Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Exploring Linux – Part 12
by Alan German

In the previous article in this series I gave my first impressions of Version 8.10 of Ubuntu Linux. I have now been using this distro for several months and have resolved all of my initial concerns. I have also found some great tips and techniques for making the package more useful. So, it's time to share my findings with all of you...

Firstly, as advertised, Ubuntu 8.10 has a shiny new disk partitioner, with a brightly-coloured graphical display. But, in certain situations, the display seems to suggest something different than what is desired. In particular, the partitioner can suggest a default installation using the entire hard drive, which may not be what the end user wants. But, clicking on “Guided – use largest continuous free space”, doesn’t change the “After” display, so that it still looks like the partitioner will use 100% of the available hard drive (see figure). Not to worry, the partitioner does indeed set up the Linux ext3 and swap partitions in the free space on the disk. These designations are confirmed on the final “Ready to install” screen before the installation commences. Still, hopefully someone will have marked this strange behaviour for updating in the up-coming 9.04 release.

I have been modifying – read deleting – some of the disk partitions on my hard drive for various purposes. As usual (!), this has resulted in my destroying the master boot record (MBR) and making the computer unable to boot – with the infamous GRUB Error 22. My normal practice has been to reload a backup disk image but, this time, I decided to try to learn a bit more about GRUB, and how I might fix the problem more directly. A Google search identified the “Super Grub Disk” that promised to restore the MBR, but also to provide “...a teaching tool to help you learn more about bootloaders...” The automatic restoration process worked so well, I haven't yet got around to learning about GRUB, but my Linux system now once again boots perfectly!

The Super Grub Disk (
http://stmaarten.globat.com/~supergrubdisk.org/) provides a bootable CD that can be used to fix boot-up problems. The “Choose Language and HELP” menu option provides basic instructions on how to use the Super Grub Disk (SGD). The display format is a little strange. Rather than just providing a help file, the program's authors seem to have chosen to display a text file with a “more” option. As a result, the information flows onto the screen in chunks, making it hard to know where you left off on the previous page. But, if you bear with the output, the necessary information is available. Basically, there are just two steps – choose the Gnu/Linux option from the first menu, and Fix Boot of GNU/Linux (GRUB) on the second menu. The next screen allows a selection from all of the existing Linux installations. In my case, there was just a single choice – 4 hda4 sda4 (hd0,3) Ubuntu 8.10 – so the selection wasn't too difficult! Seconds later there was a message that “SGD has succeeded” and an indication to reboot the computer. Performing a normal reboot of the computer shows that the program had indeed done its job. Quite remarkable!

Another minor complaint I had about the initial release of Ubuntu 8.10 was that it came with OpenOffice 2.4 rather than the more current Version 3.0 of the latter. Unfortunately, the Ubuntu developers didn't have time to thoroughly test the new version of OpenOffice for the Imperial Ibex distro, and so opted to include the earlier release. But, fortunately, some OpenOffice users, the "OpenOffice.org Scribblers" team, have developed a personal package archive (PPA) that allows OpenOffice 3.0 to be easily added to Ubuntu 8.10. The follow-the-bouncing-ball instructions are posted at:
http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-To-Install-OpenOffice-org-3-0-in-Ubuntu-8-10-96449.shtml. The process requires just a few steps. First you need to add the OpenOffice.org 3.0 repositories to your Software Sources options and then add an authentication key. Finally, you are presented with the option to update OpenOffice to Version 3 which then proceeds automatically.

The success in finding a way to easily upgrade the copy of OpenOffice on my Linux system, spurred me on to try to solve another irritant with the program. I use a dual-boot, Linux-Vista, system on my computer, largely because I have a couple of Windows' programs that I use regularly. In one case, it's an HTML editor that I like using and haven't found a Linux equivalent that works as well, The other program is a GPS mapping program that has no Linux equivalent. The consequence of using both operating systems is that I also run both the Linux and Windows' version of OpenOffice. While, generally, the two versions are quite compatible, there is a minor problem in that the Linux program uses different fonts than the Windows' version. In particular, my Linux OpenOffice doesn't have access to the Times New Roman and Comic Sans MS fonts and, consequently, certain documents don't display nor print in precisely the desired manner under Linux.

So, I wondered if I could install additional fonts into the Linux version of OpenOffice, and if there were equivalents for my favourite fonts under Windows. Well, the answers were yes, and more-or-less yes. Even more surprising, not only could I find fonts that would do what I wanted, I could actually use the specific Microsoft fonts! All that is necessary is to install the “Microsoft fonts (msttcorefonts)” package using the “sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts” command in a terminal window. The Linux version of OpenOffice then has access to a number of Microsoft fonts including: Arial, Comic Sans MS, Courier, Times New Roman, and Webdings. And, as a result, my documents now look the same in either Linux or Windows!

Information provided on the Internet suggests that “msttcorefonts has an amusing history”. If the details are accurate, this is certainly the case. The story goes as follows: “Microsoft licensed the fonts for anyone to freely use (regardless of OS) to help boost the market share of IE. When they won the first browser wars, they removed the files from their site… but the license says you can freely redistribute them so that’s how we can legally use them :)”

The final glitches I mentioned previously related to Version 2.6 of The GIMP that came with Ubuntu 8.10. Firstly, the Acquire menu option, used to grab screen images and to drive my scanner, had completely disappeared. A little searching through the menu structures of the program revealed that these options can now be found under File – Create – Screenshot (or Xsane for the scanner). The second “feature” that I wasn't keen on was that the two GIMP toolbars were docked (fixed) on the left and right sides of the screen. It turns out that you can change this default behaviour, and produce the earlier floating windows. However, the procedure is not very intuitive. You need to go to Edit – Preferences – Window Management and change the options for both “Hint for the toolbar” and “Hint for other docks” from “Utility Window” to “Normal Window”. Strange, but true!


Bottom Line:

Ubuntu 8.10, Canonical Ltd.
http://www.ubuntu.com/

Super Grub Disk
http://stmaarten.globat.com/~supergrubdisk.org/

How to Install OpenOffice.org 3.0 on Ubuntu 8.10
http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-To-Install-OpenOffice-org-3-0-in-Ubuntu-8-10-96449.shtml

Possible to install Times New Roman?
http://ubuntuforums.org/archive/index.php/t-589588.html

GIMP 2.6 - GNU Image Manipulation Program
http://www.gimp.org/


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