Using Linux thus far…

* Virus, Adware, Spyware, etc.
So far the main difference between using Windows XP and Linux has been that there has been no need to install antivirus, antispyware or antiadware (popup) programs. Granted, because I always stayed very up to date with Windows updates and the latest (free) antivirus (NOD32 or AVGFree), spyware (SpyBot Search and Destroy) and adware (Lavasoft AdAware), I never had a virus or adware pop-up invasion. But other people do, and there have been reports of people even throwing away their entire computer to get a new one. These are the folks that would benefit most from a switch to Linux, I think.

* Finding and installing new programs
Another difference is the ease of looking for new programs, installing them and removing programs you don’t like or don’t use. I mentioned this before, but it’s basically as simple as two clicks to see a huge searchable list of hundreds programs (separated by category), then you tick the boxes of the programs you want (or untick the programs you want to remove), click ‘OK’ and the machine removes or installs the programs as needed. No restarting, nothing, and you can go on and browse the web or whatever while that’s going on.

* Multiple desktops
Having multiple desktops is a nice thing to have as well. At the bottom right of the screen (by default) are two ‘micro screens’ that show the placement of windows on your desktop. Say you are working on a graphics program to edit photos, an FTP program to upload the photos, and an HTML editor to put the photos on your website. (Fully-featured versions of these programs are available for free for Linux, by the way. And for most people, they’re competitive against programs like Photoshop, CuteFTP and Dreamweaver, too. For free.) All three of those programs would be open in their own windows, on what you could call a ‘work’ desktop. On *another* desktop, you could be doing system stuff like running a terminal window (more on that later), checking email, and browsing the web. Of course, as with the graphics and web editors, you get a fully-featured email program and a great

* Problems?
I wouldn’t call them ‘problems’, more ‘settling in’ and getting things exactly the way I want them…

The main issue: playing Flash video (FOR 64-BIT SYSTEM *ONLY*) – this was merely annoying, because I couldn’t view YouTube videos or Flash-embedded videos on other websites. This was solved recently by a user on UbuntuForums.org going by the name of ‘Kilz’, who wrote a script that solved all the 64-bit & Firefox problems. For normal 32-bit computers the hassle isn’t a major one, simply run a few lines of code as directed on the Ubuntu Feisty Guide online. 64-bit support for Ubuntu may be slower than 32-bit but it’s nowhere near as slow as for Windows!
The even bigger issue: not installing graphics drivers. This was almost a showstopper, because Firefox (which uses a lot of memory) was crashing on me constantly when I was opening or closing a few windows. I tried alternatives like SwiftFox, Epiphany and SwiftWeasel, but they would crash also. I posted about the problem on the Ubuntu Forums and was reminded that I should have installed the latest drivers for my video card. Silly me, I should have known to do that! After installing the Envy program, job’s a good ‘un, no problems since.

Minor issues include figuring out how to navigate the directory structure in the terminal (or console), and also setting file/folder permissions so I could move loads of files from old hard drives into my personal directory on a new hard drive.

Linux update

Recently (well, recently in home computer use time, in real time it’s maybe 2 months ago!) I got a new hard drive for my main computer at home. It’s a 250gb SATA drive to replace the two 120gb IDE drives that I had installed previously. The IDE drives will go to: A) a local server/bittorrent client file server machine that I need to finish building, and B) a media PC that I need to finish building, which will act like Tivo/Sky+ for me.

I realized after I had everything installed and running on the new drive that I should have gotten a 500gb drive instead of the 250gb, after all why upgrade to a single drive that’s marginally bigger than the drives I had installed (even if it is much faster) when I could more than double my hard drive space for not much more money? Oh well, live and learn. By the time I actually fill the new drive, prices will probably be even lower than they are now, and besides I’ll be shifting a lot of the stuff on the drive to the file server anyway.

So anyway I’ve been struggling recently with crashes when using my Ubuntu Linux, at first it seemed that Firefox was the problem so I tried different browsers but that didn’t fully solve the problem. CPU time and memory usage seemed to be the indicators, and Firefox is notoriously memory-hungry. With help from various users on the Ubuntu Forums I was able to sort out what it was: I hadn’t installed the current video drivers on the machine, and the system wasn’t able to handle the load and would dump me to the login screen.

I’d been meaning to anyway, but I was encouraged to load in the Envy script for Ubuntu, which basically autodetects your video card, installs the latest correct driver for it, sets the video settings for Ubuntu and lets you go on your merry way. This is awesome because ATI is notoriously bad for providing Linux support (well, ‘bad’ in that Nvidia, their only competition, provides good Linux support for their stuff!), and this guy basically wrote a program that does all the file finding and conversions, etc., for you. Err…me.

While I was at it, I installed user Kilz’s script for enabling 64-bit Flash in Firefox, which is amazing. It’s amazing because Adobe (who bought Macromedia recently, the people who made Flash in the first place) is notoriously bad for providing Linux support for their products. Having a functional YouTube site (or any other video site) is awesome because since I installed Ubuntu Linux in March I haven’t been able to see Flash videos on websites!

It’s getting better and better, really it is.

Next up for the Linux machine is:
1. setting up Azureus (the top BitTorrent downloading client) to optimize it fully
2. setting up the DVD burning solution (k3b and dvdcopy in Wine Windows emulator
3. setting up Cedega so I can play games like Civilization 4, Warcraft 3 and others

Stupid DRM

You know that big hoo-hah with the code that was all over the internet a couple of weeks back, that supposedly would let huge amounts of people copy HD-DVD’s to their heart’s content? Well the group that made all the fuss about the code has a NEW code out for HD-DVD’s that are coming out in the next few weeks and guess what? It’s already been broken.

I’ve commented before that code monkeys paid to come up with copyright protection for their day job will never be able to compete with hordes of people who enjoy cracking codes and sticking to the man as a hobby.

Like BoingBoing says: “DRM doesn’t work (this DRM took years and cost millions, it was broken in days, for free, by hobbyists). Pirates who download movies don’t ever see DRM. Honest customers who buy media are the only people who ever get restricted by it — and it’s clear that a lot of people aren’t willing to pay money for movies that are less useful than the pirate versions they can get for free.”

More Linux!

Well I haven’t updated all week so far so I thought I’d give it a go today.

Been busy getting stuff off of Freecyclers (check out http://www.freecycle.org, it’s great) where I’ve been getting free computer parts like cases, motherboards, power supplies, DVD drives, RAM, etc., basically collecting parts to make a couple of ‘new’ computers.

=But Frank, you’ve already got an uber-powerful 64-bit system with a window in the side, silver cables, blue lighting, etc., what the hell do you want two more computers for?

Well basically I’m on this Linux kick now and now that I’ve gotten used to using it on a daily basis (been using Ubuntu Linux for a month) I want to make what amounts to a media PC. Basically a computer that will work as file storage for recorded TV shows, pictures, music files and other stuff, that will sit in a room somewhere and record TV shows and movies and ‘serve’ the recorded shows to other rooms of the house.

With this software setup called MythTV (www.mythtv.org), it’s possible to have one media server (central computer) act as the ‘hub’ of an entertainment network that allows you to:

play back recorded TV shows (the main reason to have it),
use as a picture viewer on the TV, and
play back music & movie files through the entertainment system or TV

These are the most common reasons people might have a media PC, but there are also these really cool things you can do with MythTV:

read news feeds (RSS) over the internet
play emulated games (basically, any old Nintendo, Sega, arcade and other games)
and there’s more you can do, I just can’t remember what exactly 🙂

=Wow, that sounds like it’ll be able to do loads of things!

Well…yeah 🙂 The only trouble is, it will take some patience to set up because even the most user-friendly of Linux installs (Ubuntu, by all accounts) can require some finagling to get working just the way you want it, and with MythTV you have to install and set up various software and hardware components and get them all working properly. You can get support online through mailing lists and forums, but you have to have a decent knowledge of what you’re doing in the first place, plus the confidence to add, rearrange and customize your computer system – and I’m not just talking about adding some RAM or a hard drive either!

OK so I’ve gotten enough computer parts off Freecycle to set up a couple of computers, plus bit the bullet and bought a couple of bits off eBay to complete the media box – an AMD CPU to fit a motherboard I was given, plus the critical component of a Hauppage dual tuner TV card. Two tuners means I can record two shows at once, or watch one show and record another, or watch AND record a show while I record another. The beauty of the MythTV setup is that I could add more tuner cards so I could record several shows at the same time, but I don’t see having ‘just’ two tuners being a problem yet. I have been in a situation where I couldn’t watch a show I wanted to watch because my housemate’s digital TV recorder was recording two other shows, but I reckon this will be rare – and besides, a second card with a single tuner is about £25 on eBay so it wouldn’t be a big deal to upgrade I think.

The final part I need to complete the media box is a big hard drive, and I have two big (120GB) drives in my main computer, but of course they have stuff on them! What I’ll probably do is buy a big (320GB) SATA hard drive (these are about £50 online), put that in my main computer, partition it accordingly, install Windows XP and Ubuntu on that, and use the two 120GB drives in the media PC. That will give me loads and loads of room to record stuff, store music files and everything. Eventually I’ll want to get two SATA drives of the same size and use them in a RAID array so I have total backup and everything, but that will mean getting a new motherboard that has SATA capability, which will mean I’ll want to upgrade the CPU and RAM as well, and that will be about £300, so it’ll be a while before I can do that.

So with the third computer, I’m planning to use that as a generic ‘test mule’ machine, basically installing various types of Linux operating systems on it and giving them a try to see how I like them. It probably won’t be used very much, as my main computer will be probably four or five times faster than this one and used daily.

Overall, this is how the computers will break down once I’m done getting everything hooked up and running:

main computer – daily use, internet, DVD copying, gaming
AMD 64FX-55
1GB RAM
250GB or 320GB SATA hard drive
ATI x1600 graphics
2 DVD 16x burners

test mule – playing about with different Linux distributions
Intel Celeron 733
256MB RAM (roughly)
10-20GB hard drive
onboard Intel graphics (3D at least)
1 DVD drive (won’t be used much for burning)

media Linux box
AMD Sempron 2600+
512MB to 1GB RAM
120GB to 240GB hard drive (frikkin’ WEEKS of recording time)
nVidia FX5700 graphics
1 DVD drive (won’t be used much for burning though)

Complicated? Yeah…

Overly complicated? Probably, but if it gets working the way I want it to, it’ll be absolutely smokin’ 🙂 It will certainly take some time and lots of effort but I’m sure it’ll work out fine.