Tag Archives: howto

Words of Experience on Starting with Ubuntu– Part 2

Earlier this week, with the new version of Ubuntu due in just days, I wrote a little about switching over from Windows for the first time. These are just a few of the things that I found particularly beneficial during process when I finally got started with Linux about a year-and-a-half ago. Today, I’m talking about software.

Wine — When You Just Can’t Live Without That Old Software

Wordy often asks a lot of the same questions that I had out of the chute: “What program am I going to use for [X, Y, and Z] when I switch over?” I’ve found the answer is usually one or the other– “there is something better in Linux that does the same thing,” or “you can keep using the same program.”

Obviously, a lot of very popular software has been developed on both platforms. I really don’t need to go into Firefox or other Mozilla products, and it’s fairly well-publicized that Google is at the forefront of offering their apps in a format that runs natively on Linux. When you just can’t find something to do that one special task, though, there is always Wine.

To quote directly from their site, “think of Wine as a compatibility layer for running Windows programs.” Once you install Wine, you will (almost always) be able to run a *.exe setup program to install your Windows software (or the stand-alone .exe itself, in some cases). Wine has been useful to me in a few different ways. While there are plenty of Linux apps that rip DVDs, I still haven’t found one that is as outrageously simple to use as DVD Shrink. Fortunately, it runs just about flawlessly in Wine. I use PortableApps on my USB drive for transporting certain docs and programs to work, and that runs in Wine, too. AxCrypt is an open-source encryption program I use time to time, and the stand-alone decrypter runs in Wine. The list could go on…

“But,” you say, “you’ve only mentioned a few random freeware products that you use.” True ’nuff– but with Wordy’s switch-over project in mind, I looked into a few other more mainstream software titles. Photoshop runs in Wine. Wordy’s screenwriting software, Final Draft, does too. You’d be surprised at the size of the list. Rumor has it they’re even getting close to making iTunes work in Wine. That will be a HUGE hurdle overcome for those of us with iPods…

Two pages that I have bookmarked for verifying application functionality are the Wine Application Database, and Frank’s Corner. To be completely honest, though, a lot of time I just run the install program and see what happens. No harm, no foul, y’know?

When Wine Won’t Cut It, Go Virtual

That leads me to my next endorsement– if your system has the horsepower (and it probably does; my 1.3 Athlon processor w/ 768 RAM was enough), you can always install a virtual Windows environment for the times that you absolutely, positively NEED to use Windows. VMWare Server is now a free product, and there’s also one called VirtualBox. To be honest, the latter has proven to be a little simpler to set up.

Before I picked up a wireless print server, I needed a virtual machine in order to take advantage of all the features of my scanner. When tax time rolled around this year, I came to find out that both of my favored preparers’ websites required Windows and Internet Explorer in order to work. Having that fallback option is nice on the rare occasions when I get stuck.

Ubuntu– Fantastic Out of the Box, Even Better With Some Additions

I’m not going to go into a LOT of depth with a list of software packages to install on top of you base. Once again, the forums are fantastic and helpful if you’re looking for something specific. I Google “[thing I want to do] Ubuntu” very often, and I pretty much always locate what I want. That said, here are my Top 10 or So Packages That You Really Should Get, In No Particular Order (forgive me if some of the ones I mention have now been rolled into the standard installation):

  • APTonCD — a great tool for upgrade or re-installation time. Instead of going to all that trouble of downloading packages over again, you can pull out and the stuff that you’ve added and create an APT CD and install from there. You have to be careful about cross-distro compatibility sometimes, though (like going from Gutsy to Hardy, for example).
  • Samba & all related packages — a basic summary would be to say Samba lets you connect to the other Windows machines with shared folders on your network, or set up a share on your new Linux box that the Windows machines can see. For cross-platform file sharing, it’s a must.
  • StartUp Manager — if you’re going to be using a dual-boot system, this is just a nice little GUI for editing GRUB.
  • Ubuntuzilla — for some reason, SeaMonkey is still not in the default software channels. Ubuntuzilla is a python script that installs the latest versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, or SeaMonkey, sort of bypassing the ‘official’ software channels and just checking with what’s been released by Mozilla. You can certainly install and run SeaMonkey without it (and Firefox and T-bird come standard w/ Ubuntu), but this makes it even easier, and it checks for updates, too.
  • ZSNES & GFCE Ultra NES Emulator — you gotta have your Nintendo emulators to play your ROMs. I actually had even better success with JNES and Wine for the 8-bit games.
  • Grsync — a GUI for running rsync jobs. If you have files that you carry around, or network storage devices that you want to keep in sync with your local harddrive or a portable device, this is a really nice tool. Rsync is great, but you need to not be scared of the command line to use it. Enter Grsync and your fears are abated.
  • AbiWord Word Processor — I endorse all the OpenOffice.org products, but I have to admit– they can seem a bit heavy on system resources (especially if you have the java options turned on). AbiWord is lightweight and easy to use if you’re just doing word processing.
  • VMWare Server or InnoTek VirtualBox — advantages already spelled out…
  • Gmount-iso — a GUI for mounting ISOs, which is a fantastic way to use a CD or DVD without having to burn a copy.
  • Amarok — Rhythmbox is the default Ubuntu music player/organizer, but I just like Amarok a little better.
  • EasyTAG — I found this really useful for editing tags on some mp3s. A lot of rippers are going to automatically tag your files if you’re doing fresh ones, but if you’re maybe downloading music and want to change something, or you have some really, REALLY old, pre-tagging-phenomenon mp3s, you might need it.

Speaking of playing/using media & files, I haven’t brought up any of the steps or software for “getting playback to work for [X-sort-of-file]” because there are better and thorough guides elsewhere on the webs, and getting stuff to work is supposed to be really simple and smooth with Hardy Heron. More to come on this topic after I install it…

Thanks for taking the time to read the geek posts. Good luck with your new Ubuntu system!

Some Tips from Experience When You're Getting Started on Ubuntu (or something similar)

With the release of Hardy Heron looming within the next two weeks, Wordy is getting set to give Ubuntu another go-’round, and I’ll be upgrading Michelle’s machine from Egdy Eft as well. Talking over some of his concerns and questions made me think of the stuff that I had issues with when I first moved over to Ubuntu. There are few things I wish I could have done differently from the beginning, and a few steps I took that I found really beneficial.  Here are some words on those things.

* This is NOT yet another “howto” for installing Ubuntu, just some suggestions from a guy who was a total newb when he got started…

Don’t Jump In With Both Feet

When you download and then boot the Ubuntu installation CD, there is that option to very easily re-partition your harddrive and install Ubuntu along side your existing OS. If you’re planning to use both Windows and Ubuntu, this is the way to go.

However– when I was getting started, I often found myself getting frustrated with making something work in my new Linux system, and it would be late at night, and I was frustrated with scouring the forums (which are AWESOME, by the way, don’t get me wrong), and I would just say to myself, “Ah, I know how this works in Windows, I’ll just switch over and do it there.” And then sometimes it would be days or weeks that my Ubuntu system would lie dormant.

If you’re like me and you’re switching NOT just because you want to dump Microsoft, or NOT just because you don’t ever want to “upgrade” to Vista, but because you also enjoy the challenge of learning something new, and the fun of tinkering with your system, then what you should do is back up that Windows partition to another drive and do a standalone Ubuntu installation.

I have used SystemRescueCD and/or GParted for backing up partitions. GParted is a little more intuitive and straightforward for those of us accustomed to a GUI, but using the Partimage tool with SystemRescueCD is probably a little more robust and has some extra options. The reason is pretty clear if you look at the individual projects– GParted is a straight-up partition resizing and copying tool, whereas Partimage is for, well, creating an image. For a lot of people, the functionality and usefulness of either will be comparable.  There’s a really good tutorial on using partimage with the SystemRescueCD in the Ubuntu forums.  It’s a bit dated at this point, but the steps taken there still work fine.

Multiple Partitions are Your Friends

Speaking of partitions– one of the things about Linux that I have grown to love is /home. You set up your user profile, and by default all of your documents, program settings, desktop customizations, Firefox extensions, etc., all get put in /home/<username>. When you’re running an OS with a much more aggressive release schedule than Windows, it is madly convenient to have /home on its own partition, and the rest of the system on another one. It makes it a lot easier (and less risky) to upgrade to that bleeding-edge distro when you know that if you have to roll back, all your docs and settings are going to stay put. There is a method for moving /home to its own partition at a later time, but I really wish I would’ve started out on separate partitions, to avoid the (mild) headache.

BUT– Always-ALWAYS Back-up!

Keep in mind– I still strongly recommend doing a complete backup when you’re going to upgrade. Particularly after a while when you have a lot of customizations or you’ve installed a lot of packages in addition to the standard install, there could be some bumps with a new distro. Just a couple weeks ago, I tried installing the Hardy Heron beta, and a few devices stopped working on me. Fortunately, I just had to roll back to the backup I had done.

A good backup schedule is something that you (ideally) should have in place regardless of whether you’re running Linux, Windows, or Mac, because you never know when something nasty is going to happen (the Case Fire of 2002 is a great example; click the link, then push Ctrl-End). I’ve found this to be particularly true with Ubuntu, though, if for no other reason than I “mess around” with it a lot more.

It’s Important to Know the Command Line, But It’s OK to Take it Slow

I should take this opportunity to mention that the public forums on Ubuntu are wonderfully helpful, the people are generous easy to understand, and I have not yet run into a roadblock that didn’t have a solution (eventually). I also found a ton of good information early on at ubuntuguide.org.

Something that you’ll see a lot of in both places, though, is help offered by means of “open up a Terminal and type such-and-such.” You definitely need to be careful about just pasting and executing whatever commands people tell you, because there are people out there just trying to be dicks by having you run malicious commands that mess up your system. The forums are very well moderated, though, and I’d say they catch the overwhelming majority of the assholes. That said, you DO have to be careful.

The thing that trips you up the most when you’re coming over from a GUI-based environment is the syntax of doing things on the command line. “sudo dpkg -x mplayer32_20070130-1_amd64.deb ./” just doesn’t mean much to the average end-user. I was not comfortable at all with the command line when I got started (something like 18 months ago now). Since then, I have gotten to the point of “somewhat-comfortable-with-basic-things”. I still need good references for individual operations, but I keep a reference sheet with common Unix commands pasted to the wall by my desk. As time goes on, and I keep copy-paste’ing all those commands, the function of each starts to sink in and I have even (GASP!) had a couple occasions where I said to myself, “Why am I dicking around with this? It would be easier from the command line…” If you’re a bit more conscientious of what these commands are doing, the fog is going to lift. In the short term, bookmark the forums and read thoroughly when you have to go and find help.

Tomorrow, I’ll have some things to say about software alternatives in Ubuntu, and a few additional packages that I’m really glad I installed.