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It's Not Magic, It's Work!

31 Dec 2006

Linux Fonts

Over the winter solstice holiday I've been upgrading Debian Sarge systems to Etch. After the upgrades, I've been cleaning up the systems, removing unused packages and adding new and shiny ones. I've also been tinkering with the fonts, I found this nice font article on the LDP site: Optimal Use of Fonts on Linux.

Debian Etch comes with a nice font rendering engine for X and a wide selection of nice fonts - some even "donated" by Microsoft.


23 Dec 2006

The People's Flag is Palest Pink

While searching for Christmas Carols on Wikipedia, I came across this parody of the Labour party anthem. Sung to the tune Tannenbaum:

The people's flag is palest pink
It's not the colour you might think
White collar workers stand and cheer
The Labour government is here
We'll change the country bit by bit
So nobody will notice it
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

The cloth cap and the wollen scarf
Are images outdated
For we're the party's avant garde
And we are educated
So raise the rolled umbrella high
The college scarf, the old school tie
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

22 Dec 2006

Instant Expert

I've recently read three interesting articles that support an opinion of mine. Basically the logic flows like this:

  • Anyone can use a computer, the more training and experience you have the easier it will be, but in principle if it's properly configured modern GUIs are easy enough for basic tasks.
  • Correctly configuring a computer for safe and easy use is harder to do just using a computer and does take skill. Because you can use a computer DOES NOT mean you are qualified to maintain one.
  • I believe that Unix/Linux systems are easier to configure than Windows ones. My experience comes from looking after more Windows systems than Linux/Unix and for a longer period of time.

In the first article Linux is Not Windows Dominic Humphries makes it clear to new users of Linux that Linux is not a clone of Windows, it is a clone of Unix, and as such it is designed to be different. Many people feel that Linux is just an open source version of Windows, which it is not in any way.

The second article points out that to install and configure a system, you do need to think, it's not going to do it for you. Penguin Pete tells it as it is, Linux and Newbies: Some Cold, Hard Reality, basically get off your arse and learn some stuff.

Microsoft have managed to convince many people that because use is easy that administration is also easy. This is a MASSIVE lie, but alas the clueless types that run business are constantly forcing Windows solutions onto IT departments all over the world against the protest of IT departments, that would generally prefer a Unix/Linux solution because they are easier to administer and maintain.

Dominic's critic of Microsoft Windows: What's wrong with Microsoft? is says what I've long said. Just because you can use Windows does not mean you are qualified to administer it. He backs up his claim with spam figures, most of which now comes from compromised home computers connected to the Internet by high-speed connections.


21 Dec 2006

Linux is Not Windows

Someone in my LUG suggested Dominic Humphries' article Linux is Not Windows. It makes some generally good points and is well worth reading.


19 Dec 2006

Upgrading Sarge To Etch

Upgrading a Debian system from one release to another is usually automatic and fairly painless. Over the past week I've done some simulated upgrades using qemu as suggested by Andree Leidenfrost. The simulations all worked, so this weekend I upgraded one of the Sarge desktop systems for real. This may not be the most perfect method, but it did work okay.

First off backup anything that is important and make sure you have a live disk to boot and rescue things if it doesn't go well...

Preparation

Install GPG and some Debian keys if not yet installed.

$ sudo su -
# aptitude install gnupg
# gpg --keyserver keyring.debian.org --recv 4F368D5D
# gpg --keyserver keyring.debian.org --recv 2D230C5F
# gpg --keyserver keyring.debian.org --recv 6070D3A1
# gpg --keyserver wwwkeys.eu.pgp.net --recv B5F5BBED
# gpg --keyserver wwwkeys.eu.pgp.net --recv 1F41B907

Update sources.list

Backup your /etc/sources.list file, then update it to etch.

Install a Etch Kernel

This is the point of no return. The initial RAM disk technology used by Etch is different from Sarge, so you must delete the running kernel and install a replacement in one go. This is what your rescue disk may be required for.

# aptitude update
# aptitude install linux-image-2.6.

It will select a bunch of essential tools and the new kernel. It will also warn you about removing a running kernel. Type "Yes" and carry one...

dist-upgrade to Etch

Install the new version of aptitude, add your Debian keys, and then do the upgrade. On my desktop box it took about 30 minutes to download the files, and a further 20 minutes to install everything.


# aptitude install aptitude
# gpg --armor --export  | apt-key add -
# aptitude purge hotplug
# aptitude -f --with-recommends dist-upgrade

Expect that there may be a conflict or two, in my case kdessh and the new OpenSSH packages wouldn't go in. I removed the kde meta-packages, installed OpenSSH, then put back the kde-core package - I didn't want all of kde anyway.

Fixes

If as I do, you use KDE you may have to fix your fonts, as they can come out looking rather ugly. It's a know problem I came across some time ago as I also run Etch on my desktop.


Etch Goodness...

The Debian System

Today I finished off the tweaks to a new Debian Sarge to Etch upgrade. It's been a mostly painless process. Soon Sarge will be only a pleasant memory.

Though Martin Krafft's book mostly overs the soon to be obsolete Sarge release of Debian, it's still a very worthwhile book, and I'll have to read it again to make sure I absorb all the good stuff in it this time.


Debian Etch: So Easy A Newbie Can Do It

There is a nice article over on LXer.com: Debian Etch: So Easy A Newbie Can Do It. I've long said that anyone can use Linux, it really is easy, but I do not believe that anyone can install, configure and maintain any operating system of any kind without some effort.

It's a nice article as it does show that while Debian once had a reputation for being hard-core, it really is much easier to install than it use to be. I still maintain that you will get a better system if you put some effort in, but now it does not need as much effort to get a sane starting point.


17 Dec 2006

Buying a Computer Without An Operating System Doesn't Make You A Criminal!

Microsoft would have everyone one believe that it is impossible to buy a computer without a version of Microsoft Windows on it. Anyone who wants a computer without an operating system (OS) must therefore be a criminal intent on installing an un-licenced copy of Windows on the new PC.

This lie is one that Microsoft works very hard on. While it was once true that people could save £100 on a £1000 computer by not paying for Windows, the truth today is that the £5-10 that companies charge for Windows on a £300 computer isn't worth the effort to steal. If you want Windows it is easier to let the hardware vendor go through all the pain of making it work.

If you run Linux, or have a retail copy of Windows and enjoy the challenge of trying to get Windows to work then you may want to save the few quid that Windows is worth and buy a "naked" PC. If you are a large corporation then you don't care what's on the PC anyway as you deploy a standard build on it.

This week as French consumer rights group "Union Fédérale des Consommateurs-Que Choisir" is taking HP to court for refusing to sell a naked PC in contravention of French anti-bundling law. On LXer there is an interesting thread discussing the topic. HP contend that a computer is useless without an OS so they must provide one to make it work. Someone pointed out that the people who sell lamps don't provide a bundled light-bulb you have to buy one yourself, yet without a bulb the lamp is useless. You can just imagine the fuss if all light-fittings came pre-installed with one manufacturers light bulbs only...


Clueless Pedestrian

Today we went for a bike ride round the village. When it's dry it's a nice ride, the views over the fields are pretty all year round so it is always fun and usually refreshing.

Alas the problem with the ride is that we have to deal with other road users. Some people are polite and courteous giving you plenty of time and space. Most people don't give you enough space or time, but they are at least not nasty. Most luxury car drivers, in particular BMW, Merc and Volvo drivers though are down right nasty and dangerous.

This morning we only had one arse-hole in a Volvo to deal with, not bad going I thought. We were nearly back in the village when we came across a clueless pedestrian instead, he was out walking his dog. The old chap was walking with his back towards on-coming traffic (us), his dog was meandering all over the lane off it's lead. I could see he wasn't paying any attention, so I slowed down to a snails pace to "tip-toe" past him. Rather than startle him from behind I just went slower and slower until I reached him and went past him so that I didn't go between him and his dog. At this point he freaked out and started shouting abuse. If I had rung a bell he wouldn't have heard it, if I had shouted "get out of the way" he would have probably had a heart attack, or at least still shouted abuse.

I know no one is perfect, least of all me. But I do go out of my way to avoid killing me and other road users when I'm on the road. Some people are just plain stupid...


16 Dec 2006

Adding Insult to Injury

The arse-wipe train company has sent me a booking confirmation as a HTML only email, no text alternative. It's so spam like that it was automatically routed into the spam folder, from which I rescued it only to discover that it's unreadable junk. When the revolution comes middle-managers and marketing droids will be the first against the wall, along with estate agents and recruitment agents.


Banks Have No Clue About Security

I've just bough some travel tickets on-line. The card processing company now have this stupid scheme to "protect" you, for which your are forced to register and hand over yet more pointless details. You are forced to provide a password and they make up your username.

As usual I made up a strong password made up of letters, punctuation marks and numbers. As usual they only accept letters and numbers and have an absurdly small limit of password length. Yet again stupid behaviour by a bank makes their system both more bureaucratic and less secure. When will these people "get a clue"...


15 Dec 2006

Guilt...

A friend asked me to help him set up his mother-in-laws computer so she could read email. I often help friends and family for free but I refuse to touch stolen software and I encourage the use of open source software whenever practical.

Today's question was how to set up Microsoft Outlook. I said quite honestly that I could not recommend it in any shape or form and more importantly I have never actually set it up, and only use it at work because I am forced to.

I now feel guilty for not helping, he did not want to install anything else - which I would have offered to help with. He feels that he must use Microsoft Outlook as it came with that from Dell and as everyone uses it, it must be the best? He trusts me enough to ask for my advice but not enough to actually follow through.

I would happily give him The OpenCD but I know that would not help either... By not helping I have driven him deeper into Microsoft's tar pit, but he really does not want to be helped out, which I feel bad about as he is a nice chap.


13 Dec 2006

Windows is...

Except at work where I am forced to use Windows XP, I don't touch Microsoft Windows anymore. My home systems all run Debian GNU/Linux as do my family systems that I am responsible for. On my way into work this morning I was thinking of why I don't use Windows anymore.

  1. Debian is easier to use than Windows
  2. Debian is much cheaper than Windows
  3. Debian is much more secure than Windows
  4. Debian has more useful software than Windows and it's easier to install

When you think about this list it is a very similar list to what Windows users say when someone suggests they upgrade to Linux, except their list is inverted (except the security - even Windows users know that Windows is insecure).

I do not think I could ever go back to using Windows now, which is interesting considering that I used Windows before Linux and for a longer time span.


11 Dec 2006

Debian "Etch" Into "Freeze"

Debian Open Logo

Today Debian GNU/Linux testing, code-named "Etch" has gone into freeze. From now on only hand approved changes will go into the distro in preparation for Etch's transition to stable status in the new year.

It's now time to get out qemu and test the upgrade from Sarge to Etch. A lot of fundamental things have changed and it's better to test things in advance of doing it for real!


Web Design Talk

I gave my basic DIY web design talk at my LUG two weekends ago. It's now online with the slides and video available. After a long hiatus in public speaking I've done a few talks for the LUG this year and I've got better in that I've stopped "Umming" all the way through. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make a lot better!


10 Dec 2006

Debian GNU/Linux "Etch"

Debian Open Logo

On one of my systems at home I run Debian Testing, currently "Etch". When I started with this system it was a brand new Debian Sarge/Stable release. I switched it to the then new and essentially identical Etch/Testing version and have let it evolve with daily updates ever since.

There have been days when certain things wouldn't work for example when the kernel/initial file system changed, or when Debian transitioned from XFree86 to X.org, but overall it's been quite a pleasant ride. Soon Etch will become stable and I can upgrade my other systems.

Debian Etch will be a little delayed, it should have gone to the Stable status a few days ago, but it's still on track for stable status within the next month or so. In the last few weeks lots of thing I've not been able to use have appeared as things get ready for stable. I can now run:

  • OpenOffice.org, delayed for ages because it couldn't run on a 64-bit system.
  • The Dolphin file manager, smaller, simpler and much faster than Konqueror.
  • Kqemu - the kernel accelerator for the qemu virtual machine.
  • XaraXtreme - the open source version of the famous Xara vector graphics suite.

09 Dec 2006

Firefox On The Up

This week two articles have shown impressive growth in the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser's market share.

In the first report based on visitors of the German news site SpiegelOnline, Firefox has overtaken IE at the weekend (home users), and even during the week (work place use) IE only has a 10% lead over Firefox - and Firefox is growing.

This report also suggests that Firefox 2 has taken off well, but there has been little adoption of IE7. Mac usage has gone up and now accounts for over 8% of weekend use, and 6% weekday. Linux has gone from 0% two years ago to over 2% now (weekdays and weekend).

The second report based on French meta-analysis company Xiti Monitor, shows continued growth of Firefox at IE's expense across the whole of Europe. There is quite a bit of variation across Europe, with some countries tipping in at over 40% Firefox and some scraping the barrel at only 15%. Overall European Firefox use is at around 23% comparable to Australasia, and 10% more than the Americans.


03 Dec 2006

Debian GNU/Solaris...?

I have this hunch that once Sun can licence their Solaris Kernel in a compatible way there will evolve a Debian GNU/Solaris distribution. I also think that Sun may have enough of a clue to merge their OpenSolaris into Debian GNU/Solaris as a nice way to let someone else to the heavy work of packaging it all up, and the Sun can just act as the upstream providers of the kernel and a few bits and bobs and at the same time act as a downstream packager of official Sun Solaris not unlike ubuntu today.

  • Sun have give Debian kit recently.
  • No body owns Debian, so Sun can't have the rug ripped from under neath them.
  • Debian's deb/apt system is second to none, it's free so Sun may as well use it.
  • Debian has a very good reputation and vast package selection.
  • Debian already supports multiple kernels: BSD; Hurd and Linux.
  • Ubuntu et al. all seem to be doing well by building on top of Debian.