Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of you without Ubuntu, your holiday will probably be slow, overly complicated and might crash entirely.

Those of you with Ubuntu will not have these problems, though you will probably be the one that everyone goes to for help.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Timed Shutdown

We go on at great length about how great Linux is, how altruistic the community is and how much better the world becomes as more people switch to Ubuntu.

Our favorite OS does, however offer some opportunities to work mischief and you should take them when they appear.

The co-worker who's desk is adjacent to mine has an annoying habit of shutting down his computer and going to drop off his daily paperwork only to discover that he had a last email to send or somesuch. He then routinely asks to use mine with the assurance that it will "only take a minute."

The first thirty or forty times he did this, I wasn't bothered but he kept taking more and more time at this until I was often waiting twenty minutes or more past the end of my work day for him to finish dicking around on my machine.

Luckily for me, he's Ubuntu-Ignorant.

The standard terminal command to turn off a laptop* is:

sudo shutdown -h now

What that means in Personspeak is:

sudo(with admin authority), shutdown(duh), -h(turn off everything) now(duh)

To convince my colleague to stop using my machine, I would enter

sudo shutdown -h 5

And then close the terminal window.

Notice how I changed the "now" to "5". That means 'in five minutes.' The machine then runs as normal and, after five minutes, abruptly powers down without stopping to warn you.

My leech of a comrade would then freak out, thinking he had done something to my computer. I would huff and haw and pretend he had done something significant before turning the computer back on and pretending to remedy whatever he though he had done. After doing this three or four more times, he quit asking to use my computer.

You are thusly enlightened.

* If you're really conserving key-strokes, "sudo halt" and "sudo poweroff" do the same thing in most distributions. Also, "shutdown -r" in lieu of "shutdown -h" will reboot your computer. So will "sudo reboot".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

F.A.Q. -- The Evangelists

Why did you create this blog?

Quite simply, to convince people to switch to Ubuntu from their current operating system and to assist them as they get comfortable with the new software.

Why would you do such a thing?

We have great faith in the Ubuntu project, in the Ubuntu philosophy and in it's potential to change the way people use computers. Computers should be powerful, easy to use and they should bring people together. Ubuntu is one tool towards this purpose. While there's plenty of documentation out on the web for intermediate and advanced Ubuntu users; there isn't that much out there for first-timers and there's precious little designed specifically to recruit new users. What is out there can be hard to find or to understand if you don't already know what you're doing. We're trying to help with that last part.

Do you work for Ubuntu?

None of the regular authors of this blog are affiliated with the Ubuntu Foundation or with Canonical Incorporated. We're doing this entirely on our own without any assistance or endorsement.

You're just doing this out of the goodness or your hearts?

We're doing it so that there will be more people using Ubuntu. Community developed software gets better the more people that use it. More people equals more support, more features and more opportunities. Also, none of us are developers so this is our way of contributing to the Ubuntu community. As you use Ubuntu we expect that you'll find yourself wanting to contribute in some way, just as we have, whether by recruiting more users, writing documentation, giving support in the forums or by actually writing software.

Aren't you really just radical Leftists who hate corporations?

None of us are particularly corporate minded and we would really love to see Microsoft go down in flames but that's not the major reason we think you should switch to Ubuntu.

You should switch to Ubuntu because it is a superior product at a better price. Both radical leftists and hardcore capitalists, when confronted with the choice between an inferior, expensive product and a superior, free product can agree on which is the right choice.

You said that you're not developers, how can I be sure you know what you're talking about?

First, you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition, second we learned Ubuntu exactly the same way that you're going to, by trying it, experimenting with it and by asking the Ubuntu community for help whenever we had trouble. No, we're not programmers but that makes us all the more prepared to help other non-programmers get comfortable with Linux without using jargon or speaking over the heads of our audience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Macintosh, How I Loathe Thee

I'm writing this on a Mac.

MaCultists dominate my profession. I'm constantly berated for not owning one. I'm told time and time again that I can't even be taken seriously, let alone thrive, in this business without kneeling at the throne of Jobs.

By a strange twist of fate, I'm sitting in front of a Mac today, a brand new Macbook pro that I'm told is one of the very best available. Granted, it's shiny; the graphics are flashy and the animations are smooth. It's even cold to the touch. I can see why some people, people who don't know any better, are really taken with this machine.

On the other hand, it's a piece of garbage. A shiny, flashy and expensive piece of garbage but a piece of garbage all the same.

Rather than rent a satellite truck at some six thousand dollars a day, I've been asked to help set up a live video feed from here back to the office so that the muckity-mucks can monitor what's happening on location. Someone other than me decided that the best way to do this would be through iChat.

Last week we set everything up; I took a playback device out to the spot where we would be doing this and tested to see that it would transmit and it seemed to work flawlessly. Over the weekend, though, our resident video expert shut the machine down rather than suspending it and the configuration that we had built magically went away. There's only one user account on the machine so I know that I'm logged into the right place. All our settings simply vanished like a fart in a high wind. Ubuntu does not forget things.

I'm not a Mac expert but I have to use them with some regularity so I'm not totally out of my element. I establish a new iChat account and find my counterpart back at the office. His badly compressed image stares back at me from miles away. I hook up the external video device via firewire and wait for the camera-select dropdown box to appear, which it never does. I check every link in the chain from the output at the camera, to the converter box, to the external monitor and everything is good. I even plug in my own, Ubuntu, machine and it gets the video feed just fine.

At this point I seriously consider just doing the whole thing on my own computer but I'm overruled by my boss, who's enthusiastically pro-Mac.

I try plugging the video device into another Mac and BOOM, it shows up exactly as I'm told it's supposed to. Unfortunately, that Mac doesn't have wireless broadband and I don't have the software to install on it, otherwise I would have just used that machine. Finding a local network and downloading from a repository, as I would on Ubuntu is simply not an option. Moreover, the manufacturer of the broadband card doesn't offer it's software for download. Wow. Ubuntu does not hide software from me.

I go back to the first machine and tinker. After some looking through an opaque file structure and a lot of plugging, unplugging and rebooting, the external camera option shows up in the appropriate drop down box, BUT IT'S GREYED OUT! Now it can see the camera but it won't let me use it and it won't tell me why, then iChat hangs for no reason and has to be restarted. This then happens two more times before it goes back to operating smoothly. Ubuntu does not tease me.

Being an Ubuntu person, I go for the standard Ubuntu response, "Ask The Internet!" So, I start looking up various strings of "External Camera iChat," "Video Input Mac," "Can't Access Firewire" and dozens of others and I find absolutely nothing that can assist me. Mind you. there seem to be dozens of other people who have encountered this issue but there is apparently no solution. Per my research, and Linux people tend to be pretty good at this kind of thing, Apple hasn't even addressed the issue and the Mac community, not being of the open-source mindset, does little more than complain rather than provide their own solution.*

Then the broadband card goes down.

I reconnect and get no throughput. I reboot, reconnect and I'm back online but my camera has disappeared from the iChat dialog. I reboot two more times and, finally, the external camera shows up as a selectable option in iChat. I select it, get a feed and connect to my colleague back at base.

Whooooo Hooooo! We're in business after only an hour and a half of fucking around. Sure, I have no idea why it worked this time, it's all just voodoo at this point but it works ... for about six minutes before the broadband card goes down again. Reconnect, back up ... for two minutes. Reconnect, fail, reboot, box-greyed out, reboot, no camera, reboot, iChat hangs, restart program, camera available but broadband won't connect.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Do you also understand that two dozen of my colleagues are standing around waiting for this to happen? I should also mention that most of the colleagues are kool-aid drinking Mac-Hacks and, despite the fact that no less than eight of them have taken turns trying to get this to work, none of them can get anymore out of this than I.

Finally, I decide that I'm going to have to go whole hog at this. Thus far I've been chagrin to try and manipulate any of the actual machine settings. I'm just not familiar enough with Mac to go screwing with the defaults on a machine that's not mine but how much worse could I make it?

Not much worse since I can't seem to access any of the actual system settings. Sure, there's all sort of stuff about language options, graphics themes, and lots of ways to tweak the bells and whistles but I can't find a way to poll the actual hardware. I can't find any settings for external cameras, for the firewire ports. I can't look at system statuses. I can't find anything of actual substance that might give me a clue as to why this is happening and, more importantly, why something slightly different happens every time I restart the computer. Ubuntu does not have these problems.

Some more internet digging with the broadband going out several times and I find that the settings I'm looking for are in iMovie. Someone tell me why I need to open a nested application in order to get to the hardware settings? I don't need to plug in my DVD player in order to change the channel on my television. What if I wanted to use a different application to access an external camera? Am I assured that that application will be able to access these settings? I mean really.

Moreover, iMovie can see the device and can view the feed so, according to all the documentation I've found, everything should be working just fine and this is obviously not the case. Ubuntu does not lie to me.

Floating in the back of my mind this whole time has been the knowledge that Mac OSX and all of it's inheritors have a command line option. After asking three of the Mac hounds that surround me, I find it. Unfortunately, I don't know the root password. The password that I used to log onto the account doesn't do it and my colleague back at the office, the one who owns the Mac in question doesn't know what the hell I'm talking about. Every suggestion he has for a sudo password fails. I can poll the port and see that the device is there but there's precious little else I can do.

Ultimately, we end up running the video feed into that other machine I mentioned, recording the feed as a Quicktime file, putting the file on a data stick, transferring it to the machine I have and emailing it home. It's not in real time the way that the powers that be wanted but at least they get to see it. In reality, though, nothing that we wanted to accomplish really got done.

The Mac people mystify me. I simply don't understand that kind of brand loyalty, especially not in light of the fact that the product doesn't deliver on any of it's promises. I'm even more mystified by the fact that, even after telling my boss that I could do all this on my Ubuntu laptop, he refused to even try because he has no faith whatsoever in anything not made by Apple.

A few final points. I know what many of the Mac people reading are thinking. I will freely admit that much of my difficulty is due to the fact that I'm not nearly as familiar with Mac as I am with Ubuntu and Windows. Perhaps everything I needed was right there in front of me and I just didn't realize it or know how to access it. However, I find this unlikely since there were a dozen hard-core Macultists standing around for this episode, none of whom could make any more progress than I.

Also, I've restricted my comments to those that are that specific to the job I was doing on this occasion but I've got a bunch of other complaints as well. Programs will simply refuse to open. The Dock menu pops up or disappears for no reason. The time is wrong and I couldn't find how to update or change it. Applications will tell me that they're done doing whatever I've asked when, in fact, they're not. Most importantly, this thing has the least ergonomic keyboard ever designed and I'll probably have carpal tunnel simply from typing this.

Wow, I hate Mac.

*Yeah, I get that I'm doing the same thing here but, with my preferred OS, I'm one of the people who helps provide the solutions so I don't feel at all bad about bitching here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meet the Faithful -- kitten

kitten is a systems administrator from Atlanta where he also participates in much gothic revelry in various local nightclubs. He discovered Linux in 2002 but failed to do much with it until, in a fit of rage at Windows' failings, he transitioned his main computers over to Ubuntu and Debian Linux several years later. Since then he has been expanding his knowledge and bringing englighenment to the masses.

See what critics are saying about kitten:
"An epic journey...kitten is a touching tale that will leave you breathless. If you only see one man this year, kitten should be it."

"A nonstop heart-pounding thrillride... awe-inspiring and not to be missed."

"A triumphant tour-de-force...kitten is a masterpiece."

"The feel-good man of the season, kitten is absolutely spellbinding...a miracle of world-class proportions."

The Cost Comparision.

The Cost Comparision

Microsoft has long been bleating about TCO -- Total Cost Of Ownership -- as a way of downplaying the enormous prices of its products by claiming that, in the long run, Windows and other Microsoft software is actually cheaper than something like Linux. They have entire sections of their site devoted to these comparisions, claiming that things like "staffing" and "downtime" are much more significant costs than the price of Windows.

I am not a financial analyst or accountant. I'm also not a farmer, but I can smell manure a mile away.

The upfront cost of Windows is difficult to determine since Microsoft offers about a billion different versions with as many different licensing schemes, but on the low end, Windows 7 Home Premium is $119 for the "upgrade" version, and $199 for the "full" version. (Source.)

The cost of Ubuntu is zero dollars. Nothing. It's free.

Out of the box, Windows cannot do very much. You don't have any email program, no word processor, no spreadsheet, no presentation software, no graphics editing (no, MS Paint does not count). To do any of this you have a few choices:

  1. Buy commercial software such as Microsoft Office. The basic, bare-bones student edition is $150. If you're not a student then Microsoft Office Standard is $400. (Source.) Photoshop would be another $700.
  2. Attempt to find free alternatives -- these will usually be open-source stuff such as Thunderbird for email, Openoffice for the office suite, GIMP for graphics, and so on.

Of course, if you're going to use free, open source applications to do all your work, you might as well stop using Windows entirely. So if we go with the first option, the bare minimum you can get away with is about $970. That's assuming you can get the upgrade version, and the student edition of Windows, and that you want something like Photoshop to do

Ubuntu comes with mail, an office suite, a high-end graphics editor, and plenty more, for free. It's already installed. And as noted in an earlier post there are twentysomething additional programs you can get, for free, at the click of a mouse.

Our running total so far:

Microsoft: $970
Ubuntu: $0

Is it really worth 970 dollars just to do your basic day-to-day work? How much more will you have to spend for additional programs for Windows?

As previously mentioned, though, Microsoft claims that it is cheaper in the long run.

"Staffing" is one of their points, as though business owners routinely invest large amounts of time and money teaching new employees how to use Windows. Of course, this simply isn't the case -- it is assumed that new hires have the basic understanding of how to click icons and menus, and that's all they really need to know about the underlying operating system. The same is true with Ubuntu -- office workers can use it the exact same way: Click menus and windows and icons. Staffing and training are not significant costs.

"Downtime" is, hilariously, something else Microsoft tries to claim is in their favor. I think it is clear this is not the case -- even most die-hard Windows fanatics will not tout stability as one of Windows' key features. It crashes frequently, even on well-maintained machines. It is a guarantee that it will slow down over time as the registry gets clogged with stuff, as file fragmentation creeps in*, and other stuff. The only useful fixes for most desktop problems are rebooting or reinstalling -- and this is even cemented in Microsoft's own training courses for MCSEs.

And this assumes you keep the Windows machine clean. In the real world, people install all kinds of drek that further compromises the stability of Windows. Even commercial products like McAffee or Norton are buggy, prone to crashing (and taking Windows down with it), and resource-hungry. But you have to have these things in Windows, because running Windows without virus scanners is foolhardy in the extreme.

Ubuntu does not have these problems. "Reinstalling the operating system" -- a multi-hour process -- is never the solution. Its filesystem does not fragment, so you aren't wasting time with defragging utilities. It doesn't have a bloated, binary registry that eventually collapses under its own weight. It is lightweight and stable.

Maintaining an Ubuntu system is a simple process too. Every so often updates for both the system and for your installed applications are pushed out. A small icon will appear on the corner, you enter your password, and your system and applications are all updated simultaneously. Rarely will it require a reboot afterwards, but if it does, it will simply tell you this -- once -- and let you restart at your leisure.

Maintaining a Windows system requires a constant cycle of reboots after every update is applied. Manual patches must sometimes be applied too, for security reasons. Every single one of your applications must also be updated manually, by hand, one at a time, and they all insist on using their own little updaters (which will frequently get in your face about it). Windows will demand that you reboot after updates are applied, and will not take no for an answer -- you can postpone it but eventually it will reboot, by itself, in the middle of whatever you were doing. The time it takes to update everything by hand, combined with the constant reboots, is just more downtime.

From the initial price of the operating system, to the price of software to actually get anything done, to the headaches and downtime incurred by Windows' constant need for babysitting and scanning and updating and other hand-holding, it seems clear that the $199 pricetag attached to Windows is, indeed, only a small part of the total price. I guess Microsoft was right.. just not in the way they expected.

Get Ubuntu now, and tons of useful applications, absolutely free of charge.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why your small business should switch to Ubuntu.

Retaining that competitive edge is important to any business, but is of much higher priority to a small company than a multinational behemoth that can pad its losses. If you're a small business owner, you're always on the lookout for ways to cut costs, improve productivity, and increase profits, hopefully without much outlay in capital or manpower.

Ubuntu can help.

I work with small to medium businesses almost exclusively, and I see a few trends. Say you have twenty employees total. You probably have around twenty to thirty computers, and if you're typical, you bought them a few years ago and they're running Windows XP (or, god help you, Windows Vista), not because you have any particular interest in Windows, but because that's what came with the computers, it works well enough, and your employees know how to use it. You have a collection of software loaded on those computers too -- almost certain Microsoft Office, and some other things, and you use them on a daily basis because you need them to get your work done.

That's the thinking anyway, and at first glance, it all seems reasonable. But there are immense hidden costs associated with all of these assumptions. Real, actual dollars, all being needlessly wasted. Let's find out why.

"Windows came with the computers."
Well, it did, but you know the cost was rolled into the price of the computer. To geeks this is called "The Microsoft tax" -- almost every new computer you buy has Windows on it, and unless you want to build your own computers, there's no way to avoid it. (Or so it seems. More on that later.)

The cost of Windows -- which can retail as high as four hundred dollars -- is to some extent subsidised with the computer company in the form of the other pre-installed garbage that often comes with new computers. But make no mistake about it -- Windows is pricey, and you're paying for it with higher prices, or with endless amounts of junk slowing down your brand-new computers and creating annoyances and security risks.

This doesn't even take into consideration the cost of software. Microsoft Office can run a few hundred dollars, and unless you'd like a visit from the BSA, you'd better make sure your copies are legit. And for full compliancy you need someone to waste time (and money) keeping track of all those software licenses, just in case you get audited.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, is absolutely 100% free, as is the software you will ever run on it. When new versions come out, those will be free as well -- you won't have to worry about blowing another 200 dollars per computer to get the latest and greatest. When new versions of programs come out, those, too, will be free. No restrictions, no licenses, no gimmicks.

"My employees already know Windows."
This is also known as the "I'd have to re-train everyone" argument. It's heavily pushed by Microsoft to get people to avoid switching to anything else.

The thing is, your employees don't really "know" Windows, any more than they "know" cars just because they can drive. They know how to double-click icons to launch programs, and how to save whatever they're working on, but if they're anything like most non-geeks, that's about the extent of their Windows knowledge.

This is not criticism by any means. Unless the job is specifically in some IT-related field, your employees were not hired for their computer skills. They were hired to do a certain job and that job isn't to know about computers. You want them to focus on selling, or marketing, or keeping the books, or whatever -- not sit around tinkering with the innards of Windows.

It's okay that they don't really know Windows, or computers in general, other than the basic "click here to open the spreadsheet" type stuff. But that doesn't mean they know Windows, and you probably didn't have to "train" them in this beyond the five seconds it took to say "here's where we keep these spreadsheets."

Don't sweat it, and don't let Microsoft fool you. If your employees can run Word, they can run Open Office Writer. If they can use Excel, they can use Calc. If they can use Outlook, they can use Evolution. Most of them will probably never notice the difference -- except, perhaps, that things are running more smooth and not crashing so often.

"It works well enough."
This is a line oft-repeated. Switching to something else is a hassle. It's uncharted territory. Windows works okay.

But does it really? How many manhours have been lost when an employee's Windows machine suddenly dies and refuses to restart? How many sales could have been generated in the time it took to call the helpdesk and ask why Outlook keeps crashing? I know your employees could be doing something more productive than watching Windows defrag or waiting for virus scans to complete.

And let us not forget the endless chant of "My computer is so slow...", something someone in my position hears daily. The computer hardware is not slow, but Windows sure is. And it gets bogged down with so much junk, so quickly, that even that brand-new, ultrafast workstation you invested in can, and assuredly will be, slowed to a crawl.

Most small businesses don't have dedicated IT personnel, either, so they rely on third parties -- local IT shops and Geek Squads and such -- to fix this stuff. And that costs money too. If you do have your own tech staff, they could be using their time (and your money) on more important things as well.

Windows does not work well enough. Most businesses don't realise just how much time and money is wasted because of inane problems inherent in Windows or in the Windows software ecosystem.

Ubuntu is not perfect. I'm not going to say things will never go wrong with Ubuntu. But I can guarantee that it will virtually never crash, that the programs will virtually never crash, that you will not waste time with viruses and trojans wasting your time and stealing confidential data, and that it will not slowly grind to a halt as time wears on, because it won't get bogged down with useless garbage. And when problems are discovered, updates get pushed out fast -- no more waiting for months until Microsoft finally gets off its butt and releases a patch.

"But we need things like Microsoft Office."
Do you really? Your employees don't care. They want to write a letter to the client -- they don't care if they're using Word or Openoffice Writer. They want to send an email -- it makes no difference to them if they're doing it with Outlook or Evolution. You, and your employees, and your business, do not need Office as such; what you need is to perform certain tasks. And Ubuntu will let you do all of that and more -- and do it more quickly and more safely than Windows ever will.

I understand that some businesses have specialty software they require. There are ways around this. Applications such as Wine will run Windows-only programs right on your Ubuntu machine and will work for the overwhelmingly vast majority of any "Windows Only" programs you have. Setup is minimal, if you have to do any at all, and totally seamless.

"What about compatability?"
Some people are worried about this. They want their Word documents to open properly when they send it to the clients, and they want to be inter-operable with other clients and vendors and suppliers and so forth.

Let's get one thing out of the way: Microsoft is not compatible with Microsoft half the time. We've all opened Word documents in Word, and had weird formatting issues, or completely refuse to open at all, or even crash the program. Microsoft is only too happy to update its standards and formats every so often, rendering its previous versions incompatible, to force you to upgrade. You're not doing yourself any favors with compatability by sticking to Windows.

Besides, these days, most interaction is done using web-based tools and applications. You probably place and receive orders and requests and so on through some sort of website. This trend is erasing the vendor lock-in that Microsoft so desperately wants, because those will work on any web browser, regardless of whether you're using Windows, Linux, Mac, or anything else.

* * *

Think about what you and your employees are actually doing day to day, and ask yourself if any of it really requires Microsoft products. The answer is probably no, so why are you paying a premium for Windows licenses, Office licenses, all for the privilege of having buggy, crashing software that wastes your employees' time and your money, knowing that you'll have to shell out even more when the next version comes out and Microsoft stops caring if the old version works?

Ubuntu is now, and will always be, free. Tens of thousands of software applications are available for it, also absolutely free. Your computers will run more efficiently, your employees' workflow will be smoother, you'll stop paying additional fees for licenses and stop paying more for upgrades. You'll see far less downtime from balky computers freezing or taking forever to open simple programs.

If you're using Windows you are literally paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a demonstrably inferior product. Switch to Ubuntu, stop paying, get a superior product. Your employees and your bottom line will thank you.

Some resources: - Download Ubuntu at zero cost. Try it for free.
Looking for new computers anyway? - Dell now ships with Ubuntu pre-installed for total convenience.
system76 also has a wide variety of desktops and laptops and notebooks with Ubuntu Linux already set up for you.

All hail Synaptic.

A software repository is a collection of ready-to-go programs that sit on servers, managed by the Linux distribution's maintainers. A user can select any program, and the repository knows which other programs will be required. Within minutes, the program, and all its dependencies, are downloaded from the repository, installed to the computer, all with almost zero interaction from the user.

Allow me to illustrate this by way of example. In Windows, the procedure for getting new programs goes a little something like this.

  1. Search Google for words related to the program you want. Say you want a DVD player -- you'd google "dvd player".
  2. Check the first page of result summaries to see if any of them look like what you need.
  3. Pick one, go to the website, and try to find the download link. Check to see if what you're getting is usable, and not some crippled trial version, adware, spyware, or other garbage you don't want on your computer.
  4. Download the installer.
  5. Run the installer. Agree to various Terms of Service and EULAs you aren't reading.
  6. Answer questions about where to put files you've never heard of. Usually the defaults work here, but sometimes not.
  7. Click a few more "Yes", "I Agree", "Continue", "Next" buttons.
  8. Hopefully the program is now installed.
  9. Now go back and clean up all the shortcuts, system tray icons, desktop icons, and other party favors it left behind.
  10. Your new program is somewhere in the Start menu. It might be under the program's name, or maybe the name of the company that made it, or maybe the parent company. There's no real rhyme or reason to any of it; you'll just have to remember where it is. There's a good chance it will move around anyway.
  11. Enjoy your new program.

It's a hassle. It's unsafe. Downloading and running random things is one of the most common ways people get infected with viruses, trojans, and other stuff. It's difficult to manage and keep track of everything. It is, frankly, annoying as all get out. And yet this is the expected way of doing things in Windows.

Let's look at how you'd do this in Ubuntu. Ubuntu uses a repository containing over twenty three thousand programs (called "packages") -- all free for the taking. Here's how it works.

  1. Click "System" in your menu, and go to "Administration" and "Synaptic Package Manager".
  2. Click "Search" and type in a few keywords. Say, "dvd player".
  3. Results come up, with brief descriptions about what they are.
  4. Pick one. Put a checkbox next to it and click "Apply".
  5. Wait a minute. Your new programs is downloading and installing.
  6. Your new program is now installed, and can be found in a logical category in your Applications menu. You're done!

No sifting Google results. No worrying about whether these programs are safe -- they have all been vetted and verified. No cleaning up inane taskbar items, system tray icons, shortcuts, and toolbars. And it's absolutely one hundred percent free.

Kind of makes the Windows way look silly, doesn't it?

As an added bonus, you may have noticed that in Windows, programs are constantly throwing notifications in your face. They all run their own little updaters that need to connect and update and refresh and restart and they all have to tell you this RIGHT NOW no matter how much you don't care.

With Ubuntu, Synaptic takes care of that. All the programs, and all of the system components, are managed through the repository. When updates are available for anything, it will quietly notify you -- not shove windows in your face -- and you can update them all at once. No hassle, no annoyances, just a few clicks of the mouse when you're ready, not when the machine decides you're ready.

Package managers like Synaptic are the future, Microsoft just hasn't realised it. All hail Synaptic.

Monday, October 26, 2009

F.A.Q. -- Ubuntu

What is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is an Operating System. Like Windows or Mac OS. It's a program that allows you to use your computer. Without an Operating System a computer isn't good for very much. It's the OS that allows you to access the drives on your machine, to store, manipulate and delete files and to run all the other software you use each day.

How is Ubuntu different from Windows or Mac?

Ubuntu is based on Linux (see the advanced F.A.Q.), an open-source, community-developed OS that has a number of major advantages over it's proprietary counterparts; most notably, Ubuntu is more powerful, more secure, takes up less space on your hard drive and it's free.

Is Ubuntu Really that much better then Windows?

We confess, there are a few things that Windows does do better than Ubuntu, but only a very few. Those things are detailed in our Fair & Balanced section. For the largest part, though, Ubuntu is more than twice as fast and takes up a third as much space as Windows. It is virtually unhackable, almost entirely immune to viruses and it doesn't store or distribute your personal information. Did I mention that it's free?

Isn't Linux is Really Hard to Use?

In the past, yes, but not anymore. Ubuntu was designed to be easy to learn and easy to use, especially for people accustomed to Windows and Mac. It has the same click-n-drag interface and icons you're used to. While it does differ from Windows in some ways, you'll pick it up quickly and easily.

Where Do I get Ubuntu?

Look to your right and click on "Get Ubuntu NOW!" It will take you the official download page at Simply follow the instructions.

There's More Thank One Kind of Windows. Is There More Than One Kind of Ubuntu?

Yes, there's more than one version of Ubuntu. On this blog, unless we say otherwise, we're talking about what's called the "long term stable release" version designed for PC's. Currently, that is version 8.04 LTS and it's named "Hardy Heron." There are other versions that we will write about now and again like Ubuntu-Server, Edubuntu and Xubuntu but we'll specify.

You Talk About Windows a Lot; What About Mac?

Ubuntu is available for the Macintosh. We talk about Windows because it's the dominant player in that market. Also, Mac OS-10 is, like Ubuntu, a Linux derivative so the contrasts between Mac and Ubuntu aren't quite as stark. Despite this, we do advocate Ubuntu for Mac users.

What's the Catch?

We get this question more than any other. Most people assume that, because it's free, Ubuntu must be some sort of scam or that it can't be very good or that they'll be made to pay for it later. That's not the case at all. Ubuntu is an excellent product and it is entirely free. Moreover it will always be free. There is no catch, ever.

You are thusly enlightened.

Meet the Faithful -- Thomas

Thomas is a film and television production administrator originally from Shrewsbury, England. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Atlanta, Georgia. He studied film at Georgia State University and spent too many years tending bar before landing in his current career.

Thomas came to Ubuntu at Kitten's suggestion when his windows box kept crashing. He's since become a full-time Linux enthusiast. Lacking the skillset to develop software, he created Ubuntu Evangelist as a way to contribute to and expand the Ubuntu community.

When not working or exploring the wonders of free software he jumps out of airplanes.