Smoothwall Firewall project

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Another convert to open source

While visiting my daughter last evening, her friend passed me her laptop and explained that the copy of Microsoft office she had bought wouldn't install on her Vista machine. I said I would have a look , and pushed in the DVD to find sure enough, Microsoft Office was refusing to install itself on a Microsoft operating system. The error seemed to indicate that it needed the original Operating system disk for some reason, which on the surface is extremely counter intuitive. This on it's own is laughable, but considering she had just paid £60 for the software, it was extremely annoying for her.

I asked her what she wanted office for, and as usual with 90% of all office users she only needed it for writing the odd letter. So I explained about Open office, and said I would install that and she could take a look. I downloaded the latest version, 3.1.1 and it installed without any silly error messages. She took one look at it and said that it would be perfect for her needs and the Microsoft office DVD went back in the packaging for resale on E-bay I suspect.

While I was at it , I also installed Firefox 3.5, and she couldn't get over how much faster it was than IE and really liked the whole idea of extensions. I would also have put Chromium on there as well, but I thought one new browser in a day is probably best ;-)

I think the lesson I take away from this is very clear, that when users have access to someone who can clearly explain the choices and show them the options available, they don't always need or indeed want Microsoft/proprietary products, it's just what they keep getting fed.

The real issue here for all open source advocates is how on earth do you actually change this for the vast majority of users, one user/machine at a time? If we take that approach then it is going to be a long and hard road. I think the approach being taken by Intel Moblin and Google Chrome OS, offers the best route to success. Introduce people to a system that works really well and does everything they need and then up-sell the idea of using this great and now familiar software for other things and other uses.

Well, we have one more advocate for open source this morning, and I just hope she tells all her friends and family how it saved her money and does everything she needs.

Thursday 24 September 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth

Mozilla's new Adobe Plugin version check

With the latest release of Mozilla Firefox there is a built in check of the version of the Adobe flash plugin you are currently using. As this is the most popular plugin, and virtually everyone will have it installed if they want to use Youtube etc.This is a massive step forward for browser security, and assures people that they are using the most up-to date plugins when they are using the most up-to date version of Firefox. The problem comes when you have people who don't understand or are unwilling to upgrade, but that is problem that every software provider faces, regardless of design philosophy.

Since the launch of Firefox 3.5.3, Adobe reports a huge increase in the numbers of people downloading updates, and current reports show this to be in excess of 10 Million, which is a lot of machines with a previously unpatched bug. It was highlighted by the fact that the latest version of OSX for the MAC - Snow Leopard - shipped with an old version of the plugin, which effectively made the machines vulnerable from a default new install.

I think Mozilla are to be applauded for this, and it is something all browser suppliers should look at implementing to help remove vulnerable software from peoples machines.

Google drops a bombshell on Microsoft

Reading through the Chromium blog this morning I noticed this post "Google Chrome Frame".

This is effectively showing Microsoft in a particularly bad light and they have been caught with their proverbial pants down. If you think about it for a second, what Google are saying is that Microsoft are unable or unwilling to become standards compliant, so we have done it for them.

The implications for corporate IT departments is potentially far reaching , if they embrace this technology which extends extensively what the old IE warhorse can achieve. It is also nothing more than insatlling a browser extension, which is something that corporate IT departments are well capable of doing easily.

To use Tim O'Rielly's expression - Web 2.0 technologies - can now be rolled out to the corporate desktop, which is where I believe this move is squarely aimed.

Anyway, have a look at the video and make your own mind up.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Mozilla are hard at work at producing some fantastic new add-ons

I have blogged before about the marvelous Mozilla Weave plugin that saves all your personal browsing data anonymously in the cloud, so you can keep your bookmarks always to hand.

What I have installed and started playing with today is Mozilla Ubiquity and I have to say this is also going to be an extremely useful addition for easy and productive browsing. It also allows you to leverage even more of the great apps that Google have out there, like calulator.

Simply search the add-ons for Ubiquity and it will install as it is a typical add-on format.

You start the add-on by typing the ALT key and the Space key togther. Now on my Ubuntu machine this keyboard shortcut was already taken, so I changed that for Gnome, and I was ready to go.

The add-on comes with a very useful tutorial, which I recommend you take to fully explore the sort of facilities you have at your fingertips.

This is going to be a great new addition to my web surfing armoury.

Friday 18 September 2009

Mozilla Weave changes completely in new version

Well, I just started Firefox 3.5.3 to test a web page , and it prompted me to upgrade my version of Mozilla Weave, your friendly bookmark syncing extension. The Mozilla guys have been busy, and not only have they moved the control from the preferences page to a new about:weave, but they have added some really groovy animation. They have also added some performance in there as the syncs are quicker and the log files are happier than they were previously.

This is an excellent piece of work, and I would heartily recommend you give it a try, as keeping tabs - pun intended ;-) - on your bookmarks etc just got so much easier.

Turning on the new xsplash in Ubuntu 9.10

It is very easy to turn on, and here is how to do it.

sudo apt-get install xsplash

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-xsplash-artwork

Having read a lot of post's from the developers working on this, it is the base for the next generation of speedy start-ups, but in this release of Ubuntu will offer little externally over Usplash except a new design and different animation. It is what is happening underneath that is important for boot speeds in 10.04

I like the look of it anyway, and I hope thie theme/colour change is a sign of things to come with the potential late drop new artwork for the distro. We shall see.

Installing your Virtualbox drivers in the Ubuntu 9.10 alpha 6

While playing with Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6 in a newly created virtual machine, I noticed that the normally easy install of the kernel drivers , well wasn't easy at all.

Basically with the version of virtua l box that I use - 3-0-3.6, the virtual drivers CD didn't appear on the desktop as normal. The iso file did appear on the config page, so virtualbox new that it had changed.

All you have to do is to mount the drive that is indicated on the bottom panel, which for my Dell M1330 , within the virtual machine was /dev/sr0.

Once this was mounted , the usual drivers could be downloaded and installed as normal, and the testing could commence.

Hope this saves you some time from hunting around to find out why the image doesn't auto mount.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6 is out today

I have been keeping an eye on the download page for the latest release of Ubuntu, as I always tend to upgrade my machines when the beta is released, and this Alpha release is the last development release before we get the Beta, as it will be almost completely feature complete.

I do however feel the Artwork team are keeping something up their sleeve for late inclusion, but I might be wrong on that one.

There is no doubt that the open source community is going to be having a busy time at the end of this year and the beginning of next, with Ubuntu 9.10, Chromium and potential some developer releases of Chrome OS. There are also lots of rumours about a moblin netbook being released at LinuxCon next week.

These are all developments that are truly ground breaking and original rather than the same old regurgitated OS that Microsoft will be trundling out in October as if it will offer anything remotely new and interesting.

Well the torrent file is downloaded and the iso is on it's way.

Hers the link

Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Google announces version 3.0 of Chrome

As the development of the next generation of browsers for all operating systems gathers pace, Google have released version 3 of Chrome, which offers significant performance enhancements over version 2 on the windows platform.

Google Chrome version 3

They are also working flat out on the release of Google Chrome for Linux and Mac, and as the current development builds show, these are also going to be extremely useful enhancements to both of these fine operating systems. The current information would appear to point to a years end release for these versions.

The versioning and numbering is going to be interesting however. The version of Chromium I'm using to post this is 4.0.209 on Ubuntu 9.04, so will there ever be a stable - full release version 3 - for Linux or Mac remains to be seen. The latest development build from Google, also sports the 4.0.207 release number, which may well indicate that windows could get another version by years end. You can't say the guys in the Chromium community aren't putting their shoulders to the wheel, as they obviously are.

Firefox are not sitting idly by either, as their next release 3.6 is well underway, with version 3.7 also being worked on.

Monday 14 September 2009

Problems with Ubuntu Chromium builds from launchpad

If like me you have been following the Ubuntu builds from launchpad you will have noticed that in the last few days, they have been failing to build.

As there have been many changes in chromium lately, and it has now moved to version 4.0.209, then this is how to get the latest builds from the Google build bots.

Simply go to the following page Chromium builds and grap the the highest numbered build zip file.

Just extract it into any directory and run the chrome file.

Once the Ubuntu auto builds are back up and running, you can then run these either side by side or stick to this method. They do currently generate about 10 builds a day mind, so you could be busy keeping up ;-)

Latest VMware workstation release works well with Ubuntu 2.6.31 kernel

I recently upgraded the kernel on my notebook to play with the kernel mode setting to speed up the graphics with the Intel graphics card, which it did admirably, so I would be loathed to go back to an earlier kernel.

VMware and the latest kernels haven't always got along nicely , but on this occasion it was simply a matter of attempting to start VMware player, it detected a new kernel, and compiled the drivers for me, can't get much easier than that.

It then allowed me to start my old VMware images without a hitch.

Here is a screenshot of what it did:

The version for Linux has come a long way since it's early days, and it really is very simple to use now for even the most new learners of the platform.

The only problem that I'm currently having with this version of workstation is the resume from suspend ,which is extremely slow, but this could be down to the debug code in the installation. VirtualBox truly puts it to shame on the same hardware currently, but only a true comparison can be once it is released.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Using a Mozilla XULrunner application to edit your Sqlite databases

I have needed a tool to edit/change sqlite database, and have been using this great Firefox extension, but it requires you to load Firefox, which I don't always do while I'm testing Chromium. You can get this great extension here:

Sqlite Manager

So I noticed today, that they also offer a downloadable version which works just with XULrunner on it's own. It's not that surprising as many extensions leverage the power of this component, but it means you can launch this on it's own , which is handy.

So all you do is download the zip file, and make sure you have XULrunner-1.9.1 from your favourite Linux repository and unzip the file where you want, /opt is a good place for most.

Then just add a launcher on your desktop to start the application like this:

/usr/bin/xulrunner-1.9.1 /opt/sqlitemanager/application.ini (or where you unzipped it)

Voila, you have a great utility ready to run.

In the picture above I'm having a look at the cookies I've downloaded while testing Firefox 3.5.2

I also came across this web site while checking out how this fitted together, which gives you a good intro into developing your own XULrunner apps.

Howto create your own XUL applications

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Setting up the SSH daemon on your Netgear 1100 NAS server

After having installed one of these units for a small project , I wanted to get passed the web interface to have a look at the detailed error logs on this NAS unit.

I had a look on the Netgear forums and there are several add-ons you can apply to the unit to enhance or modify what it is capable of doing. As this is basically Linux running on Sparc, you will be able to do pretty much anything you like. It would appear that virtually every appliance these days runs Linux or BSD, and getting an SSH CLi onto these units gives you a lot more granular control.

When you have a look around the configuration on this unit, the company that actually built these devices before Netgear bought them - Infrant - has it's fingerprints all over the place. When you look at the processor for instance, it reports itself as an:

Infrant Technologies, INC - neon version: 0

When you dig around in the kernel libraries it becomes clear that this is a sparc CPU.

Anyway, back to the project in hand. You need to download these two files:

ToggleSSH_1.0.bin and

You then need to install them one at a time using the software update screen - below - and reboot the unit after each install. Why they are bin files is not obvious, as a simple script file would have been sufficient, but it may be to do with the extension install mechanism. It would appear all they do, is enable the SSH daemon in /etc/init.d and configure the file /etc/ssh/sshd_config to allow root access.

Once you have re-booted for the second time, point your favourite SSH client at the IP address of the NAS server and log in as root, like so:

SSH root@ - or whatever your IP address is


Monday 7 September 2009

Trying out Kernel mode setting Intel acceleration with Ubuntu Jaunty

*** Be Warned this is highly experimental and could cause you hours of wasted lifetime if you don't fully understand what you are doing. You can just wait for the next release of Ubuntu, when this will be built in. ****

I have had one or two minor graphic problems on my Dell XPS1330 with Ubuntu jaunty, which is to do with the transition of the type of graphics driver which is going to be installed with the next release of Ubuntu. One of the key features in the next release of Ubuntu will be the ability to use kernel mode setting which shifts responsibility for selecting and setting up the graphics mode from to the kernel. This speeds this up, which means a better experience for the user.

Here is how I did it on my Dell.

First download these .deb files from here:


Install them, but don't reboot just yet.

Next install the latest Intel graphics drivers using these links:

deb jaunty main
deb-src jaunty main

Then in a terminal run this:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

Now create this file /etc/modprobe.d/i915-kms.conf and add this line.

options i915 modeset=1

Then finally run this command at a terminal.

sudo update-initramfs -u

Now re-boot your machine with your new kernel and test to see if you get improved graphics performance, I most definitely did. You might also want to check in /etc/X11/xorg.conf that you have a line like this:

Option "AccelMethod" "uxa" in the "Device" section.

Have fun.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Chromiums latest build on Linux is the best yet

While testing the latest version, shown above, it has dawned on me that I haven't come across a site it doesn't like for at least two weeks. I'm sure there might be some but I haven't found one.

Today , I was happily surfing the web, and listening to the latest one day cricket international on the BBC web site using the Linux Adobe flash plugin, with 25 other tabs open and working well. It was seamless, and the experience was very pleasant.

I have noticed that the developer task manager is working properly, and the "stats for nerds" also now display a proper page. I also stumbled across a feature that I had been missing, which was the ability to grab a tabbed window, and move it's location on the list of tabs. This is a very useful feature, and is working really well.

I'm sure that a beta/stable version of Google Chrome for Linux can't be far away, as then we can really get stuck into bug tracking and reporting. I can't wait to see what other distro's will package this, especially with Google offering their own OS. I know that I will be getting it into the Eeebuntu repos, once it is stable. I fully suspect that the fur will fly for some, and a minority of die hard Firefox supporters will be flinging some mud, but the simply truth is, Chromium is significantly faster that FF on Linux, and once the extensions are added to Chromium, and they are on the way, then speed becomes the deciding issue. I'm also testing FF 3.6 and it is better, but still nowhere near as fast as Chromium.

I'm certainly not going to knock FF, it has served me well upto now, it's just that the open source wheel has turned, and there is a new kid on the block that just does everything faster. The Cloud + fast browser speed = good experience, it's as simple an equation as that.

I'm obviously an early adopter and have switched completely now, but I'm also convinced that once people test and experience the difference in performance, then they will to, regardless of extensions. To be fair FF has been in competition with many good browsers on other OSes for a while, but it's had the lions share of installed browsers for Linux, it now has some real competition, and they are going to have to improve or suffer the same fate as their nemesis on Windows.

Friday 4 September 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 5 has a completely reworked install dialogue

If you have installed Linux over the years ,you will have noticed that the distros tend to fall into one of two camps, those with minimalist feedback when you press the install button, or those who offer news and detailed information about the Linux you are about to install. Well in this release Ubuntu have moved from the former camp into the latter camp, and here is the evidence.

The kernel has been moved up to 2.6.31-9 and there is a new Ibus application that I have not seen before, but will investigate.

It is still installing in a VirtualBox virtual machine while I type this, so I will report back on performance and any other new features I find.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Redhat 5.4 is released with major virtualization updates

Have a look here at the release notes.

Redhat EL 5.4

This definitely looks like a worthwhile update, and I will definitely be running this up several servers to see how it performs.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Richard Dawkin's new book - The Greatest Show on Earth

The world famous Science proclaimer ,evolutionary biologist and Atheist has a new book coming out in the next couple of days and here is link to an extract from the first chapter on the Times web site. The greatest Show on Earth

Agree or dis-agree with his arguments - on Atheism not Evolution, that's a matter of fact - you have to accept that he is a great word smith, and worth the time and effort for that alone.

What amazes me is that so few other current writers apart from Hitchin, Harris and Neil have captured this moment and have been able to eloquently describe the need for the human conscious to move from it's primaeval upbringings and start to move towards the acceptance of the reality of life on Earth and to forget superstition and childlike belief systems.

I can't wait to get my hands on the new book.