Archive for August, 2006


Mepis gets trashed

August 30, 2006

Okay, so I got on to Brent Roos about his claim that Windows was the best based on my experiences with XP crashing, freezing and doing goofy things that were not productive. Based on my experience, Linux was worth a look. I looked at several distros and Mepis seemed like a good candidate, but I went for the older version of 3.3.1 because it had more onboard software. It was older software, like Firefox 1.01 and Open Office 1.x but it worked and worked well on an older P3 550 Mhz machine.

Untiil today, when I was actually trying to get some things done. I might owe Mr. Roos an apology.

This morning, I logged in as usual and went to the bottom of my tool bar to get Firefox running. I clicked, the icon did its bouncy ball thing and then….nothing. Not a thing. I tried clicking again. Still nothing. Fortunately, Mepis included a back up in the form of Konquerer, which looks and runs like Firefox and that ran okay. Inconvenient but not a bad problem.

But when I tried to open an Office XP document, that was another story. Again, the icon bounced around and the hour glass in the tool bar spun. And then nothing. It wouldn’t open anything. Open Office wouldn’t work at all. THAT was very annoying!

So the two applications I used the most decided to crap out at the same time at work. Not fun AT ALL! I tried rebooting to see if that fixed it. I tried downloading updated versions of Firefox and Office but got nowhere in the installation.

So I decided to try Kpackage and Synaptic. I now see why people are so in love with the Windows install wizard. While I have successfully used these in the past, I seemed to be trying to do too much. I spent a huge amount of time updating and installing upgrades and updates.

I restarted, and found the tool bar totally missing and an error msg saying something about a soundserver crashing It was apparent after another restart that I was dead in the water. It was time. Past time, probably.

I backed up the few files I had as the desktop icons were still there and I could access the flash drive. The CD ROM wasn’t wanting to mount and there was some other error associated with that. I was crippled but good.

So I inserted the Mepis 6.0 live CD and decided to have a look-see. After the initial splash I went ahead to boot normal. Then I saw a login in the command mode with an option to login using a GUI by hitting ctrl-alt-F7. After trying the command line and having it hang up, I went for the GUI which worked better. The thing about switching distros every couple of months is kind of like moving every couple of months…you don’t acquire quite so much stuff if you know you’ll be moving again real soon. And so it is that I didn’t have much to back up, which is good since the CD burner would not even work.

So I’m back to live CD mode which is highly, highly annoying. Right now, everything is highly annoying. especially that stupid animated aquarium in the live CD tool bar!



Sometimes I hate being right.

August 27, 2006



For your reading pleasure, Robert Scoble published a bit on why Linux is not ready for prime time: Fonts.  His article is an interesting read as he goes into the tremendous expense involved in creating decent fonts.  Who knew?  So why is it that every office application and browser defaults to Times Roman?  At least reading him and his comments prompted me to change the Firefox setting.  Is Verdana that much different than Arial?


I found Scoble’s tidbit from Brent Roos’s place and his Goodbye Ubuntu post.  Let’s talk about Roos before getting back to Scoble.  Apparently his computer had a hardware meltdown of some sort, and he blamed Ubuntu for this.  He then announces that he is going to be using XP from now on and then goes on to extol the virtues of Windows, while taking shots at Ubuntu. 


His complaints about Ubuntu are probably valid, outside of his claim that it burned up his motherboard.  It should be known that I am not a fan of this distro at all, and Roos totally illustrates why.  He pretty much equates Ubuntu with Linux, generalizing all problems with Ubuntu to Linux and then goes on to sing the praises of the Windows OS.  While Ubuntu has problems, Windows is NOT as pure as the driven snow! I left a comment for him which is still working its way through moderation.  I give him credit for drumming up traffic, tho!


Basically I made a comment that Ubuntu was NOT Linux any more than AOL was the internet.  I know, I’ve said it before.  Using Windows is fine, but going on about how wonderful it is was a bit much for me (and apparently others) to stomach.


Now back to Scoble, who discusses a bit about the major downfall of Linux being the fonts, of all things.  How many fonts does the average user use, anyway?  Scoble’s comments actually evolved from another blog by Tim Bray and his posts about his experiences when his laptop (a Mac) went down.  Tim decided to take another laptop he had lying around and install Ubuntu on it and use that until his Mac was fixed.  He actually writes a pretty interesting article on his experiences, and Ubuntu does not fair too badly in the final review.


The bottom line is that Roos, Bray and the earlier review by, is that each and every one of these folks used Ubuntu (or tried to) failed and went back to their old OS’s thinking that they had given Linux a fair try.  They’ve been there, done that.  Bray actually did give the fairest of all the reviews, giving high as well as low points.  Plus, the Mac OS is pretty solid and it should be for the price you pay for it.  Roos and Ourtweaks went back to Windows in apparent frustration.  But reading the comments on Scoble’s blog, as well as those on the Roos blog you would think Ubuntu = Linux.  That is the mistake I’ve seen coming down the pike and I don’t see it has helpful.  It is coming to pass exactly as I said it would.  New folks are going to buy the Ubuntu hype, try it, get frustrated, and bugger off of Linux and back to Windows for good. 


But now my curiosity is up about the font business.  Are the newer Linux distros that far behind Windows XP?  I’m going to try to remember to look when I get back to work on Monday and check it out.






My Modem Specs

August 19, 2006

Field    Value
Device Properties
Device Description    US Robotics 56k Fax Modem
Bus Type    PCI
Bus / Device / Function    1 / 9 / 0
Device ID    12B9-1008
Subsystem ID    12B9-00A2
Device Class    0700 (Serial Controller)
Revision    01
Fast Back-to-Back Transactions    Not Supported

Device Features
66 MHz Operation    Not Supported
Bus Mastering    Disabled
Courtesy of a little program called Everest Home Edition which I see has been discontinued.  I’m glad I got it when I did.  It is handy for people wanting to know exactly what it on their machines, hardware-wise.



Hardware Hunting

August 15, 2006

I am seriously on the hunt for another machine. It doesn’t have to be brand new, but it has to be able to do at least a few things. And this is where things get challenging.

My wife Jane is turning into almost as much of a computer nerd as me, meaning she likes to do stuff on the machine every chance she gets. Mostly, it is sorting and editing pictures, although she likes to surf the web as much as the next person.

I don’t need to be on the web all the time. I download email and various blog subscriptions and play a few games. Occasionally I’ll render some video of the kids and burn a DVD or two.

When Jane saw me playing around a bit with some of the photo editing stuff on Mepis (NOT the Gimp, though) her eyes kind of lit up. I think she might eventually be able to adjust to a Linux machine especially if she likes how it works with her pictures. But I don’t see her doing it full time for awhile as it has taken me quite some time to get with it. But she is at least open to trying it, which is a big step. She is the ultimate newbie as she really has no loyalty to one OS over another as long as it works. She also doesn’t have a lot of patience when things go wrong, which happens frequently with Windows.

Mepis has come out with some utility CDs for folks who can not get ready access to broadband. So I’m busy trying these out in hopes that a Mepis 6.0 distro could have all the same stuff that I’m enjoying with 3.3 plus a bit more, maybe. Of course, the first thing I noticed was WINE did not appear, so I sort of figured out how to download what I needed. I hope.

Ghengis Khan is working his way through the special ed. department with new computers. Each of us is supposed to get 3 new ones, one for the teacher and 2 for student use. Mr. Khan had informed me that these would have DVD players, CDRW and be running around 3.0 GHz, and I’m assuming some sort of dual core processor. Seems a waste to have all that power without a DVD burner.

In anycase, he may not approve of my having an unauthorized Linux machine on the network. Which means I need to wrap up whatever downloading and burning I’m going to do before he pulls my plug. And then again, he may be okay with my initiative and improvising. Maybe he’ll even be impressed! Right.

I wouldn’t mind having one of these older P3 machines. Pretty much all the games I play can be played on P2 or P3 machines. As long as I have at least 128 Mb RAM, I’m good. There has got to be millions of these things sitting around the world. Our own school system has them by the truckload. They have no use for something that won’t run XP anymore and Win98 is now an orphan OS.. The machine that I currently have Mepis installed on is a 550 Mhz P3 with 192 Mb RAM and a 10 gig hard drive. Too weak to run XP, but adequate for Mepis 3.3. I’m anxious to see how it likes my favorite game, which happens to be Age of Empires, Rise of Rome at the moment. Not a new game by any means but I generally run a couple of generations behind on games just so I can pick them out of the bargain bin!



Freespire: A Quick Look

August 11, 2006

At the recommendation of a commenter identifying himself as Paulo, I decided to burn a Freespire CD. Freespire met my initial criteria of being a live CD and being free. I’ve heard of Linspire before and have had more than one person comment here that is was a good, easy distro. Since I had one successful experience burning a CD and getting it to boot, I decided to try my luck again. It’s nice having access to a speedy connection at work.

The downloading and burning went off without a hitch. It helps that I’m doing this with the Mepis 3.3 version of K3B, because I don’t think the MS XP burning software likes burning ISO images. I was never able to get one to boot, anyway.

I booted Linspire on a machine next to this one right after downloading and began working on this review. Freespire began booting and the initial splash screen gave a few options as far as installing or partitioning or just running as a live CD. I picked the latter and then saw the next screen which was the EULA which is actually a combination of 3 different agreements: Linspire, Freespire and Freespire without the 3rd party stuff. I picked one and agreed to whatever it was that they had written in there. This is a live CD hooked to a non-networked computer so I’m not too worried about the computer police busting down my door.

The next configuration screen was for adjusting the sound, which I thought was different. Since I didn’t have speakers on this machine, I went to the next screen which had many more settings to configure, including one for dial-up. Even though this machine did not have a modem, I decided to look at that and saw the familiar KPPP tool. Nothing new, there. Hmm, I’ll have to see how this works on the home machine. Stay tuned for that. It was nice to at least see it in the initial set up. Mepis was the only other distro to have it available without having to dig around for it.

The Freespire desktop looks sharp and has all of the components that you would expect to find on an XP desktop, It also has this CNR icon. CNR stands for Click ‘n Run, which is their version of apt get, or their way of downloading and installing Linux programs from their repository. Not being networked, I wasn’t able to test it.

The “Launch” menu works just like an XP “Start” menu. I began poking around the programs and do find that there are a lot more options for getting connected to the internet. There are several tools available for connecting to Juno, Netzero, AOL and Earthlink. While Mepis 6.0 has an Earthlink icon on the desktop, no other distro I’ve looked at so far had this many different options. There is also a Linspire tutorial entitled “How to Connect to the Internet” but it is very brief. Basically they say that dial-up is the most complicated and least reliable method of getting on the internet and then refer to a website for more information.

Um. If I can not get hooked to the internet, how would they expect a body to get to their website?

Okay, moving on…

Freespire comes with Open Office, an MP3 player, Kplayer and something called Lphoto. I did not see GIMP. There is also FLASH player and Real MediaPlayer 10. It has an adequate supply of programs to get a person started. Not as robust as Mepis, but it does have some nice features and seems to be fairly user friendly at the outset. This is just a preliminary look and I’ll give it another try this weekend at home for more of a workout. I see many possibilities, here.


Zipped wav and Crossing the Digital Divide

August 7, 2006

My major workhorse machine at work continues to be the one on the network running Mepis 3.3. I am gradually growing more comfortable with it and growing into it. But make no mistake; there is a learning curve.

One of the most fundamental yet frustrating things in an operating system is the file structure. Linux uses a file structure that to a Windows user looks kind of goofy. There are folders and subfolders, just like windows, but they have funny names and some are just slashes or dots. The names on the folders don’t always make sense, and it takes time to find things.

Today’s task involved finding and downloading zipped .wav files for some thinks I’ll be making for students using power point. I could be in for an interesting experience, there. Of course, the school has almost every entertainment site blocked, so getting really good wav files was more difficult. But I found a place that had a few sound effects and clips that I could download for free and was not blocked.

When downloading with this version of Firefox, it does not tell me where the file went. So I had to go hunting. This is where I discovered that /home folder listed under the user name. Once I found my files, I could create a folder and name it anything I wanted and store the stuff there. Unzipping was interesting. It works sort of like Windows where you tell it where to unpack the thing that is zipped. I wanted to do a bunch of them at the same time, and it ended up opening up about 3 identical windows for each zipped file! That was just annoying. But it did get the job done.

Playing the sounds was also tricky. The default player is XMMS, but I never succeeded in getting that to play a single one. However, Mepis (3.3) comes with Audacity, which had no problems playing the clips. This is why I like this version so well, because if one application doesn’t do the job, there is another one that just might. And this version of Mepis came full of applications.

I did try Mepis 6.0 on my machine at home with the live CD. It came with the exact same KPPP program the other releases came with and so there were no improvements as far as me getting online using a modem. This lack of modem support is a big deal, in my opinion. Linux is poised to be an OS that could take P2’s and P3 PC’s and give them a new lease on life for individuals who can not afford cutting edge technology. Right now, NONE of the parents of my students have a computer. ALL of them would like to have one, but the only way they will get one is if someone gives them one. Supposing someone gives them a P2 running Win98. They can play games, but what about something as basic as email? What options do they have? They can run Win98 until it becomes clogged and crippled with malware or do…what?

In the U.S., where not everyone has access to broadband or can afford it, dial-up is still widely used. Having a computer without internet access is like having a car that can’t leave the driveway. So what happens to all these folks on the wrong side of the digital divide? They are either going to scrape up the $299 or whatever to buy a cheap Sempron machine pre-loaded with Windows or they will continue to do without one. Either way, the Linux community loses. Remember, the community wants Linux loaded on as many machines as possible, right? In order to encourage more software development, more drivers ported to Linux and more hardware development. These poorer users would be an ideal consumer base that has not been tapped into sufficiently. They would LOVE to get online, and be able to email teachers and relatives, just like their wealthier counterparts. But the obstacle is a $15 piece of hardware called a modem.

I’m under the impression that the Linux community is following along with Mac and Windows in leaving the poor folk behind by making a broadband connection almost mandatory in order to make the OS work. Downloading a mess of Windows updates gets more and more challenging. Downloading huge files is VERY painful over a dial-up connection. How would I fare downloading IE 7 over a dial-up? Or how about the Vista Beta? This is why downloading distros is such an ordeal and why there are not as many people taking advantage as could otherwise. I’ll give Ubuntu some props there, for making things easier for the average Joe until they want to do anything other than write and print documents, email and surf the web. But again, the poorer users are not going to get even that far if the modem isn’t going to work from the outset.

And that is really what I would like to find: an OS that would make these piles of P3’s sitting around useful again for this group of folks who are still not able to take advantage of the technology the rest of us enjoy. The world is changing, and not being able to get online makes life harder for certain people, especially people like the parents of my students who all have severe disabilities. Even a trip to the doctor is a major ordeal if you have to strap a child into his wheelchair, wheel him to a van with a lift, open the door, deploy the lift, put the chair on it, lift him up, secure the chair, fold the lift, drive to the store, deploy the lift again, untie the chair, get it on the lift, lower the lift, get the chair off the lift, fold the lift back in, go in the store and do business, come out, deploy the lift again, get the chair on, lift, tie it down again, fold the lift, drive home, deploy the lift….

You get the idea? That is just one simple trip, and assumes no behavioral problems or tubes or wires to manage. Yes, they would still have to go to the doctor, but could they have better sources of support in an online community? Doing things online and even being able to socialize online would be a major benefit so such parents. Finding services and accessing those services is so much easier online. But the ones who need it the most have the least access to it.

Linux could be the OS that could provide an inexpensive, stable, secure solution for such people. 90% of the technology is right there and readily accessible on the cheap or free, but it is that last bit that is making up the biggest barrier. Find me the solution to the modem problem and I’ll find you some new Linux users.