Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Linux - Part 11
by Alan German
past few months I have been using Ubuntu 8.04 in a
dual-boot environment with Windows Vista. Ubuntu and its
embedded applications, notably the Firefox web browser,
the Evolution mailer, and the Open Office suite have
served my needs admirably. True, there is some Windows'
software, such as a proprietary GPS mapping program, that
I can't run under Linux (not even by using WINE
but that's another story), hence the Vista partition on
my hard disk. But, otherwise, Linux has the tools to do
everything I need.
Ubuntu 8.04 is also a version with long term support
(LTS), meaning that it will be supported for the next
three years, i.e. until 2011. So, why did I need to
download and try Version 8.10 that was released at the
end of October? The answer, of course, is because 8.10 is
a new version. And, because every recent version of
Ubuntu Linux has provided some new key features, the
latest kid on the block has to be worth a look. Or is it?
Downloading the software was no problem. The wget
command, used to obtain Version 8.04 (see: http://www.opcug.ca/public/Reviews/linux_part10.htm), proved equally capable of
fetching its new cousin, this time from a server at the
University of Waterloo.
I then created a bootable CD-ROM with the Brasero Disc
Burning utility. This CD burner first came with Ubuntu
8.04 but, since I have always used Roxio's Media Creator
on my Windows' platform, I hadn't previously tried this
Linux program. It turns out that Brasero is extremely
easy to use. The user interface sports just five options:
audio, video and data file projects, copying a disk, and
burning an image. After putting a blank disk in the
drive, and selecting burn an image, the setup dialogue
automatically selects the blank CD, and allows browsing
for the ISO image file to be used as the data source.
Click burn, and the disk creation process proceeds, with
a final option to verify the burn. Making a bootable CD
with Brasero? Nothing could be simpler. This is one slick
The Live-CD duly booted Ubuntu Version 8.10 on my desktop
machine. But, this is my wife's lifeline to the world
wide web. A friend jokingly refers to the machine as the
Toaster. It's an E-mail and web browser
appliance. It just has to work. It can't go
wrong. Nothing must happen that might affect its
functionality. Consequently, making any change whatsoever
to this machine is strictly verboten. So, I'm a huge fan
of LTS versions of Ubuntu, and the Toaster is running
Ubuntu 8.04. (But, don't tell my wife that the machine
does receive regular software updates i.e.
changes! as part of this process.)
Now, life for some of us would be boring if we were stuck
with essentially the same software for three years. So,
we obviously must have a laptop tucked away somewhere
that regularly gets used as a test bed for new stuff. So
what if we overwrite the master boot record by installing
a new operating system? Who cares if a new program
consistently crashes the system? We just reload a backup
image of the disk and we're back in business in minutes.
Well, usually it only takes minutes. Sometimes... but,
that too is another story.
So, no problem trying out Ubuntu 8.10. Stuff the CD into
the laptop's drive and boot the machine. Except that the
laptop won't boot from the CD. The process starts off
fine. The installer asks if I want to try Ubuntu without
making any changes to my hard disk, which is usually a
safe bet. But then the display reads: invalid
compressed format (err=1) System halted.
Clearly, this CD is not going to be loading Version 8.10
into memory any time soon!
Then I recalled a similar problem that had occurred
previously, and the sage advice from Morris Turpin to
burn the CD more slowly. Back to Brasero, look at the
properties of the Select a disk to write to
option, and find that maximum speed is set as the default
for burning speed. Change this to 4.0x (CD), the lowest
available speed, and burn a new CD. The second CD shows
no errors when the disk integrity is checked, and the
laptop boots into Ubuntu 8.10. Success!
Now, that little glitch could have been a show stopper.
But it turns out that there is yet another workaround,
and one that provides a new and very useful option for
Ubuntu Linux users. While sifting through the Linux
menus, on the Live-CD version that was running (happily)
on the Toaster, I came across System
Administration Create a USB Startup Disk. Ubuntu
8.10 now features a utility to install the Linux distro
onto a USB memory stick.
Plug in a blank USBkey, run the above-noted menu option,
and the installer's dialogue box pops up. All you have to
do is to select the ISO file as the source, and the
USBkey where the startup system is to be created. The
utility will issue a warning if there is insufficient
space available on the memory stick.
Ubuntu distro comes loaded with a host of ready-to-go
applications, such as OpenOffice, the installer also
wants to know what it should do with files produced by
the up-coming Live-USB system. By default, you can
reserve 128 MB, or more, on the USBkey as a storage area
for such files, or you can have them discarded when Linux
is shut down. Once you have made this selection, and
pressed the Make Startup Disk button, files are
transferred to the USBkey and, in less than four minutes,
you have a bootable USB disk.
Ubuntu 8.10 boots from the USBkey, just as it would from
a CD. (And, yes, my laptop would boot from my USBkey, so
this could also have saved the day!) You get the option
to try the new system from the Live-USB, and you can
install it onto the hard drive from an icon on the
desktop. You also have a complete Linux system, with all
the regular applications, on a USB memory stick. You can
boot from this USB on a machine that isn't yours, use the
Linux apps on the stick, and save your data files back
onto the USB disk in the reserved memory space. A
completely self-contained, portable Linux system. Neat
So, apart from being able to create a bootable USBkey,
what else is new in Ubuntu 8.10? Well, OpenOffice is a
bit of a disappointment. It would appear that Version 3
was released too late to make the cut for the current
distro and the version provided is actually 2.4.1. No big
deal, since there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference
in any of the recent versions of OpenOffice, at least not
unless you need support for Microsoft's new (Word 2007)
docx file format, which is a feature of OpenOffice 3.
But, on the other hand, there is a shiny new release -
Version 2.6 - of the GIMP image editor (http://gimp.org/release-notes/gimp-2.6.html). A quick look suggests that
there may be a bit of a learning curve involved here. Two
more-or-less familiar toolbars, one for actions like
rectangle select, the pencil and brush tools, and a
second for attributes such as the size, shape and colour
of a brush, snap to the left and right sides of the
screen respectively, while a main menu window (File,
Edit...) opens up in the centre of the screen. The
Acquire menu option, previously useful for
running a scanner or acting as a screen image grabber, is
nowhere in plain sight. Yup, this one is going to need a
bit of work.
Otherwise, at first blush, apart from a somewhat
darker-brown main screen, with a highly stylized Ibex
(the current release is named Imperial Ibex), Ubuntu 8.10
looks a lot like its predecessor. But time, and a lot
more use, will show if there are any must-have features
in the new software.
Certainly, if you visit Ubuntu's web site (http://www.ubuntu.com/news/ubuntu-8.10-desktop) and look at the press release
relating to the new version, you will find more features
listed. These include improvements to the network manager
to detect and connect to 3G networks; guest sessions
allowing you to lock down a session so that someone else
can use your system without compromising your programs or
data; access to on-line video, radio and podcasts from
the BBC; and Gnome 2.24, the newest version of this
So, the latest version of Ubuntu is now available. One
new feature that may be useful to a number of users is
the ability to create a bootable version of the operating
system, and its associated applications, on a USB memory
stick. If you want the newest version of OpenOffice, you
will have to wait for an update, or download and install
Version 3 of this suite yourself. But, you do get a new
version of the GIMP, with a somewhat modified user
interface to get used to. Hey no complaints
life would be boring if we didn't have the odd new toy to
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Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
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