Friday, March 30, 2007

One of the most potent zero-day security exploits recorded

If you haven't read the news already, there's a Windows zero-day security exploit involving animated cursors. Yes, animated cursors. One of the reasons that get thrown at me as to why Windows is better than Linux. Because Windows is more fun. Because it has, among other fun things, animated cursors. I kid you not.

And, of course it effects every version of Windows from Windows 2000 to Vista. Yes, I said Vista. That new and shiny bulwark of Redmond security, the version of Windows that's the most secured to date. The version we can really trust.

Bullshit.

Microsoft doesn't yet have a patch. But eEye Research does. So you can get theirs, or wait for Microsoft. As usual.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Beta - upgrading the video card

The Gigabyte GeForce 7600GS card came in the mail today, delivered from Newegg via UPS. And just like I'd threatened earlier, I replaced rhea's 9600 with it. When I pulled out the older video card I re-discovered it wasn't a regular 9600, it was a 9600SE. That's a low-end budget card with a 64-bit memory interface introduced in 2003 that I purchased in 2005 on sale. The 7600GS, a mid-range card with a 128-bit memory interface, was introduced last year. That's a three year difference in architecture, with double the memory channel, double the amount of video memory on the card, and four times the number of processing elements. Not to mention other architectural differences and improvements spanning three years. The difference was quite noticeably better with the 7600GS. Time had indeed marched on.

Updates Before the Upgrade

Before I swapped out the hardware there were 33 new updates waiting for the system. I accepted the upgrades and that started a three-ring upgrade circus, where one of the upgrade cycles complained that I had a damaged package. But after accepting the third successive upgrade, that problem disappeared and (I think anyway) all the updates were successfully installed.

Installing the 7600GS

After the updates I edited the xorg.conf file and changed the device sections driver entry from 'ati' to 'vesa'. Turned off the machine, swapped the cards, turned the machine back on, and booted back into Ubuntu. After login I start the Restricted Drivers applet in order to install the nVidia native drivers. That's when the applet politely informed me I had to run 'sudo dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg' because my xorg.conf file wasn't standard issue (remember I'd modified it earlier). Now, what I want to know is why, if Ubuntu's developers go to so much trouble to give you a very good one-click Restricted Drivers applet, that that applet can't also just perform the xorg.conf cleanup before installing the drivers. All it needs to do is ask (in the same dialog complaining about the problem) if you want it cleaned up right then and there.

After running the command in a terminal and stepping through a few questions (resolution of the screen specifically) I then re-ran Restricted Drivers and installed the nVidia drivers. Then, just for good measure, I rebooted the machine. In spite of everything upgrading the hardware turned out to be pretty simple and painless. Just like Windows, only mo' better.

Playing Around

First thing I did was run some of my DVDs and other movie clips I've got lying around. Everything played the same as it did before the change, only mo' better. In particular I was able to make a screen capture of Totem playing a movie and capture the video, instead of getting a nice black rectangle. I don't know if it's the drivers for the new card or an update of Ubuntu, but it makes screen captures (like the one below) a lot easier. And it matches what I can do with Suse 10.2 on europa using the 9700 Pro.

Here's a bit of trivia: Chiwetel Ejiofor (seen above), who played The Operative on "Serenity", played Luke on "Children of Men", one of the DVDs I picked up today (DVD Tuesday). I like him. He's pretty good and he plays interesting and varied roles.

Next, I fired up Google Earth, the acid test, and went visiting Denver. It finally runs flawlessly. In fact, in a bazaar surprise (to me anyway), it ran no slower rendering Denver's 3D buildings than the Athlon 64/SLED system I have at work. I need to run some more tests just to be absolutely sure, but the fact it performed this task well makes this revitalized system a keeper. I may even go so far as to get a second 7600GS to replace the ATI 9700 Pro in europa.


So. Rhea is updated with a more current video card GPU, and video intensive applications are running a lot smoother. Now I'm just limited by system memory (512MB) and the disk drives themselves (PATA 100). Changing out the video card is a lot cheaper than buying a whole new system, and using Ubuntu 7.04 (or Suse 10.2 or even Fedora Core 6) is far cheaper than paying for Vista. It's not so much I'm a cheap bastard, it's just I'm tired of running on the constant upgrade treadmill. I can't afford the cash outlays for entire systems and I don't use a lot of what I've currently got because I don't have the time. And I've reached the point where I just can't stand Microsoft any more. I really can't. But, that's a rant for another time and post.

The Incredible Microsoft Clusterphuck (IMC)

It takes a multi-billion monopoly like Microsoft to pull off some of what I've been reading the past week, let alone since the first of the year when Vista was released. But I just wanted to catalog some of the not-to-be-believed stranger-than-truth facts that have come into existence over the past three or four months. So, without further adieu, my selection of IMC talking points.
  • Use Vista and want to access MSDN? Use Firefox! In which the author shows that the best browser to use on 64-bit Vista to access Microsoft's own ISDN network isn't IE7, but Firefox. One reason for using Firefox? The MSDN site is tagged as not secure by IE7. Worse, he can't use Microsoft File Transfer Manager to download CD/DVD images of MSFT applications because "Vista’s enhanced security prevents user from downloading files".
  • Slow Train Wreck. In which Microsoft, in an attempt to treat the world+dog as guilty until proven innocent, has discovered that its anti-IP-copying software makes copying any file intolerably slow (or deleting or moving for that matter). As one annoyed user was quoted: "I simply can not believe that I updated to a new computer and put windows Vista on it to find that it's not even capable of moving and deleting files in an efficient manner," one disaffected user posted in the Microsoft forum. "Microsoft must be kidding! The most basic of features that I use all the time is a slow train wreck."
  • Stacking Vista Licenses Too High. In which Microsoft is caught lying again (really!). Microsoft claims it's sold 20 million Vista licenses, but many in the industry who know that industry beg to differ. In fact, if you've been reading the news, you'll discover that Vista is off to a much slower start than Windows XP. The only way that Vista will be sold in large numbers in the near future is to buy it pre-installed on a new machine. And that's assuming the market doesn't start buying even more Macs in the future.
  • Microsoft announces more discounted Vista licensing. Ars Technica documents Microsoft's convoluted discounts amongst its various Vista flavors. Like the end of the Ats article says, caveat emptor. You can, for example, go to Newegg and find Vista heavily discounted to the same level as Windows XP.
But enough about Vista. What about Microsoft's other big properties?
  • Zune has been an ongoing disaster since the early part of December 2006. One problem (of many) is the draconian DRM that makes Apple's iTunes look good. The big wireless feature, that was supposed to enable the 'social' aspect of the Zune, won't allow you to transfer any music, even music that you create, from one device to another without marking it as DRM infected. That means you get three days or three plays, whichever comes first. Couple that with its initial inability to work with Vista when first released as well as being incompatible with every other PlaysForSure former Microsoft music partner, and you have a ready-made spectacular failure.
  • Sales of the Xbox 360 have been spotty at best. The biggest market is here in the US, followed by the United Kingdom. That's it. It sells like a dog in Japan, and not much better throughout the rest of Europe. Considering the continuing white-hot sales of the Wii and Sony's equally catestrophic train wreck called the PS3, I'm sure that Microsoft is just raking in the dough from the Xbox 360. Which is a good thing considering that all those consoles needing to have their "Red Ring of Death" fixed (once, twice...). Somebody has to pay for it, and it's not going to be all those pissed off gamers.
This is what a monopoly gets you. High prices, lousy selection, and poor quality. Yeah, I might have problems with Linux, but I know who my real enemy is. And it ain't Tux.

Monday, March 26, 2007

SLED 10 and Google Earth commingle, cause desktop to crash

I was running Google Earth 4 on SLED 10 this morning when I decided to go and 'visit' Denver, Colorado. You can see the screenshot of it below, taken right before the desktop crashed and kicked me back out to the login screen.

Before I get into the gory details of the crash, let me describe what happened up to that point. I'd navigated to Denver and oriented the view as you see above. I had 3D buildings enabled. I noticed that it took 15 minutes for the view to completey render, which was far, far longer than another other city I've been to via Google Earth. While it was rendering is was chewing processor time up like nobodies business (according to the Gnome system monitor). Moving from screen to screen was sluggish, so much so that when flipping to Google Earth's screen it froze for a number of seconds in mid-turn, before showing full on. This, on a machine running SLED for X86_64 using an Athlon FX-55 with 4GB of memory. It has never taken this long to render any view, and it still doesn't, as long as I stay away from Denver. What's interesting about Denver is that the 3D buildings being rendered are very high quality and very high detail, far more so than any other city I've viewed to date. I'm sure that played into the very long render time and the subsequent crash.

After Google Earth was finished (Streaming posted 100%), I took the screen shot you see above. Then I attempted to zoom in and re-orient the view to take a closer look at the Qwest building. That's the tall round, brown building near the lower right edge of the screen shot.

Here's Denver again, but this time I've moved in and around for a better look at the Qwest building. This is using Google Earth 4 on Windows XP (the Gateway M685 notebook). The detail is gorgeous, and by the way it looks every bit as good on Linux. The problem is that looking at Denver with Google Earth on Linux causes performance and stability problems.

Here's the setup on the Linux system:
  • Boxx system using Athlon 64 FX-55, with 4GB of ram, nVidia Quadro FX 540.
  • the nVidia drivers are installed, the monitor ia a Samsung SyncMaster 740B at 1280 x 1024.
  • SLED 10, X8674.
  • Compiz desktop manager enabled and running.
When I attempted to zoom in on the Qwest building, the desktop crashed. I was kicked off the desktop and back out to the login screen. When I logged back in, the compositing desktop features were disabled. I couldn't figure out why at first, but a clue was that the desktop would not fit completely in the monitor's screen. When I checked the screen resolution I discovered the screen's resolution has been kicked to 1400 x 1050. That broke Compiz (it looks like Compiz won't handle the odd screen resolution). So I put the resolution back and rebooted first the desktop, then eventually the entire box. I'm back to working on the desktop.

I guess I should be thankful that unlike Windows I didn't get a BSOD. But crashing the X desktop is no less acceptable, especially when the resolution is seemingly screwed up. And considering that this is an Enterprise release (that's what the 'E' in SLED stands for) I have very little tolerance for loosing my work this way. I had all four screens filled with something running (NetBeans 6 on one screen, Protege 3.3 on a second, and Google Earth 4 on a third, not to mention Firefox and terminals...). I can live with applications crashing, but not an application crashing and taking a major part of my OS with it along with all my work. No, the machine did not lock up. Yes, I lost all my work up to that point. A crash of this magnitude is as bad as a Windows BSOD. I had the same loss of time and productivity. I am not amused.

I'd be curious to hear what Suse folks have to say about this.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Terrifying Message from Al Gore

Assuming, of course, that nobody sues YouTube and forces this little bit to be pulled. And yes, I have the DVD, and yes, I pretty much believe what he's saying. I live in Florida after all, the state of bad hurricanes and bad voters.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Beta out and about

Ubuntu Beta hit the virtual streets today. Since I've been faithfully installing every update via Update Manager, I don't have a need to download the ISO and do a re-install on rhea. Never-the-less I downloaded the workstation ISO, burned the CD, and used it to boot my Gateway M685 notebook. That machine is notorious for not giving Linux a break, and it proved once again what a royal PITA it is to work with Linux. Ubuntu Beta failed to boot properly just like every other version of 7.04 has. Once again video failed completely. But Ubuntu Beta pulled a big surprise this time. It was able to enable the sound on the notebook so that even though the video screen was black I heard the login audible greeting. No distribution to date has enabled sound on that machine, not even Suse 10.1, which is currently installed. If Ubuntu 7.04 could just get its video issues fixed with the nVidia Go 7800 on that notebook, then it would be a serious winner, possible kicking Suse off completely.

One of the new tools I've discovered via the announcement is the visual Disk Usage Analyzer (Applications | Accessories | Disk Usage Analyzer). I fired it up and had it show me rhea's disk usage. A number of screen shots follow.

The first view is the entire file system. Disk Usage Analyzer spent several minutes following every partition and directory to catalog the entire data usage on rhea. I found that performance impressive considering the vintage of this machine and the amount of data collected over the last four years. If you hover the mouse pointer over each colored block you get labels identifying each partition or folder. Personally I'd rather have a feature where I could have all the sections from say, the center out to the first two layers labeled. That would make it a lot quicker to associate major sections of the graphic with corresponding parts of the file system.

Here I'm hovering over my home directory. If you click on any of the sections of the diagram, it will open it up and immediately show you a graphical view of that one selection.

And here I am checking out my home directory usage. This time the mouse was hovering over the area where I built the latest kernel. Note that it takes 1.2 GB of disk space after everything has been built. The outer layers are directories underneath linux-2.6.20.4 (sound, net, fs, drivers...). In spite of its several minor flaws, it's a powerful tool for quickly analyzing disk usage within the system.

And yet another funny spoof from Novell

In which everybody admits they're secretly running Linux. Take-away point: More people are running Linux than you think.

Fun and games with Linux courtesy of Novell

If you're like me you've reached a point of painful saturation with the Apple vs. PC ads that Apple Inc keeps pumping out. Well, Novell has decided they want in on the fun, so they've parodied the whole Apple ad thing with a nice one that promotes Linux. In this ad, it's PC man running Vista vs. Mac boy running Leopard, with sweet adorable Linux just standing there and looking simply beautiful/beautifully simple. A couple of egotistical male dorks being outdone by the beautiful babe without really trying.

Best line: PC: "I'll probably wear this for another six or seven years!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Google Earth on Ubuntu: Time to replace the ATI

OK. I finally give up. I know when it's time to quit being cheap and at least upgrade the AGP video card on my aging system so I can run Google Earth. When I got home earlier this evening I googled for "r300 xorg google earth performance" and got the all the clues I needed in the first entry. On the Ubuntu forums no less.

Basically the open Radeon drivers don't have all the needed features. In fact, the complaints center around how "the graphics are really slow and choppy." Hey. Just like what I experience. Unfortunately, the solution given by one of the posters doesn't work for me. I have all the latest bits he calls out, and I even downloaded and installed DRIconf. However, disaster struck when I started it and selected "yes" for "Disable Low-impact fallback". When I started Google Earth it locked up the system good and hard. Big Red Switch time.

When I start DRIconf, I get the following in the terminal:
libGL warning: 3D driver claims to not support visual 0x4b
And when I run Google Earth, I get the following in the terminal:
wbeebe@rhea:~$ googleearth
libGL warning: 3D driver claims to not support visual 0x4b
*********************************WARN_ONCE*********************************
File r300_render.c function r300Fallback line 428
Software fallback:ctx->Line.SmoothFlag
***************************************************************************
Try R300_SPAN_DISABLE_LOCKING env var if this hangs.
*********************************WARN_ONCE*********************************
File r300_state.c function r300Enable line 512
TODO - double side stencil !
***************************************************************************
*sigh*

I just ordered a GIGABYTE GV-N76G256D-RH GeForce 7600GS 256MB GDDR2 AGP 8X video card from Newegg to replace the ATI 9600 card in my system. I get the opportunity to not only upgrade my card under Ubuntu, but to radically change it from ATI to nVidia. I get to personally experience how Ubuntu handles the upgrade, and what needs to be done to get X working again. Joy, joy.

More Google Earth and SLED 10 goodness

I can't leave it alone. The more I work with Google Earth 4 (GE4), the more I like it. What I've come to better appreciate is GE4's 3D buildings and terrain. In the shot that follows I'm looking at the Golden Gate bridge, with some of the higher terrain in the background (basically looking north towards Needles). The bridge itself is constructed from simple 3D elements, while the terrain seems to be molded, perhaps on a classic polygon surface. I don't know enough to say, but I'd sure be interested to find out.

This next shot shows the view down looking south-east at the intersection of Columbus and Kearny. The Sentinal building is directly in front, the Transamerica building is in the background to the left, and the 555 California Street Building is in the background on the far right. All three of these buildings were modeled, not just mapped blocks of grey.


Note the 'flat traffic' on Kearney to the right. It looks weird at first, but you get used to it rather quickly. I think it adds necessary detail without getting in the way. I don't think you should have to model the individual cars and general city furniture.

I ran GE4 under Gnome and Compiz this time just to see if that combination would have any adverse effects. It had absolutely none.

My only complaint so far with GE4 is in precise placement of a view with the mouse. I've noticed that attempting to get close to the ground or any large object causes the view to suddenly jump around. It takes some time, patience, and a light touch on the mouse to get close to where you want to be. But that's a minor complaint at best. No matter what, it's a great application.

And I've since discovered KML, so maybe I can add my own content. I took a look at Orlando, Florida, and it's absolutely flat. No 3D anywhere. I'm also looking for any official APIs in order to work programmatically with GE4.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Google Earth on Ubuntu: the real problem

I had to find out why Google Earth was so slow on my Ubuntu machine. Every other application works flawlessly (or nearly so) except Google Earth. I should have figure it out and not blamed Ubuntu, but I have a bad habit of 'ready, shoot, aim'. And it got me again this time.

When I came home I booted up Ubuntu, made a safe copy of xorg.conf, and then fired up the Restricted Drivers applet (System | Administration | Restricted Drivers Manager):

There's only one entry, for the ATI accelerated graphics driver. After clicking the Enable button, Ubuntu, through the synaptic tools, installs the drivers and configures the system to use them. You're then asked to reboot the system to finish enabling the drivers.

When the system came back up it was in 1024 x 768 and 60Hz refresh. There was no higher resolution. I knew then it was coming out, since the non-ATI drivers produce a reasonable 1600 x 1200 resolution. But while it was in that mode I fired up Google Earth, and found it was every bit as responsive as the installation on the big Athlon 64 based system at work. I zoomed, I panned, I flew all around the globe with nary a dropped frame or hesitation. So I zeroed in on New Orleans, turned on 3D Buildings, and captured an elevated perspective.

Ubuntu 7.04 had nothing to do with Google Earth's initial poor performance. Instead it had to do with the selection of video drivers. I have an nVidia FX 450 video card on the Athlon 64 system and it's using the nVidia 64-bit drivers under SLED 10. A key to Google Earth's good visual performance is hardware acceleration provided by the vendor's proprietary video drivers.

Right now the Ubuntu system is back under the Xorg Radeon driver so I can enjoy the greater screen resolution. Later this week, if I have more time, I'll investigate how to use the ATI proprietary driver and have 1600 x 1200 resolution. Otherwise, I might just break down and get an AGP GeForce 7600 GS video card from Newegg and quit messing with it.

Google Earth on SLED 10: Google Earth the way it was meant to be

In an earlier post I unfairly trashed Google Earth. The problem, as I've just discovered, more than likely rests with my graphics hardware platform, not Google Earth. While I was working with SLED 10 this morning I pulled down another copy of Google Earth and installed it on SLED. When I started Google Earth it was silky smooth in its operations and highly responsive, just the opposite of my experience with Google Earth on my Ubuntu system. This is not a slam of Ubuntu, but a realization that maybe, just maybe, I need to upgrade the video card on that system (at the very least) if I want a good experience running applications like Google Earth. Conversely, I've come to develop an even greater appreciate of Ubuntu's performance on low-end graphics hardware.

I'm going to start these screen shots off with a view above the Earth zooming into the Kennedy Space Center, then a final shot showing a feature I find really useful, 3D buildings.

First we open up the application. The zoom into this magnification was smooth as silk as well as automatic. And this is where it stopped.

It was then a matter of using the mouse's scroll wheel to zoom further into Florida. I used the left mouse button to grab and position the globe, and found my one annoyance; not only do you move the globe around, but you can also change the North orientation very easily. Perhaps a little too easily. It's not that big a deal as you can hover over the compass rose in the upper right and then re-orient north, but I wish I could just lock north as pointing straight up.

I'm continuing to move towards my first destination. At every level the detail of the landscape was crisp and well-colored.

Finally, I stop over pad 39B.


In this image I wanted to test Google Earth's ability to find a location. I asked it to search for "bolsa avenue, huntington beach". It's a location I've traveled to on business in the past (hello, Paul). Sure enough, it went where I wanted it to go, in Huntington Beach, California. I zoomed in manually on my own until I was right above Boeing. I was over Nevada at the time, and when I started the search, Google Earth "flew" up, arched over the terrain, then smoothly dropped down over Bolsa Avenue. If you get a chance look at some of the videos at the Google Earth site showing this effect. It's like a digital magic carpet.

The site of the former WTC. I turned on 3D buildings just to see what would happend over a big urban center like New York City. I personally like the effect. It helps you better understand the urban terrain you're viewing.

And a perspective view of the site, looking roughly north-west, again with 3D Buildings enabled. It's an excellent feature in those urban areas that have many buildings mapped and in the terrain database.

Besides learning that I really need to upgrade my video card on rhea if I want to play with Google Earth at home, I also learned that Google Earth is quite the map application on Linux as well as Windows. I have a much better appreciation of the application, and feel it's on par with Nasa's World Wind application. The fact that Google Earth is now available for Linux and Macs is a big plus up over World Wind, which is currently available only for Windows. Google Earth is an impressive application, and Linux (with the right hardware :) is a great platform on which to run it.

Modified Qt-based kernel configuration tool runs on SLED 10

I took a few moments to move the qconf sources I'd modified over the weekend onto my SLED 10 system. I them ran 'make xconfig' and it came right up.


It's running on the KDE desktop. This represents the second distribution I've successfully run my modified code on. More significantly it establishes that the version of Qt I built myself, 4.2.3, can support this tool. I had actually started the migration of qconf on this machine, but stopped because of the nagging core dumps I was getting at the time. I then moved to the Ubuntu system because it had Qt 4 deb files I could install and work with. And, of course, I was successful in finding the bugs and finishing the migration. I was concerned that somehow I had screwed up the build of Qt or had not adequately installed it on SLED (in this case I have Qt 4.2.3 installed under /opt/QT).

So now comes the next test; building another kernel on this box and seeing what happens. My final test will be to do this on my other Suse system running Open Suse 10.2. Then I'll submit my patches and see what happens next.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kernel problem solving adventures in Ubuntu Land

Since the weekend I've been playing a bit with the Linux kernel, version 2.6.20.3. I configured it using my hacked copy of qconf, and then went to the trouble of installing it and booting into it. Everything has worked just fine except my USB-based drives, a Western Digital Passport and a Sandisk Cruzer Micro. I couldn't figure out what the problem was until I started to pay attention to the boot messages.

Two that came flashing along at the end of the boot process complained that two devices could not be mounted. The message listed several possible causes, then added this vitally important message at the end of each one: execute dmesg and pipe it through tail for better clues to the problem. I followed that advice right after boot and read this:

wbeebe@rhea:~$ dmesg | tail
[ 97.868878] apm: BIOS version 1.2 Flags 0x07 (Driver version 1.16ac)
[ 97.868884] apm: overridden by ACPI.
[ 103.979609] [drm] Setting GART location based on new memory map
[ 103.979620] [drm] Loading R300 Microcode
[ 103.979670] [drm] writeback test succeeded in 1 usecs
[ 107.829716] eth0: no IPv6 routers present
[ 133.728116] Unable to load NLS charset iso8859-1
[ 133.728123] FAT: IO charset iso8859-1 not found
[ 133.764059] Unable to load NLS charset iso8859-1
[ 133.764065] FAT: IO charset iso8859-1 not found
wbeebe@rhea:~$


Notice the message about the character set (charset)? So I fired up the kernel configurator, went looking under File Systems | Native Language Support, and sure enough NLS ISO 8859-1 wasn't checked. I'd turned it off because I figured I didn't need it (I like to turn off everything I don't need because it cuts down on compile time). So I looked down at the description panel, and here's what it said:
NLS ISO 8859-1 (Latin 1; Western European Languages) (NLS_ISO8859_1)

If you want to display filenames with native language characters
from the Microsoft FAT file system family or from JOLIET CD-ROMs
correctly on the screen, you need to include the appropriate
input/output character sets. Say Y here for the Latin 1 character
set, which covers most West European languages such as Albanian,
Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Faeroese, Finnish, French, German,
Galician, Irish, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish,
and Swedish. It is also the default for the US. If unsure, say Y.
Doh!

Sure enough, I checked it, recompiled and redeployed, and now those two devices work just like they do under the stock Ubuntu kernel.

Doh!

Observations

If you're a knuckle dragging troglodyte like me when it comes to working in the kernel, then lucid error messages during boot are heaven sent when trying to figure out what you broke. This is what makes working on systems either heaven or hell. Life happens, but if you're given some pretty good clues about what happened while an exception is occurring, then it's only a matter of very little time before you decipher the cause of the problem and fix it. Good error messages make for good development.

Picture of baby. Ain't he cute?

Google Earth on Ubuntu: a new definition of slow

This post is all Dr. Roger Smith's fault. Roger has been playing with Ubuntu 6.10, and he asked me how to install Google Earth from the .bin file he'd just downloaded. After telling him how to start a shell and set the execute bit, he was off and running. And out of curiosity, I decided to download and test Google Earth on rhea, my Ubuntu 7.04 machine.

Google Earth started life as a Windows-only application. Recently Google has been porting Google Earth to Linux and releasing betas. It was one of those betas I snagged and installed. And before you say it, yes, I installed beta software on an alpha operating system. But it's still slower than Congress in an election year.

Google Earth first opens up with a shot of the Earth in space. It then begins to zoom into the planet, and it will eventually stop at the altitude you see above. On my machine, you can see each magnification step laboriously drawn, one frame at a time.

In this next step I've deliberately started to center over Florida, with the intention of zooming down further onto Orlando, where I live. This is where I learned what slow execution really means. I had to position the cursor over an area, then hold the mouse button down and drag the mouse, and hold it down, until, some seconds after the action started, the earth moved to where I wanted it positioned. Then I could take my finger off the mouse button.

In this view I've reorganized the side panels a bit and I've zoomed into Orlando International Airport.

Finally, I've zoomed into the upper left terminal. At this magnification the detail is pretty sharp. Unfortunately it doesn't get any sharper. Any attempts to zoom further just results in bigger blurrier views.

Google Earth's forte' is its crisp, clear resolution that is in my opinion as good if not better than that provided by Nasa's World Wind application. The only problem is that the interface is not quite as intuitive as World Wind, and for non-Window's platforms, its performance needs work. I tried to run Google Earth on my other Linux installation, Suse 10.2. It wouldn't even start up. I got the splash screen but nothing else after that.

My advice: stick to the Window's version for now until the Linux version is finished and finally released. Hopefully it'll be considerably faster.

Digging in deeper with Ubuntu 7.04

I spent part of the weekend migrating the Qt-based qconf, used to help configure the kernel, from Qt3 to Qt4. A screen shot of the final result is below.


The move from Qt3 to Qt4 started when I tried to build the 2.6.20.3 kernel on SLED 10, and I attempted to run 'make xconfig'. I'd already downloaded and built Qt 4.2.3 and I wanted to use it instead of Qt 3. I knew that Qt 4.2.2 was available to Ubuntu 7.04, and a version of Qt 4.2.1 is also available as part of Open Suse 10.2. With KDE 4 to be released sometime later this year and based on Qt4, I thought it might be a good idea to get a feel for how to port an application from Qt3 to Qt4. The astute reader will note that I performed this on Ubuntu, which is Gnome based. Why not just execute 'make gconfig' and use the Gnome-based configuration tool? To be different, I guess.

Observations
  • As mentioned earlier, Ubuntu 7.04 repositories now have Qt 4.2.3.
  • I installed and used KDBG to help debug some of the core dumps being produced while I was doing the migration.
  • I pretty much followed the directions for porting from Qt3 to Qt4. My greatest challenge was modifying the Makefile in scripts/kconfig so that it would properly compile and link the binary qconf.
  • A spanner thrown into the mix was the use of g++ 4.1.2. G++ would not compile some of the coding idioms in the Qt3 sources. Nothing major, but they needed to be cleaned up.
  • The Trolltech porting tool qt3to4 did not catch everything that needed to be converted to use the Qt3 support packaged. Specifically it did not modify QAction to Q3Action. I had to discover this after qt3to4 had finished and I started to compile the modified sources.
  • The number '0' (zero) is not a good value for an argument that is passed by reference. Specifically, 'Q3ListViewItem::setPixmap (int column, const QPixmap & pm)' core dumps when '0' is passed as the second argument under Qt4 and using the Qt3 support libraries. It works for plain old Qt3, simply because it's been in there since the beginning. I simply fixed the problem by adding 'QPixmap nullPixmap;' to the class definition, and passing nullPixmap as the second argument.
  • As you can see from the screen shot, qconf has a strong Gnome look-and-feel. Qt4 is supposed to better integrate with Gnome, along with Java 6u1. From my experiences with Qt4 and Java 6u1 on this version of Ubuntu, I'd have to say that Trolltech and Sun are pretty close to realizing that goal. Development of graphical applications on Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular is growing richer and deeper at an ever accelerating rate.
I've been in email contact with the original author of qconf, Roman Zippel. Roman did all the heavy lifting with the creation of qconf. All I've done so far is a minor migration. As soon as I get some of my 'fixes' better organized I'll send him the diffs as patches and let him decide if he wants to add it to the original sources.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Qt4 is because I've got some ideas of my own about enhancing qconf. Before I do that I want to move completely to Qt4, removing all Qt3 support classes and libraries, making qconf a fully native Qt4 application.

Finally

The acid test came when I configured kernel 2.16.20.3 with my version of qconf, built it, and rebooted Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5+ with my kernel. It's not the first time I've tuned and built a kernel for this box. It is the first time I've used mkinitramfs instead of mkinitrd to create my initrd image. But everything built and worked and right now my Ubuntu system is running on top of the kernel I tweaked and built. It was a lot of fun and satisfying when it all worked.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Suse 10.2, part 14: Even more video playback examples

Here's another screen capture, this time playing back two Quicktime movies of a pair of dramatic virtual flyovers of Mars. One was playing in Firefox, the other in VLC. For more details, read the complete story on New Scientist Space.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5+ - Another major update

Another major update came across the wire today: 149 packages downloaded and installed. Observations so far include:
  • A new kernel update, to 2.6.20-10. The kernel was built using gcc 4.1.2, which is also part of this installation.
  • Gnome is now officially upgraded to 2.18.0. According to the release notes, 180 new contributers were added. Not bad for a project that was recently cited as in decline.
  • Sound is working again. I moved the speaker input from a PCI card (brand unknown at this time) to the built-in sound output, and wouldn't you know it, that's the sound port that's enabled. Which leads to the questions; (1) what is that card, and (2) why was it occasionally enabled in the past? Under Windows that card worked. Hmm...
  • I checked out WMV high-definition clip of Harry Potter, and neither Totem nor VLC play back with sound. But everything else plays back fine. That means there's something special about the Suse installation of both Totem and VLC, since they play back WMV HD clips, or at least this on.
  • Control Center is still off the System menu. The long preferences menu is still there. Not good. But not a show stopper by any means. My upper panel still has the button that launches Control Panel, but unless you know about it, a lot of users will miss it. And I do feel it is much superior to the drop-down menus.
  • For whatever reason, the system seems somewhat faster, the desktop response snappier.
Is this the final release? We're two weeks away from the first of April, the release month. It would seem a good idea to get the final release on the download servers and ready for final release right about now.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Suse 10.2, part 13: More video playback examples

Just a quick note about playing back current encoding types under Linux. The following screenshot shows Gnome's Totem (2.17.3) and VideoLAN's VLC (0.8.6) playing back the latest Harry Potter clip ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"). Not the exact same clip. Totem is playing back a QuickTime high resolution clip in the upper right corner, while VLC is playing back a Microsoft HD WMV clip below Totem. I haven't resized either application. The desktop is 1600 by 1200 resolution. I will note that Totem can play both clips, but it does not play back the HD WMV clip very well, dropping frames and loosing sync with the audio. VLC plays it back flawlessly.

I've tried this same experiment with Ubuntu 7.04, with the same two applications and the same two clips, and found that both Totem and VLC play the HD WMV clip without dropping frames. I can't speak to any audio issues, as the audio is broken again on the machine that is hosting Ubuntu.

The clips came from RottenTomatoes.

Keep in mind that this is all happening on a modest (!) Athlon XP 32-bit processor running at a paltry (!) 2GHz. The video card is an ancient (!) ATI 9700 Pro. And I've got a lot of other tasks running on the machine in the background. A person could do a lot worse than run Suse 10.2 or Ubuntu 7.04. They are two equally superb distributions capable of supporting the same top-notch applications and can provide equal quality experience to the end user.

Surviving poisonous people

The title to this post comes from a Google talk that I first found linked to by slashdot. Presented by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick, they cover how to handle 'poisonous' participants in an open source development project. And to underscore why it's important to follow their advice comes this high-profile cautionary tale about what can happen when poisonous people do take control; they've nearly destroyed Gentoo Linux, if you can believe the editorial on DistroWatch.

Reality check: Where is embedded Linux?

Found via Slashdot, the New York Times published a story about how mobile operators are complaining of too many mobile phone operating systems, and the hard work of supporting them all. One of the interesting statistics in the story was provided by Canalys, a London-based market research firm. If I can believe the numbers, here's how OS use on smart phones stacks up:
  1. Symbian, at 66.7%
  2. Microsoft, at 14%
  3. Research in Motion, at 7%
  4. Linux, at 6%
This only adds up to 94% of the market, which makes me wonder how the rest of the market (6%) is divided up. Whatever.

I say it's interesting because of these numbers supplied in early 2006 by The Diffusion Group:
  1. Symbian, at 51%
  2. Linux, at 23% (double its 2004 share of 11.3%)
  3. Microsoft, at 17%
It may be that the TDG report is for all mobile phones, not just smart phones. Again, whatever.

Returning to the first article I find it interesting how some of the major players want to divvy up their supported operating systems. Vodafone wants to concentrate on just Microsoft, Symbian, and Linux. DoCoMo wants to concentrate on Symbian and Linux. That's all very well, but there are 2.5 Billion handsets out there, with over 1 Billion having been manufactured in 2006 alone. That number is a combination of handset replacement in the market along with new growth of 10% to 15% per year. The average life of any model is about 18 months. With a very large customer base and this type of turnover real innovation occurs at a much faster rate than it does in the PC market, especially in the operating system arena. This dynamic growing market is partially the result of a lesson learned from the PC market; never let any one vendor, OS or otherwise, dominate. They don't trust Microsoft. They'll work to make sure that choice remains.

If the operators want both choice and a way to deploy the same content across all platforms, then why not use Java Mobile? It seems that the majority of the mobile phones run some ARM variant, and those ARM-based chips support Java at the hardware level. They can write to one language and deploy to every platform that supports it. That's the promise of Java's WORA (Write Once Run Anywhere). If may be that not all implementations of J2ME are equal, and if that's the case, then you're right back to supporting only those platforms whose implementation meets a minimum capability. If that's the case, then that's a excellent example of the market at work. If you can't meet a market demand, then you suffer and your competitors, who can, advance. Success based on true technical merit, not strong-armed marketing tactics. Not like Microsoft in the PC OS market.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Home networking Linux and Windows

Lately I've been working on enabling network shares on most of the systems that run in my house. They're the various computers that have shown up over the years and are now parked in corners of rooms around my house. With the exception of the iMac and europa, every one came with Windows pre-installed. If they run Linux, it was installed well after the fact.

The three systems I concentrate most of my time on are algol, the Gateway M685 running Windows, rhea, an aging Compaq Presario testing Ubuntu 7.04, and europa, a DIY system that runs Suse 10.2. I've got all three of them sharing folders via cifs. Rhea and europa use Samba, while algol is Windows XP native (Algol spends the majority of its time running Windows).

Algol is a notebook system provided to me by my employer, Sparta. I have two docking stations at my two office locations located in and near to Orlando's Research Park area. While docked algol is hard-wired into a network. At home I have no docking station, so I use the built-in 802.11g to route through the home's wireless broadband router. The wireless router has SSID broadcast disabled, with all defaults (password and SSID) having been changed into something long and different from the defaults. I've also enabled security, for all the good that seems to do. My broadband service provider is Bright House Networks. The back room, where rhea and europa sit, is connected to the rest of the house through an 802.11b wireless bridge. Rhea and europa are directly connected via a simple 100baseT switch, and the switch then feeds into the wireless bridge.

Setup

Both Ubuntu and Suse provide tools for setting up Samba and SMB shares native to their environments. Suse provides the better overall management tools. But the Suse tools (or at least the openSuse tools) are a bit odd. While I can manage Samba overall with Yast, I needed the Nautilus to successfully pick a specific folder and make it shareable, similar to what you do with Windows. Keep in mind that I'm at home, so while I have firewalls to keep out the rabble, I generally want ease of use when sharing between the systems. The capability to just point and enable is valuable. I therefore wound up using Nautilus on both Ubuntu and openSuse to enable specific folders for sharing. Konqueror turns out to be pretty poor in this area.

Usage

OpenSuse was the first to allow me to successfully share folders with the Windows machine. I had folders enabled on both Linux machines, but I didn't have access rights to Ubuntu. I got around that issue by cheating; I edited /etc/smb.conf and changes security from user to share. Being lazy and on my home network, I have put off finding the 'right' solution to this problem until another time. Right now, it works enough to prove the point. All three machines can see shares from the other machines in the group. They're read-only, since all I need is to read them for my purposes. Read/modify/write is again, something to pursue for the future.

Observations
  • Opening up and sharing client information across a network is difficult, inconsistent, and confusing on all three platforms, with Windows seemingly the worse, followed by Ubuntu, then Suse.
  • Information sharing across the 802.11b bridge is much slower than between the two locally connected Linux systems. Whether it's because of one vs. two wireless hops or simply the slow 802.11b bandwidth is unknown.
  • The iMac, through Finder, sees all three machines, and handles access to them in a consistent and non-surprising manner. When I went looking at the network, it presented the domain and the machines in that domain. When I selected a machine, it offered the share, and then asked for my username and password. Once authenticated, I had access to the shares. The iMac has the best 'experience' of all the machines in the group.
  • Using Samba/cifs between the Linux machines seems to be better than NFS. Unlike Windows-to-Ubuntu, Ubuntu-to-Suse (and vice-versa) worked the first time. Streaming of content between the two worked fine, if for no other reason than the high-speed network connection between the two systems.

DST no big deal

It was interesting to read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols article about updating Linux to handle the new daylight savings time, specifically older releases going back a ways. I compare that with Microsoft's support of older versions of Windows, which apparently only goes back to Windows 2000 Professional SP4. If you've got older versions of NT or a Windows 9x variant, or even (heaven forbid) a Windows 3.x version, then I guess you're on your own.

But around Beebe Central, all the computerized equipment has been humming right along. Everything that wasn't a literal clock clock stepped ahead one hour like it was supposed to. This included the Ubuntu 7.04 system, the Suse 10.2 system, my WinXP notebook, my daughters iMac, even my Nokia 6133 cell phone. All those little machines are at the right time, and I didn't have to touch any of them. Isn't technology wonderful?

First Amendement Rights

Nearly two years ago I wrote an opinion piece about Groklaw and its editor, Pamela Jones (PJ). Let me quote the pertinent paragraph:
PJ, however, has done more than just report the facts of the case. She's editorialized. She's injected her opinion into the Groklaw documentation. And she's made some pointed observations about the players in this drama, one of whom is our own gentle MoG. I have no problems with PJ voicing her opinions. She has her First Amendment rights just like anyone else. The problem is that she wants to hide while she does it, and that's not right.
Now let's quote the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to partition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In this case abridging means the act of lessening, reducing, or depriving. I take note of the fact that the word "anonymous" does not appear anywhere in that statement.

PJ and her supporters want to attack SCOX (and just about anyone else who speaks any ill against PJ and Groklaw) with anonymous impunity. I note for the record that when SCOX wanted to serve a subpoena with regards to matters concerning SCOX vs. Novell, that PJ suddenly took ill and no longer posted on Groklaw. Instead, another person named MathFox took her place. She's surfaced most recently, but stated in her latest post "Yes, this is me. No. I'm not really back. I'm still sick, but I sat up long enough to do this." I'd link to the story, but linking into Groklaw is blocked by the Groklaw sight. How convenient.

I bring this back up because of a similar story closer to home in St. Augustine. As reported here, an editor tried to identify the individual behind a blog who was highly critical of a local politician. The local politician is by all accounts no saint. But let me quote the appropriate paragraphs from this story:
The Record, believing Padgett to be part of an organized political group out to unseat Rich, not merely a lonely pamphleteer voicing his displeasure with a public official, decided that making public Padgett's identity was the right to do.

They were correct. While there may be a long-held and cherished right to publish anonymously in this country, it isn't any more absolute than other First Amendment rights and should never be confused with a right to remain anonymous. After all, there was never anything stopping the lonely pamphleteer's neighbors from saying, "Hey, that looks a lot like farmer Ben's handwriting."

Truth be told, the Record didn't need a high-minded rational for outing Padgett. The mere fact that the man had kicked up public attention - made himself a person of public interest - makes him fair game for being identified...
Change the politician to SCOX, and the 'lonely blogger' from Lee Padgett to Pamela Jones, and it suddenly looks very much like our own Groklaw drama.

PJ has certainly made herself "a person of public interest" in this long-term court fight. She's been the lead fighter in the court of public opinion with regards to SCOX. The facts of the case that Groklaw has documented are invaluable, if true. But PJ's constant desire to remain hidden and essentially unknown is unfair and unwarranted. While the court of public opinion is certainly no court of law (nor should it be), there is, in the Six Amendment, with regards to prosecutions, states this important right: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall... be confronted with the witnesses against him..."

What applies to the court of law should apply to the court of public opinion. In a long fight such as this one, the desire to remain hidden while voicing strong editorial opinions, especially when they are at times inflammatory, is morally and ethically corrupt, and lessons the stature of the person making them as well as those who support that individual. Everyone else in this drama is publicly identified, and has had that public information used against them, specifically by the more vocal and emotional Groklaw supporters. PJ, since her debut in 2003, has become a very public individual in a very important and emotionally charged fight, a fight she helped to stoke with her actions and her posts. If she has wanted to remain anonymous she should have stayed to strictly reporting the facts of the case. The day may yet come when many in the Linux community realize that her actions combined with her hiding have damaged the facts presented by Groklaw, and by association, the reputation of Linux and the Linux community. PJ has crossed the line from asset to liability, not only to Groklaw, but to Linux.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5+ - Some updated items

As mentioned prior to this, there were a lot of updates coming down the wire this past week; nearly 200 by my count landed on my system. One of the bigger updates was with OpenOffice. It seems to have promoted the OO version number up to 2.2.0. This is even higher than that posted on the OpenOffice website.

I've opened up Writer, Calc, and Impress. Note the version number in the about dialog. The documents being displayed are found in the Examples folder in your Ubuntu home directory.

The next shot is a gratuitous shot of Wireshark, a view into an SMB share being provided by my Suse-based system europa, and several gterms showing basic information. I've got the new wallpaper that came in with the updates, and somehow the window decorations are now blue.



One other feature which I question the usefulness of. If you go to Control Center (or the Preferences menu), Theme, and hit the Customize button, you pull up the Theme Details dialog. A new tab has been added labeled Colors. This nearly-useless tab allows you to change the windows, input boxes, and selected items background and text colors. The following screenshot shows what happened when I picked a nice pink background for the windows.


Colors definitely needs more work. And the default background color is #F6F6F6, which I switched back to immediately after taking this screenshot.

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5+ - Updating experiences

I'm writing about how Ubuntu handled an automatic update the week of March 5, 2007. These days the process of keeping your system up to date has evolved considerably so that it is very easy to stay current with fixes and security updates. Essentially your distribution runs a background process with an associated desktop applet that keeps tabs on any updates to your distribution, and alerts you when updates are available. You can then determine if you wish to install them or not. The most important reason for having this feature is security upgrades. Windows in particular has made the importance of this feature quite clear over the years.

Upgrading is not always straight forward. Again, Windows proves the point, most notably with XP SP2. Many IT shops refused to push out SP2 because it broke one or more key internal applications. As an example of this, up until mid-2005, when I still worked for SAIC, SAIC refused to fully install SP2 (although, oddly enough, Lockheed/Martin, to whom SAIC served as a subcontractor on a major program, had no such issues and installed it on all their machines).

Linux distributions have also had upgrade issues along the way. In Ubuntu's case there is the notable failure during an upgrade of xorg.core in Ubuntu 6.06 that broke the X desktop. The disruption was limited in scope and a solution quickly provided. I've not heard or read of anything of that magnitude since. But the ghost of that incident was briefly resurrected last week when I attempted to update a number of packages, three of them related to the X windowing system.

Early last week Update Manager presented 17 new updates, three of them related to X11: x11-common, xorg, and xserver-xorg. These updates were trying to repair the following problem: "revert the "fix" to validate_nice_value, which in fact broke it completely." I was able to install all the packages except those three. When the update manager attempted to update x11-common, the following dialog was displayed.


There was no way to satisfy the dialog. No way to change the value, to move forward. If you canceled the dialog, it resulted in the update being aborted, as shown below. I was never able to install the packages.


Patience, especially in testing, is a virtue. I waited for the solution to be pushed out to the update servers. By Friday the files had been removed, and a new major update was made available (with 149 new updates to existing packages). Fortunately, the update problem was such that the flawed packages would not even install. Regardless, this incident raises in my mind issues of quality control and process. The X subsystem can't be rendered inoperative because of an update mistake, especially for novice users.

All Linux distributions, because they depend upon X, suffer from the same problem; if X fails, there is no other way to correct the problem except from the command line. For seasoned users this is not so much a problem as an aggravation. For novice users or users not used to the command line, this is a real show-stopping problem. I've had similar issues with Suse 10.1 and 10.2, where my dependence on nVidia and ATI video driver kernel modules causes X to crash when the kernel is updated and the video driver module is no longer available on reboot.

I know what to do when this problem occurs, but I said it then and I'll say it now: X needs a fall-back video mode built into the X server that it uses if it fails to successfully boot based on xorg.conf values. Canonical dreams of 'selling' Ubuntu to novice and non-Linux-technically savvy users. Until Ubuntu addresses this issue, it will never be ready for those types of users. Ubuntu needs to be resilient and to degrade, not to be fragile and crash. And in the mean time, folks need to find out what happened (again) with the process producing X updates.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5 - More Problems, Solutions with Compiz

After getting Compiz to finally work on this modest system, I started to use applications on Ubuntu. The first application I opened was NetBeans 6 Milestone 7. NetBeans presented the first post-success problem I ran into. There is a problem with Java rendering Swing under Xgl/Compiz (bug 6429775). I had already installed Java 6 build 105 via Add/Remove, and was happily using it. However, when Compiz is active, Swing-based Java applications have the same problem with rendering window contents as I noted in my earlier post about Compiz problems in general. The solution is to download and install Java 6 Update 1.

I downloaded the pre-release version of 6U1 from the Java 6 Developer site and installed it in a different location from the stock Java 6 RPM location. On my machine 6U1 is installed under /opt2/java. I then set up JAVA_HOME and modified PATH to point to 6U1 first instead of the stock Java installation. Finally, I modified etc/netbeans.conf (under the NetBeans installation root) and changed netbeans_jdkhome to point to /opt2/java, and restarted NetBeans. The results are as shown below.

And here's the biggest surprise (to me). It not only rendered, but this version of Java and Swing render Gnome theme controls by default. All I had to do was install this version of Java, and that capability was enabled automatically. Right now, Java and Java-based applications are behaving like first-class Gnome citizens. The only other OS where this works as well for me is Java 6 b105 and Windows XP.

Other Issues

I complained about the wobble, and wished I could turn it off. Well, if I'd just looked at the Desktop Effects applet for more than a second I'd have seen the "Windows Wobble when Moved" check box. I unchecked it, and the windows don't wobble. Doh!

Resizing windows is very bad. Grabbing any side or corner and dragging results in slow, choppy, window resizing.

Work spaces on a cube doesn't work. It works fine with Compiz on SLED 10 (and openSuse 10.1 and 10.2). Instead of flipping, the contents of one screen fade out, then the next screen selected fades in. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so slow.

Good Things to Consider

This is, after all (repeat after me) an Alpha release. It works very well overall for an alpha release. What is more telling is that it's working on a system that Vista would only sneer at if it had lips to sneer with. Making user's existing systems instantly second class with an OS upgrade is Not Cool. Especially when small- and medium-sized fortunes were already spent on major processors and video cards.

This system was purchased five years ago, and upgraded two years ago with trailing edge motherboard, processor, and video card. Using this hardware I've been able to enjoy the benefits of video acceleration (such as it may be) with out-of-the-box video drivers and software provided by Ubuntu.
Based on my personal experiences both Ubuntu 7.04 and openSuse 10.X represent two excellent alternatives, especially for existing pre-Vista systems.

You should never say never, but I will not purchase Vista for my own use. I will use it only because it was pre-installed on a job-related system. For what I need for the foreseeable future, it will be Linux or Mac OS X.
I'm curious to see if many will react to Microsoft's deep reach into your wallet and freedoms the way I have by moving with all due haste to test alternatives such as Linux.

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5 - Problems with Compiz Fixed

Wouldn't you know it. Less than 24 hours after complaining about Compiz problems, I get a very nice comment giving me a very simple solution.

iGama said:
just add this 2 lines in xorg.conf , section Device :

Option "XAANoOffscreenPixmaps"
Option "AddARGBGLXVisuals" "true"

Restart your X , and problem with Compiz/Beryl fixed :)
I did, and he's right, as you'll see below. Not to bite the hand that feeds me, but I hope this fix is the 'correct' fix, and that it's included in any future releases. It's so simple (at least for ATI cards like mine, a 9600).

Thanks, iGama!


The first screen capture shows three gterms and the system monitor. What's really nice is that the gterms have true transparency. If you enable gterm transparency without Compiz, the gterm simply maps the desktop image into its background. But now I can see everything under the gterm. More than just pretty eye candy, I can keep track of other dynamically updating applications (such as top, or something like Gmail in Firefox). Another nice feature is the three dimensional shadowing that also helps to distinguish windows on the desktop. It really adds a level of polish to the whole affair.

This is an example of Expose-like behavior, which I definitely like. Move the mouse to the upper right corner, and the overlapping windows resize and reorganize into smaller versions of themselves, making for easier selection. Again, very nicely done.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 5 - Problems with Compiz

The world now knows that Ubuntu 7.05 Herd 5 (Alpha 5) is out. And I've been able to ascertain (to my satisfaction) that my initial Alpha 3 installation has been updated to Alpha 5 via the update facilities built into Ubuntu. Ubuntu, for the most part, continues to perk along just fine. One problem I've hit, however, is activation of Compiz.

Compiz is a windows and compositing manager that provides nominal 3D desktop effects. It relies on 3D graphics acceleration via OpenGL. Ubuntu 7.04 incorporates Xorg 7.2 (at least that's what synaptic tells me), which in turn has open ATI drivers that enable advanced features capable of supporting OpenGL. So, there should be no problem enabling Compiz desktop effects. The problem is that right now there is a problem, a big problem.

What follows are two screenshots, the first with desktop effects enabled, and the second with desktop effects disabled.

In the first screenshot, desktop effects are enabled and three applications have been opened; Firefox, System Monitor, and gterm. All three of these applications are not rendering their window contents correctly. System Monitor is blank, while Firefox has picked up bits of the underlying desktop. Gterm has only partially rendered it's contents. In all three instances the applications are useless at this point. Now, you can drag them around and watch the windows wiggle and wobble. Yeah. Marvelous.

In this screen shot desktop effects is disabled and the exact same applications are now rendering their windows correctly. In order to make these two comparative images I made a screen shot of the first, then disabled windows effects, then saved the first screen shot, then make another.

I downloaded and burned the Alpha 5 ISO, booted this machine with it, and performed the same experiment but without saving any screen shots. I was able to duplicate the exact same problem.

I, for one, can live without the fancy effects. Point of fact, I dislike the wobbling. What I want are the effects you find on Mac OS X, specifically Expose. I can see why Canonical has decided to wait until the next release of Ubuntu to make it the default. I do like where Ubuntu is going with respect of enabling and disabling desktop effects. Up to this point the only other distribution I've used where Compiz worked were openSuse and SLED 10. It works best on SLED, where it's still enabled. I've turned it off on all my other openSuse systems. By far the worse 3D window manager is Beryl. I attempted to install and use an early release on my openSuse 10.1 notebook installation, and I lived to regret it. I was able to disable it and go back to a stock, static desktop. But in the process I ruined a perfectly good Compiz setup.

Oh well. When you play with fire you get burned.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

NetBeans 6 MS 7 Note: Running Ruby and Rails on SLED 10

I installed the Ruby modules from the update center on NB6 MS7 running on SLED 10. I was able to successfully create a complete Rails project. WEBrick started as well. I also checked the 'native' version of Ruby installed on SLED 10, and discovered it's 1.8.4 vs. JRuby's 1.8.5. My recommendation, for what it's worth, would be to stay entirely within the JRuby/NetBeans environment while on SLED 10. I've tried to find a Ruby update repository for Ruby on SLED 10 and x86_64, but I haven't so far. Frankly, for what I do, it's not that critical. SLED is after all a desktop, and my work so far has been tools and utilities.