Posts Tagged 'Ubuntu'

Ubuntu from your flash drive – easier than ever before

As you have probably noticed, new versions have arrived of Ubuntu, Xubuntu and other derivatives. One of the most exciting new features has received far less publicity than it deserves – the ability to “install” it onto your USB flash drive with just a few clicks.

The advantages are obvious: just plug your flash drive into a computer and run your favourite operating system. What’s more, everything you do — installing applications, saving documents, editing preferences — will be saved to your flash drive and will be available to you every time you run it!

The best news is that it’s astoundingly easy: all it takes is a few clicks.

Of course, there are a few requirements. First, you can only run it on computers that support booting from a USB flash drive – this is the case for most computers nowadays. Secondly, you must have a CD or a CD image. The latter can be downloaded free of charge – I, obviously, downloaded Xubuntu. Third, you’ll need to install usb-creator, the new application that is readily available in version 8.10 but which you can also download and install on version 8.04 (with Windows and Qt versions planned). And, last but not least, you’ll obviously need to have a USB flash drive.

Once installed, you can find it in your menu as Create a USB startup disk (on Xubuntu it is located under Applications->System, in Ubuntu this would be System->Administration, IIRC).



The first thing you’ll need to do is to insert the flash drive you’re planning to use. Usb-creator will then detect the drive – if multiple flash drives are inserted, you can pick from a list which one you want to use, and if the drive isn’t formatted yet usb-creator will give you the option to do so (note that this will destroy all files on it!).

The next step is inserting the appropriate CD into your CD drive, or loading the CD image you downloaded before by clicking Other….



Finally, you’ll need to configure whether you want all your documents, settings and applications to be discarded on shutdown (i.e. act as a regular LiveCD) or if you want to save them to your flash drive (this is called persistency, or persistent mode). If you pick the latter, you’ll also be able to select how much space you want to reserve for this.

Do note that usb-creator will not overwrite existing files on the drive – thus, if you want to use your entire drive, you’ll first have to delete all existing files.

Now, with everything configured, click Make Startup Disk, and sit back and relax while usb-creator prepares your flash drive.



You can do something entirely different now, like reading the rest of this blog, viewing all my screenshots of usb-creator, whatever you like. Once usb-creator is finished, it will notify you that it’s done. All that’s left now is to boot your computer from your flash drive and have fun ๐Ÿ™‚



Troubleshooting

If persistency does not work, you might need to edit the file text.cfg in the syslinux folder on your flash drive. Just replace the line default livewith the following lines, adding a new Start Xubuntu option to the boot screen the next time you boot. Note that you might want to replace occurences of “Xubuntu” with the name of the distro you’re using. This has been tested with Xubuntu 8.10;

default persistent
label persistent
menu label ^Start Xubuntu
kernel /casper/vmlinuz
append file=/cdrom/preseed/xubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=/casper/initrd.gz quiet splash persistent
--

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ .

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Conclusion

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ .

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 ๐Ÿ™‚



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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

This is Gutsy

As the release of the next version of Xubuntu, 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, is set to arrive soon, I took a test drive with the release candidate, looking for bugs to be solved just before the final release, and to find out what’s new. This release will bring you many improvements inherited from Ubuntu but also tons of Xubuntu-specific improvements. Prepare for a long read ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, by the way, I also made a little screencast giving a quick overview of the new features that you can download in Ogg (recommended) and Avi formats. And yes, it’s kind of random (I didn’t prepare it), but at least you can get a quick peek at the look and feel of Gutsy.

The looks

The very first thing you will notice in this release is Xubuntu’s spiffy new theme (MurrinaStormCloud) and the sleek new background image.



To be honest, when I saw it on screenshots, I was quite unimpressed. However, once you actually get to use it, ut just “feels right”. What’s more, this theme uses the Murrine engine. Basically, this means that it will run faster and feel more responsive than the previous theme which used the Clearlooks engine.

Software updates

In the six months that have already passed since Xubuntu’s previous release, much of the software included enjoyed updates that added a few new features.
For example, Ubuntu’s Add/Remove… application, for easy installation of additional software, has had some minor improvements, mainly in the use of language.



Even though Firefox 3 has been released yet, there are some minor but very useful additions to good ol’ Firefox 2.0, provided by the Ubufox extension, allowing the installation of third-party enhancements to Firefox to be done “the Ubuntu way”.
The first one can be seen when you open the Add-ons window from Tools->Add-ons. At the bottom right-hand side you will observe a link that says Get Ubuntu Addons.



Clicking it opens the familiar Add/Remove… window from which you can browse through some Firefox extensions that are packaged specifically for Ubuntu. Don’t worry about the limited amount of available extensions though, because you can still install extensions the way you used to.



The second one takes over the installation of plug-ins (software that allows you to play certain media, such as Flash, from within Firefox). In opening a website with an element that requires the installation of a plug-in, you are presented with the normal FIrefox placeholder in place of that content. However, clicking it doesn’t open the normal Firefox plug-in finder service you are used to, but a customized Ubuntu one. For example, when you try to open a Flash file, you are presented with two available Flash plug-ins: the official Adobe one, and the open source Gnash. Since Adobe’s one supports all Flash versions up till version 9, that choice is selected by default.



Selecting one of them and clicking Next opens a confirmation window.



The plug-in will then be downloaded and installed the Ubuntu way.



Once it’s finished you can close the window and you’ll be back in normal Firefox, which will know the plug-in to be installed.



And ta-da! You can view the content you so longed to see! (It still says on top, though, that a plug-in is needed, but that will disappear when you leave the page)


Xubuntu Gutsy also ships Pidgin 2.2.0. The reason it is listed under Software updates is because Pidgin is the new name of Gaim, the Multi-Protocol Instant Messaging client (for MSN, Google Talk, etc.) which used to be included in Xubuntu. Pidgin includes support for even more protocols than Gaim used to do, so you can really keep in touch with all of your friends.


Also included is the awesome new Gimp 2.4, which is an enormous improvement over the previous version (2.2), with so many enhancements that it would be one hell of a job to list them all here. Luckily, an extensive overview of new features in the Gimp 2.4 is already available. In any case, I’m loving it already ๐Ÿ™‚

New software

Apart from the usual software updates, Xubuntu Gutsy features a whole host of new software which will all greatly improve your user experience and does away with under-developed or featureless applications.

The Screens and Graphics application is an Ubuntu application that is part of a bigger effort called BulletProofX, which makes sure that you will never be left without a graphical environment. If it so happens to crash, no longer will you be presented with a blue screen with unreadable text, instead, you will be presented with the Screens and Graphics window allowing you to reconfigure your graphical settings. You can also run it normally, allowing you to easily configure multiple screens.



You can also use it to select a graphics card driver.



You can choose a driver by the name of the driver, or by the model of your monitor.


Also just as Ubuntu, Xubuntu Gutsy ships ntfs-3g. This does not really interest me, because I hardly know what ntfs is, but I still saw it was a Good Thingโ„ข when I got my dad to boot Xubuntu Gutsy, who was delighted that he could delete files from his Windows partition.

Then Xubuntu inherits from Ubuntu the latest Linux kernel (core) that includes dynticks. Again, I’m not too sure what exactly it is, but I read that it makes sure Xubuntu uses less power and makes your computer produce less heat, which should especially appeal to laptop users.

Yet another thing inherited from Ubuntu of which I don’t know exactly what it does: AppArmor. According to Wikipedia, AppArmor is software that provides yet another layer of security allowing for even stricter definitions of what software is allowed to do.

To replace Xarchiver, which was viewed by some as user-unfriendly, Gnome’s file-roller Archive Manager is now included. It allows you to easily create archives, in formats like .zip, .tar.gz or .tar.bz2.



It also easily allows you to open compressed archives and view the contained files.



However, it is slower than Xarchiver, and since that one is still being actively developed I am of good hope that by the next release of Xubuntu, it will be considered user-friendly enough to make a comeback.

At first, Xubuntu Gutsy was to include a Places Plugin for the panel, just like Ubuntu has. Unfortunately, despite the usefulness of this panel plugin, it is considered too unstable for inclusion (as in: it crashes when trying to open a certain type of folder) so it won’t make it into the final release. Hopefully it will be stable enough by the time Hardy Heron, the version after Gutsy, is released. And of course, it still is available so you can add it to your panel yourself.




To replace the user-unfriendly Gxine, the Totem media player is now included by default. Unfortunately, it is named a bit odd in the Applications menu (Movie Player) because it will also play your audio files with ease.



However, as opposed to Ubuntu (which uses Gstreamer), Xubuntu uses xine behind the scenes to play your files. This is mainly motivated by the fact that, by using xine, Totem has better support to play DVD’s (Gstreamer for one has problems displaying the menu). The downside of this, however, is that it does not include support for automatic lookup of suitable codecs to play your files. This means that it will produce and error when trying to play files restricted by legal issues, unless you have installed the suitable codecs yourself. If Gstreamer were used, it would ask you whether you’d want to install the required codecs and then automatically look them up and install them for you.




Brasero replaces the redundant Xfburn, which was no longer in development and missed a few important features. The choice of a burning application for Xubuntu was a difficult one. Most of the settled applications where either no longer in development, missed important features or were specifically made for KDE. Brasero, however, seems like a good choice.




To replace and complement xfce4-taskmanager, Xubuntu now includes Gnome’s System Monitor. When you open it, you will be presented with the Resources tab open, displaying the current load on your system.



There is yet more though. Take the System tab for example. This tab is amazingly simple yet invaluable because it is the first graphical way of seeing which version of Xubuntu you are running (and yes, for now, if one has this application installed, you already know he’s running Gutsy). The System tab also displays your host name (the name of your computer), the version of the kernel, the amount of memory and type of processor, and the available disk space.



But lets not forget the Processes tab, which displays all running processes just like xfce4-taskmanager used to do. However, System Monitor displays a bit more information than xfce4-taskmanager (most importantly: it has icons next to the processes and an easy button to force an application to quit).



Finally, there is the File Systems tab, which I think is supposed to display information about your different partitions, but (probably because I was working from a LiveCD) it was empty for me.




Enabled by default in Xubuntu Gutsy is Update Notifier, which, surprisingly, notifies you when updates are available and allows you to easily install them.

Network Manager is an excellent application that makes it extremely easy to switch networks, which is very useful for laptop users often using different networks (e.g. one at work, another at home). It is represented by an icon in the system tray.



Clicking the icon pops up a list with available networks which take a single click to configure. Once you’ve configured your networks, it will be able to connect automatically next time it finds it. Unfortunately, I am on a computer that only has a wired connection (with which, by the way, it automatically connected), so I cannot show it to you.



Clicking Manual Configuration opens Network Admin, which was already present in previous Xubuntu versions. You can still use it to configure your network without using Network Manager (yes, I find the names confusing too) by disabling roaming mode. Both methods support WPA encryption if your hardware supports it.

Gutsy also ships Character Map, a simple applications that makes it easy to look up special characters like รฉ, รก or even ร†, รต and รธ!


Automatic printer configuration should automatically configure your printers when they are plugged in (you can’t get it easier than that!). Unfortunately, I do not have a printer so I could not try it out.

The next one in fact concerns not one, but seventeen (!) applications, but since it’d be a lot of work to discuss them all I’ll just mention them as one: Gnome’s Games! I can tell you that, at least for me, this is a very welcome addition. And the quality of these games is excellent!



One of the included games is the hyped Sudoku puzzle game, which my mother greatly enjoys ๐Ÿ™‚



The little things

Apart from all these big improvements, there are also a few subtle little changes that make the whole experience just that tiny bit more pleasant.

As every default application now has an icon in the menu, the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Esc couldn’t lag behind. This key combination allows you to click a window that might have crashed in order to force it to close. However, in previous versions, the cursor would change to an ugly black skull. Now, however, it is an elegant cross that fits in with the rest of the cursor theme.

In order to make Xubuntu even easier to get used to, and so as to prevent people from missing the documentation that was crafted with such care by all those superb volunteers, Xubuntu now by default has a help icon in the panel.

When saving or opening a file, you can now view Recently Used documents and Search for them.




Instead of displaying six buttons in a row like done in previous versions of Xubuntu, the Logout dialog now displays the buttons in two rows.



And you can still remove either or both the Suspend and Hibernate buttons which will neatly resize the buttons on that row to make it of equal width to the row above.







In previous versions, when shutting down, you would first see scary console text flying by for a bit until it switched to the easy-on-the-eyes logo with the progress bar. Well, that still happens, the scary text isn’t visible as long as it used to.

Speed

As you might have noticed from the screenshots, the machine I tested this on was quite a high-end machine. However, for those of you worried about the speed, Carrie offers reassurance in the comments:

I just installed Xubuntu 7.10 over the weekend on a PII 400 Mhz, 384 MB RAM test computer I have. I love the new look default theme on it. I was highly impressed with everything I saw as I clicked around in the menus and different settings. I enabled the effects as well and they worked beautifully.

One thing I noticed right away with the 2.6.22-14 kernel is everything is much more responsive than before. A very happy surprise. Including booting up. Instead of a two minute start up time under Feisty, it takes about a minute and a half.

Conclusion

That was a long, long read ๐Ÿ™‚
I think this may well be considered the most important release since 6.06 “Dapper Drake”, which was Xubuntu’s first official release. Just as Ubuntu’s, Xubuntu’s goal has always been to be a user-friendly distribution, and it took a giant leap forwards and is even more so with this release. It will also be a good base to build on for the next Long Term Support version, 8.04 “Hardy Heron”, slated for release in April 2008.

Have you also tried Gutsy, and did you find it as awesome as I did (or perhaps you found it to be the worst release ever), or have I missed anything? Do not hesitate to use the comment form below!

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.

Setting languages

I always have to laugh a bit when I see advertisements for computers loaded with Windows that can dual-boot (!) both English and Dutch versions of Windows. One of the greatest advantage of using Xubuntu (or Ubuntu, or whatever) is that it is easy and, no less important, free of charge to use it in different languages. In fact, you can use different languages on a per-account basis!

To set it up, you just have to open Applications->System->Language Support.

Language support

From there, you can browse through a list of supported languages. I personally prefer British English (which I also set as the default language in the drop-down menu at the bottom), but my sister does not speak English and therefore would like to use my system in Dutch. No problem, I just scroll through the list, select “Dutch” and check the checkbox under “Support”. Now I can click “OK”, upon which it will download the selected language and set it up. And if you later install other applications that have been translated to the other language, that other language will be automatically installed with it.

To set Dutch as the default language for my sister, at the login screen, she can just choose “Dutch” as the language, then when she logs in she will be prompted whether she wants to use it as the default language or just for that session. (Note: depending on the version of Xubuntu, or Ubuntu, you use, a “Languages” button might not be available. To access it, you first have to select Options and then Languages.)

Unfortunately, translating every single piece of software is a huge job, mostly done by volunteers, so not everything will be translated. But the most important software has mostly been translated, and using a partially-translated operating system is already way easier than using one in another language.

Ubuntu Feisty on your USB drive – finally!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unless for some specific reason you want to run Ubuntu version 7.04 specifically from your USB Drive, this tutorial is deprecated. I’ve written an updated and much easier tutorial on how to run the latest version of Ubuntu from your USB flash drive.

Important: As SurJector mentions, he has found another workaround that is much less work. After you have followed his instructions, you can skip on to the partitioning part (i.e. that part that is very similar to almost my whole post about putting Xubuntu on your USB drive).

Update: I now also have a guide on putting Xubuntu Feisty on your USB drive.

Note: All screenshots are also available as a slideshow.

When, in June 2006, Ubuntu Dapper Drake was released, it introduced a very exciting new feature: the ability to run it from a USB drive (also pendrive, USB bar or memory stick). This would work just like a LiveCD, with the big improvement that all your data could be saved onto the USB drive! This means not just your documents, but also e.g. network settings or your desktop background. You were practically carrying around a fully-functional operating system on your USB drive!

However, as Ubuntu 7.04 “Feisty Fawn” contained some new packages, it also introduced a bug due to which your data would no longer be saved. When it was released, this bug still wasn’t fixed. It is expected to be fixed in the next release, 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, to be released in October of this year. Up until then, we’re out of luck.

You’d think. However, thanks to the hard work of Mike (mjpca on the Ubuntu Forums) and some others (see the bug report on Launchpad and the thread on the Ubuntu Forums) there is now a way to work around this bug, which I’m going to show you in this post.

The basic idea is that the files that prevent persistence (the ability to save your data to the USB drive) from working can be replaced by their previous versions as present in Ubuntu 6.10 “Edgy Eft”. However, because files on the LiveCD are compressed so they can fit on one CD, replacing these files requires quite some effors. Luckily, Mike has done all the hard work for you and has created a new hybrid Edgy/Feisty image. To use it, your computer needs to be of the type Intel x86. Don’t worry, if you don’t know what this is, you probably use it. Furthermore, I recommend you use a USB drive of at least 2 GB, because the image is quite large.
For those with 1GB USB drives or who prefer Xubuntu (which would be me ;)) I plan on creating a Xubuntu image, but I’m not quite sure if I’m able to. If it works out, of course I’ll post on this blog.

Note: This tutorial is adapted from this How-to from Debuntu.org.

To start, fire up Gparted from Applications->System->GNOME Partition Editor (note: for those that do not use Xubuntu, you’ll have to find the applications yourself). On the top, right-hand side, you can select which drive you want to partition — select your USB drive. Be careful not to select any other drive, because you will be erasing all data that is available on that drive! You first have to delete all existing partitions, which will erase all existing data. Note down or remember the name of your drive, because you’ll need it later. Mine is /dev/sda

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - clear partitions

We then create the first partition, which will contain Ubuntu. Set its size to 840 MB (which is the same as MiB), its filesystem to FAT16 and leave the rest as is.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - creating main partition

We will then create the second partition, which will hold all of our data. Just let it take all of the remaining space and set the filesystem to ext2.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - creating casper-rw partition

Make sure that every partition is unmounted. If a partition is not, right-click it and select unmount.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - make sure they are unmounted

You then see an overview of how the drive will be partitioned — click the checkmark or select Edit->Apply to apply your actions.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence

It will ask you if you are sure, because it will erase all your data. If you’re fine with that, select Apply.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - continue?

You’ll then have to wait a little while Gparted applies the operations. When it’s finished, you can close Gparted.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - creating partitions...

Now you need to format each partition and give it a label. The name of the first partition, which holds Ubuntu, does not matter that much, however, the partition that needs to hold your data needs to be named casper-rw.

To partition and label the first partition, run the following command, in which you replace /dev/sdx with the name of your drive (Remember? Mine was /dev/sda). Note that I named it UbuntUSB (how original) but if you want, you can just use another name:
$ sudo mkfs.vfat -F 16 -n UbuntUSB /dev/sdx1
This won’t take long. For the second partition, you run this command, again, replacing /dev/sdx with the name of your drive (but keep the name casper-rw!):
$ sudo mkfs.ext2 -b 4096 -L casper-rw /dev/sdx2
This will take a bit longer, and will also output more.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - setting labels

And here comes the fun part. You need to download the image that Mike created (generously hosted by pepeio. Use the second ISO he created). After it has finished downloading (can take quite a while) you need to extract the .iso file using Xarchiver. I recommend you to save it to a folder in /tmp so that it will be deleted on shutdown, because you don’t need it after you’re finished. I saved it to /tmp/ubuntu-livecd. Make sure you check “Extract files with full path”.

Extracting the .iso

Now you need to copy some files (which contain Ubuntu) to your USB drive, onto the first partition (which I named UbuntUSB). First copy the folders casper, disctree, dists, install, pics, pool, preseed and .disk (to see this one, select View->Show Hidden Files). Then we need the files md5sum.txt, README.diskdefines and ubuntu.ico. Then move to the folder “isolinux” in the extracted folder (so for me, that would be /tmp/ubuntu-livecd/isolinux), but do not change your location in the USB drive. Copy all the files that are present in the isolinux folder to your USB drive. Then, move into the “casper” folder in the extracted folder (/tmp/ubuntu-livecd/casper) and copy vmlinuz and initrd.gz to your USB drive. Finally, move into the “install” folder in the extracted folder (/tmp/ubuntu-liveusb/install) and copy mt86plus to your USB drive.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - copying required files

Now, on your USB drive, rename the file isolinux.cfg to
syslinux.cfg.

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - rename isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg

Replace all its contents with the following:

DEFAULT persistent
GFXBOOT bootlogo
GFXBOOT-BACKGROUND 0xB6875A
APPEND file=preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=1048576 root=/dev/ram rw quiet splash --
LABEL persistent
menu label ^Start Ubuntu in persistent mode
kernel vmlinuz
append file=preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper persistent initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=1048576 root=/dev/ram rw quiet splash --
LABEL live
menu label ^Start or install Ubuntu
kernel vmlinuz
append file=preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=1048576 root=/dev/ram rw quiet splash --
LABEL xforcevesa
menu label Start Ubuntu in safe ^graphics mode
kernel vmlinuz
append file=preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper xforcevesa initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=1048576 root=/dev/ram rw quiet splash --
LABEL check
menu label ^Check CD for defects
kernel vmlinuz
append boot=casper integrity-check initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=1048576 root=/dev/ram rw quiet splash --
LABEL memtest
menu label ^Memory test
kernel mt86plus
append -
LABEL hd
menu label ^Boot from first hard disk
localboot 0x80
append -
DISPLAY isolinux.txt
TIMEOUT 50
PROMPT 1
F1 f1.txt
F2 f2.txt
F3 f3.txt
F4 f4.txt
F5 f5.txt
F6 f6.txt
F7 f7.txt
F8 f8.txt
F9 f9.txt
F0 f10.txt

Save that and close. For our last step, we need the packages syslinux and mtools, so fire up Synaptic (Applications->System->Synaptic Package Manager) and install them. Make sure that your USB drive is unmounted, then go into a terminal (Applications->Accessories->Terminal) and enter the following command, replacing /dev/sdx with the name of your drive:
$ sudo syslinux -f /dev/sdx1

Preparing my USB drive for persistence - making my USB drive bootable

Well, all that is left now is to test it, so boot from your USB drive, and then you’ll (if everything went right) be greeted with a screen like the one I was greeted with:

My Ubuntu Feisty Desktop from my USB drive

If this tutorial worked for you, please leave a reply in the comments here. If it didn’t work, you can also leave a comment, or rather (if you have an account) post a message in the Ubuntu forums thread, so we can find a way to fix it.

Note: If you want to create a new user, be sure to grant administrator rights, otherwise it may cause errors.

Troubleshooting

  • Toad mentions that he could not boot from his USB drive, but he fixed it:

    I finally got the computer to boot from the USB stick. I had to set the fat16 partition to bootable. โ€˜cfdisk /dev/sdxโ€™ should do the trick, just press enter on the set bootable option.

  • If this worked, but after a while it doesn’t anymore, you can remove any edits you did to restore it to the point where it worked (all your settings will be lost though):
    $ sudo mkfs.ext2 -b 4096 -L casper-rw /dev/sdx2
    (Thank zenobiaflex for this one)
  • If you want more than the two partitions described here on your disk, be sure that the first partition needs to be the FAT16 partition, as that’s where the bootloader gets loaded which needs to be on the first partition. Thanks Matt.
  • If your drive won’t boot correctly, your Master Boot Record may be corrupted. You can repair it with Lilo (so open up Synaptic from Applications->System->Synaptic Package Manager and install the package lilo) using the following command from the terminal:
    $ sudo lilo -M /dev/sdx
    (From PiterP)
  • If, during shutdown, the screen switches from the shutdown screen with the Xubuntu logo with the progress bar to a black screen, possibly with error messages, then you computer is probably just shutting down the normal way without notifying you of its status. At a certain moment (not too long after the screen turned black) it will have reached the point where it would have normally said something like “remove the disk, close the tray (if any) and press enter”. So when the screen turns black, you just have to try to press enter a little while after it has turned black.

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