Archive for the ‘Ubuntu’ Category.

I’d be happy to take that off your hands

In the not too distant past, I was manning the reference desk, listening to a man say he had to come to the library to use the computers because his laptop was so badly infested with viruses that he had to throw it away.

“You threw it away?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yeah, it’s worthless now.  I can’t use it.  I’m just going to throw it away.”

Realizing he hadn’t actually thrown it away yet, but was willing to, I glibly asked if he’d throw it my way.  He looked at me incredulously at the same time I realized there was probably some intervening ethics involved.  So I said, “Or, I could show you how to make it usable again so there will never be another virus on it.”

He was still incredulous.  I assured him it can be done.  He wanted to know what he could do for me.  I told him “Never tell anyone about this,” forming a mental image of what would happen if he went out and told all his friends, or worse, wrote to the director about what I’d done for him.

He came back a couple days later, but didn’t have the laptop with him.  I hooked him up with a copy of Keir Thomas’ Beginning Ubuntu Linux, and a newer version of the CD included in the book.  He was still somewhat incredulous.  He left the book, but promised to come back the next day with the laptop.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see him again after that. I’m still wondering whether the original story was true, or if my comments prompted him to find someone to clean up the laptop for him.

I’ve since left that job.  Sometimes I miss the interesting world of public libraries.

The harsh reality about aging computers

In preparing for Software Freedom Day (September 19, more details in this post), my dad and I began evaluating the stash of donated computers he has (he’s waiting on a call from the local Computers for Kids program donee), and installing Ubuntu on them to be demo machines.  As we began installing Ubuntu, we hit a snag:  Ubuntu 9.04 will not install on pre-2000 computers.  Version 8.10 wouldn’t install either.  There were only three, and one of them was only 366 MHz, but I figured I’d give it a try anyway since they each had at least 256 MB of RAM.

I have a friend with a warehouse full of computers that he donates to another giveaway program.  He gets donations, like my dad, evaluates them, categorizes the parts, etc, and puts together systems with Windows XP on them (from TechSoup).    He told me last year he isn’t accepting any more computers with less than 1.0 GHz processors, because current software has too many problems with slower computers.

Well, yeah, you can get software to run on the older machines (see some previous posts), but increasingly, it’s a question of why?  I did it for the challenge.  But for machines going to others to use, why make it a challenge for them (unless, of course, they want that)?  For the Ubuntu folks, anything older than 2000 just isn’t worth the effort anymore.  For my warehouse friend, 1 GHz is the cutoff (which is post 2000).

On one hand, culling the older ones makes it easier for us.  On the other, my conscience cringes at adding to the number of computers and parts to be recycled (and the decidedly un-green effect most of those recycling shops have).  But that’s the reality: software installation and maintenance on dinosaur machines is a beast few are willing to wrangle with.

Frankenfest followup

We sorted a lot of stuff that day. A lot of people unloaded a lot of electronics.  About a third of it went to recycling (there is a recycling station near us that takes electronics).  We built three awesome systems, and the rest was divvied up among whoever wanted it.  Most of it ended up in my Mom’s garage.  She had been ecstatic as we hauled things out of her garage that morning.  We brought back about 2 to 3 times as much as we took.

She only said, “That’s going to be gone when the guests arrive (for Christmas)?”  We nodded solemnly.

The next day and over the next couple weekends, my Dad and I tested parts, sorted the box of RAM chips a friend donated to the cause, and put together another 6 working systems.  He got pretty good at installing Linux on them.  We used LinuxMint until we got down to the really low resource systems (Pentium II’s).  We put 20+GB hard drives on those, upped the RAM as much as we could (usually 256+MB), and put MacPup on them.  They were beautiful. 🙂

My brother arrived for Christmas, and during one of my days off, we put together another 4 systems, all with MacPup on them.  Unfortunately, my brother couldn’t get the case back on the last system, so it’s still waiting for me. 😉  After Christmas, my dad took them all to a local school, to eventually be given to students and families in need.  The teacher in charge of it had never heard of Linux and was eager to see it and learn more about it.  My dad, of course, was eager to tell her about it.  It sounds like another Linux fan has been born.

My mom is happier:  the garage only has as much computer parts in it now as it did before the Frankenfest. My dad collected a few more computers, waiting for the next call from the local school.  One of them is a laptop.  He installed Ubuntu on it and showed it off to me.  We decided to upgrade the RAM to 1GB and put Ubuntu 8.04 on it instead of the older version he had.  He spends as much time on it now, learning about Ubuntu, as he does on his Mac.  He is so happy with it he decided to put Ubuntu on another machine to give to a 90 year old friend in need of a computer.  So I helped him customize it to make it easier for his friend, and to strip out all the things that a novice is better off not messing around with.

I’m thinking Linux advocates should consider Frankenfests: get the cast off machines, put together working systems with Linux on them, and give them away!  If you have an idea of who it’s going to, you can customize it to be as full or as stripped as it needs to be.  I think most people will be like my dad, and become fans, too!

Software Freedom Day 2007!

In between conferences and other fun stuff, I was persuaded to organize another Software Freedom Day locally. Last year’s event highlighted some of the disconnect between expectations and reality among the visitors. The expectation seemed to be that Linux could resurrect any machine: “Here’s my computer. It’s 18 years old, and I used to use DOS on it. Help me put Linux on it so I can use it again.” Needless to say, we were totally unprepared for that. But I have since found that there are a lot of people out there who think buying a computer should be a once in a lifetime event. Well, maybe I exaggerate, but not much! I think I’d better dust off the dinosaur distros for this year’s event, just in case.

Here’s our announcement:

  • The Palm Beach County Linux User Group is proud to announce its second SoftwareFreedom Day/Installfest as part of SoftwareFreedom Day 2007, the biggest international celebration and outreach event for Software Freedom globally, with hundreds of teams from all around the world participating. This year the Palm Beach County Linux User Group will be hosting the event at the North County Regional Library, 11303 Campus Drive, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 P.M. on September 15, 2007. Google Map location is here.

    As part of the SoftwareFreedom Day celebration, the Palm Beach County Linux User Group will be giving away CD’s with free and open source software for Windows and Macintosh computers, including programs for graphics editing, browsing, word processing, anti-virus, e-mail, web editing, and games. Free CD’s of the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system will be available, as well as demonstrations of Linux, and assistance installing Ubuntu on personal computers. Monitors will be provided for those bringing a CPU to install Linux on.

    Stop by for giveaways, demonstrations, and to learn about Linux, a free and open source operating system available for any type of computer.

Unlike last year, we will probably get some curious people just from those passing by, on their way into the library. I wonder how many other libraries are venues for Software Freedom Day? It seemed like a natural to me (although it wasn’t my idea), since libraries are also in the business of open access, freedom, and making materials available for free (but for a limited time!). What’s really amazing to me is the sheer numbers of places all over the globe that are doing this.

Book Review: Moving to Ubuntu Linux

Moving to Ubuntu Linux, by Marcel Gagné. Addison-Wesley, 2006. Available from Amazon.

This book is really well done. Of the Ubuntu books I’ve seen so far, this is the one I gave to my dad for the Ubuntu we helped him install at the InstallFest. The screenshots are well done (that is, relevant and readable), the writing style is friendly and informal, and there is good depth given to the topics covered. The author states in the beginning: “anyone who is familiar with a computer can learn to use Linux,” and from that perspective, he does a very good job making Ubuntu familiar.

He begins with a detailed screen by screen install, including directions on resizing a windows partition and defragging a hard drive. The rest of the first half of the book then introduces the reader/user to customizing the desktop, navigating files, making an Internet connection, setting up printers, updating, and installing new software. The section on wireless networking was particularly helpful. Although the book uses the default Gnome desktop interface, it includes instructions on downloading and installing the KDE desktop and packages as well.

The second half of the book is devoted to some of the programs available. The coverage seems rather quick, but is substantial enough to get one started. I was particularly impressed with the coverage of the suite, which included creating a database and using it in Write to create address labels. There was quite a bit of discussion in the Music chapter, and a plethora of games were briefly introduced.

One of the nicest features are the “Shell Out” notes throughout the book, which give text commands to use in the shell (terminal). There’s a complete chapter at the back of the book which teaches all the basics of using the terminal, but the “Shell Out” notes are a nice way to get new Linux users comfortable using the shell. Keyboard shortcuts are also frequent. In fact, sometimes more frequent than instructions on where to find the actual command in the menus.

The book is not without a few problems, however. I ran across a few typos, and was left hanging in the Base chapter where the author promised to come back to the option of creating a form but never did. Also, although there is a live DVD included with the book, the computer I’m using does not have a DVD drive. Fortunately, I had a few CD’s left over from the InstallFest. Despite these minor issues, I’d recommend the book. It’s one of the best I’ve seen so far.

Book Review: The Official Ubuntu Book

The Official Ubuntu Book, by Benjamin Mako Hill and Jono Bacon, Corey Burger, Jonathan Jesse, Ivan Krstic. Prentice Hall, 2006.  Available from Safari/O’Reilly and Amazon.

This is a deceptive book. It looks “official” (with Ubuntu colors and people on the cover), Chapter One sounds “official” (reads almost like a catechism), and it’s got an “official” stamp of approval (the foreward) from Mark Shuttleworth, the man behind the Ubuntu project. Don’t be fooled, however. The meat of this book is anything but dry, official-sounding, stuff.

If you do start at the beginning of the book (as I did), you will be pleasantly surprised when you get to Chapter Two. The writing style changes abruptly to a very readable, conversant style, sprinkled with a dry wit (“Although you don’t really need to know what these folders do … for your pleasure, we present the Linux folder hit list …”). The intended audience seems to be primarily computer users who are unfamiliar with Linux, or at least unfamiliar with Ubuntu. It is not the book I’d hand to a new computer user, but the authors do a good job speaking to computer users of varying levels who are reluctant to venture into the “unknown” world of Linux.

There are brief introductions to some of the common applications (Firefox browser, Writer, Evolution E-mail and Calendar, the GIMP, Gaim, and Ekiga VOIP), and brief mentions of many other applications, like IRC, games, and CD software. I especially like their example using the GIMP (short and quick, but really sweet). The Advanced Usage and Managing Ubuntu section gets a little confusing in places. For example, some of the screenshots don’t seem to match the text, and it leaves the reader hanging in the Add/Remove programs section. Also, while it has very good details on printing setup, there is not much on network printing.

Surprisingly, there is a separate chapter for Server installation. People like me probably shouldn’t read stuff like that. Their words, “Let the mischief begin!” was prefaced with:

The aim of this chapter is … not to teach you how to be a system administrator — we could easily fill a dozen books attempting to do that — but to give you a quick crash course.

So I delved in, and found it … mostly helpful, at least not harmful. Probably useful for newbie system administrators; the rest of us could safely skip the chapter and go straight to the “Support and Typical Problems,” which is much more useful. The issues range from the simple and obvious (“How do I restore something I deleted in the file manager?”) to the esoteric (“How do I make Ubuntu bread?”). Finally, there is a separate section on installing and using Kubuntu.

There is an assumption that you will install Ubuntu using the DVD included, which has several variations to choose from, including one for Apple Macintosh. Of course, if you don’t have a DVD drive, or if you are looking for some of the Ubuntu alternatives, like Xubuntu or Edubuntu, you’ll have to visit the Ubuntu site. Nevertheless, this book stands solidly as an excellent resource for learning and using Ubuntu. There’s even the bonus background stuff in Chapter 1!

Book Review: Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks

Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks: A Pain-Free, Project-Based, Get-Things-Done Guidebook, by Rickford Grant. No Starch Press, 2006. Also available from O’Reilly and Amazon.

Rickford Grant is not new to books for novice Linux users (see Linux Made Easy and Linux For Non-Geeks). This is the first one I’ve read, however. My motive here is to find Linux distros that are truly for Linux novices, and that also have books available for them. There is also the hope (perhaps vain) that there is a book and distro for the novice computer user. This book is not for the novice computer user. As Grant states in the introduction:

If you are familiar with computers, but unfamiliar with Linux, or somewhat familiar with Linux but not with Ubuntu, you are essentially the readere for whom I have written this book.

To that end, Grant achieves his goal. Some may take issue with the non-geek part of the title, however.

As the title states, this is a project-based guide. The book’s structure is to identify and explain features (or software) and move on to a hands-on exercise (project) using those features. Most of the projects are both helpful and practical (for example, the first project is addiing a force quit button to the panel). The writing style is informal and chatty, rather like a tutor sitting beside you. He promises to make it fun, and does a pretty good job, especially with sections like the one on Easter Eggs.

The coverage is definitely not for non-geeks. He spends quite a bit of time on games, iPods, music, downloads and customization, while barely mentioning GnuCash, Scribus and the suite of tools. But he did say he would make it fun, and the geeky things are a lot more fun than the productivity things. However, he also has sections on Linux security (“Basically, if it makes you feel safer to install some protection, go ahead”), printers and scanners, fonts, and multi-lingual features.

Grant, as all Linux guidebook writers seem to be, is upfront and honest about Linux and its shortcomings, but is upbeat and optimistic. He also gives workarounds with frank assessments of their likely effectiveness or ease of use. To that end, most of his projects involve downloading and installing a program that is not included in the Ubuntu install disk. In fact, if you follow the projects, you’ll get a lot of practice finding and installing packages, both from the gui and command line, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He also progresses from fairly simple steps at the beginning of the book, to an assumption the reader has more than a basic knowledge of Linux. This is definitely not a book to jump around in unless you’re one of those already familiar with Linux.

While I think this is a good book that achieves its stated goals, I do have some beefs. One of the biggest issues in computing access today is wireless. But the section on networking, including wireless, is weak. First, although he uses a lot of screenshots throughout the book (albeit too small to be of much use), there is a dearth of useful screenshots in the wireless section. Second, he mentions the outdated WEP security, but says nothing about WPA, which is not new technology any more. Third, there is the assumption that a wireless card will just be recognized, without a problem. Then there are times (thankfully infrequent) the information he’s giving is downright wrong. For instance, in the section on network browsing, he states, “In case you’re wondering, the smb at the head of that path means Samba…” Finally, although it may be early in the game here, the link listed for updates to links and software given in the book is blank.

A good book? Yes, especially for geek wannabes. But not the book for a total newbie, and not really the book for non-geeks. And the experienced Linux users probably already know it’s not the book for them. Despite my beefs, I did enjoy the book, and found it useful, despite it’s weaknesses.