Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Windows XP vs Linux Mint (pg. 1)

Today we are going to take a look at installing, and running, both Windows XP and Linux Mint on a Dell Inspiron 6400.

Why crusty old XP and not the sparkling new Windows Vista? For the unspectacular reason that it's what I have. You see, I purchased the computer about a year ago and Vista had not shook the world yet.

This particular machine came with an Intel pro3945 wireless network card and Intel 950 graphics card. Very much like the E1505N laptop Dell is currently offering with Ubuntu installed on it. I was constantly checking Linux on laptops and this Dell hit the sweet spot on price/compatibility at that time. The fact that it came with XP installed really didn't matter to me.

My initial affair with Windows lasted an entire two days. The first day I just wanted to make sure all the hardware was working and was a bit giddy with a "new computer" buzz. I spent the second day trying to remove all the "crapware" Dell had installed, with little success, and getting the machine ready to dual boot. At the precise moment Windows would not allow me to freely burn my restore partition to a DVD-R, I snapped. After a full day of battling crippled demos and irritating, worthless add-ons, I handed all 100 gigs of the hard drive over to Open Suse 10.1.

Well, here we are. One happy FOSS filled year later. I've ran nothing but various Linux distributions or FreeBSD on my laptop since that fateful day two and have honestly enjoyed it. If I'm so happy, why am I installing Windows now? Long story short, I have some simple applications and some web development I'm doing for people who run Windows. Mostly family and friends stuff, but making Windows necessary just the same.

Over the course of the next couple of pages we will examine how easily each operating system installed and what is needed to perform a few necessary task. A few things that I absolutely must be able to do are:

1. Use Flash and Java. A lot of content I need is delivered via these formats.

2. SSH and SCP. I keep my material on a home server and have to be able to get at it securely.

3. Burn ISO images and check md5sums. I'm in the distro of the week club. ;=)

4. Listen to Shoutcast streams. No local radio stations/long hours at computer.

First out of the gate, Windows XP.

To summarize (pg. 4)

Penguins, Beasties, Borgs, lend me your eyes;
I came to install Linux Mint, not to praise it. ;=)

I'm not going to bash Mircorsoft or Windows XP today. A large portion of the world's computer users are currently running XP and know it quirks far better than I. Again, my install should have gone qicker but was made difficult by my own actions. What are my final thoughts on XP for my Dell?

I was kind of shocked at the amount of hardware XP didn't work with natively. I understand why it didn't, but I had been living under the myth that Windows "just works" with everything. I was also caught off-guard on the lack of functionality XP showed. Yes, it's all available for a price. I just expected things like Java/Flash support to be included, silly me. In the last few years I have become much more productive and comfortable with the Linux/BSD way things are done. I need XP installed on my machine. I'll pop over to verify and test things under Windows, but I don't think I will spend much time here. It's personal, but to me XP feels excessively restrictive. Like trying to run in waist deep water.

My feelings for Linux Mint? Brace yourself. :)

The Mint logo is "from freedom came elegance". I have to agree. Mint is very much like an elegant Ubuntu. The Mint team's hard work shows in more than just the looks though. Things like additional hardware detection, Beagle search, mintDisk and mintConfig help Mint to establish its own identity. I've used mintInstall and their portal to install gFTP and will be watching the development of mintInstall closely. Very interesting things afoot, indeed.

It's almost spooky how well Linux Mint suits my personal computing habits and hardware. For example, I normally install Thunerbird first thing but it comes as the default e-mail client in Mint. Other little details, things I would have changed if I could spend the time, are all there. The way right click now includes an option to really Delete, not just move items to the trash, love it. This is my system now.

Linux Mint did have a few quirks. Nothing serious, but little blemishes, like leaving numerous residual config files on the machine or my MediaDirect button linking to not installed rhythmbox. Beauty marks on a model for all I'm concerned. At this point, me and Linux Mint... We's in love!

Anyone curious about this Linux thing you keep hearing about, I highly suggest you get a copy of Linux Mint and give it a try. It's a live CD so you don't even have to touch your hard drive and current OS if you don't want. Play around and then fire up Synaptic (install software in Mint's main menu) and be amazed at the offerings of the FOSS world.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our little dual-booting odyssey. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to spend some quality time with Linux Mint. :=)

Worth a Mint (pg. 3)

After the Windows install that would not end, I was a tad apprehensive going into Mint.

I was afraid that any install problems would be magnified by the arduous preceding installation. But, remembering how quick and easy Mint's parent Ubuntu installed, I trustingly slipped the CD in and rebooted the computer. Of course my fears were unfounded. Let's take a look at the Linux Mint time line to see why.

8:32 -> CD in and machine rebooted
8:35 -> Live-CD is running
8:39 -> Install icon clicked
8:52 -> DONE! Yes, it's installed!
8:53 -> System rebooted to run from installed Mint
8:56 -> Updates being downloaded and installed
9:11 -> Had to reboot for new kernel and we are finished! My new OS is a go!

What, exactly, did I get for 39 minuets of effort? Only everything, my friend, only everything.

Starting with the live-CD, everything just worked. My Intel 950 graphics card was detected and the resolution automatically set to 1280x800. This is the first operating system to ever get this correct, for me. Even the splendid Ubuntu 7.04 defaults to the Intel i810 driver and requires some manual adjusting.

My Intel pro1394 wireless was also working from the start and, just like Ubuntu, Mint notified me that it was using restricted drivers. I only had to select my router from the network applet and away I surfed. Media buttons, sound card, Fn keys, touch pad, etc.. all work perfectly. It's as if Linux Mint was made for this computer.

As to meeting my humble computing needs? Linux Mint comes with Firefox, of course, but also has Flash and Java running. Being a Linux, SSH and md5sum are naturally included. Burning an ISO is simply a matter of right clicking and selecting "write to disk". Amarok meets my streamcast needs, and more, but I'll probably apt-get install streamtuner and xmms to have my old favorites.

My Windoxs XP NTFS partition is mounted and appears to be read and write enabled. I hadn't really thought about reading and writing for my XP partition and can see this will be much better than my USB memory stick to transfer files. Good job Mint.

I was feeling up after such a quick installation and decided to add Emacs, gVim, Java 6 SDK and the NetBeans IDE. These additions and playing around with my new beautiful OS, all the while smiling like a love struck teen, may have added 20 minuets to the install time.

One hour to install and personalize an operating system? That's the way it should be! Short of having the OS custom preinstalled, I can't imagine making Linux Mint anymore easy, or fun, to get going. Kudos to the Linux Mint team. Great job all around.

What does it all mean? Read the blog...

Windows done Wrong (pg. 2)

The past, and a total wipe of a hard drive, has a way of coming back to haunt you.

I have to admit that my reintroduction to Windows should have gone smoother. My fault. After becoming frustrated with the mess of an installation Dell had saddled me with, I nuked my restore partition. My only means of installing Windows then became an unused OEM disk I had on hand, WITHOUT service pack 2. Yes, I know, NOW.

Booting from my XP disk, I partition my drive and begin the install. All together this process takes from 45 minuets to about 1 hour, not bad. This gets me to a basic XP install, but unexpectedly little of my hardware worked properly. Using another computer, I surfed over to and burrowed 6 layers deep to the drivers I needed. I picked out seven files (~120 megs) from the 57 possibles to burn to disk. The drivers were all, mercifully, runnable or self installing, but then it began..

I can't remember which program it was. It may have been R122161.EXE or I would not put it past R114079.EXE, that dog! Whichever, at some point my laptop needed to reboot. And reboot it did! For the next three and a half to four hours it was an endless, insane cycle of downloading updates, rebooting, and then downloading more updates.

To cover my basic computing needs I had to install the Flash player, Java RE, and Firefox. I also grabbed PuTTY for my SSH and SCP needs. MD5sums was a quick get and ISO Recorder, to burn CD's, rounded out my list.

Some times you just don't think things out, all the way. For example, I thought it would be o.k. to install the Visual C# 2005 Express Edition from the disk I had. The software installed fine and even included SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, yay, but then they're BACK!! Like the monster in a B-movie, our nemesis, Dr. Reboot and Mr. Update roll me for another 30 minutes.

At this point I have a clean, fully updated AND HOW, Windows XP installed. I can't listen to my shoutcast streams, but having been at this for over six hours, I don't care. I'm curious as to how much time I would have saved by having SP2 and drivers, or how quick Vista installs. This "raw" install of Windows has been both extremely frustrating and quite an eyeopener.

I vow to return. I want to play with Visual C# Express more because it looks really slick, but after such an investment of time just to get XP up and running, I've had my fill for now.

Let's move on to Linux Mint.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why not Wesnoth?

Would you like to learn how to program? How about make a game? Wouldn't it be cool if your game could have cool graphics, music, sound effects and network access? Well, we are going to do all of this and much more!

Our gateway into programming, The Battle for Wesnoth is an amazing fantasy themed game and community based on GNU code. Debian or Ubuntu users can simply apt-get install wesnoth-all or use Synaptic to auto-magically get it up and running.

I suggest you spend time just playing the game to get a feel for how it works and then go online to see the innovative directions people are taking it. Yes, I know that playing games is hard work. I feel a trouper, such as yourself, can handle it. :P

Our first steps into the Wesnoth programming world are going to be with WML (Wesnoth Markup Language). If you have any exposure to HTML, then WML is going to be a snap. Start with the Create and Building Scenarios sections. Under Ubuntu your data is in the ~/.wesnoth folder and maps are a made with the wesnoth_editor command. If you get stumped, or want some example code, the forum is just a click away (I especially like the rumble/survival maps, from the multiplayer development section, for quick and easy WML).

How far will, admittedly simple, WML take you? Very, very far! Consider that with WML you are leveraging the community's massive works of art, music, sound effects, networking, etc.. Your work can be placed on the forum for others to enjoy, give you feedback on, and even help with. Popular/polished works can even be added to the add-on server for Wesnoth proper. What's that? You've mastered WML and must have more? Okay, how about Python?

Python is often the answer when a beginner asks for a good programming language to start with/learn, for many good reasons. While leaning Python, you can try your new coding chops out with the Wesnoth Python A.I. interface. In a brilliant move, I think, the Wesnoth developers allowed for "drop in" artificial intelligence engines to be coded in user friendly Python. Most games today will require some form of A.I., and this may be one of the easiest ways to learn how. Check out the active thread in the Coder's Corner section of the forum about the A.I., pretty cool.

The final, and ultimate, step in our Wesnoth programming journey is C++. The Wesnoth game engine is written in C++ using the SDL library. This is the same technology used in most major Linux games, and quite a few games on all other platforms. All of the Wesnoth code is easy to get at in their SVN repository. So, while you may not learn C++ from scratch with Wesnoth, having access to the code will be invaluable as you do grow in your C++ knowledge.

Well, what are you just sitting there reading this silly blog for?!? If you can understand what
<:title>BuildingMultiplayer - Wesnoth<:/title>
does without the : then get over to the building multiplayer section, drop this:
name= _ "2p - Blitz"
description= _ "A duel map for super fast play. Recommended setting of 2 gold per village."




into gedit and make some games!!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Simple spreadsheet "video"

Here is a "video", or is it screencast, I made with byzanz desktop recorder and Ubuntu GNU/Linux. It's a short clip of me demoing some Open spreadsheet tips for a friend of mine.

Byzanz is so handy because it installs as a panel applet and records your desktop session to an animated GIF. You don't have to worry about video formats and browser add-ons/compatibility with GIF's. No sir, just add and image to your page and go on with living. :=)

Just when you think Free and Open Source Software can't be any more cool or useful, BAM!, you discover another nifty tool. What will apt-cache search turn up next?

It's hard to express how thrilled I am to have found byzanz. Now Free and Priceless can become a kind of show and tell for our FOSS exploration.

While I'm feverishly reworking potential blog post to include this wonderful technology, I'd love to get comments on your Linux/free software questions. Just post a comment on a screencast you'd like to see and I'll try to work it in.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Read All About It!!

Can you guess what these books have in common?

  • The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli.
  • Practical Common Lisp, by Peter Seibel.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.
  • Lessons In Electric Circuits, by Tony R. Kuphaldt

    Give up?

    They, and many more, are free and online, just waiting for you to grab your copy!

    Where can you find free books? I'm glad you asked.

    Project Gutenberg

    The front page claims 20,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg online book catalog and over 100,000 titles total at Project Gutenberg Partners, Affliliates and Resources.

    The place to start for classic works of literature. Project Gutenberg offers a lifetime of free reading material and wonderful community. The only nit to pick is that both newer works and tech books are a bit sparse.

    The Online Books Page

    What unbelievably appears to be the work of a single person, John Mark Ockerbloom, a site listing over 25,000 free books.

    Has everything from The Visigothic code (Boston Book Company, 1910) to Software Engineering for Internet Applications (MIT Press 2006).

    Can be a tad slow, but more than worth any time invested. Awesome site, concept and people. Check it out and pitch in if you can.

    Nice, quick site with some unique information.

    What the IPL lacks in material, it make up for with its cool delivery. The grok it feature for Java enabled browsers being one example.

    The IPL even has a section on blogs that, dare I dream, could reference our Free and Priceless some glorious day.

    Free tech books

    They say: Free Online Computer Science and Programming Books, Textbooks, and Lecture Notes

    Outstanding site! The first place I turn for anything tech related.

    A lot of work goes into this site so I personally have no problem with its banner adds. Volumes of great tech information, judge for yourself.

    Free computer books and Tech books for free

    While both of these will have some overlap, with Free tech books also, each has enough individual treasures to make it worth a look.

    I always stumble across something new when browsing both, and recommend them for a good source of free books.

    Well, I hope these books will keep you occupied for the moment Next time we'll look into various free courses to couple with your new books. Soon you'll know everything and it'll have cost you nothing. :)