Category Archives: Linux

Ubuntu 9.10 Screencast

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I recently asked all of you to submit your screencasts to me for review. The best of the best will be chosen to be featured here, in my various channels and outlets. This provides content of a different perspective for our community, and gives you new exposure for your work! Duncan has submitted an excellect screencast, showing all of us the new Ubuntu 9.1 operating system.

Before beginning an install, you should check the release notes for important information. Currently, the system requirements are 256MB of RAM, which means it should work on older systems.

There are two ways to obtain Ubuntu 9.10. The first is to go to the downloads page. From there, you can download the release .iso and mount it onto a CD. The other way to obtain it is to visit the Ship It link, and have them mail a physical CD right to your door – for free. However, it can take up to ten weeks to reach you.

Once you have your CD, you’ll find there are many options to use and/or install Ubuntu 9.10. You can live boot, and try it out without actually installing it. It’s very useful for trying it out and deciding what you think. You can also copy the contents of the CD onto a USB drive, which is handy as well.

The most common method of install is the Dual-Boot method in Windows. This involves shrinking your partition and installing Ubuntu onto the free space. Duncan personally chose to install his copy using VirtualBox to install Ubuntu 9.10 inside of a virtual machine.

You can see that the new version looks quite a bit different than the older version. As it was installing, Duncan walked us through several different options as far as video selection, RAM allocations and the like.

Once Ubuntu itself was installed, Duncan went in and installed the Virtual Box Tools. That allows him to do things like using the mouse more effectively. I definitely recommend you make use of the Tools if you’re going to use a virtual machine.

Duncan’s screencast gives you an excellent look into the installation, use and customization for Ubuntu 9.10. Be sure to watch this video if you’re even thinking about checking out this operating system!


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How to Build Your Own Linux Distro

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Chances are by now you’ve messed around with Linux. And of course, Linux may have messed around with you. Unless you know what you’re doing, it can be a real mess. So, there are distros you can download to help you along. These distributions are built by other people with different needs and ideas than what you have. So what are you left to do? How can you build your own distro?

By going to SUSE Studio, you can build your own personal Linux distribution right on the web. Customize it to your heart’s content, and share it with the world! SUSE Studio is a simple and fast appliance builder. It provides an easy to use, web-based user interface and will run in your browser without other needed software.

One great feature is the SUSE Studio Testdrive. You can boot, configure and test your appliance in a browser window without download. You don’t know what an appliance is? I’m glad you asked, so that I can tell you! An appliance is a combination of an application (such as a database), it’s configuration and an operating system. The parts are integrated into a single image which is then usable on pretty much any hardware.

You can even put your distro into a format that will work perfectly on demo CDs. Those are perfect to show off to others, or even give out at trade shows. Who knows – maybe your custom distro will be the next big one!! If Hannah Montana can have her own distro, what’s your excuse?!

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What’s Better Than Microsoft PowerPoint?

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Did you ever know how most presentations suck? It’s bad enough that people doing them tend to suck, as well. It’s not their fault, though. Most of the presentation software is just not that good. A good presentation shows pictures, and don’t have much text. The worst ones to watch are where the speaker just reads every word from the slides! They drive me nuts! What do you use to create presentations? Tell me you aren’t using desktop software! Adobe has thrown their hat into the ring. They have a basic, online office suite and a new presentation software!

Acrobat Presentations is excellent. You have tons of options. Best of all, of course, is the ability using an online platform gives you to easily collaborate with others. When you create a presentation with desktop software, it’s very difficult to allow multiple people to work together on it. Using Presentations, it’s a simple process.

Presentations is a better way to create, edit, and share presentations with others online. Built on the Adobe Flash platform, Presentations looks and behaves like a desktop presentation application – but operates inside a web browser.

It’s free, and cross-platform. There’s no reason to not try it!

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Compiz Fusion in Ubuntu Inside a Virtual Machine

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Do you Ubuntu? If not, what’s your excuse? You don’t have to run it as your primary operating system, but all the cool kids are using it! Linux is sorta like ice cream – there are a ton of different flavors! It doesn’t even matter which distro you choose… go with what tastes right to you.

Ubuntu is certainly maturing over time. The latest release has mixed reviews, but are mostly positive. Each generation is more stable, and easier to use. I’ve talked about Linux in the past, especially when it comes to things you can only get inside of Linux… such as Compiz Fusion.

Since Ubuntu is open-source, you may want to give back to that community someday. Who knows? You could be the coder who comes up with the next great advance! But I know that most of you are regular users like I am, and that’s ok!

Now, if you want to run Ubuntu on your desktop, you might want to use virtual machine software. Can you guess which one I’m using? There’s a lot of software out there that can allow you to run an operating system inside of a piece of software. Everyone knows what I’m running now, right? If you were going to guess Parallels or VMWare, you would be incorrect… even though I have coupons for both of them.

What I’m using is VirtualBox from Sun. The same people that brought you Java have now brought you open-source virtualization technology for your desktop. So I’m running an open-source operating system inside of an open-source virtual machine!

Sun has enabled 3D acceleration inside of VirtualBox! So Compiz Fusion is even MORE amazing. It’s insanely smooth – and amazingly cool! I’ve never seen Compiz Fusion running inside a virtual machine before. Not only does it run inside of VirtualBox… it runs very well!

It’s fun to run an operating system like this. Give it a shot… it doesn’t cost you a thing!

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How to Run Linux on Windows (Ubuntu)

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Yes, it’s possible to have Linux and Windows installed on the same PC – and why wouldn’t you have both? You can install Linux using a live CD or even a USB drive. You could also use something like VMWare Fusion, as well.

Of course, you don’t need a coupon to run any flavor of Linux, as it is open source software. That is the biggest draw for many of you out there who use it. However, today I wanted to show you a new option I ran across that I think you will like. If you’ve never used Linux before, you may want to think about running Linux on top of Windows.

Using Portable Ubuntu allows you to do just that. It is an Ubuntu system running as a Windows application. For those of you who are hard-core Linux users, Portable Ubuntu is handy when you need to work from a Windows-based machine.

Portable Ubuntu allows you to run Ubuntu as if you’re using Ubuntu itself – but you’re actually using Windows. You’ll find the package manager, the bar that runs across the top of the screen, and more. You can even browse the Ubuntu file structure from right within Windows.

This is absolutely without a doubt the easiest way to use Linux from within Windows!

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Linux and Adobe AIR – Can They Work Together?

Adobe AIR is a great way for developers to make desktop applications full of rich content that can be depoyed cross platform. However, up until today those who tried to run AIR applications on Linux had a rough time. The runtime and Software Development Kit (SDK) for AIR was originally released only for the Mac and Windows. Linux users required their own SDK; a public beta was pushed out earlier this year, and as beta testing goes, it had issues. Through a lot of feedback given by developers, Adobe was able to determine the problems with the software and the needs of the Linux community – just like how any other beta test works.

Yesterday Adobe proudly announced that they have released the AIR 1.5 runtime and SDK for Linux. However, with this comes a few small problems:

  1. Only three distributions of Linux are supported, all open: Ubuntu, Fedora and openSUSE. There are specific versions supported as well, so you will need to check the details.
  2. The 64-bit Linux distributions are not natively supported. Adobe has posted some information regarding the Flash Player 10 pre-release and a work-around to get AIR onto 64-bit Linux.

The good news?

You are now able to run all the wonderful applications your friends that use a Mac or a PC can! Applications like TweetDeck and Twhirl are now available, including countless others. You can check out the Adobe AIR Marketplace for more applications to download.

Are you an AIR developer? How does this change affect how you are developing your application? Don’t forget to leave your comments!

Windows Vista is a Better Choice than Linux

Geek!This is Jimmy65’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

I have been an avid computer user since Windows 98, and in my time I’ve used various Linux distributions, and various Windows versions, so I can tell you from experience that Windows Vista is far better than any other version of Windows or any Linux distro. I have organized 5 of my own key points as to why I think Vista is far superior to any Linux distribution today.

Software Compatibility

To get the ball rolling, we have one of, if not the, biggest problem with any Linux distro, which is software compatibility. If you’ve ever used Linux, you know what I’m talking about. Before you decided to try Linux, you had your set of tools that you liked to use – be that Microsoft Office, Adobe Premier, Nero Burning ROM, or even simple chat clients like Xfire – but then, once you were submerged into the world of Linux, you needed to find replacements for most, if not all, of those tools, and in some cases there was no replacement. There is simply no Linux alternative for Xfire, and it’s not as if you can get everyone of your friends to switch clients for you. The case with most alternatives are that they’re produced by people who are doing this in their free time, and not paid to work on it, so you will find a lot of bugs, instability, slow or lack of updates, and sometimes just all-round sloppy work – but hey, at least it’s free. There are very few open source programs I would ever find myself willing to pay for.

Then we have Vista. Nearly every piece of software that is being developed currently is being fitted to run on Vista, which will soon enough be the most dominant operating system in the world. Wouldn’t you want to use an OS that has everything catered to you? Most software that is developed for Vista is made by hard working developers that are on a payroll, have a responsibility, and a company that looks after their products and the end-user. It’s not only the wide selection or the high functionality of Windows Vista software, although those are very important, but you also have software that is easy to use; just execute, install and run in most cases.You also have abundant tech support usually, and peace of mind knowing that you have a company that’s working to make sure you enjoy your product as much as possible.

Hardware Compatibility

Have you ever plugged a Webcam into a PC running Linux? Did it work off the bat? There will be mixed answers, but the majority of the time it will be no. What about you new 5.1 surround sound speakers, or your gaming keyboard? Probably more of the same. The drivers you’re supplied with don’t tend to include Linux as a supported OS, so you’re left to find drivers yourself – assuming that somebody out there happened to be kind enough to code and post them for free. What a fun way to spend part of your Christmas vacation!

If you have Vista, it’s basically the same with hardware as it is with software – compatible. 98% (guess where I pulled that statistic out of) of hardware that is being produced right now is being made to run exceptionally well on only one operating system. You guessed it – Vista. Now when you get your new hardware goodies on Christmas morning, you can put them to work straight away!


Have you ever had a problem with your Linux distro that you just couldn’t solve yourself? Chances are that this has happened to you more then once, if you’re a inexperienced user. Finding a solution is not always easy, and usually involves you posting a topic on some random forum and waiting / hoping for someone to reply.

The case with Vista is it has built in trouble shooting, and if you can’t find a solution there, you can always do a quick search on Microsoft’s website which will usually lead to a good solution. If you need to though, you can always fall back on your good ol’ over the phone tech support, something that you’re hard pressed to find for Linux. Also, if your computer was purchased with Vista pre-installed, you could check your warranty to see if you qualify for a free tuneup.

Ease of Use

This one point is a real make or break when you’re looking for a operating system. If you’ve been an driving automatic for your whole life, why buy a manual transmission car? Same with your OS, if you’ve been using Microsoft operating systems for your whole life, why would you want to use Linux? Linux is definitely not for the casual user, which the majority of computer users are.

Vista is designed with you in mind – hmmmmm… maybe I should hit up Microsoft, that’s catchy. Anyway, everything is so simple, it’s like point and click. Vista will notify you of any changes that are happening, it will ask you what you want to do, and recommend what should be done. All this giving you the best user experience, for the novice or even the regular user, and best of all, no repositories to hunt through.


Linux users think they have this in the bag, but have you ever heard of “useless eyecandy”? Well, that’s all these desktop effects that they rave about are. Unless you absolutely need to make it snow on your desktop, or flip between work spaces in a virtual cube, then the visual effects offered in Linux’s Compiz fusion, and other like software, is just overkill and pointless. Switching operating systems to use desktop effects doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in itself anyway.

Vista utilizes it’s desktop effects for realistic tasks, like sorting through your open tabs. It’s one to have something that looks good, but to have it also be functional and purposeful is another story, and Windows Vista pulls it off.

Ubuntu How To

Geek!This is Sam-M’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

This is a ‘How-To’ for all you curious minds out there who like the idea of Linux and would like to have it either as a primary or even a secondary operating system, but are having trouble installing or need help with Ubuntu Linux. This article is focused mainly on Dell Vostro or Inspiron series notebooks since I explain how to fix the wireless problem that Dell initially has with Linux, but it can also be used for non-Dell users.

So, lets get started!

I will be teaching you how to install Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04LTS operating system, the wireless driver for Dell Vostro and Inspiron series notebooks, as well as the Compiz Fusion EyeCandy; the basics to get your Linux up and running with a working wireless connection as well as some cool desktop effects to go along with the whole Linux experience.

NOTE: Installation of Ubuntu 8.04 is actually pretty much the same as the installation of any other previous version of Ubuntu or Kubuntu.

Ubuntu requires a little bit of work to be done before it installs properly on your computer.
Follow this guide, and you will be enjoying the Linux experience in no time!

Step 1: Where to get Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a free / open source operating system. It can be downloaded for free, shipped to you for free on a CD, or you can also get newer versions of Ubuntu Linux all from the Ubuntu website.

Step 2: Installing Ubuntu (CD)

Important: If you choose to download Ubuntu, you are still required to go through this process. Follow the instructions that are available on Ubuntu’s website on how to get the downloaded file on to a CD. Once you have burned the CD, follow the steps below:

1. Preparing your computer through BIOS

This is a very essential step. This step prepares your computer to recognize the Ubuntu Live CD and uses the CD to boot first regardless of what operating system you have on your hard-drive.

  • Place the CD in your DVD drive and reboot the computer.
  • When you see the initial boot-screen with the Dell logo in the middle, press “F2.” This loads your BIOS where you are required to make a few changes.
  • Image 1

  • Now press the Right Arrow key repeatedly until the “Boot” tab is selected. Once in the Boot tab, press the Down Arrow key repeatedly until your DVD drive is selected. Now press the “+” or the “-” key on your keyboard to change the priority for the DVD drive (use “Shift” key for “+”). Pressing “+” raises the selection, which is in this case the DVD drive, and “-” lowers the selection’s priority in the boot order.
  • Once you are done with that process, press “F10” and then select “Exit Saving Changes”
  • Image 3

  • The computer will now reboot and will use the DVD drive first.
  • Image 4

Your computer is now set-up to load Ubuntu using the CD as its first priority.

2. Loading Ubuntu (CD)

Once your computer has rebooted, the Ubuntu Boot Options screen will first appear.

  • Press “Enter” to select “Start or install Ubuntu”
  • Image 5

  • Ubuntu will now start to boot up, this may take some time.
  • Image 6
    Image 7

3. Installing Ubuntu (CD)

Now that Ubuntu has booted, you will see the general layout of the Ubuntu Desktop. You will see a few icons, one being “Install” and the other being “Examples.” If you see any other icons on your desktop, they are most likely to be any external devices that you have connected to your computer such as a USB Flash drive, or an external hard-drive. Ubuntu is now running through the Live CD, you can play around with the system and get a hang of it and see if you like it. The system at this point in time will run relatively slowly as it is running off the Live CD. Lets go on and install the operating system on your hard-drive.

  • Click on the “Install” icon and follow the on-screen instructions.
  • Image 8

  • You will be asked to enter your time zone, keyboard layout, login name, and then finally, you will be asked to enter the location on your computer where you would like to install Ubuntu. Your options are according to the hard-drive you choose; Master: Erase the entire disk (and install Ubuntu on a clean hard-drive), Manually edit the partition table (and create as many partitions as you like and the size of each partitions. This option also allows you to have another OS running besides Ubuntu itself.) Your last option is a Slave or an external hard-drive, if you have one connected.
    • For the Manually edit option, you must enter one partition named “/” as mount point and the file system as ‘ext3’s and another partition called ‘swap’ and that must be of at least 200MB in size.
  • Follow any other on-screen instructions, and Ubuntu will start to install. This will take some time, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Once Ubuntu is installed, it will ask you whether to restart your computer and run Ubuntu off the hard-drive or to continue using the Live CD.

You now have Ubuntu successfully installed on your system.

Step 3: Enabling all software-sources (a very important step)

It is very important for you to enable software-sources, as it allows Linux to download any necessary files and packages off Ubuntu’s website and other related websites. Following this step will be great help when installing the wireless driver as well as Compiz-Fusion EyeCandy later on in the tutorial.

  • Go to:
    • “System” tab
      • “Administration” tab
        • Software Sources
  • Under the “Ubuntu Software” tab, check-mark the following:
    • Canonical-supported Open Source software (main)
    • Community-maintained Open Source software (universe)
    • Proprietary drivers for devices (restricted)
    • Software restricted by copyright or legal issues (multiverse)

Image 9

  • Next, go to the “Updates” tab, and check-mark the following:
    • Important security updates (hardy-security)
    • Recommended updates (hardy-updates)
    • Pre-released updates (hardy-proposed)
    • Unsupported updates (Hardy-backports)

Image 10

Step 4: Installing Wireless driver using ndiswrapper (for Dell users only)

    (Please follow instructions properly and carefully)

  • First, with your Ubuntu desktop fully loaded, go to:
    • “Applications” tab
      • “Accessories” tab
        • Terminal
  • (NOTE: This setup works best on a fresh install of Ubuntu, and therefore it is necessary to uninstall all previous versions of ndiswrapper before we continue) The following code should be entered one at a time into ‘Terminal’:
    • sudo rmmod ndiswrapper
    • sudo ndiswrapper -e bcmwl5
    • sudo apt-get remove ndiswrapper-utils
    • (If you get errors, do not worry because these lines of code above are just there to confirm that there are no files regarding ndiswrapper present before we get into the installation.)

  • Now we get the needed packages for the installation, go to and download the appropriate driver for your wireless lan card according to your notebook model number. For those with Dell Inspiron 1501 series and Vostro 1000 series, the driver can be found here:
  • Now enter the following code:

    • sudo apt-get update
    • sudo apt-get install build-essential
    • sudo apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`

    • (Note: The characters around `uname -r` are back-tics and it is found above the “Tab” key and to the left of the number “1” key.)

  • Next, we need to download the ndiswrapper program and that can be found here:
  • Next, we uncompress/unzip the ndiswrapper-1.49 file (In terminal, type the location where you have downloaded the files. In this example we’ll download the files to the desktop, so the location will be, home>user-name>Desktop, we’ll type this in terminal as: “/home/user-name/Desktop/ndiswrapper-1.49.tar.gz”)
    • tar -xzvf /home/user-name/Desktop/ndiswrapper-1.49.tar.gz
  • Now, we blacklist the default bcm43xx firmware drivers that try to install upon Ubuntu installation
    • sudo -s
    • echo blacklist bcm43xx >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist
    • exit
  • After rebooting, go to the location where you extracted ndiswrapper (in our example, the ndiswrapper directory is no longer, “/home/user-name/Desktop,” it is now, “/home/user-name/ndiswrapper-1.49”)
    • cd /home/user-name/ndiswrapper-1.49
    • sudo make uninstall
    • (enter the above code “sudo make uninstall” several times until you receive a message that says, no files and/or directories found)

    • sudo make
    • sudo make install
  • Now we install the Dell Wireless Lan Card driver, in terminal, enter the location where you downloaded the files (in our example, it is “/home/user-name/Desktop”)
    • unzip -a /home/user-name/Desktop/R151519.exe
  • Now go to the “DRIVER” directory in your ndiswrapper-1.49 folder
    • cd /home/user-name/ndiswrapper-1.49/DRIVER
    • sudo ndiswrapper -i bcmwl5.inf
    • sudo ndiswrapper -l
    • (you should see a message that says the following:

        bcmwl5 : driver installed

          device (14E4:4311) present (alternate driver: wl))
    • sudo ndiswrapper -m
    • sudo modprobe ndiswrapper
    • sudo echo ndiswrapper >> /etc/modules
    • (you should now see your WiFi light on your notebook illuminated, if its not, try pressing “Fn-F2”)

      • sudo -s
      • echo ndiswrapper >> /etc/modules
      • exit
    • Time to test the wireless adapter
      • sudo iwlist scanning

      (at this point, Ubuntu will tell you whether or not it has found any networks that you can connect to and even if it doesn’t, you should still see the following:

      • lo Interface doesn’t support scanning.
      • eth0 Interface doesn’t support scanning.
      • wmaster0 Interface doesn’t support scanning.
      • eth1 Scan completed)
  • If you see “eth1 Scan completed,” Ubuntu has installed your Wireless Lan Card successfully.
  • I would suggest for you to install ‘network-manager’ for a better user-interface and easier connectivity
  • (If it didn’t already install when you installed Ubuntu).

Step 5: Compiz-Fusion EyeCandy (the last step)

1. Preparing your Graphics Card

  • The first step to install Compiz-Fusion on your Linux is to enable your graphics card. Goto:
    • “System” menu
      • “Preferences” menu
        • Hardware Devices
  • With Hardware Devices window open, look under Device driver for your graphics card.
  • Check-mark “Enabled,” and click Close.
  • Restart your computer.
  • Once your Ubuntu is rebooted, you should get an icon in the system tray that says “New restricted drivers in use.”
  • Click on that icon, and Hardware Devices window should open again, but this time the Status should say, “In Use.” (If you are having a problem, you can leave a comment detailing what problems you are facing, and I will get back to you.)

2. Installing Compiz-Fusion

  • There are two ways to install Compiz Fusion in Ubuntu. One using Terminal and the other using Synaptic Package Manager.
    • The Terminal way
      • Go to: “Applications” menu
        • “Accessories” menu
          • Terminal
    • All the latest versions of Ubuntu such as 8.04 and 8.10 come with Compiz-Fusion pre-installed. All we need to do is install the Compiz-Fusion Settings Manager
    • In terminal type:
      • sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
    • To run Compiz-Fusion Settings Manager, scroll down to “3. Enabling Visual Effects”
    • Next we install the necessary packages, in Terminal type:
      • sudo apt-get install compiz compizconfig-backend-gconf compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-core compiz-dev compiz-fusion-bcop compiz-fusion-plugins-extra compiz-fusion-plugins-main compiz-fusion-plugins-unsupported compiz-gnome compiz-plugins compiz-wrapper libdecoration0 libdecoration0-dev libcompizconfig0 libcompizconfig0-dev python-compizconfig fusion-icon simple-ccsm emerald
      • (Copy the above and paste it in Terminal, as is, if necessary)

    • The Synaptic Package Manager way
      • Go to: “System” menu
        • “Administration” menu
          • Synaptic Package Manager
    • Click search and enter: “compizconfig-settings-manager”
    • Click on the box and select “Mark for Installation.”
      • Click “Mark” on any following window if it asks about Dependencies

Image 11

    • Next search for “Emerald” and follow the same instructions as above.

Image 12

    • Once finished, click the “Apply” button.
      • This will start the download and installation procedure.
    • Once installed, close the “Synaptic Package Manager”

3. Enabling Visual Effects

  • Now go to the “System” menu
    • “Preferences” menu
      • Appearance
        • Click on the “Visual Effects” tab
        • and then click on “Extra” and then close the window

Image 13

    • Your visual effects should now be enabled.
  • Now go to the “System” menu again
    • “Preferences” menu
      • Advanced Desktop Effects Settings
      • (Here you can enable and disable the effects you want, such as 3D desktop effects; Cube Effects; Water and Fire Effects; Closing, Opening, Focusing, Minimizing Effects, etc.)

Image 14

4. Themes

  • Go to the “System” menu, once again
    • “Preferences” menu
      • Emerald Theme Manager
      • (This is the program we installed when we were in Synaptics Package Manager)

  • This is where you can access your themes that you can download
  • You can download themes from
  • It is recommended that you download emerald themes to your Desktop
  • Once you have a theme downloaded to your Desktop, open “Emerald Theme Manager” and click on the “Import button”

Image 15

  • Browse to your Desktop and select the downloaded theme, and click Open.
  • Activate the theme by clicking on it and then close the Emerald window.
  • Press “ALT-F2” on your keyboard and enter: “emerald –replace”
  • This will activate your theme
  • Once your theme is activated, you can move the downloaded theme file anywhere you like.

Congratulations! You have now successfully installed one of the latest versions of Ubuntu Linux, the next major operating system. You can browse the web, open documents, spreadsheets, presentations, chat and do much more with the next generation visual effects that OS X and Vista wish they had.

I hope you enjoy your Linux experience. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to post them below in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

Is Microsoft Windows Security a Myth?

Geek!This is Sushruta’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Any Linux geek would tell you Linux thrashes Windows in more ways than one. But does it? And why? What makes a system better than another? At this stage, are they even different at all?

If there were no Windows vs. Linux battles, the geek life would have been notably duller. Technology forums would inevitably get boring, and life would generally never be the same. The most contentious issue, of course, is security — Windows is notorious for not having much in that department. However, Vista is loaded with a bunch of new security measures, and claims to be able to thwart malicious software better.

What makes an operating system more secure? The way it’s built, of course. And that is the question we’re asking. But first, some myth-busting.

The biggest security breaches occur when malware is allowed to run with on your system with elevated privileges — which means that it has access to critical programs and data that only your system’s kernel should have. Once it’s reached that level, your PC becomes its humble servant, and can be brought down at the slightest whim. Who gives this malware its privileges? Well, you do.

With Windows XP, the person who installs the operating system becomes the Administrator, so if you’re the only one using your PC, you’ve got the privileges to wreak all sorts of havoc, should you choose to. Consequently, any application you install and run is also accorded the same royal treatment, no questions asked. Now add to that the fact that Windows’ system services run under a user account called SYSTEM (you can check this out in the Task Manager)—the most powerful account on your system, with access to everything critical—and that the first processes that malicious programs hijack are system services. You’ll be drawing pretty accurate conclusions by now…

Vista, thankfully, changes this. The user who installs Vista is still part of the Administrators group, but even this administrator runs with regular, limited privileges. When administrative tasks—including installing new programs—need performing, User Account Control (UAC) kicks in, telling you that you need to give the task a go-ahead before it, well, goes ahead. If you read the UAC prompt and don’t know the program it’s warning you about, you can prevent it from running. But what if you’ve blindly allowed the task to continue ?

Services in Linux run as separate users, with access only to files that they own; more often than not, they don’t even have the rights to use the terminal, so they can’t run commands or start other services. This is where the multi-user approach comes handy again—since users are isolated from each other, services can’t access the data used by other services. The Apache server, for instance, runs as a user called www-data, which only has access to the Web pages it serves. If a hacker exploits an Apache vulnerability to get into the www-data user account, he can’t really do much to the other services, because www-data doesn’t own those files. He can, however, mess with Web pages, so while this isn’t a doomsday scenario, it’s certainly not ideal.

What is the scope of the damage it can do? Again, with both Linux and Vista, damage caused by malware is restricted to the service it exploits, and the files that the service can access. What happens when the malware goes about its dirty deed? With Vista, if a critical service—like the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service—is compromised, all manners of chaos may ensue. Every application under Windows needs to use RPC, so you’re sunk without it. With Linux, services aren’t as tightly integrated with the OS, so while your Linux PC can be crippled—some applications won’t run, you may not have network access and so on—the kernel is still safe, which means that with a little root wizardry, it can be brought back to life again.

Bottom line: for daily desktop use, both systems are equally secure — but if things do go wrong, they go more wrong with Windows.

Reasons to Switch from OS X or Windows to Ubuntu

Geek!This is PrivateVoid’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

All too often, popular tech-blogs engage in the old and tired debate about why you should switch to OS X or stay with Windows. The argument has boiled down to one hip ‘Mac’ guy making fun of a ‘PC’ guy or Seinfeld talking with Gates about the proper fit of a pair of conquistadors. I would like to advert your attention to the following salient points just in case watching insipid ads is not enough to make you consider the other alternative. The other alternative, the one that both Microsoft and Apple are afraid to mention, is GNU/Linux.

Reason 1: Freedom

Apple and OS X offers freedom from choice. Microsoft and Windows offers you freedom of hardware choice. Ubuntu and GNU/Linux offer you total freedom. You can choose the graphical interface of your OS and are not stuck with what the denizens Redmond or Cupertino chose for you. With Ubuntu, you can choose the default look and feel of Gnome, KDE or Xfce. If the default style is not to your liking can customize your desktop. You can make it look just like OS X, Windows XP or Windows Vista. The choice is yours, not theirs! Beyond the look and feel you also have the freedom to choose between thousands of programs.

Reason 2: Secure

Despite the bleating noise coming from Cupertino about OS X not having any exploits and the daydreams of Redmond that Vista is now truly secure, neither solution offers the security of Ubuntu and GNU/Linux. The greatest threats to computer security are no longer viruses or worms. They are trojan horses delivered through clever social engineering attacks. Such attacks often depend on a user to run an install or agree to a pop-up. Windows XP had no built-in security to defend against these exploits. The security of OS X and Vista are similar, but still only require a user to agree to running the application. The ease of doing so results in most users hitting the OK button before they engage their brain. With Linux you often have to mark files as executable and you have to know that you want to run them with administrative rights before you launch them. While it is still possible to fool a Linux user into running malware, the likelihood is greatly diminished due to the number of steps it takes. For OS X and Vista the user experience still trumps security.

Reason 3: Lower Cost

To get OS X, you must purchase hardware that in most cases is $400 – $500 more than comparable non-Apple hardware. To run Windows Vista, you have to buy more expensive hardware due to the high system requirements. The system requirements for Ubuntu are the following:

Xubuntu requires 128 MB of RAM and 1.9 GB of hard disk space. Ubuntu requires 256 MB of RAM and 4GB of hard drive space.

Compare that to those for Windows Vista, which requires a 1Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 and has a 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive with 15 GB of space.

Or with OS X, which requires an 867Mhz processor, 512 MB of RAM (1 GB of RAM if you want to use the developer tools) and 9GB of disk space.

While both Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X come with a nice selection of included software, neither can beat the vast software library available in the Ubuntu repositories.

Reason 4: Community

The Ubuntu community is a thriving global community that uses, supports and contributes to GNU/Linux. There are copious amounts of documentation on-line and thousands of people willing to assist with any problems you encounter or questions you have. When you elect to use Ubuntu, you join that community. When you buy OS X or Microsoft Windows, you become a faceless unimportant customer to a large company that will often treat you like cattle. Ubuntu has local community groups in all fifty states and over one hundred countries including Uruguay, Iran, Luxembourg, Georgia, Estonia, Norway, Belgium and Chile.

Reason 5: Ease of Installation

Contrary to popular opinion, Ubuntu is easy to install. You simply download the appropriate ISO and burn it to a CD or you can order an Ubuntu CD from Once you have the CD, you simply boot your computer using the CD and follow the simple instructions in the graphical installer. For most users, the process takes roughly 15-20 minutes and when it is done you are greeted with a fully functioning computer complete with productivity applications. The installation is much faster and when it is complete you will not spend the next two hours installing patches, drivers and applications like you would with Windows.

In the end, the choice of which OS to choose is yours. I hope that this quick top five article has opened your eyes to the very powerful alternative of Ubuntu and GNU/Linux.