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Exploring Linux

Exploring Linux - Part 1
Members may have noted my recent interest in all things open-source. So, from the title of this article, it might be tempting to assume that I am now documenting my switch away from the big-W and a move completely into the Linux camp. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not that brave - at least - not yet, I'm not! But, I have always had a hankering to take a serious look at Linux. One of our always-friendly OPCUG members provided me with a copy of the Ubuntu 5.04 distro (a Linux distribution disk - see, I'm already into the Linux jargon!) and so I thought I should start by giving this a shot. Another famous Linux-Live distro I tried is the Knoppix Linux Live CD which works pretty well the same as Ubuntu.

Exploring Linux - Part 2
In the Part 1 of this article we took a look at using a couple of versions of a Linux-Live CD. This proved to be so easy that now we are fearless Linux explorers and are ready to take on the task of installing a full version of Linux (Ubuntu 5.04) onto our computer's hard drive. We are ready for this, aren't we?

Red Hat Fedora Exploring Linux - Part 3
In the previous articles in this series we explored a couple of versions of a Linux-Live CD, and then went on to install a full version of Linux onto the hard drive. A suggested reference was the book, "Linux for Dummies", by Dee-Ann LeBlanc, which was noted to include a bootable DVD containing the Fedora Core 1 distro. In the present article, we take a look at installing this version of Linux - and some of the further trials and tribulations that were encountered with disk partitioning schemes.

Exploring Linux - Part 4
As you will have noted from the earlier articles in this series, I haven't learned that much yet about actually using Linux, but I have gained considerable experience with boot disks and partition managers! However, following some further exploration of the vagaries of the Linux installation process, I found that it is actually quite easy to install a new version over the top of an existing version. I have used this method very successfully to install both Version 5.10 and Version 6.06 of Ubuntu. In fact the installation process is now so smooth that it's time to stop installing and start using!

Exploring Linux - Part 5
In the last article, we made a start on customizing the Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) distribution of Linux by editing the boot-up command file so that Windows started by default, with a pause allowing us to select Linux if desired. Now, it's time to move on and see what else we can do to Linux, and what else Linux can do for us! One of the obvious things that we will need is the ability to add new software. For example, there's really nothing wrong with the Evolution mail client that comes with the Ubuntu distro, but I am used to the features offered by Mozilla Thunderbird and, since there is a Linux version of this program, I would like to locate and install it.

Exploring Linux - Part 6
While Windows won't even acknowledge the presence of a Linux partition on a hard drive, Linux does not exhibit any such mean-spiritedness. Linux is quite willing to report the existence of Windows partitions and in fact, with the right sequence of commands, will happily let you access the files that they contain. Mounting Windows' partitions in Ubuntu can be very handy on a machine running in dual-boot mode where the same files can be shared by both operating systems. For example, since the Open Office suite of applications is more-or-less compatible with Microsoft Office, we can maintain one set of data files (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, etc.) on a Windows partition and access the same files using Open Office in Linux or Microsoft Office running under Windows.


Linux is quite willing to report the existence of Windows partitions and in fact, with the right sequence of commands, will happily let you access the files that they contain.


Exploring Linux - Part 7
Having recently purchased a new computer, I have been introduced to the wonderful world of Microsoft Vista. Now, while Vista works reasonably well, I still keep wondering about a complete switch over to Linux. In fact, this question comes to the fore every time I discover that Vista won't let me do exactly what I want. But, while I keep pondering the question of Vista vs. Linux, I need to be able to run both operating systems, Vista because I paid for it, Linux because it's free, and both of these because they are neat systems to play with! Clearly, what I need is a dual-boot system with both Vista and Linux residing (and booting) happily on the new machine.

Exploring Linux - Part 8
Gutsy Gibbon is here! Otherwise known as Ubuntu Linux Version 7.10, the latest distro from Ubuntu is now available, and its features cause me to revisit a couple of items noted in earlier parts of this series of exploratory articles. First up, manual editing of GRUB's menu.lst file in order to add a series of commands to point to the Vista partition is no longer necessary. The second new feature is the use of the NTFS-3G driver to mount an NTFS partition with both read and write access.




Exploring Linux - Part 9
I now have a fully-functional, production machine running Ubuntu Linux and so, in this latest in the series of articles looking at various aspects of Linux, it's time to turn our attention to maintenance issues and, in particular, to backup systems. Those who have read some of my previous reviews of Windows-based utilities will know of my fondness for file synchronization programs. So, my initial foray into backup mechanisms for Linux has followed this path. We will take a look at one open-source file synchronization utility (Rsync) that will provide us with a simple backup system, and learn a little about bash script files in the process.

Exploring Linux - Part 10
As I write this, it's almost the end of April, 2008. April being the 4th month in 2008, means that Ubuntu 8.04 is available (since, as you know, the version numbering scheme uses 8 for the year and 04 for the month.) So, of course, we need to drop everything and give the new version a try. Now, obtaining the new version should be simplicity itself. Point Firefox at the Ubuntu web site, hit download, select a mirror, and wait patiently while the 699 MB ISO file is transferred. But, of course, in my Linux world, nothing is ever simple. A flaky Internet connection resulted in in the high-speed file transfer being aborted - a problem that was resolved with the wget command.

Exploring Linux - Part 11
Over the 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. 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?

Exploring Linux - Part 12
In the previous article in this series I gave my first impressions of Version 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) 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. For example, I found a great way to fix GRUB errors on boot-up using the Super Grub Disk, a quick way to install the latest version of OpenOffice, and a sneaky (but perfectly legal) way to install Microsoft fonts for use inside Linux!

Wine Exploring Linux - Part 13
It's perhaps appropriate as we reach number thirteen (unlucky for some!) in this series of articles that we take a retrospective look at the "evil empire". Yes, our current exploration will take us back, once more, into the world of Windows and, in particular, we will consider the process of running Windows' applications in Linux. It turns out that we need to do a little Wine tasting. So, crack open a bottle of your favourite wine, pour a little into a glass, sip... No, not that kind of wine tasting (although it may well make a good accompaniment to reading, and savouring, your personal copy of Ottawa PC News!)

Exploring Linux - Part 14
Ubuntu Version 9.10 - Karmic Koala - was released at the end of October, 2009 and in this article we will take a look at some of its features. There's now a mini-slide show during installation, GNU GRUB version 1.97~Beta 4 for dual-boot systems, a Windows-like icon and user identity for user logon, and some colourful images for use as wallpaper. On the games' menu, you may have trouble locating Freecell, but we can tell you how. And, if you want to enter the era of cloud computing, Ubuntu One is a new addition to the Internet menu. Some of the other changes are "under the hood" and not particularly evident. An example is the use of ext4 as the default file system. There don't seem to be any earth-shattering changes in the new release of Ubuntu, but the update process is relatively painless so, if you wish to stay on the leading edge of the curve, give Karmic Koala a try.

Exploring Linux - Part 15
Testing a beta version of Ubuntu Version 10.04 - Lucid Lynx raised the question of the necessity to burn the downloaded ISO image file to CD-ROM before putting it on a USBkey. UNetbootin - the Universal Netboot Installer from SourceForge - had the answer. "UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for a variety of Linux distributions, from Windows or Linux, without requiring you to burn a CD." With that question resolved, a preliminary look at Lucid Lynx showed no GIMP in the distro, a new scanning utility named Simple Scan, and a major switch in the location of the minimize, maximize and close buttons to the top-left corner of each window. So, what will the final release look like?

Exploring Linux - Part 16
OPCUG members will be well aware of my penchant for all things backup, and will likely have noted my recent discovery of QuickShadow, a Windows' utility, that offers real-time file backup from a source to a target disk drive. Having found this to be a really useful package for continually backing up all of my data files when working in Windows, I turned my mind to see if the same sort of functionality was available in the Linux world. A little searching located a package - inosync - a Python script that provides the real-time file backup capability that I was seeking.

Exploring Linux - Part 17
Linux has native applications for just about anything, and even specific Windows' programs can often be run using Wine, but there are still a few Windows' packages that refuse to behave “properly” in the Linux world. Now, as we have seen in previous articles in this series, it is easy to set up a dual-boot Linux-Windows system, and hence have the ability to run any misbehaving programs directly under Windows. But, perhaps there is another way to bring these renegades to heel inside of Linux. Enter VirtualBox, an open-source package overseen by Oracle Corporation, that allows virtual machines using any one of a number of operating systems, including Windows, to be set up in the Linux environment. Of course, one needs a copy of the Windows' operating system of choice (e.g. Windows XP) in order to make this happen but, after that, it's a fairly straightforward process to run Windows – and hence Windows' programs – inside Linux.




Exploring Linux - Part 18
These days I am almost Windows-free, as I use Linux for almost all of my computing needs. Nevertheless, there are still some tasks for which I still resort to Windows, and these are mainly related to making backups. There are equivalent Linux programs available. It's just that I haven't got around to trying any of them. Well, at least, I hadn't until now! FreeFileSync, from SourceForge, is touted as " open-source folder comparison and synchronization tool... optimized for highest performance and usability without restricted or overloaded UI interfaces." This sounds perfect for my purpose!

Exploring Linux - Part 19
Ubuntu Version 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) has been ticking over normally for the past few months on my production machine. During this period of trouble-free operation I took the opportunity to look at a number of subsequent releases of the software, specifically Version 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) and the current release, Version 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot).

Exploring Linux - Part 20
Well, my presentation on the basics of Ubuntu Linux, given at the February meeting of the Ottawa PC Users' Group, went quite well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the live demonstration of installing Ubuntu! At the end of the presentation, the pièce de résistance was to be to restart the laptop and demonstrate just how easy it is to boot into Linux. However, the laptop failed to show the GRUB start-up menu and booted directly into Windows! At this point, I decided it was time to learn more about just how GRUB works, and how to manually fix boot problems. However, a Google search identified Boot-Repair as "a small graphical tool to restore access to Ubuntu." This sounded like just what I needed.

Exploring Linux - Part 21
Although I use Linux most of the time, when it comes to full-system backups, I have resorted to dual-booting into Windows and using the free edition of Macrium Reflect. Under Linux, I have so far restricted my backups to either file and folder synchronization using FreeFileSync, or real-time backup of my data partition using inosync. Now, it's time to move on and find a more comprehensive Linux solution for file, folder, and disk partition backups. Packages noted in this article are partimage, fsarchiver, and Déjà Dup.

Exploring Linux - Part 22
As noted in the previous article in this series, several of the backup packages available for Linux are based on the rsync file synchronization utility. Two such packages are Lucky Backup and my ultimate selection for backup software, Back In Time

Exploring Linux - Part 23
For me, one of the great mysteries in Linux has always been how to find specific files within the overall file system. I consider myself to be reasonably well organized in terms of file storage so I have never really had to delve into the various file search commands that Linux has to offer. But, recently, I came across a blog entry discussing how to use the "locate" command to search for files. It turns out that locate needs an updated database of file names in order to identify current files. Now, while it is relatively easy to create and maintain such a database (e.g. with a script file and a chron job), my preference is for something a little simpler.

Exploring Linux - Part 24
Over the years, I have struggled with the variety of digital image tools provided with default installations of Ubuntu. I never liked image viewers that wouldn't show me thumbnails of all the pictures in a given folder, or those that did not give me quick access to a simple editor in order to crop an image or make a slight change to its brightness. And, I simply hated photo managers that insisted on arranging my pictures chronologically, rather than having one folder hold all the pictures from a specific trip. However, I recently came across gThumb, a Gnome-based image viewer, and found that this was my new Linux tool of choice.




Exploring Linux - Part 25
In the Windows world I have been a huge fan of PC Magazine's (previously free) NoteWhen utility. This little TSR program stores message text and displays a reminder in accordance with a user-specified schedule. I tried various similar applications in Linux but wasn't satisfied until I found KAlarm.

Exploring Linux - Part 26
Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), a long term support (LTS) version, reached end-of-life status on May 9, 2013 which essentially meant that there would be no further security updates for this version of the operating system. However, the good news was that Version 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) was to have support through April, 2017. My plan was to switch my production machine to the new Precise release, but incompatibilities between the software and my hardware proved insurmountable. The ultimate solution was - move to a new distro! Enter Linux Mint 13 (Maya) with the Mate user interface.





Alan German

Alan German

The author of this series of articles has been a Linux enthusiast since 2006, and has used this operating system on a daily basis for many years (although he hedges his bets by dual-booting his computers with that other OS!).

Alan is also an avid user - and supporter - of free and open-source software and has written many newsletter articles reviewing such products.

Linux North

In addition to the Exploring Linux series, for a more recent source of information on various features of Linux (and also Android) check out Alan's blog - Linux North.