Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Event: Software Freedom Day Sept 17th 2011

Software Freedom Day is an annual, worldwide celebration of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The goal is to educate the public in the benefits of using high quality free software in education, in government, at home, and in business.

Software Freedom Underpins our Human Rights
In a time when our lives are increasingly dependent on technologies, it is important we take the time to consider the impact of technology on our lives and the importance of ensuring technology isn't used to limit us, but rather to take us further along a path of opportunity, innovation and freedom for all people. 

Software Freedom Day is everywhere!
SFD is a yearly celebration with thousands of teams organizing Software Freedom Day in many cities in many countries to promote, educate and distribute free software.

Go to to find out just how much goes on and how to participate - or dive right in and organise an SFD event of your own using the Start Guide:

Review: Motorola Xoom Android Tablet

Motorola Xoom Android TabletI attended a conference recently and courtesy of another attendee, got my paws on the Motorola Xoom, a tablet running Android 3.1 

Originally pitched as the rival to the iPad, early sales of the Xoom were disappointing. As trade began to pick up, along came iPad-2 and knocked the Xoom back again. But Motorola pushes on, an established name in mobile technology. Is the Xoom the device to further Motorola's reputation?

Monday, 29 August 2011

How-to: Step through Android Versions

Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread on HTCStart a conversation about smart phones and you will soon move onto Android; which version you're running, whether it's better or worse than Apple's iOS on iPhone or BlackBerry OS on, err, Blackberry. 

Google has given us several successful versions of the Android mobile operating system but it has been plagued by the unusual problem of fragmentation; the device manufacturers and OEM's have forked their own versions and spooned various components onto it, with the resulting perception by customers that Android itself is fragmented into numerous different versions.

The trouble is Android is an umbrella term for mobile device operating system software that is deployed on numerous versions and manufacturers. Given to the world by Google as an open standard, the phone manufacturers have taken it, overlaid their own skins and supplementary applications (or worse, substituted their own) then maintained a baseline version on the devices they sell long after newer versions have been released. 

The difficulty many consumers have is getting the basic Over-the-Air updates even to the latest patches, much less upgrades to a newer version. Why? Hardware certification and testing by the manufacturers. It's an expensive business patching and updating device software after the initial R&D phase, when the thankless and even more expensive task facing you is dealing with customer support calls and bad PR when an upgrade fails to work. So rather than take the risk, the phone carriers, with responsibility for after-market service, simply choose not to update at all if they can avoid it. 

The trick is, knowing which Android versions are good for what purpose. Here's what we got so far:
  • 1.5 codenamed Cupcake.
  • 1.6 codenamed Donut.
  • 2.0+ codenamed Eclair
  • 2.2 codenamed Froyo
  • 2.3 codenamed Gingerbread
  • 3.0 codenamed Honeycomb
Android 1.x Android 1.0 was released September 23rd, 2008 on the HTC G1. Interim releases followed swiftly and by the time more manufacturers got on board, Android 1.6 was a de facto standard. You can still find 1.6 shipping on budget tablets and budget smart-phones. While it includes Androids basics, like the Marketplace and home screen Widgets, it lacks support for many camera features, Adobe Flash or HTML5, whilst Bluetooth is patchy. 

This build is now so far out of date it's difficult to patch older devices with newer versions, even though it would vastly improve the experience. So avoid Android 1.6 devices if you can, even if the cash saving is tempting.  

Android 2.x The popular versions of Android smart-phones and tablets run 2.1, 2.2 or 2.3. Version 2.2, codenamed Gingerbread is when Adobe Flash support for web and video applications was introduced. You will also find the latest Android Marketplace requires Android 2.2 or better. 

Android 2.3 is the latest smart-phone edition including extras like native VoIP support and a new download manager. It is more robust and has better all-round performance on most devices.  

Android 3.x Honeycomb is available only for tablets and will likely never be released on smart-phones. Despite several manufacturers offering early Android tablets with 2.3, this nonsense should now have stopped, so don't stand for it - only 3.0 is optimised for tablet touch-screens, where the larger displays, on-screen keyboard, notifications system and web browser demand better handling than 2.3's phone interface. 

Android 3.1 is the latest build, but it’s not a major update, adding support for peripherals such as external keyboards and gamepads.  

Android 4.0 The expected 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (yes, the names get more absurd) will be a unifying release that should work on phones or tablets with higher resolution screens and a common user interface standard. Promised are extensive improvements to the Android camera application, facial recognition technology and a 'resolution-agnostic' experience irrespective of the device type or screen-size, a real make-or-break for developers and consumers alike. Hopefully developers can streamline the coding of their apps for Android under 4.0. Google's Mike Claren has said, "we want one OS that runs everywhere."  

Updating Your Android Device You would think as Android is Open-Source, you would be able to update whenever you like. As we already notes, your carrier may not think that way, particularly if they have skinned it with HTC Sense or Motorola Blur. You can wait a long time for Over-the-air updates, which may never come, even if you try to run Software Update through the Settings menu. 

The alternative to waiting on your carrier's bounty is to 'root' your device and 'do-it-yourself' by installing a ROM for a newer version. You need a level of bravery and technical ability to do this, as the process varies per device, you will need to download a specific ROM and some detailed instructions. Be aware this can invalidate your warranty, 'brick' your device if you get it wrong and render it inoperable. Your carrier will probably invoke their terms of service and laugh off your support call in the event this happens. 
Future Perfect There is some light up ahead. In buying Motorola Mobility, Google has signalled an increased commitment to support Android on mobile devices (even if this spins off as a hardware subsidiary), to add to the framework agreement it persuaded the carriers to join earlier in the year. In these, Google had admitted is needs to do a better job of standardising Android and reducing fragmentation in the market. This is badly needed if Android is to maintain its' lead in market share and fend off the challenge of iOS and, possibly, Windows Phone 7. It's a fine plan. RC

Saturday, 27 August 2011

How-to: Blogger Traffic Analysis

One of the good things you get on Google's Blogger platform is a decent set of statistics by way of traffic analysis to your site. I took a look at this for the first time in a while and found a some interesting numbers.

I'm particularly looking at the kinds of visitors I'm getting on the Catling Mindswipe blog, which I can deduce from the web-browsers and operating systems they use; these are identified in the page requests which hit the server...

It has to be said, this is by no means a failsafe way to identify incoming traffic, as both browser and operating system identification can be spoofed for a variety of legitimate reasons (blame software standards or the lack thereof).

However, taking a look at the recent stats for July 2011, this is what we see:

Pageviews by Browsers 
  • (48%) Firefox 
  • (29%) Chrome 
  • (14%) Internet Explorer 
  • (3%) Opera 
  • (2%) Safari 
  • (1%) Konqueror 
  • (<1%) Mobile Safari 
  • (<1%) GranParadiso (Firefox 5)
  • (<1%) Midori 
  • (<1%) IEMobile 

Pageviews by Operating Systems 
  • (58%) Linux 
  • (34%) Windows 
  • (3%) Macintosh 
  • (1%) Linux 2.4.22-10mdk 
  • (<1%) i686 Linux 
  • (<1%) Android 
  • (<1%) Other Unix 
  • (<1%) iPad 
  • (<1%) HTC 
  • (<1%) iPhone 

These stats mostly confirm what I believe of the readership; the majority are Linux users which makes sense given the bias of content is toward Linux platforms and Open Source topics. There is a fair chunk of Windows users attracted to the more general articles and I suspect, cross-platform topics such as Chrome, Android, opinion posts, and others. Moreover, I suspect that many of those Windows users are independent-minded, since the percentage of Internet Explorer is very low, suggesting a goodly number of Windows users have migrated off IE for Firefox and Chrome/Chromium.

There's a very small showing of Macintosh/Safari users coming in, although 3% Mac is higher than I expected, clearly some of those users have migrated off Safari (only 2%) for another browser. Opera and Konqueror (on KDE) are very much minority players. I have no idea who the cutting-edge GranParadiso (Firefox 5) users are or where they're from!

I don't know whether to be surprised at the numbers of mobile browsers and devices or not. I've a suspicion the iPhone/iPad audience may be occasional visitors or those with multiple devices. The small number of Android and HTC visitors may reflect the reality that few people are actually using mobile devices for anything more than email, Facebook and looking up cinema showings.

Clearly the smart-phone addicts are not coming to us on those devices. What I really need now is to delve into Google analytics and find out from this breakdown just who is reading which posts... RC

Review: Ubuntu 11.10 Frozen Beta Car Crash

At risk of recycling OMGUbuntu's article from last week, I have the Ubuntu 11.04 Beta upgrade and the results are... mixed.

The 11.10 feature freeze kicks in just in time for the Beta release. Alpha 3 was working just fine in VirtualBox 4. So of course, the feature freeze shovelled in a barrow-load of new features in time for the Beta release and broke the whole thing.

There's so much going on, it's difficult to know where to begin. The upgrades to the Unity desktop are in, we have new icons, transparency, lenses for filtering Dash search results.

Software Center has it's big facelift; so colourful it's now looking like an explosion  in a candy shop (intentional metaphor to match the default application background). If anything it's so colourful it's what I call gaudy. Fortunately there's plenty of white space so you can see what's going on. Unfortunately Software Center crashes practically every time you you touch it, so theres a lot of work going on (almost every bug is reported already).

Of the new-ish features coming through, two things you'll see on the Dash (right) are the Crash reporter and something you need to be running to appreciate, the 'wiggle' animation for alert notifications. The icons give a little dance when it needs attention.

That's the good news. Now for the bad.

The release is still buggy as hell, so expect random crashes about every two minutes. Unity is the main culprit, of course; now the desktop choice is Unity 2D or Unity 3D - 3D doesn't work in Virtualbox, the choice is 2D. So if Unity 2D crashes, that's it, you're stuffed. But then, various settings applications crash, Software Center crashes constantly, Compiz-config crashes, even GEdit crashes...

The main points of controversy are in the user interface changes. The discussion (see OMG's page upon page of vitriol, 358 posts and counting) is like Marmite; people either love it or hate it. By which I mean they HATE it.

I can see what they mean. Window controls and context menus play hide-and-seek every time you move the mouse, but apparently that's fine because there's a warehouse full of new keyboard shortcuts. It's just a shame some of the old standards don't work like ALT+F+S to save a document. Hit the ALT key and the context menu appears in the top bar; it's just that nothing happens when you hit the short code, ALT+f, ALT+v; no menu dropdowns, nothing. In fact, you can no longer use any of the menu short keys to pull up the menus as far as I can make out, so I've now got LESS accessibility in the new interface than I had before and unless I learn every blasted shortcut key combination for every application, I'm MORE mouse dependent than I was before. Genius.

The Alt+` (Alt plus grave) Multi-window Switching doesn't appear to work either, unless you call SINGLE window switching any kind of switching at all.

Canonical's Design Team is being accused of all kinds of heinous crimes from copying Mac OS to throwing Spartan babies off a cliff. True that they have included all kinds of snazzy features you might consider 'cool' but mostly at the expense of consistent UI behaviour as we know it.

I am far too cynical to get involved in the mud slinging. The way I read it:
  • Yes, Canonical has a large design team
  • Yes, Canonical is aiming to produce something distinctive for Ubuntu
  • No, Canonical doesn't give a **** what the established user base thinks; Mark Spaceshuttle (I love that pseudonym) is going for his 200 million new users by next week, none of whom know diddly-squat about UI except for what they have on their smart-phones.

    If you're an old Gnome desktop hack and you don't like Unity, you either get with the programme and dam' well learn to get on with it or **** off and use Fedora, Mint or something else, but stop whingeing because Canonical knows best and besides, it's Mark's ball and he doesn't have to let you play with it...

You get the picture.

The upshot is, most of the expected new user base either knows nothing about computers, so don't know any better, or hop from device to device so have a flexible enough mind to play, experiment and learn the conventions of each new interface.

Sorry, old Linux dinosaurs, you're just not keeping up with the trendy kids. Go sit in your armchairs and twiddle the knobs on your radiogram (look it up) while the hip-cats play with the new toys.

I am still in the unconvinced camp and while familiarity is breeding something, I just don't know if it's resignation or contempt.

It's progress, Jim, but not as we know it. RC

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Full Circle Podcast Episode 24 OGG Camp, Part Two

Full Circle Podcast Episode 24 OGG Camp, Part Two is available from the Full Circle site
In this episode, two talks, two guests and a raffle... (with a warning about the audio quality!)
Full Circle Podcast is also a proud member of the Tech Podcasts Network.

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  • MP3 26.2Mb
Runtime: 1hr 18mins 57seconds

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Additional audio by Victoria Pritchard Show Notes  
01:32 | WELCOME and INTRO: About OGG Camp 11 In case you missed OGG Camp PartOne, OGG Camp is a joint venture organised by the Ubuntu UK podcast and Linux outlaws teams. In this, it's third year, OGG Camp came South to the Farnham Maltings venue. These are some of the highlights of what happened on Sunday, Day Two. Summary of the proceedings on Lanyrd: OggCamp 11 Celebrating Open Technology  

01:51 | Arrival at OGG Camp 11, Day Two, Sunday morning 02:23 | Andy Piper's presentation on MQTT.
Andy Piper on Lanyrd: social bridgebuilder, photographer, techie, speaker, podcaster, WebSphere Messaging Community Lead @ IBM, Committee @ Digital Surrey. The presentation Messaging for the Internet of Awesome Things ( Andy's blog for MQTT is also on-line.  

30:07 | Presentation from Laura Cjachowski.
Laura czajkowski on Lanyrd: Argumentative, Stubborn, Geek, Ubuntu Fan, MUNSTER FAN Slides (pdf): Life Outside of IRC in a FLOSS Community (  

44:19 | Quick chat with Les Pounder Les Pounder working the crew like galley slaves (blog at twitter @lespounder)

48:46 | Day Two Interval  

50:07 | Raffle-cast: Don't worry, this isn't the whole thing. Although it was funny to watch Alan 'Road-runner' Pope skip up and down the auditorium distributing prizes.

1.00:55 | End of Day Two. A summary of proceedings.  

1.04:28 | Catch-up with Alan Pope Hear the special edition podcast: Ubuntu UK Podcast OGG Camp Live edition S04E13 – When Two Worlds Collide And for good measure the Outlaws version: Linux Outlaws 224 - OggCamp 11 Live

1.17:40 | OUTRO AND WRAP

Creative Commons Music Tracks

Opinion: Google's Name Handling Laundry List

I have a GooglePlus account, with which I have done nothing. Partly because it's still a closed Beta and not everyone I know is in the 20 million internationally, but mostly because Google has rushed out a half-baked product to suit itself. I'm talking about the perceived screw-up with names and identities. 

Before you howl "Google doesn't listen to its' customers" (us), please remember that you are Google's product, the customers are the advertisers who pay the bucks.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How-to: Favourite Linux Command Lines

I constantly moan about Linux users either diving right into, or worse, being forced into, terminal sessions with command line interfaces. Why, with the plethora of graphical user interfaces from which to choose, would you want to do that?

Erm, because sometimes it's quicker and you're not mediated (translation: obstructed) by a poor file manager and search. Honestly, not all terminal commands are bad. Dangerous, sometimes, but not bad. Remember command lines don't kill computers, people do.

Some of the terminal commands I use frequently - with parameters in place of anything between the{} - are:

File Operations
  • cd {directory} –  changes path to the specified folder. Navigate around your drive.
  • ls – list the content of the current folder. See what's on there.
  • pwd – shows your current location on the file tree. Just in case you lose your bearings.
  • mkdir {directory} – creates a new folder (directory). Make new places to put stuff.
  • cp –r – {directory} copies a file or folder (directory). First step to moving things around.
  • rm –r – {directory} removes  a file or (directory). Be careful now.
  • df – shows information about disk usage. How much space haive I used / have left?

Network Operations
  • ping {host} – sends a network ping to the specified address, testing for response and answer time.
  • whois {domain} – shows the whois information about the specified network domain
  • whoami – shows information about the current user.
  • wget {pathtofile} –  downloads a file from the internet.
  • iwlist scan – scans for available wireless networks.
  • smbtree – shows the available Windows network shares (Samba shares).
  • ifconfig – configures TCP/IP network interfaces.

General Utility
  • locate -r 'file*.txt' – this is our 'find' command; searches the index for all entries matching the string file*.txt. Very useful with wild-card matching, using * or ? as substitues for strings or characters.
  • sudo {command} – escalates privileges of the specified to administrator level - for making system-wide changes.
  • sudo apt-get install {packagename} – downloads and installs the specified package.
  • lpq – displays the current print queue.
  • tar -zxvf {archive.tar.gz} –  extract (decompress) the specified .tar.gz archive.
  • apropos {subject} – lists the manual pages for the specified subject
  • man {command} –  displays the manual pages describing usage for the specified command
  • uptime – shows how   much time has passed since the last restart
  • uname -a – displays all information about the current kernel (name, version, release date, hardware)

Remember you can use also Help -- to get a list of keywords for which help topics are available or help {keyword} to get the usage information. RC

Friday, 19 August 2011

Full Circle Podcast Episode 23 OGG Camp, Part One

Full Circle Podcast Episode 23 OGG Camp, Part One is available from the Full Circle site.
In this episode, the Unconference Begins... (with a warning about the audio quality!)
 Full Circle Podcast is also a proud member of the Tech Podcasts Network.  

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Additional audio by Victoria Pritchard  

Show Notes

00:40 | WELCOME and INTRO: About OGG Camp 11 OGG Camp is a joint venture organised by the Ubuntu UK podcast and Linux outlaws teams, taking over from the sadly departed LUG Radio live. In this, it's third year, OGG Camp came South to the Farnham Maltings venue. These are some of the highlights of what happened on Saturday, Day One. None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty...  

02:19 | Arrival at OGG Camp 11  

02:49 | Opening, greetings, notes on the Unconference: the Ubuntu UK Podcast (UUPC) and Linux Outlaws teams, with acknowledgements to Jon Spriggs for the Campfire Manager conference scheduler.

09:12 | Introducing Simon Phipps, who presented the opening session of the unconference to a packed main hall, on Software Freedom.

A computer industry veteran, Simon Phipps came on with an actual box of hats which he proceeded the change at speed, reminding me of Tommy Cooper in his heyday. Simon has come up through hands-on roles as field engineer, programmer and systems analyst, run a software publishing company, worked with OSI standards in the eighties, on the first commercial collaborative conferencing software in the nineties, and helped introduce both Java and XML at IBM.

A founding Director of the Open Mobile Alliance, Simon is Chief Strategy Officer at independent software company ForgeRock and Director of the Open Source Initiative. Find his essays at  

10:10 | Simon Phipps' presentation on software freedom. Here's a shortened version of the presentation which ran to 35 minutes in its entirety.  

24:31 | Introducing Karen Sandler: legal eagle, formerly of the Software Freedom Law Center and newly appointed executive director at the Gnome Foundation.  

24:55 | Presentation from Karen Sandler. Karen wasn't due on the scheduled track, but stepped into an unexpected gap to talk about something, dare I say, very close to her heart? Opening up embedded software in medical devices.

41: 48 | Introducing the Panel Discussion
42:13 | Panel Discussion: questions from the floor  

1.19:51 | End of Day One. A summary of proceedings. A little about the Maltings venue.  

1.25:22 | OUTRO AND WRAP  

Creative Commons Music Tracks
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Runtime: 1hr 26mins 8second

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Unity Simplify Your Life

This e-book in PDF format begins with some common computer user issues, before declaring:  

Ubuntu 11.04's Unity interface wants to turn these scenarios into problems of the past. Unity's foremost goal is to get you Simplicity. Elegance. Speed. Responsiveness. It's all here.

This is the Ubuntu Unity (11.04 edition) user guide we all needed months ago, provided by the Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo team. Not that it isn't welcome; with general chapters such as 'Unity in 15 Minutes' and 'Unity. How It All Fits Together,' you also get detailed breakdowns such as 'Personalizing the Launcher', 'Using the Dash' and introductions to Unity concepts such as 'What is a Lens?'

This is a 98-page e-book and the first fifty pages do an excellent job of explaining the Unity interface with annotated screen-shots. It is all thoughtfully presented in plain language, with plenty of whitespace on the pages giving it a clear, uncluttered layout. Vancouver LoCo (Pritpaul Bains with editors Charlene Tessier and Randall Ross) clearly know about publishing.

However, the nextsection is more of a general 'using Ubuntu' guide, under the slightly grandiose heading 'Unity. For Your Life.' This goes through all the common tasks a new Ubuntu user will want to perform; surf the Internet, play music, view photo's and so on, all illustrated in the context of Unity.

Now, some of these are very specific to individual applications - using Firefox and LibreOffice - others, such as 'Find Your Files' and searching from the Dash, right back in the specifics of Unity. You could argue that the general material belongs somewhere else and they should have confined the book to Unity operation only, but I'm prepared to go with the Vancouver team's approach that this is primarily a book for the newcomer and the old hands can pick and choose the sections they want.

There's a nod to the inquisitive, newcomers and veterans alike, in Appendix A which describes some of the underlying components of the Ubuntu Unity release; Gnome desktop, Compiz rendering, Zeitgeist event logger. I have a slight issue in that the 'Customizing Unity' section is back here in Appendix B when surely it ought to be a main chapter?

Appendix C, 'The Future' is the look forward (or 'there's more jelly tomorrow, trust us') for the skeptics like me who pick holes in the current release of Unity.

There's a Unity Keyboard Shortcuts quick reference in Appendix D that we could all find valuable.

Usefully, this is a PDF e-book which is fully search-able, but it's good to have a proper index in the back anyway. There are plenty of internal links to cross reference different sections, the annotated screen-shots are clear, with just enough illustrations, which are always relevant to a point.

It's no small undertaking to produce something of this quality so congratulations to Vancouver LoCo team. RC 

Unity: Simplify Your Life is available from

Monday, 15 August 2011

Highlights of OGG Camp Day Two

A free two-day event about technology, open source, music, art, politics, community, creativity, and more!

August 13 & 14, Farnham Maltings, Hampshire UK.

So quickly here, so quickly over. It's all done.

So I did very little for two days except sit on my butt and be greatly entertained and informed by both speakers and other attendees.

Straight into Day Two's highlights.

In no particular order:
  • Careers in Open Source, by LornaJane Mitchell was a big draw, although I was upstairs for the next two;
  • Andy Piper on MQTT, MQ Telemetry Transport, an open protocol developed out of MQ series Message Queueing
  • Laura Czajkowski encouraged us to experience Life in Open Source Outside IRC
  • Southampton OpenData project presented by Chris Gutteridge (with some delightfully manic Michael MacIntyre moments) showed just what you can put together with open data.
  • a recording of the Dick Turpin Roadshow podcast
  • the fine comedy turn that is the OggCamp Raffle and wrap-up (so amusing was the sight of Alan Pope running up and down the auditorium, nobody bothered to point out that the winners come up to collect their prizes at every other raffle)
  • finishing with a well-attended drinking session at the Premier Inn Aldershot
Well done to the UUPC and Linux Outlaws teams, Les Pounder and the crew, the speakers and the handful of people on Saturday who all said "hello, I recognise that voice!" RC

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Highlights of OGG Camp Day One

A free two-day event about technology, open source, music, art, politics, community, creativity, and more!

August 13 &amp; 14, Farnham Maltings, Hampshire UK

In the splendid venue at Farnham Maltings, a former distillery in the leafy Hampshire commuter town, the Maltings is now a local arts venue. With a great auditorium in the main space, upstairs meeting rooms, cellar bar and cafe for the informal meet-ups, there really was something for everyone.

In the foyer, you could find Surrey LUG demonstrating 3D printing, Ken Fallon recording and posting in almost real time to Hacker Public Radio (which we are on), O'Reilly's discounted book stand and Bytemark Hosting.

Among the talks and presentations, in no particular order:
  • Intro and welcome by the Linux Outlaws and UUPC folks
  • The insightful and entertaining Simon Phipps on Software Freedom
  • Karen Sandler on source code secrecy in medical devices gnome foundation
  • Professional music production with Linux; Wayne Myers
  • Geeknik - picnic in the Gostrey Meadow supported by O'Reilly
  • The Nanode project, hardware hacking by Ken Boak
  • Panel discussion (Simon Phipps, Karen Sandler, Stuart Langridge, Fabian Scherschel, chair Dan Lynch)
  • Live Podcast Show! Linux Outlaws &amp;amp; Ubuntu UK Podcast - one of the traditional OGG Camp highlights
The evening bash in the Maltings cellar bar featured free beer courtesy of Bitfolk with live music Wayne Myers (fine mix of blues and comic songs), Dan Lynch and Joe (with the most unlikely up-tempo accoustic version of "We'll Meet Again").

Thanks to the organisers and crew for a full day event which ran like clockwork in the most friendly, relaxed environment; here's to Day Two! RC

Friday, 12 August 2011

Event: OggCamp-11

We're packing our bags and going to OggCamp 11 this weekend (August 13 & 14, 2011), at Farnham Maltings in Surrey in the UK.

OggCamp 11 is a two-day unconference bringing together the most interesting people from the Linux, Open Source and Hardware Hacking communities to share their passion and knowledge on all things geeky in a barcamp-style atmosphere.

Since OggCamp is an unconference, speaking schedules are set on the first day and everyone is free to propose a talk themselves.

There may be a few ticket returns available at the door, but don't bet on it, the 400 tickets officially went weeks ago and there's a wait-list.

Expect some posts and podcasts to come out of the event. RC

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

How-to: Change default application for a type of file

As far as I can work out, LibreOffice was a bad boy and took over as the default application for a bundle of file types, including Portable Document Format (PDF's); which LibreOffice does an extremely bad job of opening!

Fortunately, there is a quick way of setting the default application to open any kind of file.

To set the default application to open a given type of file:
  1. In Nautilus, right-click on a file of the filetype in question - in my example, having the .PDF extension,
  2. Choose "Properties" from the context menu.
  3. In the "Properties" dialog, click on the "Open With" tab.
  4. Select the application default for the filetype. I choose Document Viewer (Evince, in my Ubuntu installation)

All files with the same extension will now be opened with this program by default.

There's no need to restart, the change is effective immediately. RC

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Review: Linux Mint 11

The quiet evolution continues.
Linux Mint comes in twoflavors (I know, I know, cliché alert...), the rolling Debian release and the more established, Ubuntu-derived, periodic release. Mint 11, codenamed 'Katya' is the newest based on Ubuntu 11.04, re-spun with the Mint team's distinctive applications and software choices.

If you are expecting revolutionary or cutting edge: don't. Mint 11 uses Ubuntu as its base, but with classic Gnome 2.32 as the default desktop environment. It remains, in our view the premier Linux for new users and migrants from the Redmond way of life. Call it conventional if you like, but it has polish and it's tried and tested. Linux Mint 11 comes with updated software, refinements and new features to make a comfortable desktop in use...

Some people attribute Mint's dramatic rise in popularity to defecting Ubuntu users who are unhappy with Ubuntu Unity, I think there's more to it than than.

Mint Installer
I still think this one has the edge over the Ubuntu installer; coherent Mint branding starts here, as the installation steps through, quickly and solidly bringing you to a clean, attractive desktop.

Mint has long been distinctive with its' Mint Menu and Welcome screen. Mint 11 includes some artwork changes, an apt download command and some changes in the packaged software. For a major numbered release, the main change is the adoption of the Ubuntu 11.04 code base.

Mint is available either as a full liveDVD or a lighter, smaller liveCD (minus codecs and extra applications) available for those without a DVD burner or distributors in the USA and Japan.

Software Manager
I still regard Software Manager as one of Mint's major selling points. Ever more polished, a splash screen appears when you launch it and the main window has bigger category icons, with new categories for templates and fonts.

It now shows even more icons and preview screen-shots. Previews of application icons are now gathered from the mintinstall-icons package and also from your current theme icons. Searches now take in package summary descriptions as well as titles; this may take longer but gives more accurate search results.

Further layout changes in Software Manager take it further on from the equivalent Ubuntu Software Center. Select a package to install and the Mint Software Manager runs a diagnostic to tell you precisely which packages it will add or remove to your system alongside the total download size. This may be just an impression, but Mint's ratings and reviews seem more complete to me.

Expanding Mint
The LiveCD edition is much reduced in the scope of applications installed and comes with limited multimedia support from first boot. Both these are overcome with desktop short-cuts and Mint Menu entries for Upgrade to the DVD Edition and Install Multimedia Codecs. These provide additional browser plug-ins and codecs for full multimedia support of MP3 and video, the VLC player, Gimp, Giver, Tomboy, LibreOffice-Base and additional fonts; Java, Samba file sharing, more backgrounds, themes and icons.

Shifting Mint
The Mint team has actually used the feedback in the reviews and scores provided by the user community in the Software Manager, changing the default application software:
  • Gwibber is dropped, just before Ubuntu does the same
  • gThumb replaces F-Spot as the default photo manager
  • Banshee replaces Rhythmbox as the default music player, the same as Ubuntu
  • A stack of Pulse Audio utilities are no longer installed by default
  • LibreOffice replaces

Mint Update
Mint Update was always a strong selling point, categorizing updates according to criticality. It's now faster as change-logs are downloaded asynchronously in the background. The whole thing now has a more attractive graphical interface; for example, all Update dialogs are now modal, so you can't lose windows in a stack like you can in Ubuntu (which drives me crazy). After a successful update, the Update Manager hides itself, without parking a confirmation dialog on the screen. Warnings and information tabs now only appear for updates that need them.

The update rules including the safety level for each package are embedded and refreshed with each Mint 11 Update Manager version, so the majority are no longer downloaded in real time; Update Manager checks only for new versions of itself, which it updates as a priority, then for package updates for everything else.

Similar to Software manager, Mint Update runs a diagnostic to determine package and library dependencies, which is output in a separate dialog, so that for each update you get a better picture of what it entails.

The Good, the Bad, the Indifferent
  • Themes and artwork: Mint has always featured good backgrounds and themes. Mint 11 leaves behind water droplets and goes 3-D
  • Desktop Settings also provides the control framework for any desktop in any desktop version; Gnome, KDE, LXDE, XFce
  • Fortune Quotes: Mint has a sense of humor, which is why the terminal window features an ASCII-art cow telling bad jokes. You can turn these off, too
  • Mint menu's application categorization has its' critics, mainly those who find them inconsistent. It may be true, but the Mint Menu remains one of the more familiar features for those looking for a 'Start' menu
  • Overlay scrollbars: Linux Mint 11 inherits the overlay scrollbars from Ubuntu upstream and enables them by default. I hate them, but I can turn them off using the Desktop Settings tool
  • The boot process is a mixed bag of changes; the Plymouth boot screen kicks in late in a fast boot process, which is mostly 'quiet', that is to say - black. Very professional, but not so helpful when it fails to boot into higher resolutions, which it sometimes does.
This is one of those times when conservative with a small 'c' is a complement. Full marks to Clement Lefebvre and the team for delivering an incremental update with stability and continuity in mind. RC