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Posts Tagged ‘Ubuntu’

Blast from the Past: Create a GTK+ application on Linux with Objective-C

March 15th, 2017 No comments

This post was originally published on December 8, 2010. The original can be found here.

Note that while you can still write GTK+ applications on Linux using Objective-C as outlined in this post you may want to check out my little project CoreGTK which makes the whole experience a lot nicer 🙂


As sort of follow-up-in-spirit to my older post I decided to share a really straight forward way to use Objective-C to build GTK+ applications.

Objective-what?

Objective-C is an improvement to the iconic C programming language that remains backwards compatible while adding many new and interesting features. Chief among these additions is syntax for real objects (and thus object-oriented programming). Popularized by NeXT and eventually Apple, Objective-C is most commonly seen in development for Apple OSX and iOS based platforms. It ships with or without a large standard library (sometimes referred to as the Foundation Kit library) that makes it very easy for developers to quickly create fast and efficient programs. The result is a language that compiles down to binary, requires no virtual machines (just a runtime library), and achieves performance comparable to C and C++.

Marrying Objective-C with GTK+

Normally when writing a GTK+ application the language (or a library) will supply you with bindings that let you create GUIs in a way native to that language. So for instance in C++ you would create GTK+ objects, whereas in C you would create structures or ask functions for pointers back to the objects. Unfortunately while there used to exist a couple of different Objective-C bindings for GTK+, all of them are quite out of date. So instead we are going to rely on the fact that Objective-C is backwards compatible with C to get our program to work.

What you need to start

I’m going to assume that Ubuntu will be our operating system for development. To ensure that we have what we need to compile the programs, just install the following packages:

  1. gnustep-core-devel
  2. libgtk2.0-dev

As you can see from the list above we will be using GNUstep as our Objective-C library of choice.

Setting it all up

In order to make this work we will be creating two Objective-C classes, one that will house our GTK+ window and another that will actually start our program. I’m going to call my GTK+ object MainWindow and create the two necessary files: MainWindow.h and MainWindow.m. Finally I will create a main.m that will start the program and clean it up after it is done.

Let me apologize here for the poor code formatting; apparently WordPress likes to destroy whatever I try and do to make it better. If you want properly indented code please see the download link below.

MainWindow.h

In the MainWindow.h file put the following code:

#import <gtk/gtk.h>
#import <Foundation/NSObject.h>
#import <Foundation/NSString.h>

//A pointer to this object (set on init) so C functions can call
//Objective-C functions
id myMainWindow;

/*
* This class is responsible for initializing the GTK render loop
* as well as setting up the GUI for the user. It also handles all GTK
* callbacks for the winMain GtkWindow.
*/
@interface MainWindow : NSObject
{
//The main GtkWindow
GtkWidget *winMain;
GtkWidget *button;
}

/*
* Constructs the object and initializes GTK and the GUI for the
* application.
*
* *********************************************************************
* Input
* *********************************************************************
* argc (int *): A pointer to the arg count variable that was passed
* in at the application start. It will be returned
* with the count of the modified argv array.
* argv (char *[]): A pointer to the argument array that was passed in
* at the application start. It will be returned with
* the GTK arguments removed.
*
* *********************************************************************
* Returns
* *********************************************************************
* MainWindow (id): The constructed object or nil
* arc (int *): The modified input int as described above
* argv (char *[]): The modified input array modified as described above
*/
-(id)initWithArgCount:(int *)argc andArgVals:(char *[])argv;

/*
* Frees the Gtk widgets that we have control over
*/
-(void)destroyWidget;

/*
* Starts and hands off execution to the GTK main loop
*/
-(void)startGtkMainLoop;

/*
* Example Objective-C function that prints some output
*/
-(void)printSomething;

/*
********************************************************
* C callback functions
********************************************************
*/

/*
* Called when the user closes the window
*/
void on_MainWindow_destroy(GtkObject *object, gpointer user_data);

/*
* Called when the user presses the button
*/
void on_btnPushMe_clicked(GtkObject *object, gpointer user_data);

@end

MainWindow.m

For the class’ actual code file fill it in as show below. This class will create a GTK+ window with a single button and will react to both the user pressing the button, and closing the window.

#import “MainWindow.h”

/*
* For documentation see MainWindow.h
*/

@implementation MainWindow

-(id)initWithArgCount:(int *)argc andArgVals:(char *[])argv
{
//call parent class’ init
if (self = [super init]) {

//setup the window
winMain = gtk_window_new (GTK_WINDOW_TOPLEVEL);

gtk_window_set_title (GTK_WINDOW (winMain), “Hello World”);
gtk_window_set_default_size(GTK_WINDOW(winMain), 230, 150);

//setup the button
button = gtk_button_new_with_label (“Push me!”);

gtk_container_add (GTK_CONTAINER (winMain), button);

//connect the signals
g_signal_connect (winMain, “destroy”, G_CALLBACK (on_MainWindow_destroy), NULL);
g_signal_connect (button, “clicked”, G_CALLBACK (on_btnPushMe_clicked), NULL);

//force show all
gtk_widget_show_all(winMain);
}

//assign C-compatible pointer
myMainWindow = self;

//return pointer to this object
return self;
}

-(void)startGtkMainLoop
{
//start gtk loop
gtk_main();
}

-(void)printSomething{
NSLog(@”Printed from Objective-C’s NSLog function.”);
printf(“Also printed from standard printf function.\n”);
}

-(void)destroyWidget{

myMainWindow = NULL;

if(GTK_IS_WIDGET (button))
{
//clean up the button
gtk_widget_destroy(button);
}

if(GTK_IS_WIDGET (winMain))
{
//clean up the main window
gtk_widget_destroy(winMain);
}
}

-(void)dealloc{
[self destroyWidget];

[super dealloc];
}

void on_MainWindow_destroy(GtkObject *object, gpointer user_data)
{
//exit the main loop
gtk_main_quit();
}

void on_btnPushMe_clicked(GtkObject *object, gpointer user_data)
{
printf(“Button was clicked\n”);

//call Objective-C function from C function using global object pointer
[myMainWindow printSomething];
}

@end

main.m

To finish I will write a main file and function that creates the MainWindow object and eventually cleans it up. Objective-C (1.0) does not support automatic garbage collection so it is important that we don’t forget to clean up after ourselves.

#import “MainWindow.h”
#import <Foundation/NSAutoreleasePool.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {

//create an AutoreleasePool
NSAutoreleasePool * pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];

//init gtk engine
gtk_init(&argc, &argv);

//set up GUI
MainWindow *mainWindow = [[MainWindow alloc] initWithArgCount:&argc andArgVals:argv];

//begin the GTK loop
[mainWindow startGtkMainLoop];

//free the GUI
[mainWindow release];

//drain the pool
[pool release];

//exit application
return 0;
}

Compiling it all together

Use the following command to compile the program. This will automatically include all .m files in the current directory so be careful when and where you run this.

gcc `pkg-config –cflags –libs gtk+-2.0` -lgnustep-base -fconstant-string-class=NSConstantString -o “./myprogram” $(find . -name ‘*.m’) -I /usr/include/GNUstep/ -L /usr/lib/GNUstep/ -std=c99 -O3

Once complete you will notice a new executable in the directory called myprogram. Start this program and you will see our GTK+ window in action.

If you run it from the command line you can see the output that we coded when the button is pushed.

Wrapping it up

There you have it. We now have a program that is written in Objective-C, using C’s native GTK+ ‘bindings’ for the GUI, that can call both regular C and Objective-C functions and code. In addition, thanks to the porting of both GTK+ and GNUstep to Windows, this same code will also produce a cross-platform application that works on both Mac OSX and Windows.

Source Code Downloads

Source Only Package
File name: objective_c_gtk_source.zip
File hashes: Download Here
File size: 2.4KB
File download: Download Here

Originally posted on my personal website here.

Blast from the Past: VOIP with Linode, Ubuntu, Asterisk and FreePBX

March 1st, 2017 No comments

This post was originally published on October 29, 2010. The original can be found here.


Overview and Introduction

I’ve been dabbling with managing a VOIP server for the past year or so, using CentOS, Asterisk and FreePBX on a co-located server. Recently Dave and I needed to move to our own machine, and decided to use TEH CLOUD to reduce management and get a fresh start. There are hundreds of hosts out there offering virtual private servers (VPS’s). We’ve standardized on Linode for our small business for a few reasons. While I don’t want to sound like a complete advertisement, I’ve been incredibly impressed with them:

  • Performance. The host systems at Linode run at least 4-way 2GHz Xeon dual-core CPUs (I’ve seen higher as well) and you’re guaranteed the RAM you pay for. Pricing is generally based on how much memory you need.
  • Pricing. For a 512MB Linode, you pay $19.95 US per month. Slicehost (a part of Rackspace, and a Linode competitor) charges the same amount for a 256MB slice. Generally you want at least 512MB RAM for a Linux machine that’s not a test/development box.
  • Features. If you have multiple VMs in the same datacenter, you can assign them private IPs and internal traffic doesn’t count toward your bandwidth allowance. Likewise, bandwidth is pooled among all your VMs; so buying two VMs with 200GB bandwidth each gives 400GB for all your systems.

With full root access and the Linux distribution of your choice, it’s very easy to set up and tear down VMs.

Why VOIP?
When people hear VOIP, they generally assume either a flaky enterprise system with echoing calls or something like Skype. Properly configured, a VOIP system offers a number of really interesting features:

  • Low-cost long distance and international calling. The provider we use, voip.ms, offers outgoing calls for $0.0052 per minute to Canada and $0.0105/minute to the US on their value route.
  • Cheap phone numbers – direct inward dialing – are available for $0.99 per month in your region. These phone numbers are virtual and can be configured to do nearly anything you want. Incoming calls are $0.01/minute, and calls between voip.ms numbers are free.
  • Want to take advantage of cheap long distance from your cell phone? Set up a Direct Inward System Access path, which gives you a dial tone for making outgoing calls when you call a local number. Put your DID number on your My5 list, and you’re set to reduce bill overages.
  • Voicemail becomes much more useful when the VOIP server sends you an email with a WAV attachment and caller ID information.
  • Want to set up an interactive voice response menu, time conditions, blacklist telemarketers, manage group conferences or have witty hold music? All available with FreePBX and Asterisk.

Continue reading for server setup details and security best practices…

Configuration
I opted to use Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on the server, since there are handy directions for configuring Asterisk and FreePBX. The guide is pretty handy, but some adjustments had to be made to the article for the latest versions of Ubuntu and Asterisk:

  • When installing Asterisk, make sure to install the sox package for additional sound and recording support.
  • Back up your /etc/asterisk/modules.conf file before installing FreePBX, and then restore it after the installation is complete. The FreePBX installation seems to clobber this file.
  • Replace all instances of the asteriskcdr database with asteriskcdrdb for proper call reporting functionality. Likewise, you’ll have to recompile and install the asterisk-addons package as per Launchpad bug 560656:
    cd /usr/src
    apt-get build-dep asterisk-mysql
    apt-get -b source asterisk-mysql
    dpkg -i asterisk-mysql*.deb
  • Don’t use the amportal script for managing Asterisk/FreePBX; use
    /etc/init.d/asterisk [start|stop|restart]

    instead.

Let It Ring
There’s plenty of great FreePBX documentation available online – you shouldn’t have a problem getting up and running once the installation is finished. As always, you should follow best server security practices:

  • Enforce username/password authentication with .htaccess and htpasswd and HTTPS for your management console, or only expose FreePBX administration over localhost/127.0.0.1 and tunnel in. There are plenty of articles on configuring OpenSSL and Apache2.
  • Consider running SSH on an alternate port (not 22), and denying direct logins from the root user account. Enforce strong passwords and use tools such as fail2ban and DenyHosts to limit SSH attacks.
  • Use a firewall. Ubuntu’s ufw is very simple to manage. For an Asterisk server, you’ll want to allow UDP ports 5060 and 10000-20000 (for voice traffic), or a range defined in
    /etc/asterisk/rtp.conf

Feel free to post comments here on server setup or general VOIP questions, and I’ll do my best to help out!

Sudo apt-get install basic-linux-pt3 –Install & Setup

February 18th, 2017 No comments

It’s been a busy little while, so I haven’t had time to get this written up. So lets see what I can still remember.

Installing Ubuntu Server was as easy as you’d expect. Booting into it wasn’t. Turns out that the BIOS on this box is setup not to boot from the ODD SATA port. It’ll boot from any of the four drives, or from USB; but not from that extra SATA port. My friend’s, who already has the box running, solution was to setup a RAID, where the ODD SATA is RAID number 0, which then allows it to be booted from. I went for a much simpler solution, after noticing that the install process lets you select the location of the GRUB loader. This server has a USB port and a MicroSD card reader inside the case, both bootable. I have plenty of spare MicroSD cards lying around (seriously, since when is 1GB or 2GB big enough for anybody?), so I just inserted one, and reinstalled specifying the MicroSD card as the location for the GRUB.

It felt good to have my new box booting up and actually running. I got its static IP and OpenSSH setup, checked I could access it through Putty, and finally got it up on the shelf and off my desk. Everything from this point on I’ve done in Putty, with no monitor attached to the server. Lets face it, its not like there’s any difference between one white-on-black text interface and another.

Next, I turned my attention to mounting my drives. The mount command is simple enough, but obviously I want my drives to be available right away after boot; so it was time to learn about ‘fstab’ and ‘UUID’s. Luckily this is a fairly straightforward process, especially since my drives only have a single partition on each, other than having to write down the long UUID to copy from the terminal output to the fstab file. I haven’t been able to work with copy & paste in PuTTY. One thing I started to realise at this point is that while Ubuntu boots nice and quickly, the server itself doesn’t.  So each time I want to see if my fiddling has worked, I pretty much have time to make a cup of tea. From looking through various guides etc. I simply used:

UUID=<UUID> /mnt/<mountpoint> ext4 defaults 0 2

for each of my additional drives. After a reboot, I had access to all of my files and media as it was on my old NAS. I spent a little time clearing out the directory structures it had left behind, program files etc. to leave a nice, clean access to all of my files.

NFS and Samba were just as easy to get set up as they had been on the virtual machines. Although with so many different things I wanted to share, I had to add a lot of different entries into each file.  Thankfully there’s no need to reboot after each edit, the services can simply be restarted to pick up the new settings. Samba is simple enough to test, since I’m managing the server over SSH on PuTTY in Windows. NFS required me to test in one of the VMs 0nce again; but after some work, both seemed to be working. I’m not 100% happy with some of my setup, since I’m just allowing open access to anyone on some of these shares. Chances are I’ll be fine, but I’ll want to come back at some point to try and tighten up my user management.

Emby server has a very good set of installation instructions. The main new part for me was adding the new repository, but this means it’ll be kept up to date when I perform other apt-get upgrades. Everything else related to Emby is managed through its web GUI, so straight forward stuff.

In fact, I was surprised at how simple it was to get the majority of things working. FTP just kinda worked, I just needed to make symlinks from my home directory to the other places I need to access. Even Transmission wasn’t too bad to get going and allow my remote GUI to connect. Ont thing that started to get harder from this point was keeping track of the different ports and services I was using. I took some time to make a list of computers and services to plan my external port mapping, and got things like FTP, SSH and Transmission forwarded. Internally I’ve just used the defaults for simplicity; externally I’ve made sure they’re set to something completely different.

Next Up:

Bash-ing things around

This post was originally published on Nathanael’s site here.

Categories: Nathanael Y, Ubuntu Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sudo apt-get install basic-linux-pt2 –Testing-&-VMs

February 17th, 2017 No comments

With the hardware sorted (bar some jiggery-pokery to get the ODD to SSD bay converter to fit properly), I set about deciding what I want this box to do.

The list I came up with looks like this:

  • Media serving to my Kodi devices (2 Raspberry Pi systems, my android tablet, and a new Ubuntu PC I’m putting together for retro gaming with my kids)
  • FTP – I like to use my NAS like my own personal cloud. My tablet can mount an FTP in its file browser just like any other folder. No sFTP support, though, unfortunately (and I don’t like any of the file browsers I tried which do).
  • Transmission (or Deluge) – the main reason for swapping the 4GB of RAM out for 16GB
  • SSH (obviously!)
  • Dropbox and Google Drive – for when various apps and things integrate well with these mobile apps.
  • Backup – the WD My Cloud EX4’s backup options are very poor.
  • General file sharing with Windows and Ubuntu – Samba & NFS, naturally.
  • Hosting & tinkering with other bits I might want to try & learn about – a website (for practise, not for public viewing), a git… who knows.

Being basically completely unfamiliar with most of this stuff, I was undecided between Ubuntu Desktop or Server for quite a while. Desktop obviously just has so much of this stuff already ready to go, it mounts things automatically, I can use the GUI as a fallback if something isn’t right, its just more like what I’m accustomed to. On the other hand, having the GUI running all the time will just use up unnecessary RAM  – granted I probably don’t have a shortage of that, but still…

In the end I installed both onto VMs on my Windows machine, made copies (so I had a clean version always ready to go without having to reinstall again), and started playing.

First up I wanted to sort how I was going to deal with my media backend. On my current setup I use the Kodi client on one of my PCs to manage a central SQL database. While it works, its a bit slow and rather inneficient, so I went looking for either a headless Kodi backend, or just a way to run it without the GUI. I found all sorts of ideas, builds and code , none of which I understand or feel like I could implement. After a discussion with a linux guru (one of my Uni lecturers) it was clear that my plan was probably not going to work; he had pointed out that he just runs his on DLNA, and that Plex seems to be quite good too. More research, and a question in /r/Kodi later, I had been pointed in the direction of Emby, a backend for Kodi without many of the limitations of Plex and DLNA. Installation was simple enough, but accessing the Web UI wasn’t. When I had setup the VMs I had just left their network settings as NAT; this, it turns out, makes accessing the network from the VM possible, but not accessing the VM from elsewhere on the network (includingother VMs on the same system). I did try to just change the settings in the VM to add a bridged adapter, but it didn’t work. Not knowing enough about networking on linux to fix this, I just went ahead and reinstalled, this time setting up the VM with two network adapters – one NAT and another bridged. This worked a treat, and after adding a few media files and installing Kodi on the Desktop VM, I was able to play videos no problem.

Next, for no particular reason, was getting NFS working. I found guides, forums, blogs etc (my Google-fu is pretty strong) and set about trying. I was sure it should be working, I’d installed nfs-kernel-server, added the entry into /etc/exports, setup the permissions, but I just couldn’t mount it in the Desktop VM – even though I could watch them through Kodi. I ended up having to ask Reddit’s linux4noobs sub. Simple answer… sudo /etc/init.d/nfs-kernel-server start … and instantly it mounted no problem. Turns out that Kodi was actually watching a transcoded stream from Emby, until I had NFS working. Thankfully Samba took less time and hassle to get working (surprisingly), and pretty soon I could access files across both linux and Windows. And there was much rejoycing.

At this point I was getting impatient (plus this microserver is taking up a chunk of space on my desk where I really ought to be doing uni work), so I quickly checked I knew how to setup a static IP, and turned my attention to the real thing.

Next Up:

Booting up The Box
Installing, reinstalling and shenanigans

This post was originally published on Nathanael’s site here.

Sudo apt-get install basic-linux-pt1 –The-Task

February 16th, 2017 No comments

I’ve had it in mind to start learning linux for a while, and now I’ve found the perfect project to help me do just that: building my own NAS.

Until November I was perfectly happy with my business grade Draytek router. I bought it about 6 years ago,  particularly because it could host its own VPN, instead of just passing through to a Windows PC. It has served me well. I was also reasonably satisfied with my Western Digital EX4 NAS unit in most respects. Then Gigabit FTTH was installed in my area, and I got a free trial – all hell broke loose (very much in a Fist World Problems sense).

The first thing which became apparent is that my ‘nice’ router was outdated. Its best WAN to LAN topped out at 93Mb, while its LAN to WAN maxed at 73Mb (incidentally this also means that I already wasnt getting the benefit of my old 250Mb connection). My new connection is a Gigabit, symmetric line which realistically gives me up to about 700Mb in either direction. Not wanting to go back to relying on the equipment provided by ISPs, I went out (well, I went online) and found myself something which can cope with over 900Mb in either direction (Netgear Nighthawk R7000 if youre interested). ‘”Excellent”, I thought, “now I’m all set”… but no. The knock on effect of getting such fast internet soon became apparent in my NAS. After adding just a few torrents to Transmission, the speed steadily rose until it was approaching 10MB/s, at which point all interfaces to the device practically stopped responding. I surmised that the cause was likely the limited 512M of RAM inside the poor thing, and so went in search of a replacement.

As I looked around, it quickly became clear that most of the available devices on the market were out of my price bracket. While I would have liked to get myself something like a Synology, it just wasn’t going to happen. A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of an HP Gen 8 Proliant Microserver (http://compadvance.co.uk/en/item/323618/HP-Proliant-MicroServer-Gen8-G1610T-4GB) which he has, and after some extra checking around, I decided it looked good. I also decided to up the 4GB of RAM to 16GB, and add an SSD for the OS in the ODD bay.

Now the fun really started. Naturally I didn’t want to put Windows on this thing (although this is what my friend has done), I obviously wanted to run linux. And as its intended to sit quietly, (apparently) minding its own business for the most part, I wanted to keep as much RAM as possible free by not running a GUI. Ubuntu Server seemed like the perfect choice; except I have practically no experience setting up servers, working in command line (Basic ls, cp and rm don’t really count), or using Ubuntu or linux for anything at all (I’ve tinkered, but thats about it).

Well, no time like the present to learn.

Next Up:

Learning and testing on VMs

This post was originally published on Nathanael’s site here.

Categories: Nathanael Y, Ubuntu Tags: ,

Blast from the Past: An Experiment in Transitioning to Open Document Formats

December 16th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on June 15, 2013. The original can be found here.


Recently I read an interesting article by Vint Cerf, mostly known as the man behind the TCP/IP protocol that underpins modern Internet communication, where he brought up a very scary problem with everything going digital. I’ll quote from the article (Cerf sees a problem: Today’s digital data could be gone tomorrow – posted June 4, 2013) to explain:

One of the computer scientists who turned on the Internet in 1983, Vinton Cerf, is concerned that much of the data created since then, and for years still to come, will be lost to time.

Cerf warned that digital things created today — spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data — won’t be readable in the years and centuries ahead.

Cerf illustrated the problem in a simple way. He runs Microsoft Office 2011 on Macintosh, but it cannot read a 1997 PowerPoint file. “It doesn’t know what it is,” he said.

“I’m not blaming Microsoft,” said Cerf, who is Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist. “What I’m saying is that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time.”

The data objects are only meaningful if the application software is available to interpret them, Cerf said. “We won’t lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk.”

This is a well known problem for anyone who has used a computer for quite some time. Occasionally you’ll get sent a file that you simply can’t open because the modern application you now run has ‘lost’ the ability to read the format created by the (now) ‘ancient’ application. But beyond this minor inconvenience it also brings up the question of how future generations, specifically historians, will be able to look back on our time and make any sense of it. We’ve benefited greatly in the past by having mediums that allow us a more or less easy interpretation of written text and art. Newspaper clippings, personal diaries, heck even cave drawings are all relatively easy to translate and interpret when compared to unknown, seemingly random, digital content. That isn’t to say it is an impossible task, it is however one that has (perceivably) little market value (relatively speaking at least) and thus would likely be de-emphasized or underfunded.

A Solution?

So what can we do to avoid these long-term problems? Realistically probably nothing. I hate to sound so down about it but at some point all technology will yet again make its next leap forward and likely render our current formats completely obsolete (again) in the process. The only thing we can do today that will likely have a meaningful impact that far into the future is to make use of very well documented and open standards. That means transitioning away from so-called binary formats, like .doc and .xls, and embracing the newer open standards meant to replace them. By doing so we can ensure large scale compliance (today) and work toward a sort of saturation effect wherein the likelihood of a complete ‘loss’ of ability to interpret our current formats decreases. This solution isn’t just a nice pie in the sky pipe dream for hippies either. Many large multinational organizations, governments, scientific and statistical groups and individuals are also all beginning to recognize this same issue and many have begun to take action to counteract it.

Enter OpenDocument/Office Open XML

Back in 2005 the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) created a technical committee to help develop a completely transparent and open standardized document format the end result of which would be the OpenDocument standard. This standard has gone on to be the default file format in most open source applications (such as LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org, Calligra Suite, etc.) and has seen wide spread adoption by many groups and applications (like Microsoft Office). According to Wikipedia the OpenDocument is supported and promoted by over 600 companies and organizations (including Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Oracle, Wikimedia Foundation, etc.) and is currently the mandatory standard for all NATO members. It is also the default format (or at least a supported format) by more than 25 different countries and many more regions and cities.

Not to be outdone, and potentially lose their position as the dominant office document format creator, Microsoft introduced a somewhat competing format called Office Open XML in 2006. There is much in common between these two formats, both being based on XML and structured as a collection of files within a ZIP container. However they do differ enough that they are 1) not interoperable and 2) that software written to import/export one format cannot be easily made to support the other. While OOXML too is an open standard there have been some concerns about just how open it actually is. For instance take these (completely biased) comparisons done by the OpenDocument Fellowship: Part I / Part II. Wikipedia (Open Office XML – from June 9, 2013) elaborates in saying:

Starting with Microsoft Office 2007, the Office Open XML file formats have become the default file format of Microsoft Office. However, due to the changes introduced in the Office Open XML standard, Office 2007 is not entirely in compliance with ISO/IEC 29500:2008. Microsoft Office 2010 includes support for the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 compliant version of Office Open XML, but it can only save documents conforming to the transitional schemas of the specification, not the strict schemas.

It is important to note that OpenDocument is not without its own set of issues, however its (continuing) standardization process is far more transparent. In practice I will say that (at least as of the time of writing this article) only Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 can consistently edit and display OOXML documents without issue, whereas most other applications (like LibreOffice and OpenOffice) have a much better time handling OpenDocument. The flip side of which is while Microsoft Office can open and save to OpenDocument format it constantly lags behind the official standard in feature compliance. Without sounding too conspiratorial this is likely due to Microsoft wishing to show how much ‘better’ its standard is in comparison. That said with the forthcoming 2013 version Microsoft is set to drastically improve its compatibility with OpenDocument so the overall situation should get better with time.

Current day however I think, technologically, both standards are now on more or less equal footing. Initially both standards had issues and were lacking some features however both have since evolved to cover 99% of what’s needed in a document format.

What to do?

As discussed above there are two different, some would argue, competing open standards for the replacement of the old closed formats. Ten years ago I would have said that the choice between the two is simple: Office Open XML all the way. However the landscape of computing has changed drastically in the last decade and will likely continue to diversify in the coming one. Cell phone sales have superseded computers and while Microsoft Windows is still the market leader on PCs, alternative operating systems like Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux have been gaining ground. Then you have the new cloud computing contenders like Google’s Google Docs which let you view and edit documents right within a web browser making the operating system irrelevant. All of this heterogeneity has thrown a curve ball into how standards are established and being completely interoperable is now key – you can’t just be the market leader on PCs and expect everyone else to follow your lead anymore. I don’t want to be limited in where I can use my documents, I want them to work on my PC (running Windows 7), my laptop (running Ubuntu 12.04), my cellphone (running iOS 5) and my tablet (running Android 4.2). It is because of these reasons that for me the conclusion, in an ideal world, is OpenDocument. For others the choice may very well be Office Open XML and that’s fine too – both attempt to solve the same problem and a little market competition may end up being beneficial in the short term.

Is it possible to transition to OpenDocument?

This is the tricky part of the conversation. Lets say you want to jump 100% over to OpenDocument… how do you do so? Converting between the different formats, like the old .doc or even the newer Office Open XML .docx, and OpenDocument’s .odt is far from problem free. For most things the conversion process should be as simple as opening the current format document and re-saving it as OpenDocument – there are even wizards that will automate this process for you on a large number of documents. In my experience however things are almost never quite as simple as that. From what I’ve seen any document that has a bulleted list ends up being converted with far from perfect accuracy. I’ve come close to re-creating the original formatting manually, making heavy use of custom styles in the process, but its still not a fun or straightforward task – perhaps in these situations continuing to use Microsoft formatting, via Office Open XML, is the best solution.

If however you are starting fresh or just converting simple documents with little formatting there is no reason why you couldn’t make the jump to OpenDocument. For me personally I’m going to attempt to convert my existing .doc documents to OpenDocument (if possible) or Office Open XML (where there are formatting issues). By the end I should be using exclusively open formats which is a good thing.

I’ll write a follow up post on my successes or any issues encountered if I think it warrants it. In the meantime I’m curious as to the success others have had with a process like this. If you have any comments or insight into how to make a transition like this go more smoothly I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.

 

Blast from the Past: Coming to Grips with Reality

December 12th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 8, 2009. The original can be found here.


The following is a cautionary tale about putting more trust in the software installed on your system than in your own knowledge.

Recently, while preparing for a big presentation that relied on me running a Java applet in Iceweasel, I discovered that I needed to install an additional package to make it work. This being nothing out of the ordinary, I opened up a terminal, and used apt-cache search to locate the package in question. Upon doing so, my system notified me that I had well over 50 ‘unnecessary’ packages installed. It recommended that I take care of the issue with the apt-get autoremove command.

Bad idea.

On restart, I found that my system was virtually destroyed. It seemed to start X11, but refused to give me either a terminal or a gdm login prompt. After booting into Debian’s rescue mode and messing about in the terminal for some time trying to fix a few circular dependencies and get my system back, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time, backed up my files with an Ubuntu live disk, and reinstalled from a netinst nightly build disk of the testing repositories. (Whew, that was a long sentence)

Unfortunately, just as soon as I rebooted from the install, I found that my system lacked a graphical display manager, and that I could only log in to my terminal, even though I had explicitly told the installer to add GNOME to my system. I headed over to #debian for some help, and found out that the testing repositories were broken, and that my system lacked gdm for some unknown reason. After following their instructions to work around the problem, I got my desktop back, and once more have a fully functioning system.

The moral of the story is a hard one for me to swallow. You see, I have come to the revelation that I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the course of the last 3 months, I have learned an awful lot about running and maintaining a Linux system, but I still lack the ability to fix even the simplest of problems without running for help. Sure, I can install and configure a Debian box like nobody’s business, having done it about 5 times since this experiment started; but I still lack the ability to diagnose a catastrophic failure and to recover from it without a good dose of help. I have also realized something that as a software developer, I know and should have been paying attention to when I used that fatal autoremove command – when something seems wrong, trust your instincts over your software, because they’re usually correct.

This entire experiment has been a huge learning experience for me. I installed an operating system that I had never used before, and eschewed the user-friendly Ubuntu for Debian, a distribution that adheres strictly to free software ideals and isn’t nearly as easy for beginners to use. That done, after a month of experience, I switched over from the stable version of Debian to the testing repositories, figuring that it would net me some newer software that occasionally worked better (especially in the case of Open Office and Gnome Network Manager), and some experience with running a somewhat less stable system. I certainly got what I wished for.

Overall, I don’t regret a thing, and I intend to keep the testing repositories installed on my laptop. I don’t usually use it for anything but note taking in class, so as long as I back it up regularly, I don’t mind if it breaks on occasion; I enjoy learning new things, and Debian keeps me on my toes. In addition, I think that I’ll install Kubuntu on my desktop machine when this whole thing is over. I like Debian a lot, but I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu and its variants, and feel that I should give them a try now that I’ve had my taste of what a distribution that isn’t written with beginners in mind is like. I have been very impressed by Linux, and have no doubts that it will become a major part of my computing experience, if not replacing Windows entirely – but I recognize that I still have a long way to go before I’ve really accomplished my goals.

As an afterthought: If anybody is familiar with some good tutorials for somebody who has basic knowledge but needs to learn more about what’s going on below the surface of a Linux install, please recommend them to me.

 

Ubuntu 16.04 VNC woes? Try this!

October 2nd, 2016 No comments

You may recall a few years back I made a very similar post about Ubuntu 14.04’s ‘VNC woes’. Well unfortunately it seems things have changed slightly between 14.04 and 16.04 and now the setting that once fixed everything now doesn’t persist and is only good for that session. Thankfully it is pretty easy to adapt the existing work around into a script that gets run on startup in order to ‘fix it’ forever. Note that these steps should also work on any Ubuntu derivatives such as Linux Mint 18, etc.

Credit goes to the excellent post over at ThinkingMedia for confirming that the fix is basically the same as the one I had for 14.04. What follows is their instructions on creating a start up script:

1. Create a text file called vino-fix.sh and place the following in it:

#!/bin/bash
export DISPLAY=0:0
gsettings set org.gnome.Vino require-encryption false 

2. Modify the file’s permissions so that it becomes executable. You can do this via the terminal with the following command:

chmod +x vino-fix.sh

3. Create a new startup application and point it at your script. Now every time you reboot it will run that script for you and ‘fix’ the issue.

One last thing I should point out – this work around disables the built in VNC encryption. Generally I would absolutely not recommend disabling any sort of security like this however VNC at its core is not really a secure protocol to begin with. You are far better off setting up VNC to only listen to local connections and then using SSH+VNC for your secure remote desktop needs. Just my two cents.

Big distributions, little RAM 9

November 28th, 2015 2 comments

It’s been a while but once again here is the latest instalment of the series of posts where I install the major, full desktop, distributions into a limited hardware machine and report on how they perform. Once again, and like before, I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Debian 8.2 (Cinnamon)
  • Debian 8.2 (GNOME)
  • Debian 8.2 (KDE)
  • Debian 8.2 (MATE)
  • Debian 8.2 (Xfce)
  • Elementary OS 0.3.1 (Freya)
  • Kubuntu 15.10 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 17.2 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 17.2 (MATE)
  • Linux Mint 17.2 (Xfce)
  • Mageia 5 (GNOME)
  • Mageia 5 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 15.10 (Unity)
  • Xubuntu 15.10 (Xfce)

I also attempted to try and install Fedora 23, Linux Mint 17.2 (KDE) and OpenSUSE 42.1 but none of them were able to complete installation.

All of the tests were done within VirtualBox on ‘machines’ with the following specifications:

  • Total RAM: 512MB
  • Hard drive: 10GB
  • CPU type: x86 with PAE/NX
  • Graphics: 3D Acceleration enabled

The tests were all done using VirtualBox 5, 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 prior to December 2015 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Just as before I have compiled a series of bar graphs to show you how each installation stacks up against one another. Measurements were taken using the free -m command for memory and the df -h command for disk usage.

Like before I have provided the results file as a download so you can see exactly what the numbers were or create your own custom comparisons (see below for link).

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 be 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). As always feel free to run your own tests and link them in the comments for everyone to see.

Quick Info

  • Out of the Cinnamon desktops tested Debian 8.2 had the lowest memory footprint
  • Out of the GNOME desktops tested Mageia 5 had the lowest memory footprint
  • Out of the KDE desktops tested Mageia 5 had the lowest memory footprint
  • Out of the Xfce desktops tested Debian 8.2 had the lowest memory footprint
  • Out of the MATE desktops tested Debian 8.2 had the lowest memory footprint
  • Elementary OS 0.3.1 had the highest memory footprint of those tested
  • Debian 8.2 Xfce and MATE tied for the lowest memory footprint of those tested
  • Debian 8.2 Xfce had the lowest install size of those tested
  • Kubuntu 15.10 had the largest install size of those tested
  • Elementary OS 0.3.1 had the lowest change after updates (+2MiB)
  • Mageia 5 KDE had the largest change after updates (-265MiB)

First boot memory (RAM) usage

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

big_distro_little_ram_9_first_boot_memory_usageMemory (RAM) usage after updates

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

big_distro_little_ram_9_memory_usage_after_updatesMemory (RAM) usage change after updates

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

big_distro_little_ram_9_memory_usage_change_after_updatesInstall size after updates

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

big_distro_little_ram_9_install_sizeConclusion

Once again I will leave the conclusions to you. Source data provided below.

Source Data

Big distributions, little RAM 8

July 11th, 2015 2 comments

It’s been a while but once again here is the latest instalment of the series of posts where I install the major, full desktop, distributions into a limited hardware machine and report on how they perform. Once again, and like before, I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Debian 8 (Cinnamon)
  • Debian 8 (GNOME)
  • Debian 8 (KDE)
  • Debian 8 (MATE)
  • Debian 8 (Xfce)
  • Elementary OS 0.3 (Freya)
  • Kubuntu 15.04 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 17.1 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 17.1 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 17.1 (MATE)
  • Linux Mint 17.1 (Xfce)
  • Mageia 4.1 (GNOME)
  • Mageia 4.1 (KDE)
  • OpenSUSE 13.2 (GNOME)
  • OpenSUSE 13.2 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 15.04 (Unity)
  • Ubuntu Mate (MATE)
  • Xubuntu 15.04 (Xfce)

I also attempted to try and install Fedora 21 and Linux Mint 17.2 (KDE) but it just wouldn’t go.

All of the tests were done 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 4.3.30, 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 prior to June 2015 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Just as before I have compiled a series of bar graphs to show you how each installation stacks up against one another. Measurements were taken using the free -m command for memory and the df -h command for disk usage.

Like before I have provided the results file as a download so you can see exactly what the numbers were or create your own custom comparisons (see below for link).

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 be 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). As always feel free to run your own tests and link them in the comments for everyone to see.

First boot memory (RAM) usage

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

First_Boot_AllMemory (RAM) usage after updates

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

After_Updates_AllMemory (RAM) usage change after updates

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

Usage_Changes_AllInstall size after updates

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

Install_SizeConclusion

Once again I will leave the conclusions to you. Source data provided below.

Source Data

Big distributions, little RAM 7

October 13th, 2014 4 comments

It’s been a while but once again here is the latest instalment of the series of posts where I install the major, full desktop, distributions into a limited hardware machine and report on how they perform. Once again, and like before, I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Debian 7.6 (GNOME)
  • Elementary OS 0.2 (Luna)
  • Fedora 20 (GNOME)
  • Kubuntu 14.04 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 17 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 17 (MATE)
  • Mageia 4.1 (GNOME)
  • Mageia 4.1 (KDE)
  • OpenSUSE 13.1 (GNOME)
  • OpenSUSE 13.1 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 14.04 (Unity)
  • Xubuntu 14.04 (Xfce)

I also attempted to try and install Fedora 20 (KDE) but it just wouldn’t go.

All of the tests were done 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 4.3.12, 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 October 6th, 2014 and October 13th, 2014 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Just as before I have compiled a series of bar graphs to show you how each installation stacks up against one another. Measurements were taken using the free -m command for memory and the df -h command for disk usage.

Like before I have provided the results file as a download so you can see exactly what the numbers were or create your own custom comparisons (see below for link).

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 be 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). As always feel free to run your own tests and link them in the comments for everyone to see.

First boot memory (RAM) usage

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

 

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap Usage

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage after updates

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

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap Usage

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage change after updates

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

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap Usage

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Install size after updates

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

Install Size

Install Size

Conclusion

Once again I will leave the conclusions to you. Source data provided below.

Source Data

A tale of a gillion installs

January 21st, 2014 1 comment

Install number one: LMDE 201303.  I was hoping for the best of both worlds, but I got driver issues instead.  LMDE has known ATI proprietary driver install issues.  I followed the Mint instructions and got it working, then got a blank screen after too much tinkering.  I was surprised that LMDE had this problem since Debian doesn’t, and LMDE should be a more polished version of LMDE.  This wasn’t a big deal, but I decided to give Debian a chance.

Install number two: debian stable (7.3).  The debian website has a convoluted maze of installation links, but it’s still fairly easy to find an ISO for the stable version you need.  I installed from the live ISO using a USB key.  The installation and ATI driver update went smoothly, and I thought all was well at first.  I soon realized that about 50% of reboots failed; the audio driver was the culprit.  I installed the latest driver from Realtec/ALSA and it sort of worked, but I was still getting some crap from # dmesg and the audio would crackle with some files.

LMDE.  I live booted LMDE to see if the same issue existed there and it did.

Time for Mint 16.  As expected everything worked.  Man I really wish Ubuntu hadn’t chosen the dark side – their OS is really good.  All of these distros use ALSA audio drivers, so why is Ubuntu the only one that works?   Kernel versions:

debian stable (7.3):
cat /proc/asound/version
Advanced Linux Sound Architecture Driver Version 1.0.24.
Mint 16:
cat /proc/asound/version
Advanced Linux Sound Architecture Driver Version k3.11.0-12-generic.

One more thing to check.  What kernel version is the real debian testing “jessie” using:

http://packages.debian.org/testing/kernel/linux-image-3.12-1-amd64

LMDE 201303 = 3.2
debian stable 7.3 = 3.2
Mint 16 = 3.11
debian testing “jessie - Jan 2014” = 3.12!

I determined to try debian testing before settling for Mint.  I tried a netinstall from USB key which killed my PC and grub bootloader.  The debian stable live iso usb key decided to stop working as well.   I finally got a real DVD debian stable install to work, changed the repositories to point to “jessie” and upgraded.  I was very surprised to see this worked!   I’m having some problems with bash, but all of my day to day software is up and running.  Nice.

TL;DR: LMDE was using an old kernel so I needed the real debian testing (jessie) to solve my driver problems.

So many flavours – with bonus privacy rant!

January 21st, 2014 1 comment

It’s interesting reading the old Linux Experiment first posts when people were contemplating which distro to install.  It’s been 4.5 years since then and the linux world has evolved.  Most noticeable, was no one talking about Mint!

I was considering three distros for my home PC dual boot:

  1. Debian
  2. LMDE
  3. Mint

I wanted something in the debian family since it seems to be receiving, by far, the most attention.  I expect this also means it gets the most activity and updates.  Ubuntu would probably work the best out of the box, but as you probably already know:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_%28user_interface%29#Privacy_controversy

Ubuntu’s privacy issues are a deal breaker of course, but they also made me question Mint.  I don’t want to support Ubuntu and I think using Mint would indirectly do that.  Also, Mint does have some minor default search engine sketchyness going on.   I realize that these developers need funding, but I don’t think selling their users’ stats or useage is the way to do it.  I think donations are the way to go and they seem to be working for Wikimedia.  Developing non-essential non-related commercial software in parallel with the OS might be another alternative… hmm, sounds like a slippery slope.

The plan was: Try LMDE first, Debian stable if more stability is needed, and Mint if I got to the point that I just wanted things to work.  Results to follow!

TL;DR:  I planned to install LMDE or Debian, since Ubuntu wants to track me.

And I thought this would be easy…

September 22nd, 2013 1 comment

Some of you may remember my earlier post about contemplating an upgrade from Windows Home Server (Version 1) to a Linux alternative. Since then, I have decided the following:

Amahi isn’t worth my time

 

This conclusion was reached after a fruitless install of the latest Amahi 7 installation on the 500 GB ‘system’ drive, included with the EX470. After backing up the Windows Home Server to a single external 2 TB drive (talk about nerve-wracking!), I popped the drive into a spare PC and installed Amahi with the default options.

ffuu

No, I’m not 13. Yes, this image accurately reflects my frustrations.

Moving the drive back into the EX470 yielded precisely zero results, no matter what I tried – the machine would not respond to a ‘ping’ command, and since I’ve opted to try and do this without a debug board, I don’t even have VGA to tell me what the hell is going on. So, that’s it for Amahi.

When all else fails, Ubuntu

 

After deciding that I really didn’t feel like a repeat of my earlier Fedora experiment, I decided to try out the Linux ‘Old Faithful’ as it were – Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. I opted for the LTS version due to – well, you know – the ‘long-term support’ deal.

Oh, and I upgraded my storage (new 1 TB system drive not shown, and I apologize for the potato-quality image):

IMG_20130921_234311

The only kind of ‘TB’ I like. Not tuberculosis.

 

Following from the earlier Amahi instructions, I popped the primary 1 TB drive into a spare machine and allowed the Ubuntu installer to do its thing. Easy enough! From there, I installed the following two additional items (having to add an additional repository for the latter):

  • Openssh-Server

This allows me to easily control the machine through SSH, and – as I understand it – is pretty much a must for someone wanting to control a headless box. Setup was easy-breezy, in that it required nothing at all.

  • Greyhole

For those unfamiliar, Greyhole is – in their own words – an ‘Easily expandable and redundant storage pool for home servers’. One of my favourite things about WHS v1 was its ‘disk pooling’ capability – essentially a JBOD with software-managed share duplication, ensuring that each selected share was copied over to one other disk in the array.

After those were done with, I popped the drive into the EX470, and – lo and behold! – I was able to SSH in.

sshsuccess

This? This is what relatively minor success looks like.

So at this point, I’m feeling relatively confident. I shut down the server (don’t forget -h!) over SSH, popped in the first of the three 3 TB drives, and…

…nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The server happily blinks away like a small puppy wags its tail, excited to see its owner but clearly bereft of purpose when left to its owner. I can’t ping it, I can’t… well, that’s really it. I can’t ping it, so there’s nothing I can do. Looking to see if GRUB was stuck at the menu, I stuck in a USB keyboard and hit ‘Enter’ to no effect. Yes, my troubleshooting skills are that good.

My next step was to pop both the 1 TB and 3 TB drives into the ‘spare’ machine; this ran fine. Running lshw -short -c disk shows a 1 TB and 3 TB drive without issue. I also ran these parted commands:

mklabel gpt

mkpart primary -1 1

 

(I think that last command is right.) So, all set, right? Cool. Pop the drive back in to the EX470, and…

STILL NOTHING. At this point, I’m ready to go pick up a new four-bay NAS, but I feel like that may be overkill. If anyone has any recommendations on how to get the stupid thing to boot with a 3 TB drive, I’m open to suggestions.

 

Big distributions, little RAM 6

July 9th, 2013 3 comments

It’s that time again where I install the major, full desktop, distributions into a limited hardware machine and report on how they perform. Once again, and like before, I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Fedora 18 (GNOME)
  • Fedora 18 (KDE)
  • Fedora 19 (GNOME
  • Fedora 19 (KDE)
  • Kubuntu 13.04 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 15 (MATE)
  • Mageia 3 (GNOME)
  • Mageia 3 (KDE)
  • OpenSUSE 12.3 (GNOME)
  • OpenSUSE 12.3 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 13.04 (Unity)
  • Xubuntu 13.04 (Xfce)

I even happened to have a Windows 7 (64-bit) VM lying around and, while I think you would be a fool to run a 64-bit OS on the limited test hardware, I’ve included as sort of a benchmark.

All of the tests were done 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 4.2.16, 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 July 1st, 2013 and July 5th, 2013 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Just as before I have compiled a series of bar graphs to show you how each installation stacks up against one another. This time around however I’ve changed how things are measured slightly in order to be more accurate. Measurements (on linux) were taken using the free -m command for memory and the df -h command for disk usage. On Windows I used Task Manager and Windows Explorer.

In addition this will be the first time where I provide the results file as a download so you can see exactly what the numbers were or create your own custom comparisons (see below for link).

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 be 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 because I was using an existing Windows 7 VM I didn’t have a ‘first boot’ result. As always feel free to run your own tests. Thirdly you may be asking yourself ‘why does Fedora 18 and 19 make the list?’ Well basically because I had already run the tests for 18 and then 19 happened to be released. Finally Fedora 19 (GNOME), while included, does not have any data because I simply could not get it to install.

First boot memory (RAM) usage

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

 

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache Only

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap Usage

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage after updates

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

After_Updates_All

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap

Swap

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage change after updates

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

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Install size after updates

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

Install Size

Install Size

Conclusion

Once again I will leave the conclusions to you. This time however, as promised above, I will provide my source data for you to plunder enjoy.

Source Data

An Experiment in Transitioning to Open Document Formats

June 15th, 2013 2 comments

Recently I read an interesting article by Vint Cerf, mostly known as the man behind the TCP/IP protocol that underpins modern Internet communication, where he brought up a very scary problem with everything going digital. I’ll quote from the article (Cerf sees a problem: Today’s digital data could be gone tomorrow – posted June 4, 2013) to explain:

One of the computer scientists who turned on the Internet in 1983, Vinton Cerf, is concerned that much of the data created since then, and for years still to come, will be lost to time.

Cerf warned that digital things created today — spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data — won’t be readable in the years and centuries ahead.

Cerf illustrated the problem in a simple way. He runs Microsoft Office 2011 on Macintosh, but it cannot read a 1997 PowerPoint file. “It doesn’t know what it is,” he said.

“I’m not blaming Microsoft,” said Cerf, who is Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist. “What I’m saying is that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time.”

The data objects are only meaningful if the application software is available to interpret them, Cerf said. “We won’t lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk.”

This is a well known problem for anyone who has used a computer for quite some time. Occasionally you’ll get sent a file that you simply can’t open because the modern application you now run has ‘lost’ the ability to read the format created by the (now) ‘ancient’ application. But beyond this minor inconvenience it also brings up the question of how future generations, specifically historians, will be able to look back on our time and make any sense of it. We’ve benefited greatly in the past by having mediums that allow us a more or less easy interpretation of written text and art. Newspaper clippings, personal diaries, heck even cave drawings are all relatively easy to translate and interpret when compared to unknown, seemingly random, digital content. That isn’t to say it is an impossible task, it is however one that has (perceivably) little market value (relatively speaking at least) and thus would likely be de-emphasized or underfunded.

A Solution?

So what can we do to avoid these long-term problems? Realistically probably nothing. I hate to sound so down about it but at some point all technology will yet again make its next leap forward and likely render our current formats completely obsolete (again) in the process. The only thing we can do today that will likely have a meaningful impact that far into the future is to make use of very well documented and open standards. That means transitioning away from so-called binary formats, like .doc and .xls, and embracing the newer open standards meant to replace them. By doing so we can ensure large scale compliance (today) and work toward a sort of saturation effect wherein the likelihood of a complete ‘loss’ of ability to interpret our current formats decreases. This solution isn’t just a nice pie in the sky pipe dream for hippies either. Many large multinational organizations, governments, scientific and statistical groups and individuals are also all beginning to recognize this same issue and many have begun to take action to counteract it.

Enter OpenDocument/Office Open XML

Back in 2005 the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) created a technical committee to help develop a completely transparent and open standardized document format the end result of which would be the OpenDocument standard. This standard has gone on to be the default file format in most open source applications (such as LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org, Calligra Suite, etc.) and has seen wide spread adoption by many groups and applications (like Microsoft Office). According to Wikipedia the OpenDocument is supported and promoted by over 600 companies and organizations (including Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Oracle, Wikimedia Foundation, etc.) and is currently the mandatory standard for all NATO members. It is also the default format (or at least a supported format) by more than 25 different countries and many more regions and cities.

Not to be outdone, and potentially lose their position as the dominant office document format creator, Microsoft introduced a somewhat competing format called Office Open XML in 2006. There is much in common between these two formats, both being based on XML and structured as a collection of files within a ZIP container. However they do differ enough that they are 1) not interoperable and 2) that software written to import/export one format cannot be easily made to support the other. While OOXML too is an open standard there have been some concerns about just how open it actually is. For instance take these (completely biased) comparisons done by the OpenDocument Fellowship: Part I / Part II. Wikipedia (Open Office XML – from June 9, 2013) elaborates in saying:

Starting with Microsoft Office 2007, the Office Open XML file formats have become the default file format of Microsoft Office. However, due to the changes introduced in the Office Open XML standard, Office 2007 is not entirely in compliance with ISO/IEC 29500:2008. Microsoft Office 2010 includes support for the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 compliant version of Office Open XML, but it can only save documents conforming to the transitional schemas of the specification, not the strict schemas.

It is important to note that OpenDocument is not without its own set of issues, however its (continuing) standardization process is far more transparent. In practice I will say that (at least as of the time of writing this article) only Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 can consistently edit and display OOXML documents without issue, whereas most other applications (like LibreOffice and OpenOffice) have a much better time handling OpenDocument. The flip side of which is while Microsoft Office can open and save to OpenDocument format it constantly lags behind the official standard in feature compliance. Without sounding too conspiratorial this is likely due to Microsoft wishing to show how much ‘better’ its standard is in comparison. That said with the forthcoming 2013 version Microsoft is set to drastically improve its compatibility with OpenDocument so the overall situation should get better with time.

Current day however I think, technologically, both standards are now on more or less equal footing. Initially both standards had issues and were lacking some features however both have since evolved to cover 99% of what’s needed in a document format.

What to do?

As discussed above there are two different, some would argue, competing open standards for the replacement of the old closed formats. Ten years ago I would have said that the choice between the two is simple: Office Open XML all the way. However the landscape of computing has changed drastically in the last decade and will likely continue to diversify in the coming one. Cell phone sales have superseded computers and while Microsoft Windows is still the market leader on PCs, alternative operating systems like Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux have been gaining ground. Then you have the new cloud computing contenders like Google’s Google Docs which let you view and edit documents right within a web browser making the operating system irrelevant. All of this heterogeneity has thrown a curve ball into how standards are established and being completely interoperable is now key – you can’t just be the market leader on PCs and expect everyone else to follow your lead anymore. I don’t want to be limited in where I can use my documents, I want them to work on my PC (running Windows 7), my laptop (running Ubuntu 12.04), my cellphone (running iOS 5) and my tablet (running Android 4.2). It is because of these reasons that for me the conclusion, in an ideal world, is OpenDocument. For others the choice may very well be Office Open XML and that’s fine too – both attempt to solve the same problem and a little market competition may end up being beneficial in the short term.

Is it possible to transition to OpenDocument?

This is the tricky part of the conversation. Lets say you want to jump 100% over to OpenDocument… how do you do so? Converting between the different formats, like the old .doc or even the newer Office Open XML .docx, and OpenDocument’s .odt is far from problem free. For most things the conversion process should be as simple as opening the current format document and re-saving it as OpenDocument – there are even wizards that will automate this process for you on a large number of documents. In my experience however things are almost never quite as simple as that. From what I’ve seen any document that has a bulleted list ends up being converted with far from perfect accuracy. I’ve come close to re-creating the original formatting manually, making heavy use of custom styles in the process, but its still not a fun or straightforward task – perhaps in these situations continuing to use Microsoft formatting, via Office Open XML, is the best solution.

If however you are starting fresh or just converting simple documents with little formatting there is no reason why you couldn’t make the jump to OpenDocument. For me personally I’m going to attempt to convert my existing .doc documents to OpenDocument (if possible) or Office Open XML (where there are formatting issues). By the end I should be using exclusively open formats which is a good thing.

I’ll write a follow up post on my successes or any issues encountered if I think it warrants it. In the meantime I’m curious as to the success others have had with a process like this. If you have any comments or insight into how to make a transition like this go more smoothly I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.

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

Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu, Xorg/X11 Tags: , , ,

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?

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:

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.