This UK based distribution has attracted a lot of attention lately. After listening to both Fab’s glowing review on the Linux Outlaws podcast and the one at the Linux Install Podcast I decided to give this new distribution a try. CrunchBang 8.10.01 is based on Ubuntu Intrepid, uses the lightweight window manager Openbox and has GTK+ applications. Right now it is only available in a 32 bit version. However, corenominal (Philip Newborough, the developer) has asked users in the forums if they would like a 64 bit version. For the Asus EEE owners there is also a custom version known as CrunchEee for your platform.

Similar to Linux Mint (here is the Evil part), CrunchBang has a lot of the proprietary stuff included out of the box. Flash 10, MP3 support, encrypted DVD playback and even Skype has been added to the distribution. According to their site, with the exception of a few packages, CrunchBang is built entirely from the Ubuntu repositories. Because of this, you can use apt-get, aptitude or Synpatic to install your Ubuntu Intrepid packages on CrunchBang. The aim of CrunchBang is to provide a easy to use, lightweight, fast distribution of Linux.

I tested out two different systems with CrunchBang. I have a Dell Intel Q6600 quad core system with 6 gigabytes and a 4 year old Dell Inspiron 1150 notebook that has only a single gigabyte. In both cases, CrunchBang was a champ when it came to hardware detection. The Restricted Driver Manager saw the Broadcomm wireless chipset in my notebook, pulled down the firmware and used fwcutter to get the adapter working. I had the same positive experience using my desktop system. My old Samsung ML-1430 laser printer was detected and printed without a fuss.

Dark Background and Theme

As you can see from the screenshots, the look of CrunchBang is very spartan. There is no color whatsoever on the desktop. No icons on the desktop, either. Just a pure black desktop with the CrunchBang logo written in a severely simple font. The distro screams “We don’t like clutter!”. For those who can’t stand this look CrunchBang has included a few colorful macro photo backgrounds that look pretty nice. If the dark theme doesn’t work for you there are also well over 100 themes available in the OpenBox Configuration Manager.

Conky System Monitor

One of the great things I like about this distribution is that they have included Conky. Based on Torsmo, Conky is an awesome system monitor for your desktop. Among other things, it can monitor CPU & RAM utilization, processes running, hard disk space usage, network upload/download activity, wireless signal strength and your notebook’s battery life. It is also a great tool for low RAM systems. If your system slows down you can quickly see if it is due to the OS having to use swap memory. There are even weather and SSL email Python scripts available for Conky. I tried Conky Email out with my Google Mail account and it worked like a charm. It would tell me on the desktop whenever I had mail. Other tools are available to do these things, like Google Desktop Gadgets, Screenlets, or SuperKaramba, but I prefer to use Conky because it’s text takes up less desktop real estate than using graphical widgets.

My first gripe with the distribution is that they didn’t use a more featured conky.rc file. Perhaps it is because of their tribute to minimalism, but they could have added more monitoring features to the default setup. Something that would wow the user during their first impression of the distribution.

If you want to make changes to the conky.rc file like I did it is in the OpenBox menu at Preferences > Conky Config. There are also some nice tricked out conky.rc files available on the CrunchBang forums. I was happy with a modification I did to the conky.rc file that omns had posted. I always forget the key bindings and wanted to add that to the conky.rc file he created. It really impresses me how many tweaks you can do using Conky. A quick note about the symbols you see in the System, HD and Network sections of the Conky configuration I am using. Those symbols to the left are actually fonts. My conky.rc is using StyleBats, Webdings and PizzaDude fonts. These don’t come with Crunchbang so you need to pull down the fonts if you want to use a conky.rc file with them. You can get the fonts by downloading the Conkycolors Tar file and extracting the .fonts directory to your /home/username directory.

OpenBox Window Manager

I dig the way you open up programs up in OpenBox. Right click anywhere on the desktop and you get the menu stucture. Your at the menu faster than in Ubuntu where you have to go to the top of the screen with the mouse pointer to get at it. In CrunchBang you add programs to the menu by editing a XML file. You will find this file in the menu by going to Preferences > OpenBox Config. Adding new menus, programs or seperators is pretty easy in my book. Just like in Ubuntu’s menu, CrunchBang has links in their menu to your documents, downloads, images, music and videos folders for your convenience. They also have links to the CrunchBang About, Forums and Wiki pages under Help in the menu structure. Compositing effects are also available in OpenBox. Just go to Preferences > Compositing to get at them. It’s no Compiz, but there are some nice transparency effects you can add to the desktop.

On the bottom panel they have included a desktop pager, system tray, task bar (window list) and a digital clock. There are about a dozen additional plugins available if you think the panel needs some more stuff. If you don’t like the icons in Thunar file manager, CrunchBang has three different icon themes to pick from; Tango (default), GNOME and Rodent (interesting).

666 Megabytes : The Mark of the Beast

This may have been done to outdo the fine folks at Satanic Ubuntu. The ISO file size of CrunchBang weighs in at 666 megabytes. I wonder how much trouble it took in package selection to get the distribution to this size. I think it will be hard to maintain as CrunchBang’s packages are upgraded with new features (causing larger file sizes). Do you dare refuse serving Satan or bounce Totem cause they grew a couple of megabytes in their latest version? Tough call. Will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Here is a list of some of the software that Crunchbang ships with:

  • Linux Kernel 2.6.27
  • Firefox 3.0.4
  • Gwibber 0.7 (Microblogging client that can be used with Twitter and Identica among others)
  • Abiword 2.6.4 (Open Office is not included in this distribution)
  • Gnumeric 1.8.3
  • Totem 2.24.3 (VLC is now a QT4 application)
  • Rythmbox 0.11.6
  • Kino 1.3.0
  • PiTiVi 0.11.1
  • Cheese 2.24.1
  • Audacity 1.3.5 beta
  • Inkspace 0.46
  • GIMP 2.6
  • Thunar 0.9.0
  • Skype 2.0

Installation

Being based on Ubuntu, CrunchBang uses the tried and true 7 step Ubiquity installer. I found this to work without a hitch. I let the installer configure my GRUB bootloader and it found my Windows Vista, Ubuntu 8.10, Mint 6 and the CrunchBang partitions just fine. As with the initial bootup from live CD, the hard disk installation was snappy as could be. Although I didn’t have a stopwatch out, I would say it had a good 25 percent faster bootup time than Intrepid. One word of caution. You should watch out for the loud techno pulse sound that plays with the login screen. It’s loud enough to knock you back in your seat.

Stability

This is, as I would expect given it’s Ubuntu base, a solid distribution. It has run without lockups during the past week I have tested it. In fact, I’ve only had two tiny problems running it. First, when I used the shift and number keys on my standard QWERTY keyboard I would not get the symbols I wanted. A shift and number 2 would not produce the expected @ sign. Needless to say, email was going to be out of the question until I got this problem fixed. A trip to the forums revealed that the problem was because the live CD ships using a UK keyboard layout. All I needed to do to fix the problem was type in “settxkbmap us” at the terminal. This gave my system a US based layout and my keyboard then worked as it should. I also discovered at the forums that you should add this to Openbox’s autostart file so that the correct keyboard layout is set when you login.

Secondly, the other small problem I had was with the Restricted Driver Manager. If I clicked the Help button I got an error telling me it could not find the help file with the URL it was using. This was a tiny problem, since, as I mentioned above, the manager still worked and I got a wireless connection. I just thought I would note this small glitch I ran into with the Help button. I have to find out what (if they have one yet) Crunchbang uses for a bug reporting system.

Conclusion

If your looking for a lightweight Ubuntu you should consider this distribution. The minimal configuration is great if you have an older machine you would like to revive. And unlike other mini distributions, it comes shipped with a ton of software so chances are you won’t have to go searching for too many packages once installed. With the GIMP, Inkscape, PiTiVi, Kino, recordMyDesktop and Audacity they already have a lot of tools for creative types. If you find anything missing you can find it quickly using the large Ubuntu repositories. What I like most about this distribution is that it showcases the combination of Conky and OpenBox, two projects that look really good together.

More Obligatory Screenshots

Linux Mint 6 GNOME Desktop

Linux Mint version 6 Felicia came out on December 15th and I have been running it on my Dell Inspiron 530 Q6600 system for the past week. I ran Hardinfo on the system if you want to see the specifications on the box. It is a quad core with 6 GB of RAM, so I was a little disappointed that the 64 bit version of Linux Mint was not released the same day the 32 bit version came out.  Even though they have a 64 bit version of Linux Mint 5 Elyssa available I wanted to try out the latest version. Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex and uses GNOME for it’s desktop environment. For those who prefer a different desktop, community editions of Mint 6 featuring KDE, XFCE and Fluxbox should be out soon.

A minimum of 512MB of RAM is recommended for the live CD. According to the Mint site, once installed the system works fine with as low as 256MB RAM. The installation process deals with 2.5GB of data compressed on a 700MB CD and it can hang or fail on systems with less than 512MB RAM. I have 6 GB on my desktop system, so needless to say, the install was fast. From the time I put the live CD in to the time I had it installed on the hard drive was around 15-20 minutes. I had no problems whatsoever with hardware detection during the install.

Linux Mint 6 Felicia includes:

  • Kernel 2.6.27
  • GNOME 2.24 (Nautilus has tab support now)
  • Xorg 7.4
  • Firefox 3.0.3
  • Open Office 2.4.1 (3.0 was available but not included in the release)
  • Gimp 2.6.1
  • MPlayer 1.0rc2
  • Compiz 0.7.8
  • CUPS 1.3.9
  • Network Manger 0.7.0 (Tools Added for connecting to GSM/CDMA 3G broadband and VPNs)
  • Python 2.5.2
  • Mono 1.9.1

All Proprietary Codecs Included:

One of the strong points of Linux Mint is it’s easy of use. All of the proprietary codecs that people like to use are included in the distribution. You will not have to download anything to playback MP3 files, watch Flash 10 YouTube clips in Firefox, view encrypted Hollywood movies in MPlayer or play Java 6 games in your Firefox browser. This makes the distribution well suited to people who are migrating from Windows or Mac. Most people use a computer as an appliance. They don’t care or have a clue about what codecs are patent encumbered and why they shouldn’t be shipped with a distribution.  They just want everything to work out of the box. So when their MP3 music doesn’t playback in a free distribution, like Fedora for instance, they will assume Linux is “not ready for the desktop” and move back to their Windows or Mac PC. However, it should be said, Linux Mint has not abandoned those who seek a free distribution. They have a Universal Edition that ships without restricted formats, patented codecs or any proprietary components.

Slick looking GDM, Ubuntu System Panel and Two Compiz Configuration Tools:

One of my gripes with Ubuntu is it’s rather ugly GRUB menu. Linux Mint has a polished GRUB menu screen that fits the wallpaper and theme of the desktop. One of the first things you notice about Linux Mint is the Ubuntu System Panel (guide to install on 8.10 here). Rather than using the drop-down style menu at the top of the desktop, like you would in Ubuntu’s GNOME, you access the Menu by clicking the button on the bottom left of the desktop. One of the knocks on the USP menu is the amount of real estate it takes up on your screen. This did not bother me too much, but you can make up your own mind if it suits you based on the screenshot. I did like the filter feature of the menu. It allows you to sort your applications quickly by using a search box. I liked the blue theme and grey background that shipped with this distribution. They also have included a nice selection of addition themes (carbon is cool) and backgrounds (liked the swoosh) if the default one doesn’t suit you.

By the way, if your wondering about the writing on the desktop, I used the Compiz annotate feature on some of the screenshots in this post. It’s a pretty cool tool if you want to demonstrate software features in a screenshot. It just one of the many practical features of Compiz. Another feature, known as the the Desktop Zoom adds accessibility to people with vision problems. With the mouse scroll wheel and the Windows key I can magnify portions of the screen many times over. I was really pleased to see that Linux Mint has included both the CompizConfig Settings Manager and a smaller, simplified version so that people unfamiliar with Compiz will not be overwhelmed by it’s features. Unfortunately, Ubuntu does not include either of these tools by default. I think it is a shame to hide the tools that configure Compiz. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just eye candy, it has useful tools that aid accessibility and productivity.

GNOME-DO and GUFW:

GnomeDo Screenshot

Linux Mint has included GNOME-DO in this release. This tool works much like QuickSilver in Macintosh. You type in the first few letters of the application you want and GNOME-DO tries to figure out what it is that you want to do. If it guesses the right application, just hit the enter key and it will run. I found that it usually guessed the right application. I think it saves the user some time using this tool versus finding the application in the menu structure. With the default key bindings, you use the tool by pressing the Windows and space keys.

Mint has also added a GUI Firewall tool to the CD. Gufw is a front-end to Ubuntu’s Uncomplicated Firewall. UFW’s syntax is much easier than using IPTables, but it is a command line only tool and Windows folks are going to be looking for a Norton or McAffee like GUI tool to setup a Firewall. For a home user, who maybe just wants to open up a ssh or vnc port on his computer, Gufw offers a simple UI to do so.

Mint Nanny and Mint Backup:

MintNanny is a simple GUI tool to block children from visiting inappropriate sites. You simply type in the domains that you want blocked and Firefox will not be able to view them. It works by adding an entry to your /etc/hosts file and defines that domain’s IP address as being 0.0.0.0. An experienced user could just edit the hosts file directly, but for novice users this is a simply interface that is easier to use. If you need a blocker with more features, you might want to try something like DansGuardian.

MintBackup is a simple tool for backing up your home directory. You can choose to include hidden paths in the backup. Also, you can exclude directories/files that you don’t want. It saves the tarred .backup file in your home directory for later restoration. It provides a quicker way than using cp and tar commands on the terminal to make a backup.

APTonCD:

APTonCD is an awesome tool if you don’t have access to the Internet all the time. The program can be found at Applications>Administation>APTonCd. It saves all of the packages that you have installed using Synaptic, Apt-get, or Aptitude to CD/DVD. Essentially, it provides you with your own portable repository. This also works wonders if you have several computers and don’t have the bandwidth to pull down the same packages from the Internet for each computer. Personally, I am out on the road often and pulling down packages with the slow bandwidth of WI-FI is not practical. While at home I can make my own repository on DVD using the great bandwidth of my cable modem. I now have a DVD containing all of the software I wanted to add to Mint and the packages I updated using mintUpdate. This way I don’t have to worry about the WI-FI bandwidth limitations while out on the road. This tool would also come in handy if you were changing your ISP and without the Internet for a while.

MintInstall:

Probably the most novel feature of Mint is their software installation tool MintInstall. It give you ratings, reviews and screenshots of the applications in the software manager. It’s kind of like having your own version of Freshmeat on your desktop. On Ubuntu’s Brainstorm adding screenshots to Synaptic or Add/Remove programs has gotten a lot of support.  I find the screenshot idea really useful, particulaly when looking at games I might want to download. A tool like this could use the work from the Debian screenshot project. For those who don’t know, this community project is trying to get screenshots of all of the thousands of Debian packages. They could use more applications and screenshots in MintInstall. When I ran it they only had about 450 applications in there.  I should note one problem that comes with having screenshots included with the software manager. MintInstall took a good 5 minutes to pull down all of the screenshots of the various applications the first time I ran it. However, I don’t find this to be a major problem since once the screenshots were on my system MintInstall opened up right away. I do think, however, that MintInstall could aggravate dial-up users with low bandwidth that might not appreciate the initial startup time. If you decide you don’t like the speed of MintInstall the distribution has Synaptic available for installing packages.

MintUpload:

Imagine a distribution that gives you your own server space to share files with family and friends. Well, that is what the Mint people have included in their software. Free of charge you get 1 GB of server space at linuxmint.com that lasts for two days. You can access the MintUpload service by doing a right click in on the file you want to send and clicking upload. After uploading, just give the person you want to send it to the URL of where it is and they can download it. One of the recent features they have added is the ability to use your own FTP service. So if you have some server space for your Wordpress, Drupal, etc. blog you can use that space to quickly backup files without opening up a FTP client. I tried it out using my own shared hosting account and it worked like a charm. There is a short tutorial on the Linux Mint site if you want to use MintUpload with your own FTP site. You just need to create a text configuration file that has your FTP server name, username, password and path. Put the text file in /etc/linuxmint/mintUpload/services/ and you will have that server choice in the MintUpload dialog box.

Giver:

This is a neat little tool for sharing files and folders on you local network. Basically, you get a pop-up notification when someone wants to send you a file. The sender gets a pop-up when you either accept or reject the file. The user interface is about as simple as you can get. I tried it out on my own LAN between my Q6600 desktop and my Dell Inspiron 1150 notebook an it worked without a hitch. I prefer this setup versus setting up a shared directory on my system using Samba when I just need to send one file or folder to another machine. Hopefully, being that it is a great tool for novices, Ubuntu will include it when Jaunty 9.04 comes out next year. I would also like to see them include the Gufw utility I mentioned earlier. I bet many new Ubuntu users coming from Windows have no idea that ufw exists. Being that it is a command line only program it is no where in the GNOME menu structure. I doubt many users of Windows are even aware that there is such a thing as the command line. This is why I feel for people migrating to Linux the GUI tools are so important.

MintUpdate:

Even though Mint has an Ubuntu base, it does not use the Ubuntu Update Manager to keep packages current. They have their own update manager known as MintUpdate. It has 5 levels of package status. Levels 1 and 2 tell you that the package has been tested and approved by the Linux Mint team. The lower levels 4 and 5 warn you that the package maybe unsafe or even dangerous to your system. This metering system gives you an idea of how much risk is involved with the installation of each package. You can choose to hide the more dangerous levels if you want to maintain a more stable system. They also have included a history of previously installed packages with MintUpdate. So if your system breaks all of a sudden you can try to use this to see which package might be responsible. You can also set up MintUpdate to use a proxy server to update packages if you are stuck behind a Firewall. I think MintUpdate is a real improvement over what is offered in Ubuntu. Hopefully, some of the ideas they have used here will make it into it’s parent distribution.

Eject CD-ROM Bug and Problems with Changing Screen Resolutions:

When I installed Mint 6 I ran into the same bug with udev that I found in  my review of Ubuntu 8.10. If I try and eject a CD using Nautilus the tray opens and closes immediately, leaving me no time to take out the CD. If I eject the CD using the hardware button on the computer I don’t have this problem. The comments in the bug report at Launchpad said it was a problem with the udev device manager. This proved to be the case on my Mint install, because I was able to fix the eject CD problem by upgrading udev using mintUpdate.

I also ran into a little bit of problems when I tried to change screen resolution. When I booted the desktop I was given a 1024×768 resolution. If I tried to change the resolution either going up or down (keeping the same aspect ratio) the screen would not display the bottom menu bar. A good portion of the screen would be cut off at the bottom. Fortunately, It was not hard to fix the problem. I just did a Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to Kill the X session and logged back in. When I got to the desktop again the screen resolution I wanted displayed correctly and I had no further problems. I thought maybe that it was a problem with Compiz so I tried shutting that off and tried changing the resolution again. Bingo, screen did not get cut off so that is where the problem was. You need to shut off Compiz if you want to make screen resolution changes.

Conclusion: Do you want the Appliance Crowd?

IMHO a distribution like Mint is essential if the Linux community wants to move more people from Windows to Linux. The geeks have long ago adopted Linux as their OS of choice. What we need to do now is convert those people who regard their computer as an appliance. Tools like mint4win and having all the codecs working out of the box is necessary for these folks trying out Linux for the first time. I fear anything less will convince them that Linux is shoddy or somehow inferior in quality to Windows. I think the “it works better” arguement has to come before the “it’s free” argument. Otherwise people will buy the Microsoft bull and Windows will continue to garner it’s 90 percent share of the desktop market. As people gain some experience with Linux I think they will come to appreciate the difference between free and proprietary software.

I should note, however, that while Mint includes proprietary software it is far from being a better looking Ubuntu knockoff with Flash and MP3 working right out of the box. They have, as noted above, made a number of real improvements with mintUpload, mintInstall, mintUpdate and mintBackup. I hope some of their ideas reach the ears at Canonical. If you know someone who has lived their life in Windows this is without a doubt the distribution for them.

Gufw Firewall

GUI Ndiswrapper Tool

I did my first Hacker Public Radio episode this week. It is episode 249 and was posted on Friday December 12th. The topic is Puppy Linux 4.1.1 and has about 30 minutes runtime. I talk about Joe’s Window Manager, compiling in Puppy, building Puppy .pet packages, Puppy Puplets and other things in this episode. I did a review of Puppy 4 a few months ago on my blog. I used Audacity under Puppy Linux for the HPR recording. No, I did not use Windows to podcast about Linux! The mic was a Plantronics DSP-500 USB headset. Hopefully, quality and content will be considered decent. The topic was not a stage one Gentoo installation at 75mph (lottalinuxlinks) , but I got to start somewhere. ;-)

I wanted to write a short post about an email sent to HeliOS Solutions. For those who don’t know, HeliOS is an organization that tries to get Linux computers and software into the hands of disadvantaged children. The email came from a teacher who saw one of her students passing out compact discs in her classroom. The student was distributing Free Linux software that he got from HeliOS solutions. When she saw what was happening, the teacher immediately confiscated the CDs containing the Free software from the student. Her reason?  Because she did not believe there was anything such as software that allowed free distribution. The student must somehow be breaking the law by doing this. In addition, she felt that having anything other than Microsoft products in her classroom would hinder her students’ ability to learn course material. Please read this ridiculous (but also really sad) email at Blog of helios.


I thought I might write a little post about adding a little security to your Ubuntu box. You can use a program within GRUB called md5crypt for this task. You choose a password and md5crypt will generate an encrypted string hash for you. Plug this into your GRUB menu entries and you will be prompted for a password when you try to boot one of those entries.

If you choose to accept it you can accomplish this mission in eleven easy steps:

  1. At the terminal type in grub
  2. Once you get a grub prompt you need to type in the command md5crypt
  3. Type in the password you would like to use for your GRUB bootloader
  4. Md5crypt will generate an encrypted string/hash for you
  5. Copy this string to the clipboard
  6. Quit the GRUB program
  7. Do a change directory into /boot/grub
  8. Open up with sudo (using gedit or favorite text editor) menu.lst
  9. For each GRUB entry you want to protect go under the initrd line and add the following:
  10. passwd — md5 (add one space and add the hash that was generated my md5crypt)
  11. For Windows entries I have had success adding the passwd — md5 + the hash line to the bottom of the Windows GRUB entry.

That is all you need to do. Once you reboot you will be prompted for a password. I should add that password protecting your GRUB bootloader is only a speed bump to someone with a little hacking skills. In Linux, all you need to do to get around a password protected GRUB is to use a live cd when booting the computer. Once you boot into the live cd you can do a chroot into any Linux installation on the hard disk. The chroot makes you root on that install. Once you have used chroot, from the terminal you just have to do a passwd + username to change the password of any user (including root). With root permissions on the box you can also go into the menu.lst file and remove the password checking features of GRUB.

Hacking Windows is just as easy. You can use a distribution like SystemRescueCD to boot the computer and reset the admin password on the Windows install by using a program called ntpass. I just used SystemRescueCD 1.1.0 and they state on their site that ntpass will even reset a Vista admin password. So basically what I am trying to say is that with the exception of encryption programs, like Ubuntu’s package ecryptfs-utils in Intrepid, any data you have on the box is insecure if other people have some skills and physical access to it. However, password protecting the GRUB does manage to block unsophisticated users from booting the system so it is of some value in my book.


Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Wallpaper

I waited a few days to let the load on the servers cool down so I could try Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10 out on my new Dell Inspiron 530 system. Intrepid was released on October 30th and I downloaded it a few days later. With this upgrade I went from an Athlon X2 3800 to an Intel Q6600 Quad Core system. This new system has 6 gigabytes of memory so I needed to move up from 32 bit Ubuntu to the 64 bit version. For those who don’t know, a 32 bit OS can’t address over 4 gigs of memory. So 64 bit is quickly becoming a necessity with the systems coming out today.

Intrepid Ibex is not a long term support release. Support will only last 18 months for it. For those needed longer support, Canonical’s previous release offered it. Ubuntu Hardy Herron 8.04 LTS had 5 year support for servers and 3 years on the desktop.

Software Included in Intrepid:

Linux kernel 2.6.27

GNOME 2.24.1

X.org 7.4

Compiz 0.7.8

Firefox 3.0.3

Gimp 2.6.1

OpenOffice 2.4.1 (3.0 was available but not included in release)

F-Spot 0.5.0.3

Network Manager 0.7.0

Python 2.5.2

Mono 1.9.1

gcc 4.3.1

Hardware Detection:

There is not much to write about here. Intrepid saw everything on the system that I had plugged in. Graphics acceleration, networking, Flash cards, USB sticks, and my Epson CX3800 inkjet printer were all working. The last couple of versions of Ubuntu pretty much has had everything working right out of the box for me.

Creating a USB Startup Disk:

Before I did a hard disk install I wanted to try out one of the new features in Intrepid. Intrepid includes the ability to make a bootable flash drive right from the GNOME desktop. It is located under the Administration Menu. I used a 4 GB Sandisk drive to try this out. I like Sandisk for putting the Tux Penguin on the back of their flash drives. It is rare that I see anything other than Microsoft and Apple logos on computer accessories. The installer gave me the option of using up to 3 GB of the 4 GB to use for saving data leaving the remaining GB for the operating system.

The installation was simple and I was able to boot of the flash drive with no problems. Changes I made to the Ubuntu installation were, as promised, saved to the drive for later use. However, I did notice an occasional slow down on the system. It would hesitate for a few seconds and then be fine. I don’t know if the particular drive I using was faulty or it was because of the slowness of flash drives in general. In the past, I have tried using bootable USB drives with Puppy, DSL, and SLAX. They all seemed to be about as fast as booting off a regular hard drive. But these are smaller distributions that are not as demanding as Ubuntu.

For those Windows users who don’t want to partition their drive the Wubi installer is included with Intrepid Ibex. Canonical has included the Wubi installer on the CD since Hardy Herron 8.04. For those who don’t know, Wubi lets you install Ubuntu using Windows. The whole Ubuntu install is put within a file in the Windows file system (c:\ubuntu\disks\root.disk). You can use the Windows Add/Remove Programs to delete this file later if you want to remove Ubuntu from your system.

Installation:

Before I did the hard drive install I needed to prepare the system using GParted. The Ubiquity installer allows installations using the whole drive or you can shrink a lone Windows NTFS partition to make space for Ubuntu. But I had Vista system that already had 3 primary partitions (Dell diagnostics, Recovery, and the Vista partition) and I need to add a 4th partition which needed to be setup as an extended partition so I could go beyond having just 4 partitions on the drive. So I had to do some prep work in GParted before running the Ubiquity installer. I wanted the Windows install to take up about 200 GB of the drive and leave the rest to Linux. Using GParted, I successfully resized the last NTFS partition down from 640 to 200 GB, but it took over 2 hours. I can’t complain since GParted has been very reliable the many times I’ve used it. I’ve never lost data with it resizing either ext3 or NTFS partitions.

A few things I should mention for those who haven’t tried to move a Windows partition with Gparted before. Make sure the NTFS drive is not too fragmented and that you properly shut down Windows the last time you used it. After you move the NTFS partition in either XP or Vista the Windows OS is going to want to run a chkdsk to check the integrity of the drive. I had to reboot Vista twice for it to go through the chkdsk process and be happy with the drive again.

Once I had the ext3 and swap partitions setup I went and fired up the installer. The 7 step Ubiquity installer looks pretty much the same to me as in Hardy Herron with the exception of a couple things.  They added some pretty color coded disk usage bars showing disk space left on my hard drive. I guess they felt Ubiquity needed a little dressing up. Now if they can just dress up the GRUB menu in Ubuntu. ;) Ubiquity also includes setting up a boot without a login feature. It’s a checkbox on step 5 of 7 in the installer. While this makes things a little more convenient, you obviously need to have a your box in a secure location if you use it.

First Impressions:

Like previous versions Intrepid has a brown look to it’s theme, wallpaper, and GDM logon manager. There were some subtle changes to the looks though. The Human theme (now using the Murrine engine) has had some subtle changes to it. I noticed the GDM logon screen, while still being brown, now has a dark smoky look to it. The wallpaper has changed too. I’ve read other bloggers calling it a coffee table with a stain on it. In my opinion, the Intrepid wallpaper is more neutral and less distracting then the flashy bird in Hardy Herron.

Ubuntu Intrepid has also included a new darkroom theme that looks pretty impressive. I have, however, read other reviews write the darkroom theme makes it difficult to read text. The theme that I really wish had been included is the Dust theme. Check out it’s use with various wallpapers at the Ubuntu Wiki. Maybe they will consider it for addition when Jaunty 9.04 comes out.

Network Manager Improvements:

There are several major improvements for the road warrior in this version of Ubuntu. Network Manager now supports connections to Virtual Private Networks so you can securely login to a corporate network while out on the road. They have also added the ability to use mobile broadband via GSM/CDMA 3G networks. Unfortunately, I don’t have either a VPN or mobile broadband so I could not test out these features. They also have added a tab in Network Manager to help DSL users get online. I either use WI-FI or Cable modem to get online so I could not test this feature. The NetworkManager page has more information on the updates to the project.

Encrypted Folders Added:

Encrypted private folder support is now built into Ubuntu using a package called ecryptfs-utils. Installation and directions can be found here. I followed the instructions and had no problem setting up an encrypted folder on the system. For now, ecryptfs-utils is only a command line based project. Since Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu are newbie distributions I wonder if they will come up with a GUI frontend for this.  I suppose you could argue that when people start messing with encryption they are going beyond newbie status and should know some command line stuff.  Either way it is nice having this feature built into the distribution.

New Guest Account Feature:

New to Intrepid is the ability to open up a guest session using the Fast User Switcher applet. Since the guest home directory is stored under the tmp directory changes made using this account will be wiped out on shut down. This account is well locked down so someone you loan the computer to can’t view your home directory or administer the system.

Nautilus Gets Some Tabs:

The version of Nautilus shipping with Intrepid, version 2.24.1, has full tab support with it. This is something other Linux file managers, like Konqueror, Thunar, or PCMan, have had for some time.  You can create a new tab in Nautilus by hitting Ctrl + T or using the File Menu>New Tab. I find this makes copying and pasting between two directories a lot easier. Also new, the sidebar now includes eject icons of your mountable drives.

Eject CD-ROM Bug:

My system suffers from a well known bug that shipped with Ubuntu 8.10. If I try and eject a CD using Nautilus the tray opens and closes immediately, leaving me no time to take out the CD. If I eject the CD using the hardware button on the computer I don’t have this problem. The comments in the bug report at Launchpad said it was a problem with the udev device manager. They recommended upgrading udev to fix the problem. I can confirm this fix works, because when I grabbed the latest version of udev this problem went away.

Getting Plugins Working:

Ubuntu does not ship with MP3, Flash, DVD playback, and other codecs for legal reasons. There are other distributions, like Linux Mint, if you need that stuff working out of the box. However, It usually easy to get this non-free stuff working in Ubuntu with it’s services like the Plugin Finder and Restricted Driver Manager. To test this feature out, I went to YouTube to playback some Flash clips. On my old Athlon 32 bit system, Plugin Finder was initiated when I tried to play Flash videos and it installed Flash with no problems. For some reason I didn’t have the same luck with 64 bit Intrepid’s Plugin Finder. It did not get activated when I tried opening up a video in Youtube.

Fortunately, adding Flash 10 to Ubuntu can be done easily from the command line or Synaptic package manager. You just need to make sure you have the universe and multiverse repositories enabled. I was able to get Flash 10 working by typing in this line at the command prompt:

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree

I had a more positive experience when I tried playing MP3 files in Rhythmbox. When I tried to open up a MP3 file Ubuntu asked if I wanted the gstreamer plugin that Rhythmbox needed to play it. This worked without a fuss. I really like the Plugin Finder system Ubuntu has. Using it they manage to ship an almost entirely free distribution while giving people an easy (one click) way to add the proprietary stuff if need be.

Ubuntu also has an automated way to install proprietary drivers using the Restricted Driver Manager. I’ve used this successfully on other systems before. Fortunately, with the Intel integrated graphics on this motherboard I was able to get Compiz working with a free driver.

Synaptic Quick Search and BBC Content in Totem:

A new feature added to Intrepid was a Quick Search box at the top of Synaptic package manager. No need to click the search button any more for you searches.

I also tried out the BBC DRM-free content that is incorporated into Totem media player. The BBC and Canonical have teamed up to add BBC content to Totem. They had a good variety of programs available when I tried the service. You can access the content by clicking on the Playlist drop down box in Totem and selecting BBC. Unfortunately, not all content is available for people outside the UK. If you click on UK-only content in the US you just get a recording telling you don’t have access to it. It would save time if they could somehow filter UK-only content on the playlist to save people outside the UK time. It would also help if they somehow marked or separated audio and video content. All though I have read there is some out there, I couldn’t find any video content when I searched through the programs. The project is fairly new so hopefully user interface improvements and more audio/video content should be available soon.

Complaints:

One of the first things I downloaded after installation was Compiz Config Settings Manager. It is available in the Ubuntu repositories. I am not sure why they do not ship with this by default. It seems kind of silly to have all the Compiz features built into the distribution and then not include a program to configure it. I know people with lousy graphics cards can’t make any use of the program. But it leaves people who can use the bling with no clue how to use it. It’s features is one of the things that puts Microsoft Vista to shame. I’ve got Vista and Ubuntu on the same box now and having played with both I can say the Aero Glass eye candy can’t compete Compiz.

Starting with Hardy Ubuntu has a easy to configure frontend to Iptables called Uncomplicated Firewall (UFW). Unfortunately, while it’s syntax is really easy, it is a command line only tool. This leaves Ubuntu with no GUI firewall shipped with the distribution. I think this is a weak point for Ubuntu. Even more so with the number of laptops people carry around with them nowadays. Unless you want to pack a router in you laptop bag your going to need a software firewall. A new Linux user (Ubuntu’s claimed target audience) will not see any firewall in the GNOME menu structure. They are not going to be looking for a command line one since most Windows users only live within the GUI. In my humble opinion they should try and add a simple GUI frontend for UFW. Something like Gufw would be a nice improvement. Firestarter might be a bit overkill. If you want to try it out, Gufw It is already available in the Ubuntu repositories.

Lastly, I wish Rythmbox had a way of exporting/importing OPML feeds of podcasts. If one wanted to switch to using Rythmbox for a podcasting client this would make things considerably easier. Manually adding a couple dozen feeds is no fun. This feature is included in other Linux podcast clients like Gpodder and Icepodder. I’ve read Itunes has OPML import/export too although I don’t use Itunes. It would make the migration to Ubuntu easier if this were included. Here is an idea. Maybe Ubiquity could pull your podcast client’s OPML file in your Windows/Linux partition using the Migration Assistant. Much like it does for your bookmarks, wallpaper, contacts, etc.

Conclusion:

I have been running Ubuntu as my primary system since Dapper Drake. It is a fast, stable, and easy to use operating system. I’ve tried many Linux distributions and I find I have the least hardware problems with Ubuntu. There are complaints that I have with it, but they are few. I also appreciate their stance on free software. They run without a lot of the non-free drivers and codecs, but if you want they make adding them easy through applications like the Restricted Driver Manager and Plugin Finder. It is the compromise that is the most inclusive of both views. You get a choice either way. With the addition of programs like the Migration Assistant and Wubi, they also have added tools that make the transition from Windows as easy as possible.

Compiz With Ubuntu Games

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Wallpaper