Tag Archives: Ubuntu

And I didn’t even have to edit xorg.conf! (Part 1: Desktop Effects)

Of course, just the thought of manually editing xorg.conf in this day and age shouldn’t even have crossed my mind. Especially on Ubuntu. But (as my Twitter followers might have observed) I recently acquired a new Lenovo Thinkpad at work–specifically, a T61p widescreen Thinkpad which, unfortunately, has an NVIDIA graphics card (really really bad open source support under Linux because NVIDIA won’t open up their drivers). NVIDIA, however, do provide proprietary Linux drivers which are far far better than the ATI drivers of my previous Thinkpad T41p (under either Linux or Windows).

Fortunately, while not a freedom-hater, I’m not averse to using proprietary drivers if I can’t make my laptop work any other way. And as this is my work machine, I need it to Just Work (or as close to as I can). So I installed EnvyNG (envyng-core, envyng-gtk) and ran that to install the proprietary NVIDIA graphics drivers. Incidentally, enabling the NVIDIA proprietary drivers listed in System > Administration > Hardware Drivers screwed up my graphics – I assume the drivers that Ubuntu thinks are right for my graphics card aren’t actually the right ones. EnvyNG, however, got it spot on–the widescreen display resolution (1920×1200) was automatically detected and worked straight off.

Ubuntu Desktop Effects (aka compiz)

This works pretty well. I had to look up how to enable, for example, the rotating cube (which is the ultimate desktop bling) which seemed to me to be a pretty bad Out of Box Experience (OoBE) – before installing Ubuntu on the Thinkpad, I’d booted once into Vista to check that the memory I’d installed was detected. In my brief visit, I noticed that things like the pretty semi-transparent sidebar and thought it’d be nice if Ubuntu did that without any effort on the user’s part (though, to be fair, someone else had installed Vista and, presumably, ensured it worked before shipping the Thinkpad – it would be possible to do the same for a pre-installed Ubuntu machine).

Rotating cube
Rotating cube

My general opinion of the Desktop Effects is that while the effects themselves are amazing and a real step-up for Linux desktops, the Advanced Desktop Effects Manager, where you enable/disable the effects you want, is not incredibly easy to use. It’s often not clear what a given effect will do if you enable it. Nor is it clear what all the many many options for each effect will achieve. Really, we need a much simpler interface that has advanced options hidden away – something I’ll take a look at at some point…

The effects that I’ve enabled for now, and found useful/interesting/pointless-but-fun are:

Effect Name Description How to enable
Desktop Cube Places each of your desktops on the side of a 3D cube. See this very useful blog post about enabling the rotating cube
Rotate Cube You can rotate the 3D cube in a very funky way. See this very useful blog post about enabling the rotating cube
Scale Apparently similar to Mac OS X – you can set up so that when you move your mouse pointer to an area of the screen (eg top-right corner), all the open application windows are displayed on-screen as thumbnails. Scale > Bindings > Initiate Window Picker for All Windows then click the top-right corner of the little graphic to specify where you want the mouse point to trigger the effect.
Show Desktop I configure it so that when I move my mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen, all visible windows minimise; repeat mouse movement to get them back. Enable it. Then General Options > General > Show Desktop then click the bottom-left corner of the little graphic to specify where you want the mouse pointer to trigger the effect.
Water Effect You can drag your mouse pointer around with CTRL+Windows key to make a water effect – at least, that’s what I think is the result of enabling that effect. Just enable it.
Reflection When you CTRL+ALT+Down, and all the desktops line up for you, you get a reflection of each desktop underneath. Just enable it.
Cube Reflection I think you just get a reflection of the cube while it’s rotating. Just enable it.
3D Windows When you rotate the cube, each window is arranged on its z-axis so that they stand away from the surface of the cube. Just enable it.

By the way, Wobbly Windows are enabled by default. If you’re interested in knowing more about how Wobbly Windows came to be, here’s an interview with Red Hat’s Senior Interaction Designer (in 2005), Seth Nickell (PDF).

Enabling an external projector/monitor

Coming soon (as soon as I get round to taking some screenshots)…

That difficult second episode…but it’s worked! :)

That’s right! They’ve made it to the second episode of the Ubuntu UK podcast (a.k.a. UUPC).

I was privy to a pre-release airing last night and I was very impressed, having sat through hours of recording time on Saturday… ;)

The show now has its own Twitter ID (@uupc) so that you can follow its progress from recording, through editing, to release.


Ubuntu-UK podcast: Episode 1 now available!

The title says it all really.

Some of the guys in the Ubuntu-UK community have released a podcast. And Episode 1 of, hopefully, many more is now available.

Okay, it’s not just ‘some guys’. One of them is my other half, Tony (a.k.a. TonyTiger), I know the others, and I was actually present for  part of one of the interviews on there. So my pimping the podcast here is probably slightly predictable. On the other hand, it really is rather good! :-)

So give it a go.

You can download it from the podcast’s funky new site at podcast.ubuntu-uk.org.

Using the ‘service’ command on Ubuntu (and other handy tools)

Here’s how to get handy equivalents of the RedHat service and chkconfig commands on Ubuntu.

I’ve been using Ubuntu as my main desktop on my T41p Thinkpad for – what seems like – ever but is actually only since sometime last Summer. Before that, I used RedHat Enterprise Workstation for a time and, as RH isn’t (or, at least, wasn’t) quite so user-friendly as Ubuntu, and I’d recently been on a Linux Networking course, I quickly got used to using the service command to restart networking or whatever, and, occasionally, the chkconfig command to set which services started/stopped at boot. My main use of the chkconfig command was to stop the vmware service from starting at boot because the extra networking interfaces confused my VPN connection (IIRC).

When I moved to Ubuntu, I soon forgot the existence of such commands with the arrival of the lovely (but, unfortunately, slightly buggy) Network Manager GUI. Yesterday, I wanted to stop the vmware service from starting at boot as I used to (not for any particular reason but just because it seemed silly to be starting when I’m not always needing it). So I started to hunt it down…

System > Administration > Services seemed the obvious way to go…and, indeed, it did reveal a GUI listing some services. I’m not sure, however, how that particular GUI decides which services to list. Maybe it’s a lucky dip? Whatever. They’re certainly not all there. I’ve not yet found that GUI at all useful (unlike the GUI it replaced, which was probably daunting for new users but much more useful than the current one).

I started to google and found some useful tools. I never actually found the vmware service listed anywhere – if anyone knows how on earth I can prevent it starting at boot, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are the handy utilities that I did find…

Boot-Up Manager (BUM)

It’s childish, I know, but apt-get install bum makes me smirk. So, I installed BUM – it doesn’t seem to get added to the Applications menu but you can just type sudo bum in a terminal to start the BUM GUI:

Screenshot of BUM GUI

It seems to be a more useful alternative to the Services GUI that comes in Ubuntu.


This is fairly close to chkconfig (but in a terminal-based GUI) or the GUI that you used to get in Gnome that listed all the services and the runlevels at which they’d start on your system. Less pretty than BUM but looks okay:

Screenshot of sysv-rc-conf

sysvconfig (provides the service command)

And finally, this is just a package you install which contains the service command. Once you’ve installed the package, you can type things like sudo service vmware restart to restart the vmware service (which did work, btw, despite not being able to actually *see* the vmware service listed anywhere).

So, there you go! All of these are available in the Ubuntu Gutsy repository.

Setting up a Freecom media player with Ubuntu

This has taken me over two months (on and off) to finally get set up so hopefully this post will make things a bit smoother for other people.

I have the Freecom Network Media Player 350 WLAN model with no harddrive. As we already have a MythTV media server in our living-room, I wanted to set up the new media player in the bedroom with my old 17″ LCD monitor and a pair of speakers. The media player has 802.11G wireless so I can listen to music over the network, though I’m not sure if that’ll be up to playing video so we might have to finish running the ethernet cable anyway.

So, what did I have to do to set it up? And why did it take me so long?

Well, the answer to the first question should really be “not a lot” because it’s mostly set up ready to go when you take it out of the box. In practice, it took me about three stints of fiddling around to get it working (only the ‘Sharing files from a Linux PC’ bit of this post is specific to Linux and Ubuntu, by the way).

Video output

First of all (and a significant mistake on the part of the manufacturers, I feel), the Freecom media player defaults to Composite, its analogue output. You can switch it to HD-DVI, its digital output, but you must have the digital output device (my LCD monitor in this case) connected to the media player with a DVI cable (the one with the white ends). If the LCD monitor is not connected, the media player doesn’t believe you that a digital output is really what you want and won’t switch.

But, in order to see the Setup screens on the media player, you have to have connected the media player to some kind of non-digital display. This was fine for me at home because our TV is still an old CRT and has easily accessible composite input (the triple cable with yellow/white/red plugs on it). At my parents’ house, however, they have a shiny new LCD TV with no composite input. Although the media player is handily supplied with a composite cable, it doesn’t come with either an s-video or scart cable, which is all that my parents’ TV can take.

So, after enlisting my parents to help lug their old portable TVs around the house, I managed to get an analogue output (old portable TV) and a digital output (the new LCD TV) in the same physical location so that I could plug the media player into both and switch the media player output to digital. Unfortunately, the default resolution of the digital output on the media player is 576 and not 1080. The LCD TV, however, will only recognise 1080. And you can only change the resolution of the media player’s digital output setting *after* you’ve switched to the digital output.

So something of a Catch-22 situation there.

I eventually got it working back at home where my LCD monitor was less picky about what resolution the media player fed into it and I could change to digital output then switch resolution, then save the settings so that the media player boots into digital output every time.


We use WPA wireless encryption on our home network (use the WPA-TKIP option on the media player), so this was never going to be completely straightforward. But, really, entering a 63-character passphrase using a remote control is beyond a joke!

Basically, for each character, you tab through a list of 36 characters (0-9-a-z), using the Up arrow on the remote control, until you reach the one you want. Then, you press the Right arrow to move to the next character before repeating the previous step. For 63 characters!

Also, one thing that the media player instructions don’t mention is that you have to use the ASCII version of the WPA key, not the Hex version (which is what I’m used to using on my laptop, on the Wii, and on pretty much every other wireless device I use — except our digital photo frame, which is another story!).

Once I’d worked out how to enter the WPA key, it connected easily. It’s pretty much the same experience on a WEP network except that the key is much shorter to enter!

Sharing files from a Linux PC

This is where the Ubuntu (or LInux in general) bit comes in.

The media player’s manual provides detailed instructions on how to share files from a Windows PC to the media player so it takes a bit of translation to get the same thing to work from a Linux PC.

A nice touch in the media player is that it uses Samba by default to do its file sharing. This means that, on connecting to the network, it finds all the available Samba shares and displays them under the wireless (or wired, if you’re using ethernet) option on the main screen as sources of media.

The less nice touch is that it uses “a really crap authentication system” (Mills, 2008). I easily shared a directory using the Ubuntu GUI. Before you can share a folder using Samba, you must have a Samba server installed on the PC. On Ubuntu (Gutsy in my case), a Samba server is installed and configured by default so you should be fine.

To share a folder using the GUI in Ubuntu:

  1. Right-click the folder on your Ubuntu PC you want to make available to the media player, then click Share folder. The Share Folder dialog opens like this:
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog.
  2. In the dialog, from the Share through list select Windows networks (SMB). A couple more fields are added to the dialog.
  3. In the Name field, type a name for the share. This name must be fewer than 12 characters long otherwise the media player doesn’t recognise it (a mistake I made on my first attempt).
    Screenshot of the Share Folder dialog with SMB selected.
  4. Leave the Read only check box selected. There’s no need for the media player to have any more access than this.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Right-click the folder then click Properties. On the Permissions page of the Properties dialog, check that the Folder Access list for ‘Others’ has Access files selected.
  7. Check also that the files in the folder have read-only access for ‘Others’ by looking in the Properties dialog of one or two of the files.

Okay, the folder is now shared but the media player still can’t access the files in it.

In case you’re interested, or in case you prefer to edit the Samba configuration file directly instead of using the GUI, the GUI generates a stanza like this in the /etc/samba/smb.conf file (where ‘cardiff’ is the name I gave to the share, and the path is the location of the folder in my home directory on my Ubuntu PC):

path = /home/laura/photos/canon_ixus/2007-12-02-cardiff
available = yes
browsable = yes
public = yes
writable = no

At this point, the media player can find your shared directory but can’t access any of the files in it. So you need to do a tiny bit of editing of the smb.conf file (sorry, it’s unavoidable) to allow the media player to authenticate with your Ubuntu PC.

To enable the media player to access any folders you’ve shared (thanks to Hugo Mills for telling me this bit):

  1. Open a terminal window and change to the directory that contains the smb.conf file:
    cd /etc/samba
  2. Back up the smb.conf file (so that you can revert back to using the old version of the file if necessary):
    sudo cp smb.conf smb.conf.bak
  3. Open the smb.conf file in a text editor such as Gedit:
    sudo gedit smb.conf

    Enter your password when prompted. The smb.conf file opens in Gedit.

  4. Find the section of the file called
     ####### Authentication #######
  5. Find the line that says:
    security = user
  6. Replace the line with the following two lines:
    auth methods = guest sam winbind
    security = share
  7. Find the line that says:
    encrypt passwords = true

    Check that the line looks like this and that it isn’t commented out with a semi-colon (;).

And you’re done!

The media player should now be able to read the files in the directory that you shared (you’ll probably have to reload the folder on the media player to display the files).

Playing shared files

The media player supports a whole list of file formats but I’ve had trouble playing some files. I had no trouble playing some mp3 music files, and I was able to play an mp4 video file over the network (although the latter hung the media player the first time through for some reason).

One directory of jpg image files worked fine as a slideshow (though the media player doesn’t automatically rotate portrait pictures) but another directory of jpg images wouldn’t play. I think it’s got something to do with file sizes and the amount of memory available on the media player. A 1.9 MB png file wouldn’t play because it was too big for the media player’s memory.

Also, I haven’t been able to play any of the AVI movie files that I’ve tried. They all came from my Canon Ixus camera so I don’t know what the problem is but maybe the media player supports only certain AVI codecs?

I was also able to play a slideshow of jpg files from a USB key drive that I plugged into the USB port on the back of the media player (a USB extension lead is useful here because my USB key is slightly too bulky to go in port next to the DVI cable port).


So far, I’ve not actually tried the media player in situ yet so I can’t say how well it works in its intended setting. But it’s now set up and works with wireless, sound, and file shares.

‘Free’ Vista upgrade

Having bought my lovely new red laptop when I did, I am entitled to claim a free upgrade to Windows Vista. I’m unlikely to use Vista at work (because I’ve run Linux on my Thinkpad laptop since last summer) and at home I use Ubuntu. And on the odd occasion that I might have to use someone else’s Vista PC, it might be useful to at least know my way around. So I figured I may as well claim it. It’s free, afterall.

Hmm, someone’s changed the definition of ‘free’ then (and the ‘free as in beer’/ ‘free as in speech’ argument really doesn’t apply here).

To be fair, I was warned upfront that I might have to pay a shipping fee to receive my upgrade.

On the first page, it seemed to say I would be charge nearly £2 for the order I was placing. This must be the aforementioned shipping fee, I thought. So I continued.

When I’d entered all my details but, luckily, not my credit card details, the final total was updated to nearly £15!!!

If I have to pay nearly £2 for my ‘free’ Vista upgrade, they’re charging nearly £13 ‘shipping and handling’ fee. How much does it cost to package and send a single DVD?

So I closed my browser.

Didn’t really want it anyway. :)

Shiny new – red – laptop

This is slightly old news now – especially to the poor souls who I see and bore about my new laptop every day at work. ;)

I’ve wanted to buy a laptop of my very own for about a year now but, already having a desktop PC that works fine, I couldn’t really justify it. Also, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from a laptop: a desktop replacement like the Dell Inspiron, which my brother bought last summer with a huge screen but large and heavy, or an ultraportable like the little Vaios and iBooks that might be a bit underspec and overpriced.

Then a couple of weeks ago I stopped procrastinating and decided that I want a small, light laptop that had to have a bit of umph and could run Linux. I had no idea what was available so I just looked at the main manufacturers like Dell (too big), Sony (too expensive and focusing a little too much on what it looks like over what happens under the lid), Apple (ditto Sony)…

In the past, Tony has bought new hardware based on recommendations in the PCW magazine Group Test reviews. So I did a search and discovered, conveniently, that PCW’s February 2007 issue did a Group Test of lightweight laptops. Their favourite, with a glowing review, was for the Samsung Q35. After looking at some of the others that they tested, I came to the same conclusion.

Then I discovered that the Q35 also comes in RED!!! :D

After a bit of debate about settling for the slightly lower spec Q35 Red over the standard silver Q35, I figured that what difference there might be between a 1.83 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the red one) and a 2 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the silver one) I’m unlikely to notice with my type of usage (email, Web, word processing). So I plumped for the Q35 Red.

And it’s so cool!

The keys on the keyboard feel really nice to type with. There’s is a slightly odd keyboard layout in that you have to use the Fn key to get Home and End but it actually takes less getting used to than I expected. What still catches me out is having to reach slightly further to the right for the right-hand Shift key. But even so, it’s all very nice. Another thing that user reviews pointed out as being negative is the slight stiffness of the touchpad buttons but it’s not a big deal and I tend to double-tap the touchpad anyway.

Other than that….the build feels really solid (including the DVD drive which doesn’t feel as flimsy when open as on some laptops), the monitor resolution (widescreen 1280 x 800) compensates for the smaller screen (12.1″), the picture quality is great, the battery life is good….

….and almost everything worked on Ubuntu Edgy out of the box!

I booted first into the factory-installed Windows XP Pro to check that all the hardware worked (like the SD/MMC etc card reader). After some initial confusion about which way up to insert an MMC card (the user manual says with the label down, but actually it’s with the label up), all was fine. So I wiped the harddrive and installed Ubuntu Edgy.

All the software comes on CDs in the box with a healthy understanding, on Samsung’s part, that users *might* want to reinstall at some point (even if it’s just because of a harddrive failure), rather than expecting a hidden partition on the harddrive to be sufficient. Actually, there is a hidden recovery partition on the Samsung Q35 but it contains some recovery software, rather than an entire operating system. The idea is that you can take an image of your machine at certain points to which you can revert in future if all goes wrong. I figure that if I’ve got all the software on CD and I screw up my machine *that* much, I’d rather just do a straight reinstallation. Besides, the recovery software runs on Windows.

So, in the BIOS, I made the hidden recovery partition deleteable and told Ubuntu to format the entire harddrive. Unfortunately, I think there’s a slight bug in the BIOS so that whenever you do a cold restart (ie shutdown and power off then power on again) the BIOS setting defaults back to protecting the hidden partition from being deleted again. And I kept forgetting to switch it back to being deleteable. So, on my second installation attempt, I remembered to make the hidden partition deleteable. Possibly predicatably, however, after installation, when I next powered on, the machine wouldn’t boot because the BIOS had reverted back to protecting (ie hiding) the recovery partition area of the harddrive. Which meant that the Master Boot Record (on the first bit of the harddrive) was hidden (which is not ideal).

In the end, I gave up and wrote off the few Gb of hidden partition area and installed into the rest of the drive. Strangely, the installation took ages this time. Still, it seems okay and I’m going to do a fresh installation of Ubuntu Feisty when it comes out in April anyway. Slightly annoying that I can’t use that area of the drive but my BIOS version is up-to-date – and I’d have to reinstall Windows to update it now anyway – so I’ll have to live with it.

One thing that I didn’t mention about the factory installation is that there’s another partition which contains a media centre (based on Windows XP) that you can boot into without loading the full operating system so that you can look at photos, play DVDS, and listen to music. There’s even a separate power button on the laptop for it. Because it’s all part of Windows XP I couldn’t keep it when I installed Ubuntu but, at some point, I’m going to investigate the possibility of installing something similar based on Linux and, hopefully, hooking it into the second power button. Apparently I know someone who knows about this sort of thing so there’s a chance that it might work too.

Anyway, on installation, Ubuntu automatically detected the correct screen resolution and just worked. To work on our WPA-encrypted wireless network, the wireless needs Network Manager installing with some slight configuration (though Feisty should do this better), and there’s a weird bug in the sound card support that requires you to run a command (see these instructions for installing Fedora on a Samsung Q35 for the command). Without the command, the sound works but there’s a high-pitched whistling sound that quickly gets irritating.

The touchpad works (including double-tapping to do a double-click) but vertical and horizontal scrolling using the touchpad doesn’t work out of the box. At some point I’ll look into that. I successfully burnt a CD using the Nautilus-integrated drag-and-drop method a couple of nights ago (easier than I remember it being on Windows) so that’s all fine. The card reader does work but ironically only seems to detect the DRM-protected SD card and not the DRM-free MMC card. Hopefully that will change with Feisty because I use an MMC card in my digital camera.

So, all in all, I’m a very happy bunny!

Importing photos from my Canon IXUS 55

In response to a comment on my previous post, here’s what happens when I plug in my camera and switch it on (in Playback mode) under Ubuntu Linux Dapper:

Import Camera dialog

Then, when I click Import Photos, I get this dialog:

Import Photos dialog

You then just select the thumbnails of the photos that you want to import to your harddrive and click Import. It automatically creates a directory in the location shown using the current date and time.

Much the same sort of thing happens under Windows XP and Mac OS X because they all use the PTP transfer protocol.