Archive for January, 2012


Debian 6.0.3

I started using Debian quite some time ago, it was for work and I was running it on an old celeron 433Mhz machine with very little ram (less than 512Mb). I was using the machine to develop a website in php, and needed a platform to edit and test the website. I had to pretty heavily customise my installation as gnome was a bit too taxing for such a old machine at the time. I installed FVWM and IceWM as replacements, I used IceWM mostly which worked very well. I did eventually get an upgraded machine, I was finally able to run gnome! Today I’ve installed the latest version of Debian via the network installation disk. I’m using the same setup as last time, on my macbook in virtual box, and using all the default settings with the main desktop portion installed.

If you’ve used Ubuntu and Debian, you may notice that they are pretty similar to each other in many ways, in fact using the same package management software at the base level. Ubuntu is in some ways a descendant of Debian, the differences being mainly ideological, aesthetic and in how the packages are configured when installed.

Debian is meant as an universal operating system, having software and components to do pretty much whatever you’d like to do with it. There are lots and lots of available software packages that allow you to set up your machine to do pretty much anything. The question remains, is it easy enough for an ordinary user to use.


I picked the expert installation option as I’m pretty experience with the Debian OS. This wasn’t as complicated as it sounds, and I found it pretty easy to to install. An ordinary end user would probably find this difficult, but that is to be expected. It is true that the expert installer could be easier to use, but if you picked it and can’t use it, you can always switch back to the simple one which is alot like the Ubuntu installer. You get a lot more options for software to be installed, and you can choose a set of packages to set it up as a server or a desktop workstation. Having only one distribution is a nice touch and means that if you are used to dealing with a Debian server and happen upon a workstation running Debian, you are basically on familiar territory. It also means that you can set up your workstation with all the server software for the purposes of development and testing of software you are writing. I installed the basics for the desktop, but also added in a SSH server. I found that the software included in the base desktop was much more comprehensive than that on Ubuntu, you got some decent photo editing software in the GIMP, and tools for making vector graphics. I also noted that the entire Open office suite is included in its original form, as opposed to the version in Ubuntu, which as far as I can tell is not the complete office package, and seems to be a change for the sake of being different aesthetically. There are many other bits and pieces that tell a similar story. Installation of new or extra software is pretty simple, you can use synaptic, or the software centre to select new packages and the software will download everything required to install them.

The User Interface

The interface is no where near as pretty as the Ubuntu one, but I can’t help but feel more satisfied and more at ease with this one. Finding an application is easy, you just navigate the menus at the top of the screen to find what you want. The applications are organised sensibly in categories. In many ways the windows widgets are very much like those from windows XP, which is good for PC users, but probably less so for mac users. What really stands out here above windows XP is the ability to customise pretty much everything that you see. You can change the shape and location of panels and menus. There are many applets that you can add as well, one of my favourites being Wanda the fish, which is simple a graphical way to access fortune. This means if you find the interface annoying in some way you can do something to change it! Something I would have liked in Ubuntu!


Something I noted in testing Debian is that it took longer to load than Ubuntu for some reason. Upon investigation I found more puzzles, Debian seemingly used less ram upon login, and responded faster once it had finished loading. This of course is preferable, it’s just strange. Oddly I suspect this newer version of Debian would work better on my old system than earlier versions did.


The base features are pretty impressive, there are all the basic applications that normal people need such as word processing, email and internet. There are also some extra bits that I was happy to find that would appeal to the more advanced user. For instance there is a decent RDP and torrent client installed. There are nice dialogs for changing system settings, and user preferences that cover all the important aspects of the system, although I was disappointed by the login screen configuration being dumbed down, I preferred how they had things set up with gdm 2.30. The login screen themes are gone, and the configuration program has nothing for remote users via xdmcp. I realise that very few people use X over the network these days, but with thin clients starting to look like a good option, this could be taken better advantage of. On the up side, there is nothing stopping you from editing the configuration manually to achieve the effect you want, it’s simply not in the user interface. You could always use the package management to install a older version of gdm, or use xdm in it’s place. This is the true spirit of Debian in a sense, you customise your installation as much as you need to suite you. There is nothing saying you even need to use gnome, you can elect to use KDE, or install a small form factor window manager such as FVWM.


I kinda have a biased opinion of Debian because I’ve been using it for quite a while. I have found it easy to use, and easy to customise to my needs as well. That being said, the average user may have a fun time doing the trickier things. But at least you have the option or trying, and all the simple things like finding an application are easy and familiar to those of us that have used systems such as windows. Unlike Ubuntu, Debian hides the Unix/Linux part of itself less, which could be difficult for some people, but would allow those interested to learn something about it. Debian also lives up to being a universal operating system, you can do pretty much whatever you may need. I’ve used it as a file server, a web test bench for development, as a games system, and basic desktop workstation. It used to be the case that people new to linux would have had to avoid Debian until they learned more about linux. The newer versions seem to make it easier than it used to be, but the complete computer illiterate should probably get a knowledgeable friend to help them. If you’re interesting in using linux, Debian is fertile ground for learning all about it, as much as you want to learn.  Do I recommend it? Yes!


XBill on NetBSD

XBill is a simple game where you have to stop the many cloned Bills from installing a virus that looks a lot like a certain popular operating system. You have a network of computers that run a variety of operating systems, all represented by the machine with the mascot or symbol displayed on the screen. The cloned Bills carry their cargo to the systems, remove the old OS from the systems, replace it with the windows OS (virus), and then escape with the old OS. You have to stop them by swatting them. If they manage to remove the original OS, but do not escape with it, you can replace it by dragging it back to the original system. As you complete levels there are more Bills to squish, and they come in greater numbers with greater speed. The game is quite a lot of fun, and quickly becomes challenging. I played it on my Sparcstation connected over the network on my macbook. Even using wireless, and X over the network, the game responds well. It’s a little difficult to play with a touchpad so I’d recommend you connect a proper mouse in order to play. It is available on pretty much any unix like operating system, including, BSD, Linux, and commercial OSes like solaris. It is a good distraction for a short while, and makes fun of windows. I first played this game on the first linux I ever installed and enjoyed it then, and it is still worth playing.


Ubuntu 11.10 desktop

I’ve got the internet on at my house now so I’ll be able to post on a regular basis again. At work we set up a computer with the latest Ubuntu desktop system. We initially were not really that impressed. This made me think about what operating systems are available, and who they are designed for. So this week and in the coming weeks I will write some short review type stuff about some of the free operating systems. This week I’m starting with Ubuntu Desktop, but I will also be covering Debian, Fedora, Xubuntu, and FreeBSD. To test the systems I will be installing them to virtual box on my macbook, which will be set up to use 2 cores and 1 gig of ram with a 20G virtual hard disk. I won’t be changing the default settings all that much if at all, but I will be installing all the desktop components of the systems. If you have any suggestions for operating systems that I should add or try out please leave a comment bellow.

As I mentioned this week the first OS I’m looking at is Ubuntu. The focus of it is to make a stable and usable free operating system for anyone to use. Given that most people use their systems for surfing the net, checking email and work type applications such as word and excel, this is what I expect the system to focus on.


Installation of Ubuntu is about as easy as it gets with operating systems. It’s a nice graphical system which is reasonable easy to use, especially if you plan on having it exclusively on your system. Installing it in tandem with another OS is pretty straight forward as well, but you really need to be familiar with how disk partitioning works in order to do it. The only real downside of the installer is that you can’t choose what additional software you’d like installed at installation time. This is only really a problem if you want something installed which isn’t already installed. The base installation has pretty much all the basics you might need, but excludes more advanced programs such as the GIMP and some others that more advanced users may find necessary or useful. Fortunately the package management system is relatively easy to use to install extra software. It however does hide the more “technical” packages from view unless you specify you want to see them.

The User Interface

The user interface is very pretty, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a very close clone of the Mac OS X interface. A lot of the design components are very much like those on the Mac. For instance the sidebar is pretty much a clone of the dock, The initial applications there are pretty much just firefox and some basic office applications. I was surprised to see there was nothing there for access to email. If the application you want isn’t in the sidebar/dock you have to look for it elsewhere. At first I found this a little hard to find, you have to click the Ubuntu symbol then search for the application that you want. Surely there is a better way of doing this. I believe the reason they have made this design choice is to de-clutter the screen and menus so as to not overwhelm people. The downside is that even a experienced user such as myself has trouble simply finding applications that they might want to use. Once you have found the application you want, it works pretty much the same as on any other OS, although I did note that scroll bars didn’t have much of a visual presence, so I was never really sure of where I could scroll and where I couldn’t. The standard menu of the application is moved to the top of the screen in the same way that Mac OS does. I’m not really a fan of this on either system, it disassociates the menu from the program, which can be confusing particularly when you have more than one window open. It’s not a huge problem however as unlike Mac OS, you can’t end up with a program running and having a active menu bar, but no windows active.


All the features you’d expect out of a operating system are present. It seems however to be trying to be Mac OS in what it provides. Many features and applications in Mac OS have equivalents in Ubuntu desktop, even going as far as having similar cloud based services. The only feature on Mac OS that I couldn’t find was garage band. It bordered on the eerie when I noticed that even the system preferences looked very similar between the two.


This version of the Ubuntu desktop achieves what they set out to when they created it. It is relatively easy for new users to get started, and for people with only need of the internet and basic office applications. If you are a more advanced user, or in need of applications that do a bit more, you’ll find the experience out of the box lacking. The unix/linux nature of the operating system is very well hidden, which does go in it’s favour for new users, but if you like the command line then you would be better served with either a different Ubuntu variant, or perhaps Debian instead. The main audience of course is the mass market of relatively unskilled users so some of this is to be expected, But a few questions stick in my mind. If this is so much like Mac OS why would someone choose Ubuntu over a Mac? Why would anyone already using a Linux distro want to use it over another distribution or even variant of Ubuntu? Why did it have to be so unintuitive finding applications not on the sidebar? I’d like to hear about your experiences with Ubuntu, did you find it similar to mine, or was it completely different for you? Please leave your comments bellow.


Digger for DOS

Digger is an arcade like game that ran on old PCs. The original version that I played was on a tandy 1000, but it was not compatible with more modern PC’s. Fortunately for us, Andrew Jenner made a remastered version that runs on pretty much any DOS system including more modern machines. You can find the remastered version at The game play is simple you drive your digger around collecting diamonds and gold, avoiding enemies as you go. You have a weapon that you can use to destroy enemies, it takes a short time to recharge that makes it of limited use. There are money bags filled with gold that will fall once you have dug out the earth underneath them. The falling bags kill anything in their path and leave a small deposit of gold for you to collect for extra points. Like most arcade games the goal is simply to get as high a score as possible, so the game play will get old after a while. However it is a good challenging game that can fill a half hour or so.

On a side note, I’ve finished moving house, but have still not yet got the internet on yet. So I may not be able to post regularly until I get the net back.

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