the IP to whatever you were using. Then to make this script run automatically at boot time, run:

sudo update-rc.d virtualbox-bridgenetwork defaults

Now the br0 and tap0 interfaces should be automatically created at boot time.

Mounting LVM vmware disks

I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to recover some data from an old vmware machine. I didn’t want to install vmware on my new OS, so I looked into the vmware-mount program. The documentation refers to, but I couldn’t find that file at first. It looks like since VMWare 2.0, and vmware-loop have been replaced by a single vmware-mount binary, which behaves slightly differently.

I initially had problems with vmware-mount from VMware-server-2.0.0-122956.i386.tar.gz. I was getting this error:

vmware-mount: error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

I saw other reports of the same error, but no solution. I was using vmware-mount from a 32bit build on a 64bit OS, so instead I tried the vmware-mount from VMware-server-2.0.1-156745.x86_64.tar.gz. Then I got an error along the lines of:

SSLLoadSharedLibrary: Failed to load library cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
Core dump limit is 0 KB.
Child process 26541 failed to dump core (status 0x6).

VMware Server Error:
VMware Server unrecoverable error: (app)
SSLLoadSharedLibrary: Failed to load library cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
Please request support.
To collect data to submit to VMware support, select Help > About and click “Collect Support Data”. You can also run the “vm-support” script in the Workstation folder directly.
We will respond on the basis of your support entitlement.

Press “Enter” to continue…

I read this. With a little guesswork this command seemed to do the trick:

sudo ln -s /lib /usr/lib/vmware

Now vmware-mount would list my partitions. First major breakthrough.

Mounting suspended disks

It complained that my virtual machine was in a suspended state, and so it wasn’t safe to mount the disk. I found I could bypass this problem by moving all the vmdk files into a separate directory. Then running vmware-mount in that directory. It effectively ignored all the vmware machine files, and used only the hard disk files.

mkdir vmdks
sudo mv *.vmdk vmdks/
cd vmdks

Now I could mount my /boot partition within the VM, but not the second partition because it was was an LVM container. A whole new problem to solve.

Mounting LVM volumes with vmware-mount

I stumbled on my buddy John’s post. That and this helped me figure out what was required.

My first step was to mount the disk flat, using a command like:

sudo vmware-mount -f pathToVMDK.vmdk /path/to/mount

That worked, sort of. With fdisk -l /path/to/mount I could see the two partitions. But sudo vgscan couldn’t find the lvm partition. I tried sudo losetup /dev/loop0 /path/to/mount/flat, but that didn’t work either.

I figured I needed vmware-loop to mount the partition as a loop device. I searched the VMware-server-2.0.1-156745.x86_64.tar.gz file for vmware-loop, but it was nowhere to be found. That’s when I started investigating with previous versions of VMWare. It looks like the 1.0.* releases included and vmware-loop while the 2.0.* releases only include the new vmware-mount binary.

I downloaded VMware-server-1.0.9-156507.tar.gz. In that tar file I extracted bin/ and bin/vmware-loop. These were the files I needed. I skipped vmware-mount and went straight to vmware-loop. I was able to mount the second partition directly onto a network block device (/dev/dbd0) with:

sudo vmware-loop pathToVMDK.vmdk 2 /dev/nbd0

Now I could use the lvm commands to activate and mount my lvm. Note that vmware-loop is running the whole time, so I left it in a separate terminal. I closed it with CTRL-C at the very end of the process.

sudo vgscan
sudo vgchange -ay VolGroup00
sudo mount /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00 /mnt/

Finally, I was able to copy the files from my virtual hard drive. I made a full backup with tar and then grabbed some other specific files and unmounted the whole thing.

sudo umount /mnt/
sudo vgchange -an VolGroup00

If you’re struggling with vmware-mount andร‚ย  LVM or suspended disks, I hope this helps. Comments welcome.

Considering a Kindle

I’m considering the purchase of an Amazon Kindle 2. I like reading books but books a’re big and bulky which doesn’t fit very well with my current nomadic lifestyle. I’ve spoken to a few people who recommend the Kindle.

However, I just read this. Amazon has allowed publishers to restrict whether a book can be read aloud on the Kindle or not. There is no basis for this in law, but Amazon has conceded all the same.

I’m typically a hardliner on issues like this. I boycott all Apple products because of the company’s proprietary lock-in practices. I use Ubuntu GNU/Linux because it includes software freedoms not available on proprietary operating systems.

Is there a Kindle competitor out there? Is the same range of books available?

Before I make a purchase I want to find out if I can load books onto the Kindle via Ubuntu. The Kindle includes a cell phone wireless component that allows internet access, but only in the US. So outside of the US I need another way to load books. If that requires Windows or Mac then I won’t buy the Kindle.

Then I’d also like to research the selection of books that is available. I’m hoping that the type of non-fiction books I typically read are readily available on the Kindle, otherwise, again, no point getting one.

Do you have a Kindle? Do you use Ubuntu? Any feedback?

Skype on Ubuntu 8.10

Every time I reinstall Skype on Linux I lose sound for some reason. I can hear the other side, but they can’t hear me. I fiddle with the volume settings, and after a while it starts working. This time, I paid attention and made note of how I got it working. This post is as much for me as for anyone else on Ubuntu. ๐Ÿ™‚

Firstly, under Options > Sound Devices I switched the output device to pulse. Then I set the input device to “HDA Intel (hw:Intel,0)”. Then I opened the volume control, enabled all the devices, and set Mic Boost to about 15%. That was the critical step. Now callers can hear me.

For the first time in my Linux history, I can now receive a Skype call and have music playing at the same time. Previously, I had to kill all other sound output before answering the call and I would only see it ring, not hear it. Much progress.

Here’s a random picture from a search for Skype on flickr to brighten things up a little.

Zend Studio garbled chars fix

Following my post about installing Zend Studio 5.5.1 on Ubuntu 8.10, Gyorgy posted a comment about a problem with garbled characters. I had noticed the problem myself, but only briefly, I don’t tend to work with very large files. As yet, I hadn’t gotten a chance to look into it.

I spent some time on it today. Through this I found this thread discussing a similar problem with Netbeans. User cesc posted their fix (workaround?) which others reported to work. I figured the same option might work in Zend.

After a little digging, I have found that this approach works for me. I’ve tested with a 3k+ line file, and the bug is resolved. I’m running Zend Studio 5.5.1, Ubuntu 8.10, Sun’s JRE build 1.6.0_10-b33, compiz disabled. Zend appears to work with compiz enabled, but scrolling a 3k+ line file is very slow.

I edited file /opt/ZendStudio-5.5.1/bin/ZDE at line 1543 and added this:

# Hack in this option to solve garbled text problem as per:
options="$options -Dsun.java2d.pmoffscreen=false"

Here’s a patch for those who like that sort of thing. Hopefully this will help others with the same issue.

Full encryption is go!

This post comes to you from Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex, upon a fully encrpted 500GB disk. So if my laptop should fall into the wrong hands, my customers, family and friends can rest assured their data, passwords, photographs or emails are (for all practical purposes) secure.

Thus far I haven’t noticed a performance cost. The system “feels” as fast as before. I’m running a Centrino Core2 Duo 1.66GHz, 1.5GiB RAM. When moving large quantities of data (10GiB plus) I see the kcryptd process using around 25% – 50% CPU (of one core).

It really was painless to setup. Thanks to this walkthrough I was pretty confident it would be easy. No dramas. The hardest step was probably choosing a suitably random password (thanks grc).

Mobile broadband is go!

Huawei E220I bought a Huawei E220 last week. It took a week or so to arrive. Then I wanted to get myself a 3 mobile broadband account. That turned out to be a pain in the ass. You need to sign a contract, so you have to go through a credit check. As I don’t have any paperwork in Aus, Ross kindly agreed to sign the contract. Alas, having only been in the country a few months, he failed the credit check. After some initial skepticism, Toppo kindly agreed to sign on the dotted line. Bravo!

So, today, this post comes to you via mobile broadband.

There were some initial glitches though. It took some serious farting around. I tried installing vodafone’s linux software, that didn’t work. It could see the modem most of the time, but it wouldn’t connect. Not sure why, some weird wvdial errors. Yet wvdial on it’s own would work fine.

Then I tried umtsmon. It worked ok. But it’s an ugly little application and it wouldn’t disappear into my system tray. Plus, NetworkManager thought there was no connection, so all my programs thought they were offline. Pain in the ass.

Finally, I upgraded NetworkManager to 0.7. Then bingo, it works like a charm.

I want to keep an eye on bandwidth consumption, so I’m using the Net Monitor screenlet. It’s not quite perfect as it tracks usage by calendar month. But it’ll do as a start.


Top marks to Ubuntu. You plug in the modem and it “just works”. No farting around switching modes or any of that nonsense. In fact, if you know the init strings, you can just dial and go. Once NetworkManager 0.7 goes final and makes it into Ubuntu, mobile broadband will be a cinch.

Ubuntu is go

I have installed Ubuntu. It all seems to be running quite smoothly. VMWare is working, which is nice. I had some initial sound issues with Skype but it looks like it was a volume issue, sorted now. Waiting for Zend studio to download, hopefully that will be an easy install.

Overall, the process was rather painless. I’m loving synaptic package management. It really is much better than RPM. The desktop effects are taking a bit of getting used to. I can’t drag / drop windows onto the workspaces, but that’s not too big a deal.

So far, I’m pleased with the switch. For all you visual people, here’s a wee screenshot of the workspace switcher.

The desktop switcher on Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy

Some things that impressed me:

  • Media buttons “just work”, I can play / pause / forward / etc music, beautiful.
  • Installing copyright “questionable” plugins (MP3s, divx, etc) was painless and granny easy.
  • The windows key does stuff, out of the box, not very useful stuff, but still stuff!
  • I could import my pidgin, Evolution and something else data from Fedora. Nice.
  • Desktop effects are enabled out of the box (compiz for the techies).
  • Stuff prompts for configuration during install, for example ddclient. Handy.

I’m pleased I’ve switched over to Ubuntu. I’m a little wary that the #ubuntu channel is quite busy. Ubuntu seems to be popular with new linux users so there seem to be a lot of “newby” questions on there. Good they’re being answered, but it can be a pain for more experienced users.

Early adventures with Ubuntu

I’ve been thinking about switching from Fedora to Ubuntu. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version a few weeks ago. Today I took the plunge and booted it up.

First thing I noticed, no wireless networks. It detected my card and it seemed to work, but no networks were listed by NetworkManager. I unplugged the power and went through to the living room to plug in with a good old fashioned ethernet cable. Fairly quickly I found a solution. So back to my desk on wireless.


At first glance, Ubuntu is just not as pretty as Fedora. The graphics seemed a bit too Windows 3.1 for me. I switched to one of the other included themes. It was a bit better. I think I’d have to hunt around for a nicer Ubuntu theme. Personally, I think this is a big failure for Ubuntu. In aiming to bring free software to everyone, appearance matters.

For a Windows user, comparing Windows Vista with Ubuntu 8.04, I think Vista wins on appearance. For many users, that’s an important factor. Personally, it’s not a deal breaker, but I will do something about it.

Installing software

The package manager in Ubuntu is streets ahead of Fedora. Straight away it just works. It feels nice and clean. It tells you the expected download time until all your packages have downloaded. It strikes a great balance between the fine grained control I get with yumex and the simple interface of the default Fedora package manager. Thumbs up for Ubuntu.

Proprietary formats

Playing MP3 files, avi files, or any other non-free format is a little tricky on Linux. You need to install software which can be “questionable” in terms of it’s copyright position. Fedora gets round this problem by not shipping any of that software. Instead you grab that stuff from livna. However, livna is not installed by default. You have to manually add it yourself.

In Ubuntu, I tried to play an MP3 file. It asked if I’d like to search for the codecs. Then it warned me that I was installing software from the Ubuntu community. A minute or so later, the song started playing. Whatever magic happens behind the scenes in Ubuntu happens automatically. A big plus for Ubuntu, particularly for new users.


By default, Ubuntu boots in Live CD mode. So no changes are made to your hard drive. It’s a great option for new users. You can test the operating system. Check all your hardware works. Then choose to install if you want to. It was at this point that Ubuntu crashed. I’m not sure what went wrong. I could move the mouse, and the clock was ticking, but nothing else. I tried a ctrl-alt-backspace to restart X, no luck.

Ironically, I was proceeding with the install when it crashed. Now I’ve booted back to Fedora. I’m still swaying on whether to try Fedora 9 or not. If I do go with Fedora 9, I almost certainly won’t switch to Ubuntu. In Ubuntu’s favour, I already have the CD. I’ll have to go to the local library to download Fedora 9. That might end up being the deciding factor! ๐Ÿ™‚


I recommend Ubuntu to anyone interested in trying Linux. I think they work really hard to make it easy to use, and largely succeed. Personally, being fairly experienced with Linux, I don’t think there will be much difference. Package managing is better in Ubuntu. TrueCrypt ships .debs and not .rpms, so that’s a bonus. I’m just not sure if it will be worth the effort of switching.

For new users, Ubuntu is great. Personally, time will tell.