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Xubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron: Linux Finally Caters to the Public

Last week I reviewed the beta release of Xubuntu 8.04. The final release came out on April 24th and can be downloaded from the Xubuntu website. Canonical has done excellent work with making Ubuntu usable and easy to install. The Xubuntu team, currently headed by Cody Somerville, overcame some disagreements and problems to make a fast and easy operating system with all the flash and flair and none of the bloat that has plagued Microsoft's product line, while avoiding the sluggish performance inherent in Gnome and KDE. As we've said in previous articles, one of the added bonuses of Xfce, as implemented in Xubuntu, is the ability to run both Gnome and KDE apps, giving the user full access to the best of both worlds.

From the start the improvements are impressive. The Desktop CD now uses Wubi to allow you to run Xubuntu within Windows. Both the Desktop and Alternate CD now prompt the user for their language prior to displaying the menu, which will be beneficial to those who don't natively speak English. The Desktop CD now features a simple graphical installer, much better looking (but also requiring more memory and a faster processor) than Debian's graphical installer. In all fairness it is just a Live environment running in a locked down kiosk mode which autostarts Ubiquity, the Ubuntu graphical installer. Anyone can do this with a customized Desktop CD by editing the desktop files so no panels or icons are displayed and Ubiquity is autostarted with root permissions, I may do a post on this later.

The Alternate CD has few changes except the aforementioned language check. Beyond that the installer hasn't changed much. The one problem I have found on 3 different machines is that the language packages take a long time or even lock up the install. They've fixed the automount error with Ubiquity in which it would detect and automount the hard drive before trying to format it, which of course prevents the formatting. I don't want to focus all on the technical side here, so let's get to the part that makes this release so different than anything Microsoft has done in 10 years: The focus on the user.

No matter whether you use the graphical installer of the Desktop CD or the traditional quicker install of the Alternate CD, you will get the same installation when you boot for the first time. You get to see a new Usplash (splash screen) while booting, followed by a new GDM (Gnome Display Manager) login window. They're nice, but I still prefer the GreenGDM theme by nagilum, and as per usual installed it right away. The backdrop has changes as well, but I personally like the backdrop for the graphical installer much better than the one chosen for the installed desktop. If you're familiar with Xfce the new 4.4.2 desktop isn't a big change. Some good tweaks to the menu, a better control panel, and the same great marriage of KDE and Gnome applications is what you can expect here.

The Programs

For those of you coming from a Microsoft or Apple background, Linux distributions make use of free and open source software (FOSS) that is governed by the GPL. The GPL (GNU Public License) allows free use and redistribution of software so long as it is not for commercial sale, it essential requires anything covered by the GPL to be free and easily accessible to all. Because of this you automatically have access to thousands of free programs that will do everything you need; office suites, games, imaging software, multimedia software, and utilities. Xubuntu, and all Ubuntu derivatives, use the Canonical library of programs, but most software with a Linux installer can be installed on your system. To ensure an almost seamless install look for a .deb installer.

Xubuntu 8.04 comes with Firefox 3 Beta 5 installed, along with the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client. These would be the equivalents to Internet Explorer and Outlook, except with better security and the original tabbed browsing experience. The Gaim messaging client has been rolled into Pidgin, which comes installed. This takes on the role of the AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, MySpaceIM, Groupware, and ICQ clients all in one. Let's admit it; most people spend a lot of time on solitaire, freecell, or minesweeper. Hardy finally comes with the gnome-games package installed, which gives the Microsoft equivalents and then some, including sudoku, a Yahtzee clone, and a Tetris game.

Like most Linux distributions Xubuntu comes with the very nice Gimp image editor. This will do everything you can do with Microsoft Paint, but also has many features found only in Adobe Photoshop-level programs. Elsewhere in multimedia they use the Totem Movie Player, not a personal favorite, but functional nonetheless. They have replaced the xfburn media burning software used in many previous distributions with Brasero. I haven't had a lot of luck with Brasero, and prefer K3B myself, but you should try this out for yourself and determine what works best, there are quite a few CD/DVD burning programs available.

The big thing, for what I would be willing to say is 98% of all people, is the office and productivity software. is the FOSS alternative to Microsoft Office, with full support for saving and loading Microsoft and Star Office formats, among others. Because of its size it cannot be included on a Desktop or Alternate CD, but they do come with Abiword, a simple word processor. If you need full office functionality you need to install 2.4 right away, and it is available through the Add/Remove software dialog in the System menu.

The Pros
  • Xubuntu combines the reliability of Linux, the community support of Ubuntu and Canonical, and the speed and compatability of Xfce. Hardy Heron does so in grand fashion.
  • Great bundled software with thousands more that can be easily installed without looking anywhere else online or going to a store.
  • Greatly improved graphical install that I would feel comfortable allowing anyone even afraid to install Windows to use.
  • Wubi allows Windows users to try before making the switch, so now there's no excuse not to give this a try.
  • It's free, does anyone not like that?
The Cons
  • As will always be the case, some hardware will not be supported, but the number is decreasing every day. This is usually only the case with Winmodems, software modems designed only to work with Windows.
  • Some of the bundled software isn't what I think of as the best option for the use, though this will vary with what you prefer.
  • The menu and panels, while greatly improved, should have an overhaul if this is to be the easiest transition for Windows users, more of an XP feel.
The Closer

If this is your first foray into Linux, or even if you just haven't tried a new distro for a couple years, this is the one to go with. We've used many different ones, but in my mind this is the one to beat. Speed, compatibility, slick looks, and ease of use and install make this a win in my book.


Pre-Release Review: Xubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron

In 4 days Canonical will be releasing the final version of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron. With it will come Xubuntu 8.04, the Xfce version of what should be a Vista-killer. I've been testing it out and bordering on sheer joy at the improvements they've made since 8.04 Alpha 3. Once it went beta it got even better. This is my overview of what has changed and why you should adopt.


From the moment you boot from either the Desktop or Alternate CD you immediately see the difference. The Desktop CD boot menu looks completely different, and greatly simplified. Now the Live System can run from within Windows via Wubi. The menu is simplified to give the options to boot the Live environment, use a graphical installer, test the memory, or boot from the hard drive. It also allows you to choose the language before selecting anything, a big improvement for non-native English speakers. The graphical installer is really only for high memory systems, as it is just the Ubiquity installer running within a kiosk-locked Live environment. It's actually the same method we implemented in EONS version 0.3, and is a great way to do it. They also fixed the automount issue during installation and the partitioner in Ubiquity isn't as buggy as it used to be.

Older systems should still use the Alternate CD with the text installer. It's a much faster install than the previous versions as well. On my test system (3 GHz Dual Core Pentium 4, 512mb DDR400, 80GB hard drive, DVDRW) the text install took 13 minutes and the graphical install took 27.

The Pros

The overall appearance is greatly polished, mostly from the upgrade to Xfce 4.4.2 and using the new version 7.3. I've yet to find the X Terminal Crash in 8.04, the one we worked around in an earlier post. It also uses Firefox 3 Beta 5, my pick for slickest browser available. The repository also includes 2.4, which I recommend installing. All the improvements and excellence of 2.4 could be a whole other post, but here are the release notes.

It also includes GIMP 2.4.5, which I prefer on any platform. I think it's just as good as Adobe Photoshop, but slicker and much cheaper for what most people do. Hardy comes installed with the Vinagre VNC Remote Desktop Viewer as well, which will help sysadmins or tech support personnel. It also comes with the gnome-games package, installing all the basic games.

It's looking more and more like Windows XP, which I consider crucial to Linux gaining a market share on Windows. They have rearranged the Settings menu and made it much easier to use for those familiar with Windows. So far I've also found improved driver support and plug and play network support. On the technical side it uses the new Linux kernel 2.6.24.

The Cons

Most of the caveats are with their choices of default programs. They use Brasero as the default CD Burner, which is far better than xfburn, but I still find it more problematic than K3B. They've expanded the use of AppArmor as well, which I've only ever had problems with. One of the first things I did was remove it in fact. They still use Totem as a movie player, which is problematic at best. The biggest problem of all is the default font size. It's extremely small. I had problems getting it to enlarge even, which will be a major drawback for older users, it's even a pain for me and I'm only old to high schoolers.


Overall I recommend trying it out, which is even easier than before with Wubi. For those who have been using Linux for a while, back up your important files and get installing. For those who have been using Windows and want to make the switch: the time is now.


An LTSP Update

Our good friends at the CET have put us wise to a potential snag with our Build chroot Fails During LTSP Server Install post. The process of (re)building chroot normally requires a lot of downloading, and if you're running on a dialup connection, a lot of downloading is a very bad thing. We have added a short section at the end of the post explaining how to cut down on the amount of downloads that are required. If you haven't been able to set up an LTSP server in the past due to your painfully slow dialup connection, this update is for you.

We always strive to make sure we have the most helpful content on Tillamook Rage, and a big component of that is your feedback. If you've hit a problem trying to follow one of our posts, please don't give up. Post a comment or email us and we'll do what we can to help you through. Also, we've put out a call for questions from our readers. If you have a question about one of our posts, or even an unrelated question, shoot us an email and we'll see what we can do.


Reuse Robotics - An Introduction

If you're like me, then you don't have a ton of money to blow on your hobbies (that darn money tree just won't grow). I'm sure that everyone is like me and would love to build C3PO or a Replicator/Replicant in their garage , but who has the cash to heat their evil lair and still buy equipment? Well, that's where reuse robotics comes in. Now, I'm not talking about modular robotics platforms, or reusable source code, I'm talking about getting outdated and discarded computers and electronic components, and reusing/re-purposing them for your projects. There are examples of these types of projects all over the Internet, just try to Google mousebot and see what happens. Boot has written a great post on some ways that we can lay our grubby little paws on discarded computer/electronic equipment (legally I might add), so that even if you have no money at all, you should still be able to get gear. Check out his post called High tech "dumpster diving" for details.

As time goes on and Boot and I continue to have a blast with Linux, we find all sorts of things that could cross over to robotics. I myself have a penchant for robotics and embedded systems, and I find a lot of reuse ideas through doing my own projects. As Boot and I come across things, we'll use this series to pass them along to you. By the way, for any of the un-initiated among you, when I refer to embedded systems I'm talking about computers that have as much as possible crammed onto a single motherboard (storage too). Your cell phone is a good example of an embedded system.

Below are just a few things that I want to mention as we start this series.

Exhibit A
As I mentioned above, Boot has a post on the basics of scrounging for equipment. I can't recommend this post highly enough. Whether you're a pre-teen or teen with no money, or whether you're Donnie Trump, you can get some good out of the information that Boot is issuing forth in that one. Please check it out.

Exhibit B
A website that I really like from a hobbyist perspective is Anthony Beckwith's robotics page. To me a lot of his projects are the purest form of reuse robotics. You can see parts from computers, VCRs, calculators, and much much more in his robot designs. He also does quite a bit with solar powered robots, which I think is really cool. Mr Beckwith, I salute you.

Exhibit C
Boot and I are working on several posts for this series, and as time goes on and more things come to us, we'll throw them on here. To give you and idea though, coming up we'll have at least one post on building diskless robot controllers out of old motherboards and network cards, and we'll also have a post on using the sound card of a computer for analog sensor inputs.

Well, there you have it. The things that I've mentioned here are just to whet your appetite. Stay tuned for future installments of this series. We've got lots of cool ideas and information to share with you.



Digital Imaging In Linux

You might be interested in this post if you want to use digital cameras and/or scanners in Linux.

This procedure was developed using both Xubuntu Feisty (7.04) and Xubuntu Gutsy (7.10), but should work equally well with any version or derivative of Ubuntu or any Debian derivative - with some minor changes.

As always, be careful what you do with the advice and procedures from this site or any other, as you can do serious damage to your system if a mistake is made. Please see our disclaimer for details.

Recently, I was thrown into the task of mind-melding Linux (specifically Xubuntu) with a newer digital camera when my dad bought a Kodak EasyShare M883. He also wanted to get an all-in-one printer so that he could print, fax, and scan. He really likes the Xubuntu Feisty system that I set up for him many months ago, and I didn't want to ruin things for him by switching it back to Windows, so I had to make things work well for him in Linux. This post is about my (mis)adventures in trying to do that. My hope is that it will give some of you a head start on using your own digital imaging equipment in Linux, and will help you avoid the same mistakes that I made.

There are several digital camera packages for Linux, and the most commonly used one is gphoto. I found that gphoto recognized my dad's M883 right off the bat, and I was able to download photos to the computer. It's interesting to note that gphoto's website didn't have the M883 on their compatibility list. That goes to show you that it doesn't hurt to try something even though you think it might not work. When you get a new camera, I would suggest just trying to plug it in first to see if Linux recognizes it as an external hard drive. If that doesn't work you can install the gphoto library manually and use it, or you can check out the next section on using Picasa. To install gphoto, open an X terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and type the following line, hitting Enter afterwards. Note that this line is installing two programs at once, gphoto2 and gtkam.

sudo apt-get install gphoto2 gtkam

The libraries and applications with the gphoto package can be used from the X terminal, but it's easiest to use it with a program like Picasa or GThumb. If you want to use gphoto by itself, you can run the program gtkam that we installed with the command above. gtkam is a graphical front end for the gphoto library which you can use to grab the photos off of your camera. I prefer using Picasa instead of gtkam, so this post will focus on that, but if you want a post on using gphoto without installing any other programs, you can ask in the comments section. We'll be happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, not every camera will work under Linux. gphoto can't cover all of the available camera models, and many companies don't put out Linux drivers for their cameras. There is still hope though, even if Linux won't recognize your particular camera. There are two basic ways to get your photos off of your camera if it has a removable memory card. The first is with a memory card reader, the kind that fits in a 3.5 or 5.25 inch bay in the front of your computer. If your motherboard supports card readers, most likely Linux will recognize it. Once you have the card reader installed you can just insert the camera's memory card and either open the card as an external drive, or use it in a program like Picasa (see below).

I have to give credit for this second technique to Boot, since I had seen these products around but never put two and two together. What you can do is buy a USB memory card adapter for your memory card type (my dad's was SD). Even when the camera isn't recognized, the adapter with the card in it will be recognized as an external flash drive. That way you can get your photos off the camera while you wait for gphoto or one of the other camera libraries to catch up. You can use it as either an external drive and just copy the files off, or you can open the card and import the photos using a program like Picasa (see below). These adapters come in several flavors, but they usually look like over-sized USB flash drives and accept memory cards (chips) like SD and XD.

Once again, the people at Google have done the world a great favor. By teaming up with Codeweavers, Google has ported ("moved" might be a more accurate term) Picasa2 over to the Linux platform. It uses much of the original Windows code and runs it on top of the Windows emulator Wine. Not purely Linux, but an efficient way to make your app cross-platform quickly. Google currently has RPM, DEB, and BIN installers available for the i386 platform. I really like well done BIN installers, so I tried that one out. I was not disappointed. I got a nice graphical installer, and everything installed without a hitch. It's not in the Ubuntu repositories (that I know of) as of the writing of this post, so you'll have to grab one of the installers here. One side-note here is that I found documentation that said Picasa is designed for Gnome and KDE, but I didn't have any problems with it in XFCE.

I had Picasa go ahead and run the new storage detector in the background so that it would automatically detect my dad's camera, and had it put an icon on the desktop.

To import photos from your camera, attach your camera to the computer and do whatever the camera's documentation says to get the camera talking to the computer. Then run Picasa and click on the Import button shown by the red oval in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Once you are in the export screen you'll see the Select Device pull down menu shown in the red oval in Figure 2. When you click the pull down menu, you should see your camera in the list of available devices. The names can be kind of cryptic, so if in doubt, I would start at the top one and work your way down. The top entry in the pull down list is usually your camera in my experience. Once you select your camera, Picasa should start the import process. Once you're to that point, you can select photos one by one (while holding the control key) and then click the Import Selected button, or you can import all of the photos by clicking the Import All button.

Figure 2

I found an HP Officejet 6110 All-In-One for my dad at a local solid waste management district (recycling facility). See Boot's post on High Tech Dumpster Diving for ways to find good technology cheap. The printer needed a minor repair, so I got even more of a discount on it. It works great and for less than the price of the cartridges I got a complete, working, all-in-one printer. Not bad eh?

Anyway, Boot and I are pretty big fans of HP printers for Linux since we almost never have one that isn't recognized. You might have problems if you buy a bleeding edge HP printer, but one with any age on it at all should work. A lot of the printers from other manufacturers will work fine too, but they are a little more hit and miss (especially Lexmark and Xerox).

XSane...In The Membrane
XSane is a graphical program that allows you to use scanners. XSane can be integrated with Gimp for 1 step scanning for editing. More about that below. You can install XSane by opening an X terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal), typing

sudo apt-get install xsane

and hitting Enter. To install XSane graphically, open the Add/Remove Software dialog (Applications > System > Add/Remove...) and search for xsane. Once the XSane entry comes up, you can click the checkbox beside it and click the Apply Changes button.

Once XSane is installed, you can launch it by going to Applications > Graphics > XSane Image Scanner. You'll be presented with the set of windows in Figure 3. These windows will allow you to change things like the color balance and brightness of the document. There are many settings, and to write about all of them would take another post. I'll leave you to experiment. Make sure your scanner is turned on and plugged in to your computer, make sure your document is in the scanner, and click on the Scan button highlighted by the red oval in Figure 3.

Figure 3

XSane will scan the document and then a new window will pop up showing what was scanned. You can then do the typical File > Save As... routine to save the digitized document to the hard drive. If you go the Save As... route, make sure to set the file type using the pull down menu with the red oval around it in Figure 4, or specify the file type by typing the correct extension. So, for a JPEG file, you would type something like myimage.jpg and then click the OK button.

Figure 4

Gimp + XSane = Goodness
Most of us who run Linux (and many who use Windows) use Gimp for our photo editing. If you want to use XSane directly with Gimp, it's pretty easy to do. You can create a symbolic link for XSane in Gimp's plugins directory to make it recognized in Gimp's menu system. Before you can create this link though, you need to gather some information about the version of Gimp and where XSane is installed on your system. Open an X terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) or switch back to one that you haven't closed yet, and type the following command, hitting Enter afterwards.

sudo find / -iname xsane

This search line will show you the location(s) of the xsane binary. You may see several, but look for one in either the /usr/bin directory or the /usr/local/bin directory and remember the full path. Next you can type the following line, this time hitting the Tab key afterwards.


Once you hit tab, this line will complete with the version number of Gimp that is installed on your system. Remember this version number.

Now that you have the information from the commands above, you can create the symbolic link in the Gimp plug-ins directory. For all of you who are used to Windows, a symbolic link is kind of like a shortcut. Type the following line, replacing /usr/bin/xsane with the path to xsane on your system, and the 2.4 in ~/.gimp-2.4/plug-ins with the version number of Gimp that you found.

ln -s /usr/bin/xsane ~/.gimp-2.4/plug-ins/

Make sure to hit the Enter key after you've typed in the command.

Now that is done, launch Gimp (Applications > Graphics > GIMP Image Editor). Once it launches, go to the XSane acquire menu (File > Acquire > XSane) and you should see something similar to Figure 5. Notice that I've put a red box around the XSane menu in the figure. If you've already used XSane with your scanner, you will probably see it in the list below Device dialog... and in my case it's the entry that begins with hpaio. Your scanner name will differ from mine of course. You can either click on the entry for your scanner (if it's there), or you can click on the Device dialog... entry. Each of these entries opens XSane (Figure 3), but clicking the Device dialog... entry searches for a scanner first. If after clicking one of these two entries you get a dialog box telling you that there's no device present, you need to verify that your scanner is hooked up to the computer, that's it's turned on, and that it's supported in Linux.

Figure 5

Once the XSane windows pops up (again, Figure 3) you can use it just like before, but the scanned document opens in a Gimp window so that you can start editing it immediately. I like this because it avoids the extra steps of saving the scanned image and then reopening it in Gimp. This way you also have more flexibility on what you do with the document before you save it, and which formats you can save it in.

Windows Camera Software With Wine
There is a chance that you may be able to run the Windows software that came with your camera. Wine is a Windows Emulator for Linux, and can be installed by opening an X terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and typing

sudo apt-get install wine

or you can open the software installer (Applications > Settings > Add/Remove...) and search for wine.

If you're following the X terminal route, you may be asked if it's ok to use more space on your hard drive. Just type Y and hit Enter.

Once you have wine installed, you should have a Wine item in your Applications menu. If you have the menu item, expand its menu and click on Configure Wine (Applications > Wine > Configure Wine). As you can see from Figure 6, there are a lot of options that you can experiment with when you're trying to get your Windows programs running. The one that is going to probably be the most critical to you though is the Windows pull down menu with the red box around it in Figure 6.

Figure 6

With this option set to the default of Windows 2000, my dad's Kodak software installer wouldn't even run. It complained about the version of Windows I was running. When I set it to Windows XP though, it ran fine. Once the program is installed you can open the Wine C drive (Applications > Wine > Browse C:\ Drive) and navigate to where the program was installed (probably the Program Files directory) and double click it. I can't guarantee it will work, but with some tweaking I've been able to get most things to run. Check out the Wine website for extensive information on how to configure Wine to run Windows programs.

I hope that at least gives some of you a headstart on getting your digital imaging equipment working in Linux. If you hit any snags or have any questions, post them to the comments section and we'll try to help.