Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
-Steve Jobs 


A very useful cross-platform calendar application

Moving along to something a-political today; I’ve been using a groovy little calendar application for a couple of months that I thought I’d share with you. It’s cross-platform (works on Linux, Mac and Windows) and I’ve found it to be the perfect calendar/to-do application that sits on my computer desktop. It’s called ‘Rainlendar‘, and I discovered it on one of my Linux forums.

You can drag it around and put it anywhere on your desktop, and keep abreast of appointments and such at a glance. Rainlendar has many features and is highly configurable to show monthly, weekly or daily activities. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. But check out the website, where you’ll find everything you need to know.

There is a completely free version to download, or a more advanced paid version for a minimal price. I, of course, am using the free version of Rainlendar and it does everything I need at the moment. I’ve quickly become quite fond of this app. I hope you’ll find it useful as well.

That’s all for now.

Categories: Computers Tags:

WebMail Notifier fix for Firefox 6.02

September 9, 2011 1 comment

Just a quick note for all Firefox users.

I use the ‘WebMail Notifier’ extension in Firefox to automatically inform me of new emails in my Gmail and Yahoo mail accounts when I open the Firefox browser.  Yesterday, I noticed the Gmail notification stopped working, and it was driving me nuts! I checked in Firefox’s Tools>Add-Ons>Extensions from the menu bar and went to the WebMail Notifier website, where I found lots of other people were having the same problem since Firefox upgraded to the 6.02 release. HERE is a quick way to fix the problem, by installing an update to WebMail Notifier from the website.

Now everything works again when auto-checking Gmail accounts. Yay!

Another Linux distro that I love: Zorin OS 5

Here I am back to talk about Linux again. I admit it; I’m addicted to Linux. I just can’t help myself!

But all you Windows users reading this; please continue reading!

Lately I’ve been talking to a friend of mine about trying out some Linux Live CDs on his new computer, trying to figure out what would be the best distro for someone completely unfamiliar with the world of Linux, or any alternative to Microsoft Windows for that matter; and I stumbled upon Zorin OS. I’d heard of Zorin a while back at version 3; and while it seemed like another nice alternative Ubuntu-based distro, I didn’t recall anything that made it stand out to me. But just recently I’ve started hearing more about Zorin OS on Linux blogs and articles. Zorin OS 5 came out on DistroWatch last week, and then I saw some youtube video reviews about it which peaked my interest (see links below).

So I downloaded an ISO from their newly-remodeled website and tried out the Live CD (DVD, actually; it’s 1.1 Gb.) of Zorin OS 5 Core. There are several different versions geared toward different users, but this is the basic, generic version. I was immediately quite impressed! Even running from the DVD, Zorin OS was fast and responsive, almost as if it was installed on my hard drive. Compiz effects were enabled out of the box and looked beautiful on my 5-year-old HP Compaq Pentium 4 computer. Everything about this operating system feels very polished and professional. And even the core edition comes with a comprehensive array of software pre-installed. Most of the applications are ones I normally use, with the exception of the Google Chrome web browser, which I replaced with Firefox 5. Other software includes Brasero Disk Burner, Libre Office, Banshee Music Player, GIMP, Shotwell Photo Editor, Evince for Email and it also has WINE and Play-On-Linux software so you can run Windows programs and games in Zorin OS. All the multimedia codecs also come pre-installed. The Zorin developers have done a great job making this OS a very simple way for Windows users to get acquainted with Linux. Even the Start Menu is set up similar to Windows 7 (though since I’ve rarely used Windows myself, it reminded me of the KDE Start Menu). System sound effects are also enabled by default, which gave a slightly KDE feel to the OS. But all based on good ‘ole highly configurable Gnome 2.32.

There are so many groovy little details that differentiate Zorin OS from Ubuntu here I can’t go over every one.  But for instance, when you minimize a running application to the panel, it gives a lovely thumbnail preview of the app on mouse-over. And the default Start Menu (upper left corner in my screenshot below) is also highly configurable. I think there are about ten different menu styles you can use besides the Windows-like default. (Again, see screenshot below). I totally love the Linux Mint Menu, but after getting used to the different variations in Zorin OS I’ve come to like theirs almost as much. There are many similarities between Zorin OS and Linux Mint; the attention to detail and ease of use make either of them excellent choices for Windows or Mac users to cross over to the Linux side!

My Zorin OS desktop after a little tweaking with my own desktop picture, moving the panel/taskbar to the top and using the Ubuntu Dust theme.

One of many possible Start Menu themes.

So, needless to say, after playing with Zorin OS for an hour or more I decided to install it alongside my Bodhi Linux installation that was already on this computer. And the installation went beautifully so I can now choose to dual-boot Bodhi or Zorin OS on start-up. This should work just as well with dual-booting on a machine running Windows, too. Of course Zorin OS comes with the Ubuntu Software Center and Synaptic Package Manager to easily install or remove whatever software you desire. I think the only thing I don’t love about Zorin OS (I’m sorry, developers) is the Zorin logo. It just doesn’t convey the sophistication and polish of the rest of the OS, in my opinion. But the distro itself is a thing of beauty to use. A light, fast and powerfully good alternative to Ubuntu or Windows.

I just worry a little about what the future will bring with Gnome 2.32 falling to the wayside to be replaced by Gnome 3. If the Zorin developers can continue with Gnome 3 without Gnome Shell, that may be great. Or I’m hoping Gnome Shell will eventually evolve all the features and configurability of Gnome 2.32 for future versions of Zorin OS. Whatever happens, I think Zorin OS has a bright future ahead of it!

Following is the video that got me intrigued with Zorin OS 5: Windows vs. Linux: the Desktop Comparison

And a couple more reviews:

Zorin 5 Ultimate Review – Ultimately The Best

Zorin OS 5 Core – Windows Styled Linux Distro Review

And to finish; something completely unrelated to Linux. This is such an insightful and humorous movie review that I must share it immediately:

Transformers 3 is a movie about how wrong you were to hate Transformers 2


Update March 17, 2012: I’ve decided to create a new blog here on WordPress strictly dealing with Linux and Open Source Software for the average desktop computer user. Please check it out at: TheFearlessPenguin. Thanks!

Categories: Computers, Linux Tags:

Backing up your data in Debian/Ubuntu derived distros

Today I want to discuss backing up your computer in case of major problems or when your hard drive conks out. Because ALL hard drives will eventually fail, often without much warning. Backing up your computer data (photos, music files, documents), system settings and software preferences is something we should all do on a regular basis so your information and precious memories aren’t lost. And if you like to install different operating systems from time to time like I do, or just to do a clean install of a newer version of your operating system, having a recent back-up is indispensable.

When I started using Linux-based operating systems a few years ago (Ubuntu and Linux Mint) I looked around for easy to use back-up software with a graphical user interface (GUI). I’d had a Mac up until that time and was using a great application called Super Duper for OS 10.4. Silly name, but it worked beautifully! It Had a very easy to use GUI and explained everything that would happen depending on the options selected. With Super Duper I could clone my entire operating system to an external hard drive, including all my personal files. Then I could set it to do automatic incremental back-ups (only copying files to the back-up that had changed since the last back-up) at a certain time and day each week. It was really simple! And when my hard drive began making scarey noises after about seven years, I bought and installed a new hard drive and in less than an hour I had my entire system copied over to the shiny new HD and running like nothing had happened.

So I searched around for back-up software for Linux, and as usual I found many different options for saving my data. Too many, in fact. Because in the world of open source software there are a tremendous variety of methods for doing most anything, including back-ups! Some were a bit confusing; some were very geeky and involved lots of command line configuration. But there were also (and more so today) several point-and-click user-friendlier applications for running back-ups. So here’s a run-down of a few of the many options available for Ubuntu and it’s derivative distros, plus a couple for Windows and the Mac:

For doing a complete clone of your system there’s the ever-popular Clonezilla, a Live CD you can run to make a bootable copy of your OS. There’s also Remastersys, a command line utility that also has a GUI version for backing up your entire system, or even to create a bootable Live CD from your own system that allows you to save all your system settings and installed software to share with others (without your /home user data). The link is for a tutorial on using the GUI for Remastersys that includes another link for installing it. Last week I used the latter ‘Dist’ option in Remastersys to copy all the software I’d installed and tweaks I’d made to Bodhi Linux on a desktop computer. I then installed it onto my old laptop from the CD I made. It worked beautifully, saving a lot of time not having to reinstall all the packages from my original Bodhi installation. Many people use it to create their own Linux remix distros to share, or just to have a portable, bootable copy of your OS.

Another free and open source backup utility that works with Ubuntu and Windows is RedoBackup. I have not used this, but it looks really good. And I think I need to add something FREE that works for you Windows users, too. If there are any Windows users reading this, that is! Another popular option is Back in Time, a Linux snapshot tool that is similar to Apple’s Time Machine backup software.

But when it comes to the tried and true backup and data syncing utility for GNU/Linux, Mac OS and Windows, and one that comes with all Linux distros, it is Rsync. It seems from my readings that rsync is probably the most popular and longest used utility for this purpose, whether it’s for synchronizing files on multiple computers or creating a full backup. Originally I used rsync for backing up Ubuntu, after much research on the internet and in user forums. But now I use the much easier (’cause that’s what I’m about) Graphical User Interface for rsync called Grsync.

The interface is pretty simple to use. Here’s a sample of mine:

It works quite well, only copies what has changed (after the initial backup) and deletes files on the destination that have been deleted on the source. Plus you can create a document telling it what folders or directories to exclude from the backup, like my giant music folder that I already sync to another external partition. It also backs up to an external on-line source (gotta love ‘the cloud’) or using SSH shares, though I’ve never used that option. I just copy files to an external USB hard drive. So when I install a new OS, or newer version of my preferred distro, getting up and running again is very quick and easy.

So that’s my spiel (shpeel?) on what I’ve learned about back-ups with Linux. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s available. Just do it often! You never know what disasters might befall your computer. I guess that’s why backing up on-line or to removable media that’s kept off-site is the best insurance against losing your valuable digital stuff!

Here’s a few more useful links:

10 outstanding Linux backup utilities

It’s World Backup Day: Here’s How to Avoid Inevitable Disasters


What people should know about Linux-based operating systems

February 28, 2011 3 comments

In my last blog entry I talked about buying a new computer, which I got without an operating system and installed Linux Mint on it when I got home. Which got me thinking a lot about the operating systems that run our computers. And my growing passion for GNU/Linux.

About three years ago I started investigating this mysterious thing called “Linux” that I kept hearing about on the internet. I knew, or thought I knew, that it was another kind of computer operating system, an alternative to Windows and Mac OS. I discovered that ‘Linux’ refers to the kernel of the Unix based operating systems officially known as GNU/Linux. In computing, the kernel is the central component of most computer operating systems; it is a bridge between applications and the actual data processing done at the hardware level. The kernel’s responsibilities include managing the system’s resources (the communication between hardware and software components). The Linux kernel was initially conceived and created by Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds in 1991. The word ‘Linux’ is a combination of ‘Linus’ and ‘Unix’.

But I really don’t want to go into the origins of what we now call Linux, which can get boring pretty quickly for the average computer user. And I don’t understand most of the technical jargon myself. What’s important is that the Linux Kernel is the basis of hundreds of different free and open source operating systems for your computer. (“Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.” – from the Open Source Initiative website). The open source community is a global, cooperative network of people and corporations whose goal is to provide software and computer operating systems available to anyone at no cost. How cool is that?!

For the previous ten years I’d been a Mac user. I loved my Macs and OS X.  I had used Windows a little bit in the past, but found it a bit more difficult and convoluted to use compared to the Mac OS. Then just before I started using Linux, I had a laptop with Windows XP for a few days, and I enjoyed it, since by then I knew a hell of a lot more about using a computer! But I could never understand why anyone would choose to use an operating system that’s susceptible to viruses, trojans, worms, malware and spyware, when you could use an Apple computer, which was not. Except of course for the cost. But there are a lot of people who would argue that a computer that came with lots of great, easy to use software and did not need to be brought in as often for repair or periodic virus removal was worth the somewhat higher relative cost.

Anyway, back to 2008. I started learning about FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) and discovered all kinds of cross-platform software that could run on Windows, Macs and Linux. I got to download and try out GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a program that is very similar to Adobe Photoshop, but doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. And Open Office, the free alternative to Microsoft Office. And Inkscape, a free vector graphics application very similar to Adobe Illustrator, and many other free and open source versions of popular software. I was getting hooked!

And around this time I was hearing more and more about Ubuntu (the most popular Linux distribution/operating system) on the internet. Linux distros have been around for a long time. There was Slackware, Arch Linux, OpenSuse, CentOS, Gentoo, Yellow Dog, Fedora, Mandrake (which is now Mandriva) and Debian, to name a few. But Linux mostly had a reputation of being accessible only to geeks; that only hard-core technical nerds used or understood it. And for many years I think that was true! But then in 2004 along came Ubuntu, a distro that was based on the venerable Debian Linux, but which aimed to create an operating system that was geared toward the average home computer user. Again, I won’t bore you with more history. But since I started using Ubuntu in September of 2008, the improvements for each version, which has a release cycle of every six months, has been amazing! As has the development of the other major Linux distros and their offshoots. The aim of Mark Shuttleworth, the father of Ubuntu, has been to make it comparable to the Mac OS in ease of use and visual attractiveness, and I think they’re just about there. And the fact that there are no viruses that affect Linux makes it even more attractive. In thirteen years I’ve never owned a computer that got any type of virus, nor have I ever used any ‘virus protection’ software.

In the past few weeks I’ve talked to a several friends who use Windows on their computers, or bought new netbooks, and I hear the same story. Strange behavior, unintelligible text appearing on their screens, or something (they’re not sure what) automatically downloading that slows their machine to a crawl and other weird behavior. And every few months their computers become so unresponsive that they need to take it to a computer shop and pay a hefty sum of money to have viruses and malware removed. And I can’t help but wonder: why?

The major reason I decided to write this is just to spread the word that there is an alternative! There are many alternatives! And not just by paying a lot of money for an Apple computer. If you can afford a Mac, great! They’re beautiful and everything pretty much ‘just works’. But even though I’m fond of Macs (we still have our nine-year old G-4 Mac that works quite well) I’ve come to see the tremendous benefit of open source software. A Linux distro is extremely configurable to fit the users needs and taste. Much more so than a closed source OS like Windows or Mac. Hence the proliferation and variety of Linux distros. Anyone with the know-how can improve upon a distro or go off in new and innovative directions. And bugs can be reported and fixed much faster when you have a world-wide community of developers who all have access to the source code, and the ability to review the work of others.

I believe the reason for the general lack of awareness about Linux is:

A) Microsoft has done such a good job for such a long time at building their monopoly. They’ve simply spent an insane amount of money buying off the computer manufacturers and retailers to sell machines with Windows pre-installed; to the point where the general populace has been conditioned to equate ‘Computer’ with ‘Windows’. (Though Apple is certainly making a headway at changing that over the past few years.)

And B) You’ve never seen a commercial for a Linux-based operating system. Although Ubuntu may change that in the near future. But with Linux, there’s not One Brand. Or a single company behind it. There are many, and a huge variety of choices in operating systems that is growing all the time. (Just check THIS out to get an idea. And look at the list on the lower right of the page.) Linux developers spend their resources on improving their software. Free and Open Source means they don’t have millions to spend on commercials! Yet.

Which leads me back to Linux Mint. Mint is an offshoot of Ubuntu which I started using about a year and a half ago. Though it’s based on Ubuntu, the Mint developers have gone off in many different ways and made it a truly unique and separate entity. And in my experience everything ‘just works’ out of the box. Because of that, Linux Mint has become my favorite distro out of several that I really love, and the Linux OS I would recommend to any novice to try out. I’ve talked a lot about using Linux Live CDs here before. One of the neat things about Linux is the ability to download, burn to CD or DVD, and boot your computer from the removable disk (or portable USB device) to become acquainted with any Linux distro before installing it to your hard drive, or a separate partition on your hard drive so you can dual-boot along with Windows. And from there the adventure just begins!

So it’s time to get down from my soap box! I hope I didn’t bore the crap out of some of you. And if you remember nothing else from my rantings, please remember this folks:

Linux is not just for geeks.

You have a choice of what operating system you run your computer with.

Learning new things is fun!

Next Up: My other new favorite Linux distro: Bodhi Linux

Categories: Computers, Linux Tags: , ,

Buying a new computer

February 20, 2011 1 comment

Last week our tax return came in and I got my long-awaited chance to buy a new computer!

Not that there’s anything wrong with our old desktop computer. The old Black Box has been great. About two and a half years ago my friend Michael instructed me in putting it together. He’s the IT Guy/Computer Administrator at a private school in Western New York, and he had tons of computer components lying around that were no longer being used since their students switched to laptops. So I got to make a computer from used parts that cost me nothing. That was also my first experience installing and using a Linux operating system (Ubuntu 8.04) and the beginning of a wonderful learning adventure. The only thing I’ve had to do is replace a $12.00 fan. But lately I’ve been thinking that a newer (faster) processor might come in handy for certain things. And since the components of the old Black Box are 7 or even 8 years old, it seemed like time for an upgrade. Plus there’s a funny noise I think is caused by a screw on the panel that I can no longer tighten. And I just remembered that the CD burner just started having problems.

I started looking around the internet for different options. Stores like Staples and Office Max had pre-configured systems that sounded good for about $530 to $600. But after reading different computer forums and reviews, it seemed that some components on pre-made computers in my price range may not be the best quality. For example: the HP computer I was considering only came with a 250 watt power supply, while the consensus of on-line reviewers suggested you should have at least a 400 watt power supply. I’m not much into heavy-duty gaming, but if you want to plug-in numerous USB devices like printers, scanners, camcorders and such, more power would definitely come in handy. Also there’s the system bus and L2 cache size to consider and many other things that I won’t bore you with here.

Then I began thinking it might make more sense to go to a computer store where I could have them put together a system with the components I wanted, and where they only sell and service computers (as opposed to the big stores like Staples or Best Buy that sell everything under the sun). And by going to a store that will build what you want I could get a computer without an operating system (Windows) pre-installed, thus saving about $130 right off the bat! I’m still nervous about buying all the parts and putting them together myself (without a lot of assistance from Michael!) so this seemed like the best alternative. I checked out the website of Soyata Computers in Rochester, where you could mix and match components on-line. The cost for what I wanted still came out to be least $600.

Then I remembered the Batavia Computer Center, which is closer to where we live. I stopped in last week just to get an idea what I could put together and at what price. And the people there were great! They first asked me what I wanted to do with the computer. I initially told them I had about $600 to spend, but when I told them what I wanted, the owner said I didn’t need to spend nearly that much. I was thinking of getting 6 GB of memory, but they said unless you’re doing coding or heavy-duty graphics rendering you really would never come close to using more than 4 GB. And that makes sense. We’re just so conditioned to thinking more RAM is better, because RAM has been cheap for a while. I’ve never really used more than about 1.7 GB myself. And I had been thinking about getting a more expensive graphics card, but again, unless you want to play intensive 3-D games, there’s no need for it.

After going over the options I ended up getting a system with an MSI motherboard, an Athlon II duo core processor (much faster than my older Athlon processor), 4 GB of DDR 3 RAM, a 2 Terabyte hard drive, a 700 watt power supply and a lovely CD/DVD burner. And of course, no operating system. They put it together in a nice black metal case (none of that shiny plastic) in about twenty minutes. And it all came to $410, including tax!

When I brought the new Black Box home I installed Linux Mint on it and transferred our old files from the back-up hard drive. I could not be happier! The new processor is considerably faster than the old one. Ripping copies of our DVDs is much quicker. Even launching apps, web page loading; everything is faster. And I can now watch full screen video on Youtube or Hulu without any glichiness! Life is good. And it’s a nice feeling to have bought the computer from a family owned local business. They’ve been there for quite a while, and likely will be for a long time. It’s nice to know there’s a place close by to take it if it ever does need repair. And I had fun talking with the guys at the store about Linux and other computer stuff.

Next Post: The Return of the Linux Evangelist!

Categories: Computers, Linux Tags: