New Ubuntu

Ubuntu Intrepd Ibex (8.10) is out.  If you want to upgrade, I say wait a day or two before upgrading anything.  Also, choose a mirror close to you for a normal upgrade, or go get a torrent if you’re doing a fresh install.

Here is a site on upgrading via Bittorrent (instead of just grabbing the iso) which looks interesting, though I haven’t tried it.  If you’re in upstate NY, you can use the RIT Mirror.

I don’t recommend upgrading a production machine right away, as there will be some things needing fixing.  Actually, if you have an inmportant server, don’t upgrade unless you really need to, as if everything works you’re probably best off not changing it.

Keeping Flash Stable in Firefox

There is a bug in the current flash player for Linux which, in Ubuntu, will cause FireFox to crash during YouTube videos.  Now, a quick solution to this is to simply remove the package libflashsupport, but this keeps you from being able to use Flash with Pulseaudio, which lets you have multiple things using the sound card at the same time (some sound cards can do hardware mixing, but a lot can’t, hence the need to do it in software with the sound server).  Overall this is very annoying, especially for a desktop OS.

There is, however, a solution.  Basically, you need to update a bunch of packages to the versions intended for the next release, which is Intrepid Ibex (at the time of this writing).  There are details on the problem in this thread, and you can go to this thread for the fix.  Here is the gist of it, though.  Just remember, while this worked for me, do this at you’re own risk:

First, stick the following two lines into your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb intrepid main
deb-src intrepid main

Next, enter the following at the command line:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Just accept both packages; it will have to uninstall your current versions too.  The above worked for me; be aware of the package names in case you need to uninstall them.  They should be listed on the thread I linked too.

Another interesting thing to do is to run the flash plugin within nspluginwrapper, which is usually used to let you run it on different architectures like PPC or x86_64.  The first thread I linked to has a link for a specially-compiled 32 bit version of nspluginwrapper, allowing you to run it on normal x86.  This makes Flash run as a separate process, so that if it crashes, it won’t bring down FireFox.  Also, as it runs as a separate process, it runs faster on multicore/multi processor machines.

Hope this helps!

Getting Help With Linux

Typical open source *nix distributions open up quite an array of possibilities.  Using one you can easily set up a Web, Email, Database or whatever server.  You can do it with anything from an old PC you have laying around to a brand new server type machine too, on either a fast connection in a datacenter or your residential broadband connection.  And, if you’re new to these operating systems, setting up a server is a great way to learn.

Although the task of say setting up a Web server for a site like this is not very hard, for the new user it can be kind of intimidating.  Just as knowing how to use Microsoft Office does not automatically qualify you to run a Windows Web server, being familiar with say Ubuntu GNU/Linux as a desktop OS does not instantly mean you’re ready to set up Apache.  If one wants to learn to set up some sort of service, there are of course places to turn, namely the program’s Web site.  Google is also a great reference; just typing in something like linux apache php mysql yields numerous tutorials, for Linux and other systems.  Different distributions also have guides and tutorials.

Now, obviously a tutorial is only so helpful; at some point you’ll probalby need to ask a question.  Forums, mailing lists, and IRC channels are all great for this, and just about all Linux distros have these associated with them.  And so begins the major point of contention new *nix users might have:  You ask a question, and you’re told to go and RTFM (read the fucking fine manual).  Maybe there are more swears in there, or something else very rude.  This no doubt leaves new users with the impression that open source/Linux people are arrogant, elitest pricks.

Well, here’s the thing.  Arrogant, elitest pricks are everywhere; they exist in the open source movement, in businesses, at school, in the government, everywhere.  I won’t deny that you may very well talk to someone like that, and that they may very well waste your time.  It’s one of the risks you take when you interact with people.  But to say that all of us are like that is a rampant generalization.  Now, this is a hard thing to hear when you’re in the process of trying to get your new file server up and running, but you should really think about how exactly you ask the question.

Usually, people who get responses such as those mentioned above do so after asking a balnd, general question.  “How do I set up Samba?” is one such example.  As I mentioned, there are plenty of documents and guides for doing this.  Most of the time, this is just going to annoy people in a forum who are already aware of such guides, and figure that turning to say Google or the distributin’s home page should be blatantly obvious.  Sometimes, people will be nice and point you to a favorite guide they have, or will maybe give you a general response that probably won’t be all that useful (Do sudo apt-get install Samba, edit /etc/samba/smb.conf, add Samba users, and then do sudo /etc/init.d/samba restart.) to you as a new user.  And then some people will tell you to f*** off.

Again, there are assholes, and you will run into them.  But also remember that using only text it’s quite possible for emotions to be misinterpreted or even lost completely.  And, many users of open source are just that: users.  They are hanging around on forums on their own time, which they don’t like to waste.  So, a user may come off as an asshole anyway.  How can you minimize this and not make everyone think you’re an idiot n00b?  Well, it’s simple:

  • Try use Google or applicable documentation first.  Try to get whatever it is working on your own the best you can.
  • If you’re just not sure of something, ask about that specifically in say a forum rather than “How do I configure xyz.”  As long as you give some indication that you actually tried to read and understand available material so the other members don’t have to regurgitate it, you’ll probably be fine.
  • Take note of any errors, or strange behavior, and ask specific questions using this information.  Get comfortable going through things like system logs also; they can provide helpful information for people who really know what the program does and can thus provide the best advice.
  • Search the forums for similar issues; someone else may have had your problem and solved it.  If not, you may be able to get an idea of how to tackle your problem, or what information to provide the community.
  • Finally, along with the above say you’re a newbie, and that you’re doing your best to get your machine running.  Remember you’re interacting with people, not a machine like with Google.  Be polite.

Now, before I go on, I would just like to point out that this does not give experienced users the right to be jerks at the tip of a hat.  Some people will troll, and just try to annoy, but if someone seems genuinely confused, but maybe not accustomed to the community support model a forum provides, the appropriate response is to politely inform them to go through the proper channels.

Well hopefully this will clear some things up.  Just remember that a lot of what response you get depends on how you ask the question.  So, take a moment, and make sure you’re holding up your end.

Simplified Linux

As a Linux user (and user of other open source software), I’m generally one to bring it up as an option when I hear someone talk about computer problems (mostly Windows-related).  Some people take an interest, and give it a go.  Others note the things they do that are Windows-specific.  Still others couldn’t care less about what their comptuer actually runs.

At any rate, thanks to Ubuntu, Linux is now within the reach of more people.  The user interface has been polished quite well, to the point where many of the issues people might have with it have more to do with being better aquainted with a different system like Windows than with actual technical problems.  (The interface is Gnome in Ubuntu’s case, but I think this goes for KDE, XFCE, and other desktops as well.)  In fact, for some areas you might say the interface is better.  (I know someone who prefers Gnome to OS X’s Aqua also.)  And, thanks to livecds, Ubuntu is spreading.

The interesting thing is the reaction from the Linux community.  Particularly, that of Gentoo Linux.  Gentoo is a distribution meant for power users; you basically build the system up from source code when you install it.  (Presently they don’t recommend you compile the entire system, though years ago this was what I did for my first install.  It took me three days, partly because I didn’t know what I was doing so much.)  As such, there can be a small amount of elitism as people contemplate whether or not distributions like Ubuntu are good, due to the fact that there are now grandmothers using Linux systems and others who otherwise would not have access to them.  There is some cause for concern here; after all, this means that in a way public perception of Linux in general may begin to ride largely on how well Ubuntu is maintained.

I’ve used Gentoo a lot (and still do on a couple servers), and it’s a great system.  However, on the desktop it could frustrate me sometimes.  It is a very bleeding-edge distro, and so while I would end up using the new versions of all the software, sometimes things would break.  After a while I decided I would rather spend more time using my desktop than configuring it, and so when I built my new computer I decided on Ubuntu.  In addition, I’ve switched a few of my friends as well as my brother to it, and they have been happy.  They haven’t had a lot of trouble searchign forums and Google when they encounter problems, and overall it works out well for them.  I don’t think that making Linux more user friendly is a bad thing, you just have to keep in mind that it is diverse.  It is many things to different people; to some it is a desktop, to other it’s a server, to still others it’s an embedded system, etc.  And, for those making the switch, just remember that you are switching to a new operating system.  Of course it will be a little weird, it was for me.