Posts Tagged 'Software'

Xfce announces alpha release of version 4.6

After about a year and a half of development, the Xfce team has announced the alpha release of Xfce 4.6, codenamed “Pinky” “Pinkie”.

Xfce is the desktop environment and main reason for the existence of Xubuntu. It provides the file manager, panels and much more, keeping your desktop fast yet easy to use. Thus, Xfce is one of the most important parts of Xubuntu, and the 4.4 release has been enjoyed by many users of Xubuntu since it was released.

Obviously, the 4.6 release will be very significant for Xubuntu, and this is an important milestone in the road towards that release. While it was initially hoped that this release would make it into Xubuntu 8.10 (codenamed “Intrepid Ibex”), the Xfce release schedule suggests that, with three beta releases and two release candidated still scheduled, that target won’t be met. However, you can expect to see the new release in Xubuntu 9.04 (codename “Jaunty Jackalope”), and if you’re running 8.10 you can try the alpha release by adding the xubuntu-dev PPA to your software sources. (Note: at the time of writing this the packaged version is not this actual alpha but a version before that, however, this alpha will be packaged soon.)

The new version of Xfce comes with many new features. Xfce now has a new configuration backend called xfconf, similar to gconf, but simpler and easier to work with. This brings more flexibility and better integration between Xfce components. You can now control your desktop settings through the command-line – this is not only handy for people helping on IRC (i.e. there is no more need to guide the user through all kinds of settings dialogs – though, IMHO, that would be less confusing for the user), it also means automated scripts can easily update your settings. One use I see for this is being able to change your keyboard layout using a key combination, an oft-requested feature by programmers.

Speaking of key combinations: the confusing keyboard shortcut-themes have been removed and conflicts between keyboard shortcuts and window manager shortcuts are now easily resolved. All these new settings also come with updated settings dialogs, which can be started standalone as they are now, but also embedded into the settings manager – a feature of which Jannis made a screencast.

Furthermore, Xfce now ships libxfce4menu. This is a software library aiming to implement the menu standard also implemented by GNOME and KDE and partly implemented by Xfce 4.4. While it is currently in use only by the desktop and the Appfinder (the latter of which has been completely rewritten to support libxfce4menu), it paves the way for a proper menu plugin in the panel that you can actually edit.

Apart from the libxfce4menu support, the desktop manager xfdesktop has also received a few small improvements over the previous version. It has a redesigned preferences dialog, includes a few more options for the desktop background (such as colour saturation adjustment), and can now automatically start and stop managing a new desktop when you respectively plug or unplug a monitor.

Finally, the Xfce mixer plugin has been completely rewritten to use gstreamer. One effect this has is that Xubuntu will probably definitely be switching to gstreamer-based applications (Xubuntu used to include a xine version of Totem, the movie player, but recently switched to the gstreamer-based version). The biggest benefit this brings users is that it will automatically ask to search for additional media support when it is not installed yet, which happens e.g. when you try to play an MP3-file on a freshly installed Xubuntu.

All in all, though not as big as 4.4 was, this is shaping up to be another fine release of Xfce that has me looking forward to it.

Backups on Xubuntu with SBackup

The earth is orbited by many satellites, and every year, many more are sent up into space. Considering the amount of satellites, there is an enormous risk that one of those artificials moons suddenly decides to take a stroll and crashes into your home. I think you’ll agree with me that this would be disastrous – all your precious data would be lost! Your holiday pictures, important documents for school/work and your music collection – all gone!

Of course, you have to protect yourself against catastrophic situations like the one described above (and against hard drive failures). If you’re anything like me, you have no backup solution set up, and though you want to set it up, you keep postponing really taking that step. Well, now is the time. In order to write this guide, I set it up for myself, so now it’s your turn while reading this guide. And let me tell you, once you free up those minutes to set it up, you’ll be glad you did. Even if you’re never going to need it, it feels a lot better knowing that you’re prepared for eventual bad luck.

You need a place to store your backups though. If you create a backup on the same drive as the original files, a hard drive failure will affect that backup just as much as the original files. For out method, the destination can either be another hard drive or a remote directory (through SSH or FTP). If you don’t know what any of these mean, then you probably do not have access to it. Unfortunately, this means that you will not be able to create a backup. If you do possess one of these, read on 🙂 .

The destination I’ll be using is an internal hard drive that used to hold a secondary and lesser-known operating system. Its capacity is a mere 20 GB, so I’ll only be backing up my most important files. Of course, if you happen to have an external 160GB hard drive laying around, be sure to use it to the fullest.

Introducing… SBackup!

A quick search using Applications->System->Add/Remove... (with “All available applications” enabled in the top right-hand corner) for backup turns up a few backup solutions. The application we will be using, which also happens to be the most popular one, is Simple Backup, or SBackup. SBackup is a complete solution, able to automatically create backups at set intervals, keeping the backup size as low as possible. Listed are Simple Backup Config and Simple Backup Restore, which allow you to backup and restore your backup respectively.

Selecting one will also select the other because, obviously, we need to create backups in order to restore them.

With both selected, click Apply Changes and finish the installation as usual.

Once the installation has finished, you can find SBackup’s configuration utility under Applications->System->Simple Backup Config.

Setting it all up

By default, SBackup is set up to only perform backups when you tell it to. However, for maximum security, we want it to automatically create a new backup every so often, and now and then delete old backups in order to save space. To make sure the backups are created exactly the way you want it, select Use custom backup settings.

The first thing to do is selecting which files you want to be included in the backup. This can be done under the Include tab on top.

SBackup comes with a few useful defaults, however, considering the size of my backup drive, I decided to only backup the /home/ directory, which contains the documents and settings of every user on the system. Do include the defaults if you have enough room, though.

Next is deciding which files you do not want to be included in the backup, which can be done under the Exclude tab. You can use the preferences in this tab to exclude any files which you do not regard of enough value to justify the amount of space they’d consume in the backup.

The Exclude tab, in turn, contains four other tabs on the left-hand side.

The first one is the Paths tab, which allows you to exclude complete directories. I left it at the defaults since I had no specific directories I wanted to exclude, and I also felt no need to include the directories listed as excluded by default.

Moving on to the File types tab, though, there were certain files I could not afford to backup. A lot of multimedia files were already excluded, which was fine to me – I cannot afford to back up my (measly little) music collection. However, I often help testing new versions of Xubuntu. This involves downloading complete CD “images” (files that can be put on a CD) which can be up to 700 MB in size. The names of these images always end in .iso, and since there is no need for me to keep them that long, I clicked Add and opted to exclude files with the iso extension.

The Regex tab is not that interesting for this guide, since those who know what it does, are able to figure it out by themselves.

The Max size tab is very useful though, because it allows you to set a maximum size for files to be backed up, which comes in very handy in preventing your backup from growing too big.

We then move on to the Destination tab on top. This tab allows you to, as its name implies, set the destination for your backup. You can set up a remote directory at the bottom – I’ll be setting a custom local backup directory.

I located my external hard drive in the /media/ folder, by the name hda1. It is also listed in my left pane in Thunar (the file browser) as 20G Volume. In there, I created a new folder (/media/hda1/gay/, with gay being the name I gave my computer during installation, but feel free to use whatever you like) to hold my backups. Then I selected Other… in the drop-down menu and selected that folder.

Next up was configuring when the backup is to be ran in the Time tab.

Since I do not have that much space I opted for weekly backups, but of course, the best way to go would be daily. Since I do not leave my computer on 24/7 I cannot set it to create a backup in the middle of the night, so I opted for “simply”, which supposedly means “as soon as the computer is running, with the previous backup being made at least one week ago”.

The last tab, Purging, allows you to configure how long you want to keep old backups.

Mostly, you’ll want to select “Logarithmic”, being the most efficient and recommended method, but if you want to select an exact number of days to keep old backups, that’s possible to.

After finishing the configuration, click “Save” to, well, save your configuration.

Let’s back things up

Of course, I immediately wanted to make my first backup. For that, SBackup comes with the extremely handy “Backup Now!” button 🙂

Clicking that popped up a window, saying: A backup run is initiated in the background. The process ID is: 7986.

Well, that’s it really – now you can close Simple Backup Config. The backup is being created, and the next one will be created after the period you selected ends. Opening the folder you selected as the destination (/media/hda1/gay/ in my case) will show you that a new directory has been created which will contain the backup.

If you take a look at a later time (once the backup has been completed), you will see that that directory has been filled with files containing information about the backup, and files.tgz which contains the backed-up files.

Restoring a backup

Restoring the backup is very easy, too. Open up Applications->System->Simple Backup Restore, from where you can select the location of your backups.

A drop-down menu “Available backups” provides you a list of all available backups. Selecting one of them will present you with a list of files included in that backup, clicking “Restore” will restore those files in their original location, “Restore As…” allows you to select a different location.


It was about time you created yourself a backup, and tell me: doesn’t it feel wonderful? Simple Backup is an excellent tool that, despite not being as good-looking as Apple’s Time Machine, definitely provides a complete solution for backing up your documents.

And by the way, with this being my first post of 2008, let me wish you all the best for the coming year. 2007 was an magnificent year for this blog, having survived into 2008 since its conception in 2007. There’s no complaining about the number of visitors, too: at the time of writing, with just 24 posts (this being the 25th), I’ve received a total of 116 798 views, with about 500 to 600 views a day recently. Furthermore, I believe it’s also been useful to a few people, which was the reason for starting this blog in the first place.
On the personal level, it also was a fantastic year. My mother’s ex, who was a massive burden to me, finally left (he lived here since I was about thirteen years old), enabling me to develop tremendously as a person, which I expect to continue in 2008. My writing style has also improved – another trend which I hope will continue in 2008.
All in all, let’s make 2008 another awesome year, and of course, if you got any further suggestions, be sure to make it known 🙂 .

Xubuntu + Compiz = Pretty pretty Xubuntu

Note to users of 8.04 or 8.10: flotoonie and Ivotron report that this guide also works for Xubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron”, which I can confirm myself, and Ravan reports that it works for Xubuntu 8.10 “Intrepid Ibex”.

Note to users of 9.04: According to shadowsky and Andrew, Compiz also works in 9.04, except that you might not be able to use the more efficient way described below. If I get 9.04 running myself I’ll see if I can update this post with my own information. Until then, the section has been updated to link to instructions provided by sisco311 in the comments.

With the release of Xubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, Xubuntu looks better than ever. However, it can look better still, with the breathtaking effects provided by Compiz. How would you like all your windows zooming out into little thumbnails to give you an overview a la Mac OS X’s Exposé? Or what about flipping through your windows Cover Flow-style (or Flip 3D-style, for that matter)? And then you haven’t even experienced the joy of your windows casting shadows on your desktop, or wobbling like jelly as you drag them!

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as there are many more features for you to discover – after you’ve installed it using this guide :).

Preliminary note: your graphics card should support it. Most cards from Nvidia and ATI are supposed to work, as well as some cards from Intel. Most likely you will need to enable the proprietary, non-open source drivers using the Restricted Drivers Manager in Applications->System->Restricted Drivers Manager.

You can check whether you system can run Compiz using Compiz Check.

Before we start, I should also note that Compiz has not made a stable (i.e. 1.0) release, and undoubtly you will experience bugs yourself. This could include the occasional crash, your window borders disappearing (you can get them back by pressing Alt+F2 and entering “emerald” or, if that doesn’t work, “xfwm4”), windows being black in their entirety, or even being thrown out of your graphical environment completely. Be aware of the risks, and don’t blame me if it breaks 😉 .

A bit of history would be appropriate, so here goes. You can skip this paragraph if you already know what Compiz and Compiz Fusion are and just want to install them.
Developed within Novell (they bring you SUSE Linux) they released Compiz, a window manager with gorgeous effects to demonstrate their new XGL software which allowed better use of hardware and made these effects possible. Compiz became an independent project and kept adding astonishing new effects. As Red Hat (who bring you Red Hat Linux) developed AIGLX as an alternative to XGL, Compiz didn’t even need XGL anymore. A community formed around Compiz that made lots of useful and not-so-useful (but pretty) additions. One particular group of enhancements were not accepted into the main project and, being open source, a spin-off named Beryl that did include the enhancements was started. Beryl became very popular – perhaps even more popular than Compiz itself. However, both projects were dissatisfied with the duplicate work and found that they could settle their previous arguments. In a re-merge, most of Beryl’s plugins were made to work on Compiz under the name of Compiz Fusion. So now we have Compiz (or Compiz-core), the base system, with Compiz Fusion, which provides many additional, perhaps more experimental, plugins.

We will install Compiz as well as Compiz Fusion from the official software sources which will no longer pull along half of Gnome as it did in the previous version of Xubuntu.

A word of thanks goes out to Forlong who wrote a guide titled “How to install Compiz Fusion on Ubuntu Feisty – tutorial for advanced and/or KDE as well as Xfce users” – about the only guide that explains how to install Compiz on Xubuntu (up until now, that is 😉 ). Whereas his tutorial focus[es] mostly on terminal commands I’ll explain it like I usually do – the graphical way, with loads of screenshots. Do use his excellent tutorial if you prefer using terminal commands. Be sure to note, though, that his tutorial is for version 7.04, so you’ll have to replace “feisty” with “gutsy”.

Let’s start, shall we?

Note: If you rather copy and paste a command into a terminal window, use this: sudo apt-get install compiz-core compiz-plugins compiz-fusion-plugins-main compiz-fusion-plugins-extra emerald compizconfig-settings-manager

Fire up Applications->System->Synaptic Package Manager to install the required packages. First of all, we need compiz-core. This is just pure Compiz as opposed to the compiz package which pulls along half of Gnome. Then, of course, we need the plugins that take care of all the bling – don’t worry, you can select which plugins you want to activate 😉 . We need the packages compiz-plugins, compiz-fusion-plugins-main and compiz-fusion-plugins-extra. Furthermore, you might like the application to draw the window borders, Emerald, instead of Xubuntu’s default xfwm4 (if you’re unsure, you’ll probably want it). If so, select the package emerald. Last but not least, we need an application to configure Compiz to be usable, so select compizconfig-settings-manager too.
Having selected them all, you can click Apply to start the installation.

Setting it up

Before you can run your newly installed Compiz, you need to configure it a bit. In order to do so, open Applications->Settings->Advanced Desktop Effects Settings.

Beneath the “Effects” heading, click Window Decoration. In the Command input field, enter the window decorator you prefer (emerald if you installed that, xfwm4 if not).

Well, that’s about it – let’s try running it!

Running Compiz

Only one way to find out whether everything works as expected – run it! In order to do so, press Alt+F2, enter compiz --replace, then click Run. If everything works as it should, you should now see shadows around your windows!

Make it default

Now I’ll just assume that it ran successfully and that you want to have Compiz run by default every time you login. I’ll cover two ways to do that.

The easy-but-inefficient way

Using the first way Compiz will replace your default window manager every time you login. This means that, when you log in, first xfwm4 is ran which will then be replaced by Compiz, so even though xfwm4 is started, it will then be closed again without being used.

Also note that you might want to skip to the next part “Managing window decorations” if you’re going for the easy way.

For this method, you open Applications->Settings->Autostarted applications.

There, you click Add to create an entry with the following values:

Compiz Fusion
Desktop Effects
compiz --replace

Well, actually, only the last entry really matters 😉

Click OK and you’re done! The next time you login, Compiz will be started automatically.

The more-difficult-but-better way

Update: Reportedly this way doesn’t work anymore in Xubuntu 9.04 and above, due to the new version of Xfce being used (namely version 4.6). Though I haven’t verified them myself, sisco311 provides updated instructions in the comments section. Users of Xubuntu 9.10 reportedly need Sahkolihaa’s instructions.

So… You prefer the scary stuff? Well, it’s not that difficult, actually. You just press Alt+F2 and enter

gksudo "mousepad /etc/xdg/xfce4-session/xfce4-session.rc"

Basically, that opens the file xfce4-session.rc with root rights with the text editor mousepad.

In this file, all you have to do is replace:




(Thank Ubuntuforums user sisco311 for this one)

Do note that this makes Compiz default for all users, as opposed to the previous method which made it default just for you.

Managing window decorations

It might be that you’re not always in the mood for shiny effects on your desktop – perhaps you prefer working in good old xfwm4. Fear not, as Fusion Icon is here to save the day! Fusion Icon is an application that sits in your system tray, waiting for you to right-click it. When you do, a menu will pop up so you can quickly and easily enable Compiz when your friends are watching 😉 .

You can easily install it like you would install any other application. You can then run it from Applications->System and play with it.

If you followed “the easy-but-inefficient way” above, you’ll want to follow those steps now but replace the command with fusion-icon (and perhaps the name with “Compiz Fusion Icon”) to start it by default.

If you followed the more-difficult-but-better way and want to load this by default, you also have to follow the steps described in the-easy-but-inefficient way above (though in this case there’s nothing inefficient about it), but with the command fusion-icon --no-start (and perhaps the name “Compiz Fusion Icon”).

(Thanks to Ravan)

Take it easy

CompizConfig allows you to tweak a lot of the settings, which might be a bit overwhelming. Therefore you might feel the need for some sane defaults. Luckily, CompizConfig, in the Preferences menu, allows you to import and export profiles.

As you can guess, I’ve exported mine, so go and download it and Import it!

You might also want to use different themes for your window borders (“Emerald themes”). Fortunately, Ravan provides some instructions on the installation of Emerald themes.


It might just be that it does not work for you – please say so using the comment form below, then I can share the solution with the world:

  • If you experience problems that you cannot solve using any of the methods above, you can revert back to Xfwm4. Of course, how to revert depends on the method you used. If you used the easy-but-inefficient way you can simply uncheck the checkbox before Compiz Fusion in Applications->Settings->Autostarted Applications. If you used the more-difficult-but-better way you have to open that configuration file again (gksudo "mousepad /etc/xdg/xfce4-session/xfce4-session.rc") and replace




    Note that this will not uninstall Compiz – it will merely disable it.

  • If nothing happens after you have followed all the steps, it might be that you need XGL for it to work (Xubuntu by default includes AIGLX). You can simply install it using Synaptic – look for the package xserver-xgl.
  • Ivotron reports what’s happening when you do not have window borders and how to solve it:

    For those not having window decorations after following all the steps try first by removing the contents of the .cache/sessions/ folder as mentioned by Rob Hodge.

    Then, on Settings->Settings Manager->Sessions and Startup, check that ‘Automatically save session on logout’ is disabled. Also, check that if you have the ‘Prompt on Logout’ option is enabled, when you actually log out, the checkbox that appears below the ShutDown, Restart, etc.. buttons isn’t checked.

    What happens is the following. If you like (as I did) to save your session so that the next time that you log in all the programs you had running appear again, this will also include the autostarted (from the xfce4-session.rc file) compiz. Then, when you log out and log in again, the XFCE session manager will try to run compiz twice (one from the xfce4-session and another from the last session), causing (at least that’s what happens to me) that the emerald window decorator never gets started (or something alike like killed by the –replace flag).

    So, the conclusion. Follow all the steps, stop saving sessions and use the autostarted applications configuration instead.

  • If Compiz doesn’t work and you have an Nvidia graphics card, then you may need to make sure it is configured correctly. You can do so by pressing Alt+F2, typing sudo nvidia-xconfig --add-argb-glx-visuals -d 24 and pressing “Run”. With thanks to Ransom’s comment.
  • If you are left with just one desktop, you have to set the “Horizontal Virtual Size” in General Options->Desktop Size in the Cube settings.
  • Rob Hodge also had a problem:

    i couldn’t get it to work as the default setup.. it kept loading xfcewm instead of compiz or loading no window mqanager at all. so i”d sometimes be left with no decoration as the major noticable effect. this was even after changing the xfce4-session.rc file.

    He solved it by opening a terminal window (Applications->Accessories->Terminal) and typing:
    rm ~/.cache/sessions/*
    WARNING: After pressing Enter, this command will remove your saved session (i.e. the state saved if you checked “Save session” on logging out previously). If you don’t know what I’m talking about then it’s probably no problem.

  • Crewe did not have window decorations. Though the steps he took are quite complicated, and he needed to install Metacity, GNOME’s window manager, he solved his problem. I am not sure whether this will work for you, and it is probably safest to assume it won’t. For those still interested:

    A run down of what I did was first

    installed all the apps I needed:

    sudo apt-get install compiz-core compiz-plugins compiz-fusion-plugins-main compiz-fusion-plugins-extra emerald compizconfig-settings-manager

    I removed nvidia-glx / nvidia-glx-new as they directly conflicted with my nvidia drivers, and put me into “Low Graphics Mode” and caused all sorts of issues with the xserver.

    sudo apt-get remove nvidia-glx –purge
    sudo apt-get remove nvidia-glx-new –purge


    installed metacity:

    sudo apt-get install metacity

    restarted the computer (this is key)

    then made sure I had a fully functioning xorg.conf that I created from mish-mashing the generated
    configs from the following commands:

    sudo nvidia-xconfig
    sudo dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg

    and everything was working graphically, and I was using the restricted drivers, with nothing was crashing.

    Then I added these entries to my xorg.conf

    Section “Extensions”
    Option “Composite” “Enable”


    Option “AddARGBVisuals” “True”

    to the Device section

    I then reinstalled the nvidia drivers

    sudo nvidia-installer -f

    -f forces the install, when the install asks you if you want it to generate and xorg for you SAY NO! (You just spent a lot of time creating a working one)

    then restarted the computer again.

    it’s still a bit finicky as I had to run it twice to get it to work, and afterwards I can’t switch back to xfwm4 but it’s I small price to pay.

    UPDATE: I’ve since uninstalled metacity, and everything seems to be working great

Of course, you can always read the comments for this post to read everybody’s problems/solutions or general tips.

That’s all folks!

Just because Xubuntu is speedy doesn’t mean it should not look pretty. With the release of 7.10, finally Compiz is no longer exclusively Ubuntu’s. Enjoy the looks!

Installing Xubuntu

When I installed Xubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon“, I could not resist the urge to create a walkthrough for installing Xubuntu. It took me a while to write it up, but here it is. (Note: I have also written a review of Xubuntu 7.10)

Since Xubuntu uses the same installer as Ubuntu and Edubuntu, Ubiquity, this guide also applies to them, and Kubuntu’s installer is basically the same, so it also gives you an overview of what Kubuntu’s installation looks like. Also, the installer has not changed since the previous version, 7.04 “Feisty Fawn“, so it applies to that version too.

To start the installation, you just click the Install icon on the desktop once it is booted. However, I wanted to configure my internet connection first, because that way I would immediately be able to install language packs and whatnot. Note, though, that you can also complete the installation without internet connection.

In order to configure my wireless connection, I click the NetworkManager icon in the top right-hand side. It then pops up a list of detected wireless networks and has an entry listing my wired card.

Simply clicking the network I want to connect with, it prompts me for the passphrase. I can then click Login to Network and I am connected! It couldn’t be easier 🙂

Now that my network connection is all set, I can start Ubiquity (the installation application, remember?). The first screen allows you to select a language and links to Ubuntu’s release notes.

Clicking Forward brings us in the timezone selection screen, where we are presented with a map of the world.

Clicking the area on the map where you live zooms in the map making it easy to select your location.

Clicking Forward again presents us with a screen to select your keyboard layout. It includes many options, including many Dvorak ones (note to self: get to learn to type using Dvorak). An input field allows you to test the selected layout.

Yet again clicking Forward, a dialog box pops up telling the partitioner is being started.

When it has finished loading, you are presented with three partitioning options:

  1. Guided, resizing your main hard drive using the freed up space to install Xubuntu.
  2. Guided – use entire disk to wipe a whole hard drive and install Xubuntu on it.
  3. Manual

I opted for Manual.

The reason for me to select Manual was because I wanted a separate partition for /home, which allows me to keep all documents and settings for all user accounts were I to reinstall Xubuntu (i.e. when a new version is released). Adding the required root (/) and swap partition I ended up with a total of three partitions.

Then we need to provide Xubuntu with some user information for the first user account.

And finally, just before the actual installation will start, you are presented with an overview of everything you have selected so you can check it.

However, before you commence the installation, be sure to click the Advanced button in the bottom right-hand side. It allows you to set the location of the boot loader if you wish to, and enables you to opt in for the “Package usage survey”. If you check the checkbox, Xubuntu will send anonymous application usage data to a central Ubuntu server, so they can generate statistics about which applications are most popular. Not only does this enable the developers to improve the distribution in general, it also influences e.g. the ratings of applications you see in Add/Remove…

It will then start the installation, which will take a while.

Meanwhile, and this is an awesome feature, you can continue to use the system! You can browse the web using Firefox, heck, you can even install new applications for use during that session, all while the installation is progressing!

After a while you will be notified that the installation has finished, and that you should restart the computer to use it.

When you have restarted, with your internet connection configured, you will mostly be notified that updates are available.

I was also notified that I had the option to enable a restricted driver. This driver is not open source, but as I would like to try out Compiz Fusion (more on that in a later post) I wanted to install the driver.

Enabling the driver was very easy – just check the box and it will start the installation.

Once the installation completed, I was notified that I had to restart.

Clicking the notification gave me the option of deferring the restart to a later time, or to restart immediately.

That restart was the last restart I had to do since 🙂

All in all, Xubuntu’s installation process is a breeze. The partitioning part might be a bit scary (but hey, we’ve got Wubi if it’s too scary) but overall, it’s very easy and even comfortable. Being able to use the system while it is installing is a feature that blows away every other operating system I’m aware of, apart from other Linux distributions 🙂

Getting the right image

Update: Using Toad’s very useful comment this post now uses a better method. Thanks Toad!

As noted on the Xubuntu website, there is a most urgent need for testers of Xubuntu’s next release, 7.10, dubbed Gutsy Gibbon. Now, obviously you are eager to help out, so you download Xubuntu’s latest ISO image in order to burn it onto a CD. However, you realize that, when you report a bug in Launchpad, the error might just be caused by an incorrect download. How are you to know that your download completed successfully?

That’s where MD5 comes in. MD5 is an algorithm to convert input to a 32-character text string. When provided the same input, it will always return the same output. What’s more, it can even take a file as argument, including your ISO image!

You get it: if the MD5 sum (the output) of the image you downloaded is the same as the sum of the image on the server, your image is the same as the image on the server, and you know your download was not corrupted 🙂

So how do you get Xubuntu to calculate the MD5 sum of your ISO image? It’s simple, really. First, of course, you need the image itself, so go and download that, save it in a folder of your choice. You also need the MD5SUMS file listed on the same page, so click the MD5SUMS link.

You will see a text file that will look something like this:

d39feb6d64127aac844cf99d788f3b5b *xubuntu-7.10-alternate-amd64.iso
8a6e05a36ff5098ece6e3d28ad3b279a *xubuntu-7.10-alternate-i386.iso
41c7b57b82373d756adf6d90558c2c86 *xubuntu-7.10-desktop-amd64.iso
877ae9aceb9fa5abcc8f8758c3f9f111 *xubuntu-7.10-desktop-i386.iso

As you can guess, this file lists the MD5 sums that are associated with the files listed on the server. Save the file (in Firefox: File->Save Page As) into the same folder you downloaded the ISO image to.

When the download is complete, open Thunar (Applications->Accessories->Thunar File Manager) and browse to the folder you downloaded the image to. Right-click the part of Thunar where the contents of the folder is displayed and select “Open Terminal Here” (yes, you have to work in a terminal window, but it’s not scary or anything). A terminal window opens, in which you have to enter the md5sum command, with the -c argument and instruct it to use the MD5SUMS file. In short, enter this:

md5sum -c MD5SUMS

This will look for each file listed in the MD5SUMS file and, if it is present, calculate the MD5 sum of that file and compare it with the one listed in the file.
The output should be similar to this:

md5sum: xubuntu-7.10-alternate-amd64.iso: No such file or directory
xubuntu-7.10-alternate-amd64.iso: FAILED open or read
md5sum: xubuntu-7.10-alternate-i386.iso: No such file or directory
xubuntu-7.10-alternate-i386.iso: FAILED open or read
md5sum: xubuntu-7.10-desktop-amd64.iso: No such file or directory
xubuntu-7.10-desktop-amd64.iso: FAILED open or read
xubuntu-7.10-desktop-i386.iso: OK
md5sum: WARNING: 3 of 4 listed files could not be read

As you can see, it encounters a few errors about files not found, because, well, it can’t find some files… There are four files listed in the MD5SUMS file, but I only wanted to check the MD5 sum of one: xubuntu-7.10-desktop-i386.iso in my case. And look what it says:

xubuntu-7.10-desktop-i386.iso: OK

My MD5 sum is correct!

However, the image might still get corrupted when burning it onto a CD! Luckily, Xubuntu can check the MD5 sum when you boot the CD, by choosing Check CD for defects in the menu.

It will then “check the integrity” of the CD.

Once it has finished, it will notify you whether errors were found.

If no errors were found both in the downloaded image and burned CD, then you know that any errors encountered are not caused by a corrupt download or an error in burning the CD. Obviously, this means it is a bug and should be reported in Launchpad 😉

(And by the way, thanks for testing 😉 )

Extremely useful panel plugin: Clipman

If you do not know what a clipboard or copy/paste is, be sure to check the Wikipedia article.

Xfce has many useful panel plugins. One which I never even knew existed, let alone thought of adding to my panel, was the “Clipboard Manager” aptly named Clipman.

This was until I learnt that it would solve one slight annoyance: something you copy to your clipboard will get lost when you close the window you copied it from. While I was already quite content when I heard that Clipman could fix this, I quickly learnt it has many more benefits which woke up the power user inside me.

One example: did you ever copy something that you wanted to paste elsewhere after you had finished whatever it was that you were doing? If you did then you probably have also experienced that uneasy feeling of having to be constantly aware not to copy anything else in order to preserve the item currently on your clipboard. Well, you can say goodbye to that feeling now, because with Clipman, you can switch back and forth between previously copied items with the smallest effort imaginable.

And as if that weren’t enough, you can also have Clipman save your selections. No more efforts to press Ctrl+C (or even worse: right-click and select Copy!), a measly selection is enough! Oh, by the way, did I mention the small but very convenient ability to paste with a single click on your middle mouse button that is present in every Linux distribution by default?

So, here I am, having convinced you of the sheer greatness of the Clipman Xfce Panel plugin, but I still haven’t told you how to add it to your panel. Well, it’s simple really, as it is already installed by default in Xubuntu. You just right click the panel, click Add New Item, select Clipman and press Add. You can then click the Clipman icon and browse through a handy list of clipboard items previously copied, with the current one highlighted in bold. If you want to configure it, right click the Clipman icon and select Properties. Some of the configuration options include whether you want Clipman to remember selections, how many history items it should remember and whether you want to display line numbers. Have fun with this simple but amazingly convenient plugin!

Note: An alternative for Gnome is Glipper, the KDE alternative, with its highly original name, is Klipper, which doesn’t seem to have a website.

Access to the proprietary world

Who doesn’t like the idea of open source, of sharing, and that every one who is able to can change software to his/her likings and share the changes with the rest of the free software world? Unfortunately, it takes a big deal of self-restraint to only use completely liberated software. Who can resist the attraction of shiny animations on websites (Flash), or those of playing music on your iPod (which does not support any of the free formats that are superior in so many ways)?

Unfortunately, due to a lot of legal restrictions, Xubuntu is unable to add support for these restricted formats to a default installation. Luckily, since Xubuntu Feisty (7.04) it is easier than ever to enable, using Applications->System->Add/Remove.... With just a few clicks, you can install the package “Ubuntu Restricted Extras”. So, I open up Add/Remove… and search for “Restricted Extras”…

Searching for "Restricted Extras" - where is it?

Not found?! Oh, wait…

To broaden your search, choose ‘Show all Open Source applications’ or ‘Show all available’ applications.

So, in the top right-hand corner, I select “All available applications” and, what a surprise, there it is!

Searching for "Restricted Extras" - there it is!

Cliking the checkbox in front of “Ubuntu restricted extras” I get the following pop-up:

This should be "Enable additional repositories?"

Hmm… If you are a person (as in: not a company) then it should be legal for you to install these packages. I am a person, so I click “Install”.
However, the purpose of this window isn’t entirely clear. Indeed, the button said “Install”, but it actually meant “Enable”, as in “enable extra repositories” (i.e. locations to download software from). So, if you were thinking the package would now be installed: you’re wrong. In fact, the checkbox in front of “Ubuntu restricted extras” is still unchecked. Check it now, then click OK. You will be asked if you are sure, click “Apply”. The packages will then finally be installed.

There you have it! You can now play your music and watch YouTube (and yes, you can use Gnash for that, but more likely than not situations will occur where you need a version of Flash later than seven). You can use Java (which will be open sourced and thus can be included in future releases of Xubuntu) and websites will now be displayed in the fonts their authors wanted them to be displayed in! Enjoy!

Note: the next version of Xubuntu, Gutsy Gibbon, will introduce Xubuntu Restricted Extras, which will install packages more appropriate for Xubuntu.