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My Ubuntu Experience Part 2: Ready, Set, Go

Grabbing Ubuntu was easy; it’s just a matter of download it from the Ubuntu website. It is possible to order free CDs with Ubuntu, but it is much easier to just download an .iso-file from the website. Then just burn a CD from the iso-image using CD Burner XP.

If Ubuntu wants to reach out to the average users just wanting to do their spreadsheets downloading iso-images and burning them to CDs is not a viable distribution method. There are other ways of getting Ubuntu, such as ordering it from a vendor, order the free Ubuntu CDs or buy a new Dell computer. Seriously though, average users should be able to download Ubuntu and get it on a CD or USB-stick with ease.

Most current Windows users would probably want a dual-boot setup, enabling to choose between Windows and Ubuntu. This is actually quite easy to achieve without much work. The key is however to install Windows first and Ubuntu last, since Windows will over-write the boot sector.

Dual-boot installation of Ubuntu, step-by-step

1) Make sure your Ubuntu CD is in the drive and start your computer. Enter the BIOS; select the CD-drive as the primary boot partition.

2) If you restart the computer Ubuntu will eventually show a menu. You can either select to install Ubuntu directly or try it out first without installing. I decided to try first.

3) After a while Ubuntu eventually booted (I takes time since it boots from the CD). The view you know see is actually Ubuntu running of the CD. It is perfectly possible to just browse around in the system and see if you like it. Check the examples folder for testimonials, there is even a video of Nelson Mandela explaining the concept of Ubuntu. If you like to make Ubuntu a permanent OS on your computer click the Install icon on the desktop.

4) Follow the steps in the Ubuntu installation (the usual stuff like time-zone, keyboard layout and so on).

The most important part is the partitioning of the drive; choose how much space you want Ubuntu to use by pulling the slider. A minimum of 4 GB is needed for space and the Ubuntu swap-file. Remember that you can store files on both partitions, so your reference should be how much software you eventually will use. I dedicated 180 GB to Ubuntu and the rest of my 500 GB drive to Windows Vista.

The Ubuntu installation will now partition your drive; this is a vital process which for me took about 20 minutes. Never pull the plug on the computer during this process, it can damage your drive.

The next time you re-boot you will be greeted by Ubuntu. Or not quite, you will actually be greeted by Grub (Grand Unified Bootloader) which is a boot loader allowing you to choose if you want to boot Windows or Ubuntu. Grub is the most common boot loader for Linux, and to be quite frank it is not a pretty sight. Visually it looks like leftovers from the old Unix-era. A little annoyance is that Grub is set to load Ubuntu by default (if the user does not take any action), I wanted it to boot Windows Vista (or Longhorn which Grub names it) by default.

Using a normal simple Windows PC (or Apple for that matter) I could have just clicked an icon or pressed a key or fiddle around in a menu and make it happen. But changing default settings in Grub is a little bit more complicated than that. After searching the handy Ubuntu user community I found the solution, which includes changing values in configuration files..

A very typical Linux experience, but I got what I wanted. I am no expert on boot times but Ubuntu does seem faster to boot than Windows 7.

When trying my new operating system the refresh rates was terrible compared to what I was used to in Windows 7. After a while I found a box where it was possible to change the rate, the terrible low refresh rate (50 Hz) was however the only option. Of I went trying to help my already strained eyes.

It turned out that System -> Preferences ->Screen Resolution is not the correct location for changing the refresh rate. Instead it’s done in the Nvidia-settings menu; the problem was of course that Ubuntu didn’t recognize my computer’s Geforce 8600 GT during installation. However it was quite easy to install the Nvidia drivers using the integrated Ubuntu Add/Remove programs functionality. When changing the settings in the Nvidia-menus the original Screen Resolution menu still displayed 50 Hz, but you could tell that the refresh rate was much higher.

I feel that Ubuntu still has a long way to go when it comes to configuration and changing settings. You often have to use the terminal window, which for Windows users would be a flashback to the Windows 3.1-days. While a lot has been improved in Ubuntu compared to older versions of SuSE there is still some work that remains to be done before the average user can install and configure his or her own Ubuntu installation.

My Ubuntu Experience Part 1: Why Ubuntu?

After using Windows for sixteen years I thought it was time to try something new. For the next couple of months I will describe my transition from Windows Vista to Ubuntu in this blog. Not that I feel that there is anything wrong with Vista, but maybe the grass is greener on the other side.

I know that Linux and preferably Ubuntu a number of dedicated followers, so it certainly seems to be something in there that people want and like. Ubuntu and Linux is also the only wide-spread free alternative to Windows and Apple OS X. So if you want to know about the highs and lows for a Windows user moving to Ubuntu be sure to follow this blog. Naturally I will put up some postings with the usual software picks between sharing my Ubuntu experiences with you.

What exactly is Ubuntu then? In theory Ubuntu is not more than a derivative of Debian, it is meant to be easy to install and user-friendly .The Ubuntu project is funded by Canonical, which is a company owned by Mark Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth is a South African billionaire, most known for being the first African citizen in space. According to the Ubuntu wiki Shuttleworth is not in Ubuntu for the money, rather he wants to create a free and sustainable desktop OS.

Sounds good and noble, doesn’t it? But the fact of the matter is that in order for Ubuntu to be sustainable some cash needs to be brought in; according to the Ubuntu wiki the project gets income from customization of Ubuntu distributions. The Ubuntu website also sell t-shirts and mugs, take that Microsoft!

In 2004 Canonical released the first version of Ubuntu (version 4.10) Warty Warthog. The Warthog reference is made to describe that the version was still rough around the edges and probably needed more updating. Ubuntu took a comfortable market share from then very popular Linux distributions, such as RedHat, SuSE and Mandrake.

New versions of Ubuntu are released every six-months, each version is supported with patches for 18 months. Every two years the Ubuntu community is blessed with a new LTS-release.  When was the last time Microsoft or Apple used version numbers and abbreviations in the names of their operating systems? In the open-source world it is natural with version numbers and strange names, no one questions it. How about introducing names like Ubuntu Home Edition or Ubuntu Small Business? It sure sounds more inviting for an average user than Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Desktop Edition.

Anyway, be sure to check out to follow my Ubuntu experiences.

Picasa 2 – Manage your photos

Screenshot of Picasa 2

A down-side with the surge in digital photography is the pain of keeping track of all the photos. Google thinks that they have the answer to your prayers with Picasa 2. Picasa 2 creates an index of all your picture files on your computer and then categorizes them by year. After that you simply create an album and move the picture files that you want into that album.

The interface is pretty simple and a bit similar to Gmail. It’s possible to mark your photos with a star and describe them. Picasa 2 also has a number of features that enhances and alters your photos, such as red-eye reduction and cropping.  However if you are not familiar with Google from other software or services Picasa’s interface may prove difficult to use.

The real power with Picasa 2 is the different exporting and importing options. It’s easy to import photos from any digital camera. I just plugged in my Canon Powershot SD600 and Picasa found the camera directly.  Picasa 2 makes it easier to browse and select the photos that you want, compared to doing it directly in Windows.

A new feature in Picasa 2 is the web-album, which gives you the ability to upload pictures to online albums for other people to view. Albums can be password protected or public, you get 1GB storage for free. 10 GB of storage costs $20 / year and 40 GB $75 / year.  Smugmug costs $39.95 a year for an unlimited amount of photos. So basically Googles storage offer does not impress.  Other exporting options in Picasa 2 include sending the pictures to a blog in Blogger and burning pictures on a CD or DVD (which works great).

Overall Picasa 2 is a very good piece of software considering it’s free, basically it has it all.  However the paid online album and storage is not as appealing as competing services.

LogMeIn – Access your PC or MAC from anywhere!

The market for remote desktop software is surging as workers go mobile. Having access to your desktop computer at home or in the office from anywhere in the world is a huge advantage. A service capitalizing on the trend is LogMeIn, which offers a variety of solutions with the basic one completely for free.

LogMeIn is a web-based solution, which means that any computer with a web-browser can be used. Just log on to and enter your username and password. Naturally there are some security concerns with having access to your computers online. Luckily LogMeIn has two layers of extra security, which can be applied. The first one is that a randomly generated code that has to be entered when logging in is sent to your e-mail. The other option is having LogMeIn create a sheet of randomly generated codes, which you can print and keep in your wallet.

The free and basic version of LogMeIn offers remote control with the ability to view your desktop. It is also possible sync data in the clipboard with the remote computer. LogMeIn Free is really all you need if you just want access to your desktop PCs from anywhere.

Another neat feature with LogMeIn Free is the ability to have several computers in the same account. Say for example that you want your two desktop PCs as well as a friend who constantly runs in to computer problems in the same account; it is possible with LogMeIn Free.

LogMeIn Pro, which is not free, offers extras such as the ability to drag and drop files between the connected computers, remote printing, file sync and drive mapping among other things. The Pro-version is $19.95 per month per computer, which might work for small businesses but is on the expensive side for an enthusiast with many computers.

The real problem with LogMeIn is the fact that the software only works on Windows machines (XP and Vista) and MACs. There is currently no Linux-version available.

LogMeIn Free is surprisingly fast and powerful, it does not need much configuration and setup. If you just want basic access to your computer from anywhere, LogMeIn Free is a great product.

Freemind – Free mind mapping software

FreeMind Screenshot

There are advantages of doing mind-maps on the computer instead of using whiteboards or pencil and paper. It’s easier to keep structured, you never run out of room and it’s possible to link images and other objects.

While there are loads of proprietary software out there just for mind-mapping (MindManager, SmartDraw to name a few) there are few open-source or free alternatives. FreeMind is perhaps the most well known alternative.

The software is written in JAVA, which means excellent portability across platforms. FreeMind runs in any Java environment but most notable Windows, Linux and MAC OS. FreeMind is released under the GNU Public License (GPL).

My first experience with FreeMind was very confusing, the program interface actually resembles a 90s version of Micrografx Graph (those were the days). After a couple of minutes the interface feels less awkward and three days later it almost feels like a part of you.

Click the yellow light-bulb to add sub-topics to your main subject, FreeMind dubs it ”Child Note”.To change the text of something just click it and write. Out to the left there are a bunch of icons that can be used in connection with each note. For example if you want to set priorities use the stylish 1-5 icons. However I don’t get why there is a Linux penguin but not a plus-sign in there.

In FreeMind you can also create links to other objects (websites, files you name it) and insert pictures. A more powerful feature is the planning tools that aren’t directly visible, such as the calendar where you can set reminders. FreeMind can generate a schedule of all the events and reminders, which actually makes it possible to create plans directly from a mind-map.

FreeMind has a pretty active community behind it supporting the software and adding plug-ins. For example it’s possible to download a plug-in that connects FreeMind to MS Project, any project manager’s dream. There are also plug-ins that interacts with content management systems, such as Drupal or MediaWiki.

The program also has excellent export features; you can export as PDF (not even Microsoft Visio 2007 has that functionality built-in), PNG, SVG among other formats. It’s even possible to create HTML mind-maps, which makes FreeMind a great tool for web or Intranet use.

At first glance FreeMind doesn’t look like much, but it really has great functionality and features in there. The graphics are a bit dated, but it doesn’t matter because FreeMind is good at what it was originally designed to do.


Getting a good audio editing package these days can be daunting. There is a jungle of shareware and freeware applications out there, all with different characteristics.  Audacity is an open source alternative, which has really caught on. The software can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux machines and offers basic audio editing as well as recording.

Audacity has some nifty features, it’s a breeze to remove noise, change the pitch and apply a number of effects (such as echo, bass boost and reverse). The software handles WAV, MP2, MIDI, MP2, AIFF, AU and Ogg Vorbis files. It’s possible to convert WAV-files to MP3 or Ogg Vorbis.  There is one draw-back with Audacity and that’s the lack of support for WMV-files, mainly because it’s a proprietary file-format.

Importing and exporting large audio-files seems to be faster than in other similar audio-editors. Editing files in Audacity is a very easy, it is possible to have several files open at once and mixing them together.  Most of the editing is done using the mouse and cut and paste, it is also possible to zoom and undo an unlimited amount of times.  The interface in the progam is familiar, if you worked with other audio or video programs you will feel right at home.

Audacity is a great piece of software if you are recording podcasts, radio shows or need to do basic audio editing or analysis.  If you are after playing around with sound for sake of it there are probably more suitable applications out there.

CD Burner XP

Finding a good free application to burn CDs is not easy these days. There are a bunch of different choices and many of them are quite shaky or no good at all. One program that never fails is CD-Burner XP though.

The program has a number of features found in commercial packages such as the ability to burn and create ISO-images, burn bootable discs, creating audio CDs with or without gaps between the songs and much more.

CD-Burner XP has a pretty neat interface it resembles Nero some, it isn’t a direct copy though and still does its own thing. The program asks you when it starts if you want to create a data-CD or an audio CD, after that it’s a matter of selecting which files and folders to burn. Burning DVDs can also be done using CD-Burner XP, and is done the same-way as ordinary CDs.

There is however a hitch with CD-Burner XP, and that is that your cd-drive has to be compatible with the software, most common drives are though. CD-Burner XP is not open source, but still free. According the developers there are licensed code in the third party libraries the software is using. Nevertheless CD-Burner XP is a great piece of software that works with Windows XP and Vista.

WOS Portable II


WOS stands for Web server on Stick, which is pretty much what it is. To some people this product might seem a bit unnecessary but if you are a web-developer using PHP and Apache WOS is a godsend.

WOS emulates an Apache and MySQL server on any USB-stick. The installation process is easy; CH Software has developed an online wizard called the WOS Mixer that helps you through it. When using the mixer you will be asked if you want to update your existing WOS-package or make a new one. After that a list comes up with a bunch of GPL-software, there is a lot of server stuff such as Apache 2, MySQL 5 and PHP 4 or 5. The list also contains a number of CMS-systems such as MediaWiki, Drupal, Joomla, Mambo, TYPO 3 and WordPress.

The wizard then creates a downloadable .zip file, after the download extract the zip-file and follow the on-screen instructions. If everything goes well your USB-stick will then work as a web-server with several CMS-systems installed.

It is also easy to import database copies from other sites into WOS (using PHPMyAdmin), when importing a whole site structure remember to change config settings so that the paths reflect the ones on the USB-stick.

When WOS is installed it is simply a matter of running the executable on the USB-stick. The software has a number of options, but nothing too spacey. It is possible to set the URL that is typed in the browser to reach the WOS-server. There are also some options that clear all Apache and MySQL logs when WOS is ended. WOS Portable II can also receive updates and it even has a backup feature if you want to backup the databases.

Carrying WOS Portable II around is a breeze, I have tried it for several months and it always impresses clients when it is possible to show the actual sites almost ready with server-side scripting and all. This is also a good product if you run servers or large-scale websites where you want one platform to test things on before releasing them publicly. WOS works perfectly in Firefox and Internet Explorer, it might work in other browsers as well but I have not been able to test. It also works on Windows XP/Vista and Linux.



Protecting your computer connected to the Internet is standard procedure as trojans and worms are floating around. ZoneAlarm is a free firewall (in its basic version) for home users that’s been around a while. It features basic firewall functionality and a stealth capability, which means that your computer is invisible to others on the Internet.

ZoneAlarm has five different tabs; Overview, Firewall, Program Control, Anti-virus monitoring and Alerts & Logs. In the overview tab you will see the total of”intrusion attempts” direct towards your computer, it also shows the number of programs secured for outbound protection. If you view the firewall tab you can set the Internet Zone Security to high, medium and low. In high-mode ZoneAlarm goes in to stealth mode, in medium your computer becomes visible. It’s also possible to set the security level within your own network or trusted zone.

The program can be quite irritating to setup the first time. Every application has to be given rights to the Internet, for example if you start Internet Explorer ZoneAlarm will pop-up and ask you if you want to give IE access. In the later versions of ZoneAlarm the program tries to auto-detect certain programs such as web-browsers and give them access. It doesn’t work for every application though.

ZoneAlarm is also one of the more secure and effective firewalls out there (when this is written). One drawback however is that it isn’t as light-weight as it used to be, it does take up more system resources than previous versions.  ZoneAlarm is a neat free firewall, it has all the features that a home user needs and it works great with Windows Vista.


truec1.jpg truec2.jpg 

Data protection is all the rage these days, and you can’t be too careful. TrueCrypt is an open source alternative to a number of encryption programs out there.  Actually the program is based on E4M (Encryption for the Masses) released in 1997 and discontinued in 2000.In order to store encrypted data TrueCrypt uses system volumes, the program basically creates a password protected and encrypted volume. If you provide the right password the volume is unlocked and you can use it as any other volume on your computer.

The program has a number of encryption algorithms you can use including; AES, Serpent and Twofish. All of the encryption algorithms are standards with AES being the most widespread one. If you want an extra layer of security it’s possible to create volumes that requires two-factor authentication using a keyfile. In order to unlock the volume both a password and a special keyfile is needed. Creating a new volume is done using a simple and easy wizard, almost any user can do it. Mounting a volume (which needs to be done every time you restart the computer or dismounts the volume) is also easy.  It’s a matter of choosing a volume file and clicking “mount” .  It is entirely possible to have 250 GB of data or more encrypted and use it as any other normal volume, you can even install programs on your encrypted volume.

TrueCrypt has the ability to run in traveler mode, which means that the program does not have to be installed on the OS it runs. This means that it is possible to take TrueCrypt with you on trips using a USB-stick, so you can bring business secrets on the road without having to worry about the data getting into the wrong hands.

The program also comes with a number of language packs, as always with Open Source software these kind of packs differ in quality and translation. Also with a fairly straightforward program like TrueCrypt there is no need for language packs.

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