Smoothwall Firewall project

Monday 13 December 2010

The Christmas Tale - or the coming of our saviour

If you have ever worked for a large multi-national company or a city based financial institution then you fully understand the concept of global capitalism. The bull faced financial and social methodology we humans have chosen for the 21st Century over and above all the leftist methodologies we tried and threw in the rubbish bin in the 20th Century.

This time of year everyone on the planet is able to get a glimpse of this system. The system we have chosen to organise our existence is in full swing, and the marketing arm is working overtime everyday to get as many people as possible involved.

The Victorian capitalist's did a fantastic job of wrapping up this cold system in tinsel and Christmas trees, snowy pictures and pretty cards. It has been embellished ever since with even the multi-nationals chipping in with the dress code for some of the fantasy members of the Christmas cast. The irony of Coca-cola giving us the red suited Santa clause is just pure marketing genius.

You of course get all the Christians , trying their hardest to try and sugar coat this time of year with fairy stories and ridiculous tales from a discredited book of scary tales, but they are now so removed from the real meaning of Christmas that it is sad to witness.

The Christmas marketing engine now appears to kick in around September, with the children coming under increasing bombardment with television adverts priming them to get their Christmas demand lists in order. The pressure increases until around December,when the full might of capitalism is thrown into the fray and then everyone is subjected to posters, TV adverts and on-line interrupt's. We are told that if only you or a member of your family owned this extra piece of Chinese plastic, their lives will be complete and full-filled. This crescendo goes on, well into the new year with January sales, where you can now purchase all the things you couldn't afford before Christmas at a knock down price.

If most people are brutally honest, the most enjoyable parts of this time of year are the meals and get together with friends , not that single day of excess. The shopping trips before hand with the stress and agony written into the faces of millions of men on every high street and shopping mall on the planet. I think some Women do enjoy it slightly more, but then all the Women in my life enjoy shopping all year around, so this is not that surprising.

Well, I have now seen the light, and have chosen Amazon this year to do 80% of my Christmas shopping. I have for years trudged around the shops, with millions of others getting hot and bothered, but not this year. It is also not a co-incidence that capitalism has invented a way to make this whole process even easier to open our wallets, in the guise of on-line shopping.The beautiful side effect is we no longer have to find this whole process as difficult as it once was.
We can now spend time on the Christmas shopping in a more civilised manor and perhaps even start to enjoy the little bit of high street adventure that is required. The visit to the Christmas market can be more about mulled wine and a gentle walk around, rather than the frenzied fight to get as many things in as short a space of time as possible. I welcome this change, and I can't ever see myself going back.

Have a merry Christmas and Happy New year, and oh yes, don't forget to keep spending, it's what the system requires of all good capitalist citizens.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Speeding up your Linux browser using a ramdisk

I came across an interesting article yesterday, about someone who had speeded up their browser on Windows by using a ramdisk, and knowing that Linux can happily do this, I decided to write down how to do this for the Linux user.

Firstly we need to create a directory that we can use for the ramdisk, and get it to automatically mount everytime we start our machine.

1) create the directoty - sudo mkdir /var/ramdisk
2) then edit this file and add the following line at the end - gksudo gedit /etc/fstab
/var/ramdisk /var/ramdisk tmpfs size=512m 0 0
3) Now mount this new ramdisk to test
sudo mount /var/ramdisk

We now have our ramdisk, and we can add this to the start options for Chromium and Firefox.

Firstly we will do Chrome as it's the easiest, simple add the following line to the startup options/icon that your use to start Chrome.


See below:

If you now click on Chrome, you will now be using a Ram disk, and you can look at what you are storing in that cache, but looking in the directory you created earlier.

Now, for firefox we use a different method,

Mozilla Firefox

  • Type about:config into the address bar, accept the warning ("I'll be careful, I promise!")
  • Right click > New > String
  • Type browser.cache.disk.parent_directory into the box and press OK
  • Type the path of your BrowserCache directory -- /var/ramdisk press OK
  • Close all open Firefox tabs and windows
  • Open the browser again
(Part of the above section was lifted directly from this web page to save typing -

That's it, you now have you cache being stored in RAM instead of on disk, which is significantly faster, for saving and reading cached pages. I have started with a RAM disk of 512m, which may be too large for you or too small, but you can adjust that once you see what your usage profile is like.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Is upgrading to the Intel i5 laptop processor worth the effort

In a word, yes . As you may have read on this blog a few weeks ago , I tried an experiment with using an SSD harddisk for the operating system in conjunction with an external 500GB hybrid disk for all the more volatile parts of the OS, like /var and /tmp.

This was a resounding successful with a marked ramp in performance across the whole operating system and applications, to the point now , that all other machines seem like sloth's in comparison.

I had a need to upgrade my work laptop recently, specifically for more CPU cores and access to that lastest hardware virtualization extensions. I use the laptop extensively for virtualization, so I picked the Dell Latitude E6410. This is a really good work horse, but more importantly it comes with the Intel i5 processor.

This has had a very positive affect on the whole systems performance when running virtual guests with VirtualBox - my current virtualization platform of choice - to the extent that I can now over commit on memory and cpu's , plus the density I can achieve on this box has literally doubled.

I always keep a system monitor going to see how hard the system us working, and while on the old E6400, with two virtual machines running , the system would be noticeable slower, now with four virtual guests running, there is still plenty of head room for the other applications I need to run.

If are about to upgrade, and you need the ability to run multiple virtual guests, then I would definitely recommend the extra spend on this processor. The more memory the better, but I'm happily working with 4GB currently, but I can take this up to 8GB if the need should arise.

Well done Dell this is a grand machine for running Linux.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Ubuntu 10.10 is released and raises the bar for the Linux desktop again

Well, we have been testing it for five months, and playing with all the new features and functions that the latest software from the open source community can give us. So, if you want to be pleased with just how easy this release is to install or upgrade, then give it a try.

You can read the full release notes at the Ubuntu web site for more detailed information on exactly what each version of this Linux distribution is going to deliver, but it has impressed me on every server, desktop and virtual image I have installed it onto or into, and this post is coming from my just up dated work laptop.

Ubuntu is not every Linux users friend, and I understand some of the resistance, but most open minded open source people can see a definite role for this in the whole open source universe. I use a great deal of Linux, in many different forms, but if you want a desktop that just works, then certainly look no further.

If you are currently using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, you will need to modify your software sources to allow updates from newer releases, and not just LTS releases. Once you have done that, you will be offered the choice of this new version. This will ask a few simple questions, download about 1,000 files, and prompt you during the process for a few answers. That's it , you are now on the latest version.

An amusing thing about the date of release, is that it was 101010, which in decimal is 42. Douglas Adams has already informed us that this is the meaning of life, the universe and everything, so you can't get much higher praise than that. We can now use this release of Ubuntu to figure out what the question was ;-)

Anyway, go and grab a copy and give it whirl , you won't be disappointed.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Using SSD and hybrid disks to speed up your computer

I have been reading for a while about the advantages of using SSD disks for starting/booting your computer, which can be especially useful on a laptop, which you are far more likely to restart. Well I decided to put this into action and see what speed improvements these changes would make, and how it would improve the speed in several tests.

The hardware:
Dell Inspiron 6400 Laptop with 4GB Ram and an Intel Core 2 duo P8700 2.5 Ghz
OS Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS fully patched
Primary new disk drive Kingston SSDnow V+ 64 GB
Secondary disk Seagate Momentus XL hybrid drive 500 GB / 4GB SSD

After considerable thought, and reading that the SSD disk would be good for 1 million reads, I decided that I would use two disk's instead of one, and all variable data would go on the hybrid drive. This would be true for any OS, basically if the partition is going to be written to on a regular basis , then move it onto an external disk. Luckily the Dell comes with a built in eSata connector, which offers really good performance for an external unit, and I wouldn't recommend using USB 2 or firewire unless thats all you have.

I therefore moved the following disk partitions onto the Seagte hybrid drive - /tmp, /var, /home - and made sure that their UUID's were correctly configured on the internal Kingston SSD disk in /etc/fstab. The hybrid Seagate drive is housed in an Icy Box external eSata 2.5" enclosure which works really well.

So to the tests, with the original 2.5" Seagate Momentus 7200 250GB internal disk. I used my stop watch, and with the SSD fitted I suspect some of timings are do my lack of ability to react that quickly.

1) From the end of the BIOS post to a login prompt averaged - 30 seconds
2) Loading firefox 3.6.8 with 25 tabs open - 18 seconds
3) loading Google Chrome with 25 tabs - 10 seconds

with the new configuration

1) From the end of the BIOS post to a login prompt averaged - 5 seconds
2) Loading firefox 3.6.8 with 25 tabs open - 4 seconds
3) loading Google Chrome with 25 tabs - 2 seconds

It is obvious that the new system is significantly faster than it was previously, so the claims being made by the SSD manufacturers are true, your system will be quicker. I would also comment, that everything now works at a much smarter rate, and I have no doubts if I had tested more applications the same performance boost would have been measured.

This was not a cheap experiment however, and the two drives cost me in excess of £250. I was looking for a speed boost with my virtualization requirements, and that is what I have achieved, but unless you have a real need for this performance improvement , then you may well find your money better spent of other needs. I would also now like to try this with the latest Intel processors to see if I can squeeze even more performance out of the laptop.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Make using the Command line more fun in Ubuntu

Ubuntu has spawned several really great Linux distributions, and one of the best is Linux Mint. It has always had a feature where-by when you open a command prompt, it displays a simple - often silly - message to brighten up your day before you get stuck in. To be fair this has been around for a long time in the Unix world, but is still funny.Ubuntu doesn't have this turned on by default, so I decided to enable it , and it really isn't that hard, if we borrow a great command from Mint guys.

First you need to install the fortune cookie applications and message files:

sudo apt-get install fortune-mod cowsay

You can test this has installed ok by typing the following:


and you should get a message displayed.

Next you need to create shell scipt that will do all the hard work for you - borrowed from the Mint guys

sudo vim /usr/bin/ubuntu-fortune

Here is what to put into the file

let "number %= $RANGE"
case $number in

let "number %= $RANGE"
case $number in

/usr/games/fortune | $command -f $cow

Now we need to make this file executable by doing this

sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/ubuntu-fortune

Then last but not least we need to place it into one of the shell script master files so that it gets called every time when you start up a shell script. So edit the following file, and place the command - /usr/bin/ubuntu-fortune - as the last entry in the file.

sudo vim /etc/bash.bashrc

Voila, when you now start a shell terminal , you will have something to laugh at, and you can of course just type the command we created above to get a laugh on got.

Here is an example:

Now there are lots of other fortunes you can install, some of them can be very rude, so be careful, and you can grab these either using apt-get or using the Synaptic package manager.

Have fun.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Smartphone users should travel overground and avoid the subways and tubes

If you are one of the many millions of new smartphone owners, it will not have missed your attention that as soon as you go into mole mode and descend into the dark, sweaty, hell that is the subway and tube lines of the western world, than you realise that most of your smartphone functionality disappears. If your commute is a long one, then it can get very annoying.

Well, today while I was sat on the top floor of a double-decker London bus, cruising to work very slowly in the early morning congestion, I realised the value of that service over the tubes. You have full access with your 3G connection and can happily check your email, surf the web and chat on Gtalk without hindrance. Now, I know you can download music with spotify and grab the latest news with the many paid for magazine and news paper apps, but you have to remember to do that before you go under ground. There is the underlying problem, if you have other things on your mind , or a hangover from a previous nights fun, thinking about syncing your smartphone is not top of your pre-journey planning.

So , if you own a smartphone, jump on a bus or grab a cab, and stay well clear of the WIFI/3G retarded tubes. I would however recommend you don't try this on your bicycle ;-)

Monday 26 July 2010

New Tab Candy with Firefox 4 Alpha build on Ubuntu

I stumbled across this new feature build of Firefox 4 in my daily Google alerts, and I'm really glad that I did.

This new build of Firefox 4 offers a very new feature for tab management , that to be honest is quite frankly very impressive.

It allows you to drag and drop tabs into little organised groups, but you can happily move tabs between these groups if you like.

The best way to have a look at how this works is to view this video by the developers.

Tab Candy Video

I have been using it since I found it, and it really does make your browsing experience so much better, to the point I have started using Firefox a little more often again.

One thing to watch out for though, is don't let this alpha auto-update, as it pulls in the latest FF 4 beta main trunk code, which doesn't have this feature turned on yet. So turn off auto update, and just manually grab the latest builds from the site below.

I would recommend downloading and having a play , and see what you think.

Tab Candy web page and download

Thursday 22 July 2010

Is Ubuntu thinking about switching to Chromium in 10.10?

While testing with the latest daily build I thought I would look through the App store to see if Google was in there, and instead I found a Chromium version (fully open source) version which is pinned to the exact same release code as the stable release of Google Chrome.

Now I get why in the base installation they don't want the Google Chrome release, but the Chromium version has up until now always been bleeding edge. So by taking the same stable version and just building the open source bits make it very easy to now include this.

As it stands today, you get FF 3.6, and it is very unlikely that FF 4.0 will be ready in the development timeframe for Ubuntu 10.10, but Chromium is ready now, and offers a much faster experience than FF. Now, version 5 of Chrome/Chromium is not perfect, but for 99% of peoples surfing needs it works fine.

Now, this is me finding something in repositories and making 5 from 2 + 2, but it really wouldn't take that much of a step, and it would be a real differentiator between the distro's. They must be thinking about it, otherwise why go to all this problem.

Have a look yourself and see what you think.

Problem adding the new Spotify Linux client repository security key

The great news is that there is now a native version of spotify, which works really well on Ubuntu, and I'm listening to it now as I type.

While I was installing it though, I found the link - below - to install the security key for the repository was broken - timed out.
gpg --keyserver --recv-keys 4E9CFF4E

So I found the key manually, and I'm posting it here so you can manually install it. How?

1) Copy all the text in the key below and paste it into a text file, using your favourite editor
2) Open the software sources application and click on the Authentication Tab - see below
Import your key
3) click on the Import Key file
4) Select the file you created earlier
5) Done ;-)

Here is the key and the spotify web page that gives the other instructions

Version: SKS 1.0.10


Spotify client for Linux

Sunday 18 July 2010

Using and looking at Btrfs in the latest Ubuntu Maverick build

I love looking at new technologies and assessing what they might be able to offer not only me, but the people that I do consultancy for. There is nothing like being able to pluck a technology white rabbit out of the hat in front the of the decision makers.

Well, for several years the modern file system designed by Sun called ZFS, has been rightly getting plaudits for not only it's usability but the built in functionality that companies have been paying large sums of money to Symantic to have the same features.

Ironically, an open source project was started within Oracle to come up with a system for Linux that would offer the same features - the company that now owns Sun and ZFS.

Well the developers in the Linux community have been busy with this next generation file system, and it is now available in the latest Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha 2 builds, and I have just installed it using the alternative iso file into a Virtualbox test machine. I will be doing this on real hardware as well next week.

The installation was easy enough using the ncurses method as opposed to the more modern GUI mode, and the virtual machine started without any issues. At the moment you have to keep the /boot partition on ext4, as btrfs doesn't work with that as yet, but it is being worked on.

One of the features I'm looking for along side the advanced features of easy command line snapshots and duplication is a speed boost, only time will reveal if this is to be realised.

Using the command btrfs from the command line you can take snapshots of subvolumes and resize the filesystem on the fly, which offers so much simplification over the tools and methods we current use, like LVM etc.

I'm looking forward to spending some more time investigating all of the features of this very interesting new filesystem.



Saturday 17 July 2010

Setting Chromium to use the search engine of your choice

Chromium, like all good browsers is very flexible and allows you change things around, which is good, as one of it's default features can be very annoying. The feature , is that it auto detects which country you are in , and when you do a search it returns the information in the language of that country. This is great if you want that, but can be a real pain in the backside if you don't. As I travel between France and the UK very regularly, I need to be able to have the search engine, where ever I am, and this little trick sorts that out for you.

Well there is a easy way to fix that.

1) Go to the wrend menu and select options
2) Then click on manage search engines
3) Click on add to create a new one
4) Make it look like the picture below - substitue your country as appropriate.
5) Make it one of the defaults
6) Now test it with a search in the omnibar for something

The other great part of this is you can also set up other custom search engines for all your favourite sites , and I have set one up for the Linux Man pages , which I found on another site.

So if I now want to look up the man page for a command, I just type man command in the omnibox, and it takes me straight there.

See this picture on how I did that one.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Google web apps appear on the latest Chromium builds

I have been following the development of the ChromiumOS, and one the things I liked was the way that my often used apps would appear on a menu page and be easy to load. There is nothing revolutionary about at present, apart from it's convenience and the potential of what Google has up it's sleeve for the next generation of browser based web apps.

Well, you don't have to wait for the release of ChromiumOS anymore as you can have a play with them now, thanks to these articles

Download Squad

Google Chromium blog

Basically you need to add a start up option to your Chromium start button/icon which is --enable-apps. Once this is down, download the crx files from the second link onto your harddrive, and then just drag and drop them onto Chromium. If you know press Ctrl-t , you will see the web apps displayed. Click on one and it will appear on the left of the browser.

Now, if like me you follow the PPA chromium development build, then you will find that the web apps mentioned - gmail etc - in the first article are not in place in /usr/lib/chromium/resources, so use the ones from the second article instead.

If you look at my picture above you will see the web apps on the far left of the browser screen.

There is also some interesting discussions happening on the web about what these offer over a normal extension, apart from the pretty icon above the tab, I think currently , this is showing what will be available , and how it is going to progress rather than astounding us now.

Ubuntu takes another step towards the MAC UI and away from original UI

This change has been designed for the next release of the netbook remix - 10.10 maverick, but works perfectly on my Lucid 10.04 desktop setup. What is it , you may ask, well it's the moving of the application menu from the application window itself, and onto the Panel menu, at the top of your screen, just like the MAC does when you open an application. I have to say I like it , and I will be using it for a while to see how it goes.

This is what it looks like while using gedit.

It is definitely something worth having a look at and having a play with.

Here is the post on how to set it up, and make sure that you edit the file /etc/X11/Xsession.d/80appmenu , and change this setting APPMENU_DISPLAY_BOTH=0. Then restart your windows session by logging off and then back on again.

The Indicator Panel - from Jono Bacons blog

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Firefox Beta 1 release candidate out in the wild

There have been quite a few changes between 3.7 alpha and the 4.0 beta 1 release. There is a definite change in performance again, which is always good to see. They have added a new bookmark icon on the top Chrome area which works well, and along side that is added a Feedback button to help you get more involved in the beta testing process. Whether that will continue into the final release is not clear at this stage.

They are going to change the arrangement of the tabs at the top of the window, but this has not been implemented on the Linux or Mac versions yet, but we are told it's coming shortly. Update with the release of the beta this morning , having the tabs on top is now working on Linux.

The add-ons menu has been changed and makes it very easy to navigate all your plugins, themes and extensions. See the picture below.

The Mozilla sync - which was weave - is now fully integrate and works seamlessly with the new browser.

There are also many under the hood changes which I feel will make a lot of difference to the developer community and offer extra facilities for the end user like HTML5 video codec support using WebM

See here

Get it here

Thursday 1 July 2010

July is the month for new Browsers for Linux

I have been using all the latest browsers from the main standards compliant camp lately, as the heat is turned up with performance and functionality.

Well July 2010 is a real watershed in the available browsers for Linux with the arrival of the long awaited Opera 10.60 - which is a very polished, fast and extremely enjoyable browser to use. It has delivered on the long awaited promises that it has alluded to over the years. Google Chromium now has another real competitor on their hands, no doubt about that.

Also , while checking the Mozilla Firefox nightlies this morning - an oxymoron ;-) - I found that the availability of the next major release is getting prepared for it's beta testing phase on or around the 5th July. I have been using the 3.7Alpha5 for most of June, and this is what I believe will become the version 4.0 beta1, and it is a lot faster on Ubuntu 10.04 than 3.6 is, and it is now as close to Chromium and Opera as to not really be a deciding factor.

There is no doubt that Chromium stirred things up for ever when they appeared for good. We are now reaping the rewards of that entry into the browser arena, and as consumers of browsers we should all be grateful for that.

It does however now present the average Linux user with a fantastic dilemma, which browser should I use today? There is not an easy answer for that I have to admit.

I use Google Chromium now on a daily basis, as I like it's speed, auto-sync and extensions, but there are still a few rough edges , which occasionally mean I have to switch back to using Firefox to get work done. I'm working with the developers to make this situation better by reporting bugs as I find them, but it's not always easy, when you just want to get things done.

I also now have another contender in the form of Opera to switch to , as it also has far less problems with IE specific web sites, and now offers so much it really can't be ignored.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Looking at the next release of Ubuntu 10.10 with Virtualbox

As the first Alpha iso was placed up on the mirrors for us all to start having a play , I decided to run it up in a virtual machine and see what - if anything - has changed. The install went fine, with my first run I just followed the usual install options , clicking next, and then install. All went fine until right at the end it had to removed some information with "dpkg" and then it started to error. I clicked through these and it finished, in what on the surface seemed to be a successful and stable install. Once rebooted however, I noticed there was something wrong with the way packages were not being installed , so I decided that this initial release had issues. I did have a good look at the errors that were being generated, and it was obvious that those errors on install, were more of a problem than I had originally thought.

Not a big problem, as I left it over the weekend , knowing come Monday on the daily builds the problem would almost certainly be fixed, and it was.

So, rather than download the latest daily iso image, I used the really useful zsync utility to just upgrade my iso - look here on how to use this utility.

Once all was installed and up and running, I had a look around. At this early stage there is not a great deal to see, except the latest kernel 2.6.35 (see the picture above). Gnome is the same and most of the apps are the same, as far as I can tell, except the software centre which has had an upgrade and looks a much improved. I'm sure most of the underlying apps have had their versions bumped, but to the eye it looks very similar to Lucid, not surprisingly.

I installed Google Chrome to see how that worked with the new OS, and all went well. It is worth doing this, as under the virtual image this gives you just that little extra performance.

At least the Meerkat is out of the cage now so I can keep an eye on where this great distribution is heading next in it's evolutionary track.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Google chrome stable is released for Linux and Mac

Well, I have been working with the beta version of chrome and the developer version of chromium since they were released and have seen them grow into great browsers that deserve their place amongst the best on the web.

So it was a momentous day when we got a full release version on the Linux - and Mac - platforms that will now be compared to other stable versions available for these platforms , like Firefox and Safari.

There are no particular new features in this release, as the last beta had most of the news, but this is just to give a base line from which to build.

They have mentioned that when Adobe launch their flash player in a few weeks - version 10.1 - then this will be built into the browser, which is great for us , but could be a major problem for Apple and Microsoft.

You’ll be able to synchronize not only bookmarks across multiple computers, but also browser preferences -- including themes, homepage and startup settings, web content settings, preferred languages, and even page zoom settings. Meanwhile, for avid extensions users, you can enable each extension to work in incognito mode through the extensions manager.

The stable release also incorporates HTML5 features such as Geolocation APIs, App Cache, web sockets, and file drag-and-drop. For a taste of HTML5’s powerful features, try browsing through websites developed in HTML5 such as, dragging and dropping attachments in Gmail, or by enabling the geolocation functionality in Google Maps. We’ve also given Chrome’s bookmark manager a facelift with HTML5.

I have been testing this Browser on my Ubuntu 10.04 laptops in both 32 and 64 bit versions and found it to be fast, stable and reliable. I do use Chromium on a day to day basis as I like to help debug the future of the browser, but will turn to Chrome for it's stability when I need to book flights or do my on-line banking.

I can recommend you give it a go and just see the speed difference you will experience.

Download it here Get Google Chrome Stable

Sunday 30 May 2010

The Computer Tablet revolution?

Have you bought an iPad already, is it the best thing since sliced bread or the next fruit juicer destined for the back of the cupboard?

While taking the Paris Metro yesterday on my way home from Bruxelles, I noticed there were adverts for the just released Apple iPad everywhere, and I fully expect to see the same on Tuesday while taking the Tubes in London. 

This form of computer device has been tried and launched unsuccessfully before by several major companies, including Microsoft , who have never seemed to catch the public's attention, that has now apparently changed. The mood for this type of device seems to be right. I think this is due mainly to the success of the iPhone and and iTouch before it, and people can now see the benefit of this keyboard-less type of device. They are by no means perfect, but they are a lot lighter than the netbook's or notebooks must of us use while travelling so they will potentially have a place in our luggage.

There is great news for people who don't use or want to buy Apple technology, as Google have released a competing technology call Android, which is currently having a massive success in the smartphone market and now just starting into computer tablets.

The device that has really caught my eye in this mushrooming new genre is the French made Archos 7 home tablet, not least because of the cost. They start at a very reasonable £129, which means that if it does not quite meet up to what I think these devices will offer, I won't have wasted £600, like most of my friends who can't wait for the latest gadget.

The screen is smaller than the iPad - 7" as opposed to 9" -  and the technical specification is a lot lower, but for what I want it for I believe it should do nicely. It can play video upto 720p, the usual music formats MP3 etc, surf the web via WIFI (but not 3G), reading books via e-reader plus access to thousands of other applications from the Archos store - not the Android store currently - but that is on the way. The Archos 7 Home Tablet.

I think one the key elements of these devices will be the web applications that are coming down the pipe from all of the major software providers. If these can all be made to embrace the touch screen input method, then this is going to be a real winner. Things will have to change though, as trying to use old legacy programs on these devices is just not going to work. It will be really interesting to see how they cope with things like blog posting and writing in general. They will be fine for chatting on all the social media like Twitter, as that works fine on my smartphone, but writing real articles is another matter.

Having used my Android smartphone for a while now, the touch system works well and offers so much. Unfortunately for me the screen is just too small for reading books or watching films, so I think this new device will fit the bill, time as always in these matters will tell and testing these features will be part of the fun.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Experiences with my new Sony Xperia Google Android smartphone

I have been looking to upgrade from my old trusty Blackberry to one of the new Google Android phones for a while, so that I can completely integrate all of my information systems onto one platform. This includes email, instant messaging and e-books. The new Sony Xperia X10, comes very close to ticking all those boxes.

I have had a mobile contract with O2 since I started using mobile phones, and the first one I had resembled a small laptop rather than the tiny devices we use today, so I had to wait until they started offering some devices I felt would work. I'm glad I waited, as this unit is very easy to use and setup.

Within minutes of having it, I had sync'd my email and contacts from Gmail and had an IM chat with work, and I felt right at home. This really can't be over played, it really does just work and you are up and running in seconds. It's really not much of a surprise, as Google provide the operating system and the cloud applications, but it is very good.

The screen is clear and crisp, and offers a very good display to work with, which leads me onto the one minor problem I have with the unit. I was hoping to be able to use it for e-books, but the screen is just that little bit too small, which is as much my eyes fault as the smartphone, but I suspect others of a similar vintage will find the same.

The app store/marketplace is just overflowing with great free applications to do pretty much any task, and I have downloaded and installed everything from pdf readers to London Tube train updates.

The battery life, if you use the device smartly and don't run the 3G/Edge services all the time is very good, and very usable, and because of it's small size, makes the device light and easy to carry.

If you are looking for a good Smartphone then I would certainly put this unit on the list to have a good look at before you decide.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

VirtualBox 3.2 with OSX support is launched

Having just upgraded to the latest version and tested with my Windows 7 virtual image on an Ubuntu 10.04 host, I can confirm that this release has hit many of it's targets for speed improvements, and the network and disk I/O are noticeable faster.

The ability to add CPU's on the fly to OSes - that support it - will also be useful to many users, as will the support of SAS disks. It worth noting that all traces of the Sun ownership is being removed and turned into Oracles branding, and I wonder how long this will remain free ;-).

It would appear that this is going to be a key component for them moving forward, which is not that surprising.

Unfortunately, the OSX support is only for Apple hardware officially,

Here are the release notes:


New Latest Intel hardware support – Harnessing the latest in chip-level support for virtualization, VirtualBox 3.2 supports new Intel Core i5 and i7 processor and Intel Xeon processor 5600 Series support for Unrestricted Guest Execution bringing faster boot times for everything from Windows to Solaris guests;

New Large Page support – Reducing the size and overhead of key system resources, Large Page support delivers increased performance by enabling faster lookups and shorter table creation times.

New In-hypervisor Networking – Significant optimization of the networking subsystem has reduced context switching between guests and host, increasing network throughput by up to 25%.

New New Storage I/O subsystem – VirtualBox 3.2 offers a completely re-worked virtual disk subsystem which utilizes asynchronous I/O to achieve high-performance whilst maintaining high data integrity;

New Remote Video Acceleration – The unique built-in VirtualBox Remote Display Protocol (VRDP), which is primarily used in virtual desktop infrastructure deployments, has been enhanced to deliver video acceleration. This delivers a rich user experience coupled with reduced computational expense, which is vital when servers are running hundreds of virtual machines;


New Page Fusion – Traditional Page Sharing techniques have suffered from long and expensive cache construction as pages are scrutinized as candidates for de-duplication. Taking a smarter approach, VirtualBox Page Fusion uses intelligence in the guest virtual machine to determine much more rapidly and accurately those pages which can be eliminated thereby increasing the capacity or vm density of the system;

New Memory Ballooning – Ballooning provides another method to increase vm density by allowing the memory of one guest to be recouped and made available to others;

New Multiple Virtual Monitors – VirtualBox 3.2 now supports multi-headed virtual machines with up to 8 virtual monitors attached to a guest. Each virtual monitor can be a host window, or be mapped to the hosts physical monitors;

New Hot-plug CPU's – Modern operating systems such Windows Server 2008 x64 Data Center Edition or the latest Linux server platforms allow CPUs to be dynamically inserted into a system to provide incremental computing power while the system is running. Version 3.2 introduces support for Hot-plug vCPUs, allowing VirtualBox virtual machines to be given more power, with zero-downtime of the guest;

New Virtual SAS Controller – VirtualBox 3.2 now offers a virtual Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) controller, enabling it to run the most demanding of high-end guests;

New Online Snapshot Merging – Snapshots are powerful but can eat up disk space and need to be pruned from time to time. Historically, machines have needed to be turned off to delete or merge snapshots but with VirtualBox 3.2 this operation can be done whilst the machines are running. This allows sophisticated system management with minimal interruption of operations;

New OVF Enhancements – VirtualBox has supported the OVF standard for virtual machine portability for some time. Now with 3.2, VirtualBox specific configuration data is also stored in the standard allowing richer virtual machine definitions without compromising portability;

New Guest Automation – The Guest Automation APIs allow host-based logic to drive operations in the guest;

New USB Keyboard and Mouse – Support more guests that require USB input devices;

New Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5 – Support for the latest version of Oracle's flagship Linux platform;

New Ubuntu 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”) – Support for both the desktop and server version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution;

New Mac OS X – On Apple hardware only, support for creating virtual machines running Mac OS X.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Using Linux kernel KVM and Virtualbox virtualization on one machine with Ubuntu

As I like to use many forms of virtualization to check out new features and tricks, as they are all different, then you can hit problems with the different kernel modules that get loaded at boot time. To solve this problem I have written this simple script to unload the Linux KVM modules when I wish to use Virtualbox, and then allow me to simply load them when I want to use KVM instead.

It also allows me to check if the modules are loaded, and uses a nice graphic password prompt as you have to execute this as a root user.

During testing I have found that loading the KVM modules while you have Virtualbox running is not the best of ideas, not surprisingly ;-)

Here is the script - I have had to split it up into two screen shots, otherwise I lose the formatting, which makes it harder to read.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Upgrading my Dell laptop to Ubuntu 10.04 couldn't have been easier

After many successful test's with virtual machine upgrades from 9.10 to 10.04, I decided it was time to try it for real on my work laptop.

I made a few steps before I started the upgrade:

1) Made sure I had plenty of disk space for the new OS downloads
2) Made sure the machine was fully patched and upto date
3) Got ride of the old downloaded patch files by running this command at the command line
apt-get clean
4) Turned off all third party application repositories in "Software Sources". I turned them back on after the upgrade, making sure they now point to the new lucid area.
5) Stopped all applications , apart from Chromium , as I wanted to browse while the machine was busy.

Once all that was done, I just ran update-manager -d and let it do it's stuff. There were a couple of questions on the way, which I just selected the defaults and pressed "Forward/Next"

After about an hour , the Dell Inspiron 6400 was ready to reboot, which is what I did.

The first reboot took a little longer as it moved things into the correct position, and then there I was at the login screen. This is with my two monitor configuration working perfectly.

I have since re-enabled my third party repositories and done an update, and this post is coming from that machine.

I'm really liking Gwibber, I had it installed before, but it is better integrated with the whole OS now.

I would definitely give it a go before the mirrors get red hot with millions of your fellow Linux users trying to do the same.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Upgrading Ubuntu 9.10 to Ubuntu 10.04 in a virtual machine

As you will know the next major long term release of Ubuntu is about to ship in 3 days time so I thought I would do a test upgrade to make sure all was working well and there were no real show stoppers. This is a controlled environment, so won't be exactly the same as a machine that has been in use for a while, but is none the less a good initial test. If it doesn't work here, then it is definitely not going to work on a machine that has been in use for a while.

So, I installed a 9.10 i386 desktop virtual machine , using Virtualbox 3.1.6 on an Ubuntu 9.10 host. See the pictures below. This has had the Virtualbox tools installed.

I then ran a complete update on the virtual machine to make sure the machine had the latest packages before starting the upgrade.

I then ran
update-manager -d
to start the upgrade process.

Once the process had completed, which took just over an hour with a very fast internet connection, I was able to selct to remove the now obsolete packages and complete the install.

I then re-installed the Virtualbox tools, as we now have a new kernel and the system was up and running without any issues and the Virtualbox tools were working as expected, see below.

So this does leave a really good feeling for all of my machine upgrades that will be taking place after the release of the final version on Thursday.

If you are new to operating system upgrades, then I can't recommend this process enough for making sure you are confident before doing it on your work machine.

Friday 23 April 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 Release candidate is available

Well the long awaited next release of Ubuntu Linux has now reached release candidate stage, which means baring any major issues found in the code now, this is what the final released version will be.

You can get it HERE

You can have a look at the release notes HERE

There are many new features, many of which are in the "Enterprise Cloud" area for building your own internal clouds , and enhanced virtualization support.

The desktop has seen many improvements, and is a definite step forward for desktop Linux, these include the first ever built in Music Store and cloud storage.

It is definitely worth a look.

Thursday 8 April 2010

ebook reader DRM hell - and why I hate DRM

There have been many articles on the web over the years about DRM - digital rights management - putting forward both the pros and the cons of the technology. The basic premis is the copyright holders ability to make sure they get paid for their work, which is perfectly sensible and correct. DRM failed in spectacular fashion with the music industry, so that now every music download site you use does not have DRM enabled. The music industry is doing extremely well and selling billions of tracks, so the need for DRM has been completely disproved.

However, the books and video industries are going to have to go through the same learning curve and get rid of this stupid technology as it is a real barrier to people legally purchasing material.

Here is my little tale of woe , and bear in mind when I tell you this tale I have 25 years experience in the IT industry, goodness know's what some people would do if hit by the same problems.

I borrowed a friends Sony PRS-505 ebook reader to play with and see if I liked the idea, and I have to say that I do so far, apart from buying books for it. I visited the Waterstones ebook web site and bought an ebook, and this is when my problems started. I needed to install a piece of Windows software from Adobe - their DRM application - which does not work on Linux. So I brought up my Windows virtual machine and installed it there, no luck it couldn't see the ereader. Now , I had previously installed another ebook piece of software called Calibre which worked perfectly with ereader, so it was not obvious what the problem was, so off to the Adobe help pages.

The issue was that I had to not only install the Sony ereader software, but I also had to upgrade the firemware ( the program that makes the ereader work) before I could progress. I would think for a large percentage of the population this would be game over, and they would give up. Don't forget here that Calibre has been working perfectly from day one, and if I had been able to just download the file I had bought, I could have spent this wasted hour reading my book I had paid for.

You also need to bear in mind , that with any firmware upgrade, if you get it wrong, you can completely mess up your device, to the point it has to go back to the shop to be fixed.

I eventually got this all sorted and the file onto the ereader - Iain M Banks "Matter" by the way - and hopefully I should have no further issues, but what a mess and a complete waste of my time and effort. I spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a year on books, and this is just very annoying.

This is a real barrier to using this device , and I started to understand, but not agree with, why people just buy into Steve Jobs locked down proprietary hell with the Apple iPod,iPhone and iPad using iTunes as it all just works. This is not the way technology was meant to be, and it is a disgrace that our Governments have allowed the companies to visit this nonsense on us.

O'Reilly , the technology book sellers, have solved this problem with a far more elegant solution, they just put your name and details watermarked into everybook you download. At a stroke 99.99% of people are never going to allow their bought material onto the web, would you want your name splashed over every P2P network? I know I don't. You also wouldn't have to be a particularly clever lawyer to find out where it had come from either.

If anyone from Adobe or Waterstones ever reads this post, for goodness sakes re-think this stupid policy and just make it easy for your customers to buy your books. Go visit the O'Reilly site and look how they do it with their Safari library and you will be doing your customers a big favour.

Saturday 3 April 2010

New browser usage stats on W3counter show a huge rise in Linux and Chrome

I like to keep an eye on what the internet statistic people produce on a monthly basis, so that when people try telling me that internet explorer still has 90% of the browser market, and Linux usage is less than 1% I can point them at some facts.

Well the stats are just in from the W3counter web site and they make for interesting reading on both counts.

Google Chrome/Chromium continues to take junks out of internet explorer usage, and most interestingly not at the expense of Firefox, which I find interesting. You see a lot of the people I know in the Linux community have switched to using Chromium, so it would indicate to me that Firefox is also continuing to take usage away from Microsoft.

Also very interesting reading was the large increase in the number of people who are know surfing the web using Linux between February and March. This amounts to not far off a 100% increase. This figure is bound to increase during this years, with the massive increase of people starting to use Android on their Tablets and phones etc.

Anyway, have a look for yourself, and make of them what you will. Statistics never tell the whole story, and this one set certainly will not tell us the real situation, but the trends are more significant, and there are some things like the decline of internet explorer which appears to be gathering pace. This could be explained by the European Union standing up to the monopolistic Behemoth and getting the browser option presented to every user. Why the Americans and the rest of the world is not offered this is quite beyond me.

W3counter stats

Friday 2 April 2010

Creating the Ubuntu countdown banner for my site

I couldn't wait for the official release of the countdown banner so I decided to use my own:

I looked at this site for the banner images I would use.

Thanks to Immanuel Peratoner's Design, as I liked that one the best.

I then borrowed the javascript code from the countdown banner that was used for Ubuntu 9.10 and then modified it.

Here is the javascript that I'm using for the Ubuntu banner on my blog

IMPORTANT NOTE: - To get a good picture of the code I had to shorten the "document.write" line. Everything from the "alt" parameter on the line below should be moved back up onto the line above to make it complete again, I hope that makes sense.

For those of you with programming experience will notice that I have had to set the month variable manually which is odd, but it kept reporting it is still March (3).

Anyway, on Chromium installed on Ubuntu 9.10 32 bit , this now works perfectly, please let me know it doesn't for you.

Thursday 1 April 2010

A new age of reason is dawning thanks to prominent thinkers and the Internet

Unless you have been living on Mars you will have noticed the many new books on the subject of atheism that are available to anyone who cares to open their minds and read them. I thought it was apropos during the Atheist week on Facebook, in itself not an unimportant event, to post a few of my own thoughts on what is making the change to the way we think about life and the meaning of the universe, and our place in it.

I read this blog post from a fellow atheist who has travelled down the road from Christian to non-believer and found that a lot of that story held true for myself. I would recommend spending a few minutes to give it a read as it is very interesting.

In all honesty I have wrestled with the concept of an omnipotent being for most of my life, moving from at some stages of extreme upset in my life - like the death of my father- of being a real theist, trying my damnedest to believe in the whole ten yards of the Bible, including the talking snake. More often than not I was more in the deist camp, where I was happy to believe in some cloud presence who didn't listen to your prayers but was responsible for the creation of the universe. It is the study of Biology as an interested amateur, which brought me into contact with the likes of Richard Dawkins books.

These books started the ball rolling with getting me really thinking about the fundamentals of our existence and where we come from, and once you start down this road, the fables of the old testament suddenly appear as shabby and as nonsensical as they have always been, but now you can see them for what they are. I put his lack of initial clarity down to my very Christian upbringing, and having the King James Bible stuffed down my throat from a very early age. It was ironically during one of my theist periods that I actually read the book from cover to cover, and had my eyes really opened to the nonsense I was wading through in the old testament.

I felt for too many years that it was a topic that should not be discussed, as it was easier not to , and to just confirm to anyone who asked, that I didn't believe in Adam and Eve anymore, but there must be a cloud person somewhere. I don't think this now, and the internet has helped - after a considerable amount of reading - cement my beliefs and thinking. This is due to not just the pro-atheist posts but more importantly the Christian and Muslim posts, that get more desperate and extreme with every day that passes. Too many apologists for religion just can't see how bigoted and entrenched they have become, to the point they are happy to fly planes into buildings and kill thousands of innocent people. The sad truth is, if you read the old testament, there are plenty of examples of horrendous killings and slaughter if you don't worship the right burning bush or golden idol. They have been given a mandate by this two thousand year old book of ramblings and the middle eastern Arabs who dreamt it all up. We used to believe in Alchemy and Phrenology, yet anyone with a brain now laughs at these, why should religion be any different.

It is well worth the time and effort to visit Pat Condell's site on youTube, not just to listen to his posts, which are interesting in themselves, but to watch the rebuttals , which in a lot of cases are even more illuminating.

With the many authors that you can now read on this subject and the easy access to the internet, there has never been a better time to question all of your beliefs and listen to and join the new age of reason.

An Ubuntu 10.04 virtual machine with Virtualbox on Ubuntu 9.10

As I'm sure most of you do, I don't just jump to the latest versions of operating systems until I have had a good look at it before hand in a virtual machine. It doesn't completely guarantee that you wont have any problems with a bare metal installation, but it will give you a good understanding before you start.

The latest version of Virtualbox for Linux - 3.1.6 r59338 - arrived two days ago and the new virtual machine guest tools make it significantly more usable. The picture below shows that version.

This enables more fine grained testing of the Ubuntu 10.04 release with much better graphics and enhanced performance, all of which are gratefully received.

I would recommend downloaded this combination and having a look at the latest offering that is about to be delivered by the Ubuntu community as it's going to be a good one.

Ubuntu 10.04 beta

Thursday 25 March 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 beta 1 disk utility improvements

As I'm sure you have read on the web about the many improvments that the next release of Ubuntu is going to bring to the Linux desktop that include:

Really fast boot speeds
Openoffice 3.2
Firefox 3.6
Ubuntu One cloud disk storage
Ubuntu One Music store
New fonts, themes and window layouts
Support for iPhones
New versions of all the main components of the desktop

There is one utility that has had a upgrade in the user interface, and it really works for the better, and that is the disk management utility.

If you look at the picture above you will see a really streamlined user interface which gives you a very modern feel about the tool and offers al lthe information 99% of most users will ever need , and all the commands easily position there to help.

You can now mount/umount a drive, format, edit, benchmark and delete all from a very readable and approachable interface. You can see at a glance what filesystem a drive is using and how it is split up into it's various partitions.

You also get a really decent view of the disk controller hardware that is installed on you box.

This will not change the world by itself, but it shows that it is not just the headline applications that have been given the once over for this release, and they all fit together to make this as user friendly as possible.

Friday 19 March 2010

VMware Workstation 7.1 beta

I have just started beta testing VMware workstation 7.1 on Ubuntu 9.10 and have found that performance is not all that it should be. To be fair several other better testers have also discovered this , and the VMware team have started the investigation to get this fixed.

I have successfully installed the Alpha 3 version of Ubuntu 10.04 to test this release, and although some of the VMware tools did not work perfectly, I was able to bring up the virtual machine and have an initial look at the new OS.

Anyway, here is a list of the changes that are taking place for the new release.

The VMware Workstation 7.1 Beta includes several new features and hundreds of minor improvements. Some release highlights include:

OpenGL 2.1 support for Windows 7 and Vista guests: The addition of hardware accelerated OpenGL 2.1 support to the WDDM driver enables many more graphics applications to run inside of your virtual machines.

Improved graphics performance: Significant enhancements have been made to the VMware WDDM driver that have produced benchmark results that are up to 80% faster. The updated driver also produces smoother video playback and addresses many reported rendering issues. Of course games run better as well!

8-way SMP support plus virtual disks up to 2TB in size: The virtual hardware continues to become more powerful to meet the needs of Workstation customers who are running server class applications.

OVF 1.0 support: Including the OVF Tool with this release enables users to easily import or export virtual machines and vApps and move them to vSphere or up into the cloud.

Direct Launch: Blur the distinction between running native and virtual applications by launching an application installed in a virtual machine directly from the start menu or taskbar of the host system.

Automatic software updates: These VMware applications can now detect when a new version is released and are able to update at the click of a button.

Fedora 12 virtual machines: We are excited about finally offering support for running one of the most popular Linux distributions on the planet!

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Why I love environmentally friendly cars

Alas, you may be thinking that I have turned into a tree hugging Greenpeace activist, but the truth is a lot more selfish I'm afraid, let me explain.

While I was walking to work this morning down the lovely tree lined road called Hammersmith Grove - which you might note is very environmentally friendly , I noticed just how many fuel efficient vehicles there where running around. They came in all shapes and sizes, like the Gwiz, Toyota Prius, Swatch Smart car and loads of little scooters. They all run on electricity and steam apparently , so not consuming loads of petrol, and this is the marvelous part of this process. I'm sure it is good for the flowers and trees that surround this area, but it also leaves significantly more petrol for my 4.2 Ltr V8 supercharged Jaguar. Now , I can't claim at any level that she is environmentally friendly in the fuel using stakes, but she certainly brings a smile to my face on nice Sunday afternoons whizzing down the beautiful country roads of France.

Anyone who knows me , will have concluded long ago that I'm a bit of a petrol head, and have owned a range of vehicles, which include everything from a Yamaha FS1E moped at age sixteen to a 6ltr V12 XJS Jaguar, and pretty much everything in between.

So, as I see it , this is a very equitable arrangement, in that people who worry about these things can run around looking particularly smug in their Duracell powered mobile shopping market trolleys , while leaving all that lovely petrol for me to use in my Jag. If you have ever owned a car like this, then you will know just how much they love that black gold. In fact when I take her for a spin on the weekend, she drinks petrol like a Jaguar who has not seen a watering hole for the last fortnight. Which is good for the French exchequer if not my bank balance.

I'm absolutely positive this is not a Politically Correct thing to do or think, but since when did that bother me ;-).

Monday 15 March 2010

Some issues while Checking Ubuntu Lucid 10.04 Alpha 3 in Virtualbox

I have been keeping up with the latest development builds of what will become Ubuntu 10.04 and all has been going reasonably well until the latest kernel install today. It appears that some of the code has been pack-ported from the latest upstream kernel - 2.6.33 - to the latest kernel in lucid - 2.6.32-16 - and it is causing an issue with Virtualbox.

After checking the forums, there is a kernel patch to fix this - see here

Basically, you need to edit this file -

This code is installed with the Virtualbox tools that you must install before this file will be appear on the hard disk.

See the picture below:

Once you have edited this file and saved it , run the following command

sudo /etc/init.d/vboxadd setup

This will stop the problems with kernel crashes and the graphics not working correctly.

If you are also having problems with the mouse disappearing, then you need to turn off the visual affects in

Menu -> System -> Preferences -> Appearance

Set it to none, and the mouse will come back to life.

This is shaping up to be a great release, and once a few rough edges have been removed it will be an extremely useful addition to the ubuntu family.