Smoothwall Firewall project

Monday 29 December 2008

Eeebuntu - latest version has been released

I work with a team of like minded people to deliver a really good looking and useful version of Ubuntu specifically designed for the Asus Eeepc netbook computer.

Well we have just released a new version for your Eeepc, which comes in three flavours:

1) Standard - which comes with a good base of pre-installed applications.
2) Base - which comes with the bare minimum, so you can add the applications you want
3) NBR - which uses the new Ubuntu mini computer interface

Jump over to our web site Eeebuntu web site and download the iso and have a look.

The easiest way to try it first is to install the iso file onto a USB stick. The easiest way to do that is to use another machine with Ubuntu installed as it now comes with a built in USB key creator application. If you don't have that, then use the unetbootin application.

Have fun , and post your comments etc on our forums.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Why do I use Ubuntu?

I just read this meme from Jono Bacon, and he asks all users of this operating system to say why they use it. I thought that was a decent challenge and one worth taking up.

I have been using Linux for over a decade now, thanks to someone called Paul Branston, who I worked with at Freeserve in Leeds. Paul had been using Unix/Linux since birth I think, and a person whose gravitas when he spoke about Operating Systems was definitely important to take notice of. I was working at Freeserve mainly on Firewalls and networking but also did work on the Microsoft clusters they used, really buggy and unreliable things, but thats another tale.

I used Windows as a desktop system, simple because like most other techies it came on the PC I was given. I experienced many problems with it, and it kept crashing , but I hadn't been inclined to look for anything to replace it. Paul recommend I give Linux a go on my laptop and see how it got on. Well it was a Toshiba laptop with Red Hat 5.0, and getting it installed was like wrestling with a snake. Laptop hardware then was not the same as todays.

I have used Sun OS for years, and had learned the command line in University, so I roled up my sleeves and kept at it. I eventually got it all working, even the built in modem, and just stuck with Red Hat , and after Redhat changed, just moved onto Fedora Linux. They offer a great Linux distro, but Fedora does have some drawbacks for new users, mostly media support. So when I had an issue upgrading from Fedora 8 to Fedora 9 I thought I would give Ubuntu a try.

Well I have to say I'm glad I did, as moving to Ubuntu is worth the effort just for the package manager. It is a well rounded Linux distro that currently does everything you need to get up and running quickly and efficiently. I have installed it onto every machine I own, and every friends and family machine that I look after and it has been extremely reliable. I do use an Ubuntu derivative ,Linux Mint , where I feel the user doesn't want to do any work after installing.I have bought several machines from Dell with Ubuntu pre-installed and they have been extremely reliable and useful.

Today I work on an Ubuntu distro, Eeebuntu, release for the Asus Eeepc netbooks, so I've now installed it there as well. It works extremely well on these small footprint machines.

As I sit and type this post today, I think that for an all round desktop Operating System , this sets the bench mark. I still keep an eye on what the others are doing, and Fedora 10 has received good reviews, but I don't feel the need to move back at the moment. I have installed it in a virtual image, and that is were it will stay for now.

So yes I'm glad I moved and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to give Linux a try.


Thursday 4 December 2008

Mozilla Music player hits version 1.0

I have been a user of Rhythmbox and Amarok for a while, but saw this announcement and thought I would give it a run out , and I'm glad I did. This is a very promising project.

I don't think it is currently the finished article, but I very much like where the project is going, and I think if this follows the Firefox browsers progress, then it definitely is a project to keep an eye on, as it could well have the same affect on music playing/browsing/purchasing.

Also today the announcement of Amazon uk offering albums for just £3.00 , without any DRM nonsense was a great opportunity to test the application some more.


The Cat has turned off my wireless!

Well, I'm sure if you are one of the many husbands/fathers/friends who help out with others computer mishaps, you will have come across many daft or plan stupid actions people can get up to with a computer. On this occasion though the culprit was the family moggy.

I had the usual phone call from my wife telling me that she was now unable to connect to the wireless access point. I did all the usual checks, and even got here to check that the wireless access point had power. All seemed well.

She uses a Dell 6400N laptop, so I got her to check if the little wireless light was flashing green, so we could at least check if the adapter was up to something. It wasn't, but she then said, the cat has been lying on the computer all day, might that have something to do with it.

Voila, on these Dell laptops , if you press the function key and the wireless button, it acts as a switch and turns the wireless adapter on and off.

So you have been warned, keep those feline devils away from your keyboards or you could end up with the same fate.

It could be down to fact he didn't like the photo from my previous post about Ubuntu Kung Fu, and thought he is more photogenic ;-)

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Latest Ubuntu release - an unspectcular upgrade

I used this title as a complement and not a dig at the Ubuntu communities latest offering. Upgrading to the new version was a complete non-event, which shows just how far the Linux desktop has progressed in the last few years. The machines I upgraded worked just as well after the upgrade as they did before, but with the new features that Ibex offered. To be honest they were not that noticeable, and were in general just point upgrades for some components , plus the obligatory upgrades of the Kernel, Gnome etc.

The desktop theme is usable, but there are several people on the web who are offering much better designs, and I think it would be good if with the next release some attention was paid to that.

Here is one that I have used:

Update your desktop

I also would have liked to have seen Open Office 3 being installed by default, but it is trivial to change the installed version to the new version.

Upgrade to Open Office 3

I do find it slightly comedic that microsoft shrills run around saying that Linux is not ready for the desktop. Well I have been using it as my desktop for over ten years now, and to say this is the best yet, would not be an exaggeration. I'm not stuck with one particular distro, as I used Fedora for years, but found the last upgrade not satisfactory, so I decided to have a change.

I would definitely recommend you try this distro. as it allows very easy access to the world of Linux.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Great new Ubuntu book - Ubuntu Kung fu

I came across this book today and downloaded the pdf version. I have read a few chapters already and have found both amusing and enlightening.

I would definitely recommend you to have a read if you are using Ubuntu.


Open Office 3 for Linux is out

I have been working with the new release for some time and downloaded and installed the full release today.

This is a very simple install on Ubuntu, and there is a great guide on how to do that here:
Install Open Office 3 in Ubuntu

I know that the download servers have been hit hard by the massive numbers of Open Office users, so keep trying if the link times out on you.

There have been many improvements over the previous release , the first and foremost is the speed to launch. I know Michael Meeks over at Novell has been looking closely at this issue, and they have done a very good job.

The integration with Microsoft office has also been improved to include the ability to read office 2007 "Open xml" documents.

So far this has been a very useful and welcome upgrade.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Good article on swap to Ubuntu

I have written a post on this article about moving to Ubuntu from Fedora, so I won't repeat it here, but it would be interesting to see what others have experienced with a move to Ubuntu from another distro. and whether it was a positive or a negative experience.

Confession: I switched to Ubuntu

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Good Talk by Kernel Developer on Linux kernel

While looking for a link on Ubuntu Linux the other day I came across this talk given by Greg Kroah Hartman, a long term kernel developer, at Google in June of this year.

Basically the talk shows the current state of kernel development and how the pace of change is accelerating away from companies that don't participate, including Google.

I found it very interesting, and thought people who visit this blog would as well.

There is also a wealth of other Google Tech Talks which you mind find interesting.

Have a look here:

Saturday 13 September 2008

When is a netbook not a netbook?

Well the rumoured new Dell 12" netbook appears to be on it's way to the UK with a nice new shiny 12" screen and an extremely attractive price. It has everything that the Asus 1000 does, but the CPU speed does look a little odd, but that could well be how the price is being kept down. It's hard to see if this model won't have the function keys like it's smaller brother, but counting the rows of keys on the photo, it would appear not to. The size is obviously increased to house the new screen , and this then raises my question, what are the properties that really define this new genre.

What if Apple launched a 17" version, with the same general internals, a minor tweak here and there, it would appear that it is not the screen size, but the components inside that are defining the standard. Low power usage, battery efficient, enough horsepower to write your blog, this is being done on my 1000, and surf the web, but not enough to play very heavy games , compile new programs or act as a music studio.

It is clearly not the size of the unit that is defining what and where these great little machines will be put to use, but the solid state disk drives and the Intel Atom processors. This is great news for people who have been sitting on the fence waiting to see where this market moves, as I fully suspect we have not seen anywhere near the end of the morphing that can and will occur.

Another positive affect of all these new releases is that the original units prices are only heading in one direction, which makes them more affordable for everyone, and gives Linux even greater exposure. It also raises a nasty spectre for microsoft, as who is going to want pay them £300 for office, when the entire machine only costs £100, their pricing model just doesn't work in this sector.

It also gives Linux one of the best platforms it has ever had, as every netbook sold worldwide now supports Linux guaranteed, no worrying about drivers, they will all just work. This has worked really well for MAC's, and will work just as well for Linux.

The Link to the Tesco Site

Thursday 11 September 2008

Lenovo annoucement is hard to read

Having just read several articles on the fact that Lenovo are changing their strategy towards Linux , the reasons given just don't make any sense to me. The overall argument seems to be that the cost of supporting microsoft on their platforms has been an extremely heavy burden to bare, and they didn't want to duplicate that with another new system. Surely the argument to that is to stop supporting microsoft, and push those support costs back to where they belong, unless there are yet more illegal activities and arm twisting going on than normal. The other glaring hole in this argument is that with Linux you can push the support towards to the community, who will be more than happy to help, or more likely have already fixed any issues that a new user would experience. This appears to me to be very muddled thinking and not much of a strategy at all.

They have though simultaneously announced extra support for Linux across a range of products that will be available to large organisations, plus the launch of their new netbook. This netbook is to go head-to-head with the other Intel Atom suppliers in this ever expanding market, but they are only offering it to certain markets. This is again yet more muddled thinking, from them. Why would you possibly not want to sell units in Europe and North America, surely business is business? With Asus already telling us that they are on course for their 5 million units shipped by the end of the year, and Acer saying their sales are better than expected, it would appear they have got this wrong yet again.

I think the one thing that I can take from this information is that their Linux strategy is in tatters, and they are thrashing around to find a real vision for the future. There are many other companies that have a much better Linux strategy, and they would be the companies that I will be dealing with in the future.

This probably explains why I have never bought anything from this company, and probably never will.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Disappointing launch of new Dell netbook

Like many others with an interest in the mini laptop market, I have followed the rumours and gossip around the new Dell inspiron mini 9 with a watchful eye. So last week is was announced and I nipped over to the Dell web site to order one with Ubuntu pre-installed. I know I have an Eeepc 1000 which I love and am using now to enter this blog. However, I wanted to have a look at this new Dell, and if the rumours were true, then it would only cost me 200 UK pounds.

Well what a disappointment was waiting for me at the Dell site. The only units that were for sale had windows XP home, which is next to useless, even if you love windows. The price was also a real shocker in to the bargain, they wanted 299 UK pounds for this unit, which is only 60 pounds cheaper than my Eeepc. That is a lot of money for a machine that offers nothing over the Asus unit, has a smaller screen, no function keys, a much smaller internal solid state harddisk (16GB as compared to 40GB), and no decent productivity software pre-installed.

I suppose they would argue that they are selling these in competition to the Asus 901, which has a similar specification , but then I found that the argument for the 901 didn't stack up against the 1000 unit either.

I like Dell machines, and bought one of the XPS1330n with Ubuntu as soon as they were released. However I have always believed you should tell it like it is, and I think they have really dropped an opportunity here, and could pay for it. Time as always will be the judge of that one.

If you are looking to get yourself one of these little netbooks definitely do yourself a favour and check out the Asus 1000 if you want the best size screen in the class or the Acer Aspire one if you decide on a 9" screen version. The former offers you a much larger machine for you money and the later offers you much better value for money with the same specifications.

Friday 5 September 2008

Linux netbooks selling extremely well in the UK

Having checked the latest bestseller charts on Amazon over the last two weeks there is one obvious fact that jumps out at you, and that is the rise and rise of the Linux netbook computer. Only this morning, the number one selling unit is the Acer Aspire One with Linpus Linux, and 50% of the top 10 have Linux pre-installed. I also think that Acer have got their pricing spot on, and are making a few other competitors, Dell, look very flat footed.

I think this market is very well suited to Linux, as the crippled version of windows XP home that is supplied on this machines is far less compatible with a modern working environment than is Linux. The powerful facilities offered by Linux , like a built in full feattured office suite, and much better connectivity to a corporate network bode well.

It is refreshing to see this change in the UK, as Britons are conservative by nature, and have had microsoft products stuffed down their throats for so long in school and work, that they seem almost joined at the hip. It is always amazing to me to see the surprise on peoples faces when they see just how powerful and user friendly modern Linux is.

It is good to see choice has broken out in this sector, which is excellent news for everyone, including the microsoft lovers, as they are now going to have to innovate in this sector to stay competitive, as XP is not going to be around for ever, and vista is deader than the dinosaurs, which it truely resembles.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Googles new browser shows potential - but is it just the start of something bigger?

I suppose a lot of people were caught off guard with the launch on Monday of Googles' new Chrome internet browser. There have been rumours coming out of California for a while about projects they were working on, a Linux OS being the loudest , outside of the published labs site, but this caught me by surprise.

Unfortunately for someone who only uses Linux on all of his machines, I had to dust off my VMware virtual machine with windows XP , to install this beta. Google have told me that they are working hard on the MAC and the Linux versions and they will be delivered soon, but we shall see. If you go to the download site with a Linux browser you can register your email address to be updated when it is ready. Register for Linux version

The install was very painless, and because every person in the office had downloaded the beta, the install executable was already in the networks proxy cache, so it was almost instantaneously retrieved. Installing it was a matter of closing the browser you originally used to download it, so chrome could grab the bookmarks etc, and that was it. As an aside I would recommend reading the comic book introduction to chrome as it does contain some very interesting information on how the browser fits together. I especially like the sandbox security segregation of each tab, and the fact the whole project is open source, and based on the great work of the KDE developers in the form of Webkit.

The first thing that really hits you is the speed of the browser, especially as I was running this in a virtual machine. As this is an early beta it can only improve over time, and must be a real concern for IE8 which is already getting a reputation as being bloated and slow. The interface is uncluttered, which I liked, and the trusty old combo of Ctrl-T gives you a new tab. These tabs are easily moved around , and can be dragged into new windows if you want. The ability to look at the resources that each tab is using is very handy, just by pressing Shift-Escape. You can then click on the nerd button to have a look in more detail. The chrome configuration options offers the usual settings, including the proxy you use, SSL certificates etc.

There is an incognito tab selection, which means that once you kill that tab, all browsing history gets destroyed, and Google says that you might use this for buying flowers for your loved one, I'm sure there are other uses no doubt.The new single URL bar does indeed work well, with anything you type bringing up previously loaded web pages or Google searches. It also remembers searches you did while on Amazon for instance, so they also will appear when you start typing in the bar.

At the time of righting there didn't appear any easy way to install extensions, RSS feeds or manage bookmarks, like Firefox allows, but I'm sure this is coming. Adobe Flash installed easily enough so I can't imagine the guys at Google have left this out of their plans. You can also set-up web application launchers from the options menu, so you can have one-click access to Gmail for instance. This is very similar to Mozilla prism, so not that ground breaking

This is just a first look, and once it is available on Linux, and there are a decent amount of extensions I will take another look and see how it compares with Firefox 3, which to be fair is still a fantastic browser, and the browser I will continue to use for the foreseeable future.

I do think though this raises some very interesting technical and strategic issues. This browser has to be one of the most powerful and technically advanced yet delivered by anyone, and it would not take that much effort to put a small virtual layer underneath it to offer a full solution for SaaS or webapps. This would then create an environment that does not need a monster Intel PC to run on, and could use an Eeepc 1000 or a Dell 910 Inspiron for instance. Could this be one of the pieces with Google Gears that needed to fall into place for Google to offer an extremely lightweight Operating System with embedded Browser? I for one will be watching this part of the potential development space very closely.

Sunday 31 August 2008

The Eeepc 1000 - what a great machine

Well , when the whole idea surfaced of mini-laptops , netbooks, UMPC's or whatever your favourite description is for these little PC's is, I thought they could have a great future. Like most people who have worked in IT for many years however, I have heard enough hot air and vapourware announcements to power a hot air ballon around our Galaxy for several millennium. Caution was definitely the order of the day.

It was then with delight that the initial Eeepc 701 that I bought proved to be so useful, and became an immediate favourite. It did have a few limitations, which while not show stoppers, could definitely be improved upon. It was not therefore much of a surprise when Intel and VIA announce new CPU's designed specifically for these new type of machines, they would offer increased battery life for the unit, one of my initial limitations. The other two important things I thought would make these machines a real winner for a much wider audience , were a larger screen and a bigger keyboard.

So about the turn of the year the announcements started, with everyone in Asia it appeared about to launch such an improved device. I looked at all of them with a keen eye, to see if they could offer me the improvements I was looking for. If you looked around, with the likes of HP, MSI, Dell, Acer etc etc, there was a large array of Linux machines going to be made available. I have to say that the Acer Aspire One and the Eeepc 901 both came close, the price being one very important consideration. However, if I was going to replace the original 701, then the new unit had to offer everything I wanted.

Well, Asus then announced their new 1000 series units, with 40GB SSD disk space, 10" screen, Intel Atom processor that seemed to run on fresh air compared to the previous Celeron. A larger keyboard was also something that I would appreciate, and when the price was announced, they were not that much more expensive that their smaller brother the 901.

I have to say the extra expenditure was well worth it, and this new unit has offered the extra facilities that I wanted. Time will tell if there are any little issues that will come out of the woodwork to annoy me, but in the first three weeks, everything I have found out about the unit has been very positive. The increase in battery life is truly exceptional, and delivers 5.5 hrs without fail. The suspend and resume just works with the wifi just reconnecting and the ability to just identify a T-mobile 3G USB key and connect was very impressive. The unit is a little heavier than the 701, but the extra facilities more than compensate for that. Browsing the web and writing documents on the move is a breeze, reading my many digital books is also a real pleasure with the extra screen size. There must be several large laptop manufacturers ripping these little units to pieces in their labs to find out how the heck they do it for this price point. One of the nice new features of this unit is the small row of extra function keys just under the screen. They allow you to change the power usage of the machine, turn off the screens backlight , zoom the screen and start Skype, with just a push of a single button. The two on the right are user definable and can be changed with a built in utility. The addition of bluetooth functionality will be useful to some, but I have to say I have yet to find a use for it.

The software has changed a lot with this release, and Open office has been replaced by Sun's Star Office, which is basically Open Office with some template and filter additions. This move does puzzle me as Star Office is not normally a free item. It could have more to do with the good publicity these units are receiving, so millions of users will get to see Sun's offering. Only Xandros and Sun would know for sure.There have been more games added and I particularly like Mahjong, one of my favourites. Asus have done a deal with Yostore for on-line file storage, which it appears is only available to 901/1000 users. This is again though a service I have never up to now found that useful, but time will tell. It would have been nice to see the version of KDE be bumped up to 3.5, as I use the advanced desktop, when not running Ubuntu from a USB key. It would be really useful if everything worked with Ubuntu, but as I write this it doesn't, and that is one of this units strong points, so I will wait until it does. I have added a few Xandros repositories, which allows me to install some new applications, so all is not lost in the mean time.

I also feel that in the weeks to come with the new Dell 910 Inspiron machine about to be launched that the competition for Linux netbooks that just work is going to intensify. This is excellent news for people who want to start using machines with a low price point of entry and an even better price point for the software they want to run on them. There is no doubt that this choice can only be good for the consumer, as there is now a genuine third way to use an Intel PC. I have felt for a long time that Michael Dell has been totally fed up bowing to the demands of Microsoft, and would have loved the opportunity to use Apples OSX on a line of Dell machines. Being the logical and sensible person he is, it was obvious for selfish reasons, Apple were never going to allow this to happen. Their premium priced hardware is part of their strategy, and it is not something they will give up lightly. He has however discovered a new and better way to achieve this, and Linus Torvalds gave him the answer in the form of Linux. He now has a new and very powerful bargaining chip , and it will be interesting to see how this gets used. The other netbook manufacturers are not going to just give their market share to Dell, but competition can only be good for the products that get produced.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Linux Mint is a great system to move friends from Microsoft

I'm sure if you have been helping out friends and family with their home PC's for any length of time you will have come across the same problems with any machine that has microsoft windows installed.

They will complain the machine has slowed down, and they can never get anything done these days, and their Internet connection is running so slowly. Especially when I found one machine had been completely cracked and was being used as an email relay for the planet. When you have a quick look at the box, you will find it is riddled with virii and trojans of various kinds. The registry is a mess and they have somewhere in excess of 52 panel tray icons that all start on boot.

The solution I came up with several years ago was to say that I don't support any microsoft products, but if they were prepared to open their minds and try something new, I would guarantee them a less painful web experience and I would support them.

I have done this now with over thirty people, including friends and family members, with the same positive , hassle free results. I started using Mandrake Linux, as it was easy to install, but have started recommending Mint 5 Elyssa as it offers the same features Mandriva Linux does today, it's based on Ubuntu and the developers have done good work with the user interface. It comes in various flavours, but I would recommend the main edition to start.

You can download a cd version to have a look at first, and to check compatibility with your hardware, and then install when you are happy.It comes with all the software you will need to get started, and very easy management tools to add software when needed.

You can also either install crossover office or wine for those one or two microsoft apps they can't do without, but I have found that in only a few cases, unlike an office migration I will blog about shortly.

I think anyone could use this Operating environment for an easy life on line, and for those who have to offer advice and support, why not just make your life that little be easier.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Microsoft's current software strategy is bad for the environment

Microsoft software development for as long as I can remember has seemed to work on the basic principal that computer hardware speed and performance will grow infinitely to accommodate their sloppy and wasteful programming techniques.

I have read article after article about the latest software offerings from Microsoft, which have all increased in installation footprint, but have only offered performance increases if you use the latest hardware. Vista is a particularly apropos example of a machine resources hog, with a requirement for at least a multi core processor and at least 2 GB of RAM and 10 GB of harddisk space, just to run the operating system.That is a computer that uses a lot of energy, your money, just to run the basic system that would allow you to do anything. The days of ignoring this are gone, just look at your fuel bills and you will see why. So these machines to run Vista are more expensive to buy , to run and cost the environment more in manufacture.

This seemed to be the way things have always been , and would continue to be, until Intel and Asus combined to create a whole new breed of PC, the netbook or mini laptop. This post is coming from an Asus Eeepc , and with the plethora of other manufacturers jumping on this hot bandwagon, you will be able to get one of these diminutive devices in laptop or desktop format. The intel Atom units have very good battery life, and consume little power compared to a 15" Vista Behemoth laptop.

This however is the crux of this post: The Intel Atom processor and it's VIA counterpart use a fraction of the power of the older generation processors, work perfectly with Linux, require far less internal memory to have the operating system to function properly, and work with solid state hard disks. They are basically green computers, and the more people who use them, the less the environment suffers. Microsoft has got it very wrong for the energy requirements of a modern IT departments demands, and is beginning to look like the General Motors of the software world, building products for a previous age. If I were a CEO of any large company, and my CTO was not investigating the use of low power workstations running Linux, I think I would be looking for a new CTO.

Apple saw this coming, thus the Apple Air and their new mini laptop, so why has Microsoft got this so wrong? I think it tells you a lot about the company, that they always seem to be on the backfoot, technologically, and it is only the lack of action by corporate buyers that keeps there money machine turning.

Microsoft has no software in this arena apart from it's five year old XP, so yet again they have been caught cold when a market changes quickly, and I doubt Windows 7 has currently been designed for this market segment either. I fully suspect that will change, or they may modify their mobile operating system upwards, but they will be playing catch up yet again.

You can also wonder why you might waste money on a super powerful machine, that you then need to spend a small fortune on software for, after your initial purchase, just for it to be vaguely useful. While you can get one of these new machines with everything already installed and ready to go for £250-£300. Yes there are games players and power users who will always need the extra power of a true workstation, but I suspect that 90%, if not more of net users just do not need that type of machine anymore. The prospect of cloud computing with all your applications being supplied on-line, will also drive this market.

So save the environment , do yourself a financial favour and buy a small energy efficient ,useful mini PC with Linux installed.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Eeepc addons will spark even better Linux supported hardware

While going through my daily technology feeds, I noticed a news item on the new TV adapter that Asus has launched, it's called the ASUS My Cinema-U3100Mini. Now if you look at the operating systems it supports, it includes Debian Linux, which you might know is the basis for a lot of the modern Linux distributions we all use today. These include Xandros, the operating system that comes standard with the Epc , the ever popular K/X/Ubuntu range of operating systems, Mint Linux, and Mepis. All of these are in the top twenty of Distrowatch, which gives a reasonable idea of what people are using.

Now it becomes obvious, even by Asus's conservative projection of expected shipments of Epc's this year, we are looking at a global market of several million customers for these new addon devices with Epc's alone. If you add in all the additonal customers who already use Debian based distro's, which include now the Dell customer base, there is a real market for hard nosed business people to make some serious money, as Asus is displaying on a daily basis.

It also doesn't take a lot to realise that the open nature of Linux development will enable most if not all of these add-on devices to be ported fairly easily to the non-Debian Linux Distributions like Red Hat, Fedora, Suse, PClinuxos etc.

I think that this technical development has several benefits for two groups of people. The business people looking to supply new markets and make sure their products are in at the forefront of a booming new IT sector. You only have to look at the success of the new Ultra mobile laptops from Asus to see what can be achieved. The second group of people who will directly benefit from this are the users of Linux who will now have access to a wider range of add-ons than were previously available.

As I have both an Epc and a Dell XPS m1330 with Ubuntu, I can't wait to get one of these new little devices to watch TV on the move. Those commute train journeys can be so drab on cold winter mornings, so a little light mindless TV can help make them slightly less boring.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Six months with the Asus Eeepc mini laptop

After getting one of these little devils for use on my weekly flights and many train journeys, I did wonder if the novelty of the small laptop might wear off.

Well, I can tell you that the little laptop is working harder today than when I first got it, and I have found many uses for the device that I didn't think about when I originally bought it. The one big use that has become more useful by the week, is taking the Epc to meetings, where it can happily take notes and you can surf the web for info on the spot. I know you can do this with 15" laptops, but they always seem to dominate the table space in front of you at a meeting, and in some subconscious way extend a barrier to other people at the meeting. The diminutive Epc doesn't have this problem, and several members of the team have actually bought them for exactly the same task. It also always offers a talking point when working with people from other teams or companies, which is a great ice breaker. It has also proved really useful for displaying photos downloaded from my cameras SD card, which again was not something I originally bought it for, but now find very useful.

I have played around with the installed Linux software only slightly, basically to remove the simple interface it comes with, and use a more standard KDE desktop. I have tried other Linux distributions on USB keys to see how they might work as a replacement, but have found nothing that works as seamlessly as the pre-installed software yet.

The Epc does everything it said it would do well, and having used the wireless connectivity extensively, and recently helped a friend set up a wireless broadband modem on his Epc, you really can connect in the UK from virtually anywhere.

The only problem I can see on the horizon, is not that this little unit will not keep doing the job it was bought for, but it's new big brother with an updated Intel Atom processor which is just around the corner, will cause a problem on the purchasing front.

You see I have already bought a new Dell m1330n with Ubuntu Linux for more concentrated work, so what the heck do I use the original Epc for?

I'm sure I will find a solution in the house somewhere.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Ubuntu Dell laptops selling like hotcakes

Laptops I have decided are very strange beasts. No sooner do you buy one, than someone else walks into the office with something just that little bit better. This happened the other day when one of my friends breezed into the office with a new IBM thinkpad X61s, an extemely nice, but expensive laptop. He installed Ubuntu Linux onto the laptop, to rid himself of the annoyance that is Vista.

I recently bought a new Asus eeepc, the diminutive laptop that weighs less than two pounds, comes with Xandros Linux pre-installed, and has all the functionality you could want from a device on the move at airports. train stations etc. The one minor problem that I have found using it over the last month, is that when I'm sitting in my lounge checking the football/rugby scores, is that the size of the screen can become a little annoying. Thus my visit to the Dell website to buy one of the much acclaimed new Ubuntu XPS1330n laptops. This has a bigger screen, is a little heavier but will be a very good comprimise between the eeepc and a larger 15" screen laptop.

I know Asus are bringing out a new unit with a larger screen in the autumn, but that doesn't help me today. So I thought I would look at the new Dell XPS1330n which comes with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed on their UK website. The unit was nowhere to be seen on the site.

I picked up the phone to check that the unit was still for sale and I could order one. The answer was quiet surprising. "Yes you can order one today via the phone sir , as we have a batch that is available to the phone sales team, the reason it is not on the website at the moment is due to the extreme demand for the Linux build of the laptop. Dell will often take a machine off the site when demand can't be met"

Well, I have just had notification that the unit is on its way and will be delivered tomorrow, so we will see if these little laptops are as hot as the sales teams tell me they are. You could argue that this was all a sales pitch to get me to buy one, but what advantage is this to Dell, as I was going to buy one anyway from the website, so I'm inclined to think it was genuine. I was also able to get it with a higher specification, and £100 off a similar unit with windows installed, I checked. So a good transaction so far.

I have already bought one of the older model Dell laptops with Ubuntu on it for my daughter, and that has been a resounding success. No midnight support calls, or wasting my life patching anti-virus software. The unit does what it says on the can, it offers everything a University student needs, without all the rubbish that can drag a machine to a standstill. I can heartily recommend them.

To have a look for yourself visit the Dell website and search on Ubuntu.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Suns Opensolaris who is it for, and does anyone care?

I recently attended a London Opensolaris user group meeting(LOSUG) , at Suns London briefing centre. The meeting was to show the latest release of Opensolaris, and a presentation of the "great" new features for the desktop that this operating system would bring . The presentation was given by Jim Hughes, who is CTO of the Solaris Operating System, and someone who certainly knows Solaris.

I joined this meeting with high expectations, as a long time Unix user, almost exclusively Linux for the last decade, but I have used Sun products for many years and have a great deal of respect for their OS. I have always found that their package and patch management processes to be arcane, but reliable.

I was not to be disappointed, as Ian Murdochs Debian hand could be clearly seen on the revamped package manager, which is a direct copy of the Debian Linux package manager, not a great surprise as Ian had been put in charge of the "Indiana" project. He must have rolled on the floor laughing when he first saw their original setup. Their strategy on software repositories however is muddled and not clear, some being owned and run by Sun, others by the community. This will lead to accusations of not truly being Open at all.

That is just the problem I have with this project, it is playing catchup with Linux/BSD from the early part of this millennium, and is not offering anything new, with the notable exception of ZFS, which Jim did bang on about.

The audience burst into a round of applause when I pointed out that the default shell was now Bash, which is very worrying, and I became aware that a lot of the hardcore Solaris guys in that room are living in another era, which could explain the lack of forward thinking that is going into this product.

Gnome was version 2.18, and there was nothing of any particular note other than ZFS, as impressive a technology as that is. Jim seemed to have a real hatred of Linux, and spent too much time saying how Opensolaris would be just what everyone wanted. I took from this that he was really worried that Sun were doing too little too late, and they were extremely worried that Linux had already eaten the breakfast and lunch of the desktop Unix market, and were now after their evening meal. I think Sun have every reason to be worried as I believe this has already happened, just look at the success of the UMPC's like the ASUS eeepc and the Everex cloudbooketc. You can also now buy pre-installed Linux from all of the tier 1 hardware suppliers with HP's announce at Brainshare last week.

We did see a demo of Opensolaris being installed on an Apple Macbook pro, which worked well, as this to be fair is an early version of the OS. This again though, is nothing earth shattering, as I can install many versions of Linux on a Mac if I so choose, and waste vast sums of money on some over priced technology.

So in answer to my own question, I think the target market will be people who work with Solaris on a regular basis and can't face changing to anything new, not an enormous market. As the project stands, I can't say that what is currently on offer would be useful to me over Fedora Linux which I use on a daily basis. The hardware and software support is just not there, and is unlikely to be there unless a very large community develops around the project.

I also suspect that most if not all Linux users will feel the same, and therefore will not care what Sun are doing. I can see this as becoming just another Sun failure to deliver a decent desktop OS, and they know deep down they should have bought Apple when they could, and then they wouldn't have had to bother.

The likely outcome now is that the MP3 behemoth is likely to buy them to add some serious backend server technology to their product range, we shall see.