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Using ATI Catalyst drivers on Ubuntu 12.10 with old hardware

February 14th, 2013 No comments

As of version 12.10, Ubuntu has upgraded the version of X.org they include to the latest and unfortunately it is no longer compatible with the official ATI Catalyst drivers for some cards, specifically the HD2xxx, 3xxx and 4xxx models. The open source driver is the only officially supported alternative and, while it is fine for most uses, it doesn’t support the advanced power settings that the ATI driver does. This means that on my laptop in particular the fan runs constantly as it tries to cool down the overheating card.

So… no Ubuntu 12.10+ then?

Thankfully someone has created a PPA that successfully downgrades the version of X.org to the maximum supported version for the official ATI driver. This step is obviously quite drastic and should not be used on production systems. However from the limited time that I have been running it things seem pretty stable. The PPA (and instructions) can be found at this link: AMD Catalyst Legacy




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu, Xorg/X11 Tags: , , ,

KeePass: The Cross-platform Password Safe

December 20th, 2012 1 comment

These days you really need a strong, unique password for almost everything you do online. To make matters even worse for the average user, security nuts will tell you that you actually need a different password for essentially every account you hold. Why? Consider the following scenario:

Little Timmy signs up for Facebook using his super secret password @wesomeS@auce3!. This password is so strong and good that even he can hardly remember it. Then he wants a Twitter account so he goes and signs up there using the same password. Some time passes and Timmy’s Twitter account is hacked. Using his associated e-mail address they try the same e-mail and password on Facebook (because it is a popular website that most people belong to) and lo and behold they have access. Little Timmy’s virtual life falls apart around him.

Think I’m being paranoid? Take a look at these examples and adjust your tin foil hat accordingly.

What to do?

So what can you do about it? Well for one don’t use the password above because now it is all over the internet. For two use strong unique passwords for each website you care about. What do I mean by that? Well in the above example Timmy clearly cared about both Facebook and Twitter so he should have used different passwords for each. That way when his hypothetical Twitter account became hacked the attackers couldn’t use the same password to gain access to his Facebook account. That said it is always good to have a throw away password or two to use on those one-off websites that you will either never visit again or don’t care if they get compromised. Third either remember all of these unique passwords in your super genius conehead sized brain or use a password safe to make it easy on yourself.

Password Safes

A password safe is essentially a program that allows you to maintain a number of different passwords while only having to remember one. Essentially you enter a master password into the program and this acts as your key to unlock all of your others passwords. That way you (technically) only have to remember one password at a time (the master password) and you only have one password to change on a regular basis (although you should obviously refresh your other passwords every so often as well). A number of these programs exists (such as LastPass, etc.) but personally I prefer KeePass.

KeePass

KeePass comes in two flavours: version 1.x (which is technically now legacy) and version 2.x (which is current). Beyond feature set the biggest difference is that version 2.x requires the .NET Framework (or Mono) and version 1.x doesn’t. For the purposes of this post I’ll be focusing on version 2.x.

KeePass has a number of great features that make it indispensable in my day-to-day computing life. While the full feature list is actually quite long I’ll just list the most useful or important ones here:

  • Open source which means that the source code has been looked at and checked over for any sort of backdoor or other nonsense that a potentially evil author would code into it. This is very important when you’re considering placing all of your password eggs in one proverbial basket.
  • When you create a new password entry you can store any sort of arbitrary information along with it:

    New Password Entry

    New Password Entry

  • All of your passwords are stored completely encrypted including all comments, website URLs and user names. This is incredibly convenient because it allows you to safely do things like create an entry containing you credit card information. Never again will you have to hunt down your wallet to make that spur of the moment online purchase!
  • It is portable – you can run it straight off of a USB stick, no installation required!
  • Rule based, strong password generator. Having a long, strong, password is very important but remembering one is very hard. Instead why not have KeePass generate a per-website, completely random, strong password for you? Using a website that for some reason doesn’t like special characters or only allows up to a 12 character password? No problem just change the rule set you use when you generate that particular password.
    Password Generator

    Password Generator

    Here are some examples of random passwords I just generated now:

    Lots of random passwords!

    Lots of random passwords!

  • Cross-platform – KeePass has implementations on almost every platform. Version 1.x runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (via KeePassX). Version 2.x runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (using Microsoft’s .NET or the open source Mono). There are even versions of it for Android, iPhone and others.
  • Auto-type – this is by far the best feature. Even if you, for some reason, didn’t want to use any other feature that KeePass has to offer, its Auto-type functionality alone is worth the install. Essentially you tell KeePass what window to look for (for instance Firefox browsing my bank’s website) and how it should type things for you (usually user name, tab, password, enter). Then you set up some key combination you want to use (like Ctrl + Alt + A) and KeePass does all of the typing for you. Now when I want to enter one of those crazy strong and super random passwords I don’t have to type it out or even copy and paste. I simply click my mouse in the user name field and press Ctrl + Alt + A. The genius of this is that it can work for all accounts on your computer not just website ones – for instance I use it at work to keep track of my passwords for our internal programs.

WHO IS PAYING YOU?

All of this praise may make it seem like I’m getting paid to write this article but that isn’t the case (not that I would turn the money down mind you *hint hint*…). KeePass is just one of those programs I use daily that does so many things right I can’t help but like it. So in conclusion give it, or a similar password store, a try and make your online presence more resilient to password hacking. Let me know which password safes you think are awesome.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Using Linux to keep an old work PC alive

November 19th, 2012 1 comment

A couple of years ago I helped a small business convert their old virus infected Windows XP computer into a Linux Mint 11 (Katya) Xfce. This was done after a long time of trying to help them keep that machine running at a half-decent speed – the virus being the last straw that finally had them make the switch to Linux. Amazingly, well maybe not to the Linux faithful but to most people, this transition not only went smoothly but was actually extremely well received. Outside of a question or two every couple of months I have heard of no issues whatsoever. Sadly Linux Mint 11 has recently reached its end of life stage and so the time has come to find a replacement.

The Situation

When I said this was an old Windows XP machine I wasn’t kidding. It sports a speedy (sarcasm) 2.4Ghz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 512 whole megabytes of RAM and an Intel integrated graphics card. With specs like those it is pretty obvious that the only two real considerations (from a technical standpoint) are low resource requirements and speed. I’d be tempted to jump to a more specialized distribution like Puppy Linux but the people using the machine are A) used to Linux Mint already and B) expected a familiar, fully featured operating system experience.

Where is Linux Mint today?

Linux Mint 13 has recently been released (including an Xfce version) based on the latest Ubuntu 12.04 stable release. This makes it an ideal candidate for an upgrade because it is something already familiar to the users and will be supported until April 2017.

The following are the steps I took, in no real order, to setup and configure Linux Mint 13 Xfce for their use:

Pre/During Install Configuration

  1. Encrypt the home directory
    Because this is a work computer and will be storing sensitive financial information I configured it to encrypt everything in the home directory. Better safe than sorry.

Post Install Configuration

  1. Install Google Chrome
    I removed Mozilla Firefox and installed Google Chrome for two reasons. First Chrome tends to be, or at least feel, a little bit snappier than even the latest version of Firefox and as I mentioned above speed is king. Secondly, unless something changes, Google’s Chrome (not even Chromium) will be the only Linux browser that will continue to get Adobe Flash updates in a straightforward and easy way for the user. UPDATE: ironically the only issue I found with this whole install related to Google’s embedded Adobe Flash. For some reason the audio on the particular version ran at double speed. This is apparently a known issue.
  2. Install Rhythmbox
    I also removed Banshee and installed Rhythmbox instead. This was done not because I consider one better than the other (or even that these two represent the only options), but simply because the users were already familiar with Rhythmbox. They use Rhythmbox to listen to streaming Internet radio.
  3. Remove unnecessary software (Pidgin, XChat, GNOME Mplayer and Totem)
    Not because they are bad applications, they just simply weren’t needed. I kept VLC because it can pretty much play all audio-video.
  4. Add Trash can to desktop and remove Filesystem icon
  5. Remove all but one workspace
  6. Install preload to speed up commonly used packages on startup
  7. Configure LibreOffice
    The goal of this step is to set up LibreOffice in such a way as to make it use less memory while still keeping most of the functionality. In order to accomplish this I changed the number of undo steps from 100 to 30 and disabled the Java components.
  8. Change screensaver to blank screen
    This looks more professional and uses less memory.
  9. Spin down hard drive when possible
    While I was at it I also went into power management and had the system spin down the hard drives when possible. This configuration had nothing to do with performance, in fact spinning down the drives can slow access to files, but was done because they often just leave the PC running 24-7 and it is not in use at all during the night. I’m sure this will save them a couple of cents per year or something.
  10. Disabled unused startup services like Bluetooth
    The machine doesn’t even have a Bluetooth radio.
  11. Set it so that inserting a removable drive causes the system to open a window for browsing the contents
  12. Change the system tray clock time format from 24 hour time to 12 hour time.
    This was a user preference.
  13. Set updates to be downloaded from best available server

  14. Install Microsoft fonts (i.e. ttf-mscorefonts-installer)
  15. Install 7zip, rar and unrar
    You never know what kind of random archive formats they might need to open so it is better to support them all.
  16. Change login screen theme
    The default login screen is nice but it isn’t the most user friendly. I opted to install the Mint Pro (MDM) theme from GNOME-Look.org.
  17. Install all updates
  18. Run Grub boot profiler to speed up the boot process
    If you’re not aware of this it is a great trick. Essentially once you have everything installed (driver wise at least) you do the following:
    -Modify /etc/default/grub and change the line GRUB_CMD_LINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash” to GRUB_CMD_LINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash profile”.
    -Then run sudo update-grub2 and reboot.
    -The next reboot might be slower but once the machine comes back up simply edit that file again and remove the “profile” text. Your computer will now intelligently load drivers as the hard drive head travels across their location, instead of in some other arbitrary order which can actually shave a couple of seconds off of your total boot time.

How did it turn out?

Surprisingly well. The machine isn’t a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination but it does perform its simple tasks well enough. It remains to be seen if the computer will make it to the next long term release of Linux Mint Xfce, or even if it will be able to run it at that time, but for now the users are happy and that is what matters.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Limit Bandwitdth Used by apt-get

October 22nd, 2012 No comments

It’s easy. Simply throw “-o Acquire::http::Dl-Limit=X” in your apt-get command where X is the kb/s you wish to limit it to. So for example let’s say that you want to limit an apt-get upgrade command to roughly 50kb/s of bandwidth. Simply issue the following command:

sudo apt-get -o Acquire::http::Dl-Limit=50 upgrade

Simple right?




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Ubuntu 12.10 Beta 1 (Report #3)

September 22nd, 2012 No comments

Just a quick update on my experience running the pre-release version of Ubuntu (this time upgraded to Ubuntu 12.10 Beta 1!). Not a whole lot new to report – Beta 1 is basically the same as Alpha 3 but with the addition of an option to connect to a Remote Server directly from the login screen. Unfortunately the bugs that I have filed so far have yet to be resolved, but I’m still hopeful someone has a chance to correct them prior to release.

It is already almost the end of September which means there are only a couple more weeks before the official 12.10 launch. From what I’ve seen so far this upgrade will be a pretty small, evolutionary update to the already good 12.04 release.

Previous posts in this series:




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags: ,

Big distributions, little RAM 5

September 14th, 2012 2 comments

Once again I’ve compiled some charts to show what the major, full desktop distributions look like while running on limited hardware. Just like before I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Fedora 17 (GNOME)
  • Fedora 17 (KDE)
  • Kubuntu 12.04 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 13 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 13 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 13 (Mate)
  • Linux Mint 13 (Xfce)
  • Mageia (GNOME)
  • Mageia (KDE)
  • OpenSUSE 12.2 (GNOME)
  • OpenSUSE 12.2 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 12.04 (Unity)
  • Xubuntu 12.04 (Xfce)

I will be testing all of this within VirtualBox on ‘machines’ with the following specifications:

  • Total RAM: 512MB
  • Hard drive: 8GB
  • CPU type: x86 with PAE/NX
  • Graphics: 3D Acceleration enabled

The tests were all done using VirtualBox 4.1.22, and I did not install VirtualBox tools (although some distributions may have shipped with them). I also left the screen resolution at the default (whatever the distribution chose) and accepted the installation defaults. All tests were run between September 3rd, 2012 and September 14th, 2012 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Following in the tradition of my previous posts I have once again gone through the effort to bring you nothing but the most state of the art in picture graphs for your enjoyment.

Things to know before looking at the graphs

First off if your distribution of choice didn’t appear in the list above its probably not reasonably possible to installed (i.e. I don’t have hours to compile Gentoo) or I didn’t feel it was mainstream enough (pretty much anything with LXDE). Secondly there may be some distributions that don’t appear on all of the graphs, for example Mandriva (now replaced by Mageia). Finally I did not include Debian this time around because it is still at the same version as last time. As always feel free to run your own tests.

First boot memory (RAM) usage

This test was measured on the first startup after finishing a fresh install.

Memory (RAM) usage after updates

This test was performed after all updates were installed and a reboot was performed.

Memory (RAM) usage change after updates

The net growth or decline in RAM usage after applying all of the updates.

Install size after updates

The hard drive space used by the distribution after applying all of the updates.

Conclusion

As before I’m going to leave you to drawing your own conclusions.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Ubuntu 12.10 Alpha 3 (Report #2)

September 1st, 2012 No comments

Running an alpha version of an operating system, Linux or otherwise, is quite a different experience. It means, for instance, that you are not allowed to complain when minor things have bugs or simply don’t work – it is all par for the course, after all this is alpha software. That doesn’t mean however that when you do run into problems that it doesn’t still suck.

I ran into one of these problems earlier today while trying to connect via SSH to a remote computer within Nautilus. It seems that this release of the software is currently broken resulting in the following error message every time I try and browse my remote server’s directories:

The second really annoying issue I ran into was GIMP no longer showing menu items in Ubuntu’s global appmenu. This was especially infuriating because, prior to installing some updates today, it had worked perfectly fine in the past. I even had to hunt down a sub-par paint (GNU Paint) application just to crop the above screenshot.

Hopefully my annoying experiences, and subsequent bug filings, will prevent other users from experiencing the same pains when 12.10 is finally released to all. Here’s hoping anyway…

Update: It turns out that it wasn’t just the GIMP that wasn’t displaying menu items, no applications are. Off to file another bug…

Previous posts in this series:




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags:

Ubuntu 12.10 Alpha 3 (Report #1)

August 27th, 2012 No comments

Well it’s been a little while since I made the mistake (joking) of installing Ubuntu 12.10 Alpha 3. Here is what I’ve learned so far.

  1. My laptop really does not like the open source ATI graphics driver – and there are no proprietary drivers for this release yet. It’s not that the driver doesn’t perform well enough graphically, its just that it causes my card to give off more heat than the proprietary driver. This in turn causes my laptop’s fan to run non-stop and drains my battery at a considerable rate.
  2. Ubuntu has changed the way they do updates in this release. Instead of the old Update Manager there is a new application (maybe just a re-skinning of the old) that is much more refined and really quite simple. Interestingly enough the old hardware drivers application is also now gone, instead it is merged into the update manager. Overall I’m neutral on both changes.

    Updates are quite frequent when running an alpha release

  3. There is a new Online Accounts application (part of the system settings) included in this release. This application seems to work like an extension of the GNOME keyring – saving passwords for your various online accounts (go figure). I haven’t really had a chance to play around with it too much yet but it seems to work well enough.

That’s it for now. I’m off to file a bug over this open source driver that is currently melting my computer. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags: ,

Test driving the new Ubuntu (12.10)

August 26th, 2012 No comments

Call it crazy but I’ve decided to actually install an Ubuntu Alpha release, specifically Ubuntu 12.10 Alpha 3. Why would anyone in their right mind install an operating system that is bound to be full of bugs and likely destroy all of my data? My reasons are twofold:

  1. I regularly use Ubuntu or Ubuntu derivatives and would like to help in the process of making them better
  2. There are still a few quirks with my particular laptop that I would like to help iron out once and for all, hopefully correcting them in a more universal sense for Linux as a whole

So join me over the next few posts as I relate my most recent experiences running… shall we say, less than production code.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags: ,

Listener Feedback Podcast Update

July 22nd, 2012 No comments

Five new Listener Feedback podcast episodes have been released in case you missed them:

And as always you can grab the MP3 or Ogg version of this Creative Commons podcast.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.