Friday, July 24, 2009

Nautilus Chrome Uses Too Much Real Estate?

David Siegel posted that Nautilus uses too much space for user controls (chrome). He uses a patch and a PPA supplied in the referenced story to go from this:
to this:
In addition to the patch to Nautilus, David also used GlobalMenu, reduced font sizes, and turned off the status bar. If you agree with David, you can get 90% of his improvements without needing to patch or add a repository.You can't remove the "Home" and "Computer" icons or move the breadcrumbs onto the toolbar.

Step 1: Open a Nautilus window (Places > Home) and go to the View menu. Uncheck "Location Bar" and "Status Bar."

Step 2: Go to System > Preferences > Apearance in the main menu and click on the "Interface" tab. Change "Toolbar button labels" from "Text below icons" to "Icons only."

Step 3: In the "Appearance" dialog, choose the "Fonts" tab and change
Application Fonts to Sans 9 or Sans 8.

The result?
Want even more real estate? Use Globalmenu. More? Press F9 to get rid of the sidebar.

Want the max? Open the Nautilus preferences and go to the Behavior tab. Uncheck "Always open in browser windows." Welcome to "Spatial Nautilus."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rossifer Lays Out Google's Strategy -- Must Read!!!

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase
In a Slashdot story on Wave, Rossifer commented on Google's business strategy. He claims to work at Google, making the post extremely iformative, but this is the Intarweb so the post could merely be amazingly insightful. Either way, it's something that needs to be read enough that I included it in this blog despite the post not being about Ubuntu, Debian, or anything remotely related to them.

What you're not seeing is Google's strategic intent (I work for Google, but this stuff is public).

Google's goal is to commodify (reduce the marginal profit to zero) of everything that they don't make money on. The hardware is pretty much commodified already. Plenty of competitors and the profit margins are razor thin. Next levels are the OS and the applications. These are not yet commodified due to 's aggressively maintained monopoly. Contrary to common knowledge, Microsoft's real monopoly is in the file formats. From that, they've levered a monopoly into basic individual productivity applications and then (with Apple's cooperation) the operating system. They are also a serious player in second-generation collaboration tools (extensions to basic email).

In order to reduce Microsoft's war chest and eliminate their competitiveness, Google seeks to lower the profit margin on everything Microsoft currently produces at a profit (Windows and Office). So they produce a cheaper operating system, cheaper productivity applications, and cheaper collaboration tools (ideally free to the typical user). Google doesn't need to make money (though breaking even would be nice), Google just needs to apply pressure to Microsoft to cut their revenues/profits and the strategic goals are being met.

Writing apps that run on Windows? Doesn't help Google very much (though and and a few other things are native apps).
Writing protocols that run on any machine? Helps Google a lot.
Writing web applications that use those protocols and run on any machine? Helps Google a lot.

Look at the bigger picture. Google is acting extremely rationally here.
As for whether Wave is innovative or not, I don't think you've tried it and are speaking without informing yourself. Wave is to email as email is to snail mail (single addressee, no broadcast, etc.). Wave tackles the problem of a widely CC:'d email with an attached Word or Excel document (two threads of changes: one in the email thread, one in the document) (multiple obsolete copies of the document available) (possible confusion and delay as people are added to the thread and have to re-read the history duplicated in most of the recent emails). Wave creates a "place" for this discussion/collaborative authoring to happen and then let's everyone bring whatever they want to help out. Wave is not email++ (which is what Outlook and Gmail are).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

eBox Releases Version 1.2

eBox Platform screenshot running on a LinkstationImage via Wikipedia
Schematic representation of a proxy serverImage via Wikipedia
eBox is a server management platform that handles some really advanced configurations and makes them easy to set up. I reported about eBox a couple of weeks ago and told you that there were some cool new features in the pipeline. Well ... here they are, according to the developers:
  • Auto WAN Failover: you can configure tests that will detect and disable those routers that are not working OK.
  • eGroupWare 1.6
  • Manage group membership from user screen
  • Multi gateways rules use services
  • New backup module
  • New Monitor Module: CPU, Load, Disk Space, Thermal, Memory
  • New Asterisk (VoIP) Module: Users are created with Extensions, and Voice Mail Boxes. They can make and receive external calls. Conference Rooms can now be created.
  • New IDS Module (Snort)
  • Support for multi user conference rooms in Jabber
  • Support for most major Dynamic DNS providers
  • Support for User/Group Authentication in the Web Proxy Module
  • Support for anti-virus in the Web Proxy Module
  • Support for categorized URL list such us: urlblacklist or shallalist
  • Support for Cache Exceptions and Cache Size
  • Support for anti-virus in Samba
  • Support for audit log in Samba
  • Samba PDC Enhancements: Drive Letter, Password Policies
  • New UserCorner, a web interface where users created in eBox will be able to change their own passwords
  • Support for hooks that are run before and after an eBox module saves its config. This allows you to extend the eBox funcionality via shell scripts
  • Switch from Courier to Dovecot
  • New Installer with Curses Interface to select eBox Packages or an eBox Profile (Gateway, Security, Comms, Infrastructure, Office) to install. It also includes a L7-filter capable Kernel, and the necessary modules for Asterisk.
  • Reduced memory footprint and increased performance of the UI
  The big functional changes are the change from eGroupware 1.4 to 1.6, the introduction of Asterix, and the group chat feature. Anti-virus, Snort, and failover support make the system more secure and resilient.


eBox now comes with profile support in the installation. Profiles that you can choose from include Firewall, Security, Communication, Office, and more, or you can choose the individual packages by themselves. The installation is built on Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and can either use a dedicated installer or an Ubuntu Server installation with the addition of the eBox PPA. If you use the installer, a full server is installed first, and eBox finishes the installation after a reboot.


eBox includes a complete groupware server with webmail, calendaring, project management, document management, a wiki, a knowledge base, and much more. eGroupware was offered during the development phase, but the version was the older 1.4. The bump of eGroupware up to 1.6 offers these new features:
  • Complete new implementation of the filemanager DMS by means of PHP stream-wrapper and WebDAV, ACL control on directories and files - the new architecture allows now uploading of big files.
  • Implementation of new functions like multiple mail accounts and many bugfixes in the email client.
  • Extensive new features for the tracker-application: for example escalation-matrix for tickets and automatic mail-conversion as a ticket.
  • Improved calendar functions especially with recurring-events.
  • Supplements and adaptations in the addressbook like appointment-view, custom fields, distribution lists shown in the contact directly and in the addressbook list, multiple categorization of contacts in the addressbook list.
  • Improvement of the template functionality of the project manager and some bugfixes.
  • New theme for the 1.6 release
  • Massive bug fixes for SyncML
  • Many useful extensions and adaptations as well as bug-fixes in all modules.[1]

eBox Desktop

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, eBox now has desktop support for Ubuntu, meaning that  you can have centralized log-in and automatic application configuration for these applications:
  • Evolution (Mail service): The mail account of the user is read from LDAP and added.
  • Nautilus (File sharing): Links to the samba user share and all group shares for the user are added on the desktop.
  • Ekiga (VoIP): The asterisk account for the user is added. A workaround is needed to ask the user for the password before start Ekiga the first time because it can't do it if it isn't specified in the configuration.
  • Pidgin (Jabber service): The jabber account of the user (if it has one) is added. It also adds a conference to its buddy list for each group that the user belongs to.
  • Firefox (EGroupware & User corner): Links to these two services are added to the bookmarks toolbar. Currently it only works if the user corner port is the default one (8888).
eBox Desktop only works with Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty for right now.

Getting eBox

If you need a server (or servers) for your SMB, look to eBox to offer:
  • Firewall
  • Network infrastructure
  • VPN
  • Mail server
  • Web server
  • Groupware
  • File sharing
  • Directory services
  • Chat server
  • VOIP, and
  • Updates
Go to the eBox website to learn more.

Adding PPAs Easily

Launchpad homepageImage via Wikipedia
If you are testing Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, you will have noticed that it is now dead simple to add Launchpad PPAs to your list of repositories. How simple?

  1. Open System > Administration > Software Sources.
  2. Go to the "Third Party Software" tab and press "Add...."
  3. Type ppa: and press "Add Source."
  4. There is no "4."
The PPA will be added, along with its GPG key, meaning that you no longer have to go through that mess.

Cool beans, eh?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why does the "Open File" Dialog Exist?

PCMan File ManagerImage via Wikipedia
Help me brainstorm here, please. What's the problem with using the file manager as the "Open File" dialog? If the file manager respects some basic switches to limit the types of files that are displayed to those that are supported by the calling appliction, couldn't you just call the file manager instead of gtk-open?

Of course, this would be a lot easier in a tag-based file manager, wouldn't it? You'd just call the manager with a search for supported file types and be done with it.

Why Google Won't Get in Trouble for the Browser / OS Tie.

Image by via Flickr
I'm reading a lot of crap opinions lately about how should be worried about being investigated by the DoJ over the Chrome OS deal, and that it would be unfair to MS if Google is given a pass. I call these things "crap opinions" because they aren't well thought out.

got in trouble with the DoJ in 1991 due to alleged abuse in the OS market. There was a settlement in 1994 where MS promised not to tie other MS products to the sale of the OS. Later, in 1998, MS got in trouble for bundling Internet Explorer and using the Windows and DOS monopoly to compete in the sale of web browsers.

Whether or not you think that MS did anything demostrably wrong, you can clearly see that Microsoft's problem wasn't the tying, but the leveraging of a monopoly using tying as the instrument. Let's compare that situation with Google's Chrome OS.

Google arguably has a monopoly in search in many countries, especially the U.S. You can see in these comScore rankings that Google has a greater share of search than the other four engines listed combined. In fact, Google's almost certainly to have more than the next ten combined. Because of the fluidity of the search market (including Google's promotion of competitors like Yahoo! in search results), I don't think 60% is actually a monopoly, but I can accept for the sake of this article that there is, in fact, a monopoly in the search business.

The Chrome browser, of the other hand has a U.S. share of 2-3%, according to this StatCounter page. Since the OS hasn't been released yet, it obviously has a market share of 0%. Tying the two together doesn't leverage anything. In short, Google is legally trying to get into a new market without leveraging its monopoly position, which is perfectly legal in the U.S.

If Google starts using search to push people toward the Chrome browser or the Chrome OS, then Google will probably be in trouble, but in order to do that, Google would need to make search work well with Chrome and have limited funtionality or severe breakage with other browsers. Is Google doing that?

If you visit with IE6, you'll receive a warning (as I did when my USB thumb drive sporting Portable Apps didn't work in a classroom computer today) and be recommended to use another browser. the listed and linked optins, in order, are:
  1. Firefox 3.5
  2. Internet Explorer 8
  3. Chrome
Chrome is listed third. I don't think anyone can say that Google is giving Chrome undue promotion.

In summary, Google is not using one monopoly as leverage in a new market, and is relatively careful about tying its monopoly product to other products. From that perspective, Google is completely safe from the kind of DoJ attacks that MS suffered so quit talking about them. On the other hand, you're still allowed to be worried about privacy and market dominance issues.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Just in Case

Image by via Flickr
Just in case you're ever tempted to say something stupid like "Ubuntu is unkackable," watch this video, then re-think the statement.

The video shows a local root exploit in the Linux 2.6.30 kernel. Karmic will ship with 2.6.31 so this exact exploit isn't likely to still work. Oh, and even though the vulnerability is local, remember that remote user exploit plus local root exploit equals remote root access. ;)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mythbuntu and Mint Developers Pan Ubuntu for Strict Time-Release Policy

Image by via Flickr
In an article on Techradar which looked at the upcoming Karmic Koala release of Ubuntu, Clement Lefebvre, the developer of Linux Mint, a popular Ubuntu derivative, and Mario Limonciello, the maintainer of the Ubuntu-sanctioned Mythbuntu media center distribution both took aim at what they saw as the chief weakness of Ubuntu.

"Of course," compained Lefebvre, "[focusing on consolidation instead of cutting-edge features] wouldn't make sense for Ubuntu unless we became an upstream component of their distribution. I'm really happy with what Ubuntu is doing, and if I were to change anything… it would be the commitment to a release schedule and the return of a 'release when ready' policy to guarantee a stronger level of quality against regressions."

"I would prefer that the release cycles were not strictly six months," said Limonciello. "Over the last few releases there have been a variety of bugs that weren't deemed to 'hold up' the release and could just be fixed in a Stable Release Update. I'm of the opinion if you have a fix for the bug that you know works, you shouldn't put off the fix just to meet a deadline for releasing a CD. It's better to include the fix sooner and give a better experience to the user out of the box."

Ubuntu began having serious release issues in 8.04, when the developers replaced the venerable Enlightenment Sound Daemon (ESD) with the newly minted Pulse Audio for the sound system. Flash and Pulse Audio didn't play well together, causing Firefox to hang or crash often. A commonly used wireless chipset (RaLink's RT series), which had worked for Ubuntu users for several releases, shipped without a working driver in 8.04. Many users complained that Hardy (8.04) was a step back from Gutsy (7.10).

The release of 8.10 came with more wireless bugs and a new Xorg (7.4) which on NVidia and ATI chips for a time. NetworkManager also had its share of problems.

Jaunty (9.04) is now famous for the which worked for years before the version rev. There was also a problem with the Brasero CD writer, which was exacerbated by its integration with the Nautilus file manager and the removal of the tried-and-true Nautilus CD Writer. Pulse Audio .

Linux Mint is a popular Ubuntu derivative which includes everything the user needs out of the box, including Flash and restricted codecs. It also uses a more Windows-like interface and has several user-friendly software additions like a "popular software" installer and easy file sharing.

Mythbuntu is a popular and venerable media center and DVR solution which installs easily and has graphical interfaces for just about everything you need to set up.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

This is Why "Responsible Disclosure" is a Joke.

Windows Internet ExplorerImage via Wikipedia
Responsible Disclosure:
Responsible disclosure is a term concerning the subject of computer security. It is like full disclosure, with the addition that all stakeholders agree on a period of time to wait before patching the security vulnerability and publish the details. Developers of hardware and software often require time and resources to repair their mistakes. Hackers and computer security scientists have the opinion that it is their social responsibility to make the public aware of vulnerabilities with a high impact. Hiding those fact could suggest a feeling of false security. To avoid this, the involved parties join forces and agree on a period of time for repairing the vulnerability and prevent any future damage. Corresponding to the impact of the vulnerability it may require a period between a few weeks and several months. It is easier to patch software by using the internet as distribution channel. [1]
Full Disclosure:

Full disclosure requires that full details of a security vulnerability are disclosed to the public, including details of the vulnerability and how to detect and exploit it. The theory behind full disclosure is that releasing vulnerability information immediately results in quicker fixes and better security. Fixes are produced faster because vendors and authors are forced to respond in order to save face. Security is improved because the window of exposure, the amount of time the vulnerability is open to attack, is reduced.

In the realm of computer vulnerabilities, disclosure is often achieved via mailing lists such as Bugtraq and full disclosure by other means. [2]
Microsoft requires "responsible disclosure" in order for security experts to get any credit for discovering vulnerabilities. I put the phrase in quotes because, based on the definition above, RD has an agreed upon time limit, but while Microsoft calls their process RD, the company doesn't commit to any time frame and generally holds the secret until a patch is released. , decided to disclose the vulnerability to the public, and been denied credit from MS because of the disclosure.

Now, it appears that the awful Internet Explorer / Windows XP (or Server 2003) exploit was known to MS since at least December, 2007. We'll never know exactly how long because the report (CVE-2008-0015) is protected by a non-disclosure agreement.

Attacks have been going on for at least a month (who really knows?). There's still no patch and there's no time-frame for one, either. There's a workaround, but no patch.

Disgusting. People have been vulnerable for way too long, and MS knew it. This is why I and many others support full disclosure. Patches are released quickly and users are aware of the danger.

Who's Winning the New Browser Wars?

Image by via Flickr
Who's winning the new browser wars? We are. By "we," I mean consumers.

Just look at the stuff that has happened in the last couple of years. We've got a mature Safari, based on WebKit and the Squirrelfish engine, running just about as fast as any browser. Chrome is also based on WebKit but uses a completely new JavaScript engine named V8, and it blows the doors off of just about everything else. Firefox has hit 3.0 and now 3.5, with improved Gecko rendering and Spidermonkey / Tracemonkey keeping the browser competitive and all the extensions keeping it attractive to large numbers of users. Even IE has bumped up a couple of versions to 7 then 8, and there's no reason to call it a pig, either. (Oops, I forgot Opera Unite!)

Just imagine what we would have had in 2004 if IE hadn't won the original browser wars and sat at version 6 and 95% of web traffic for five years.

Competition benefits the cunsumer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google's Chrome OS vs. Ubuntu (UNR) vs. Window 7

Google ChromeImage via Wikipedia
Google's Chrome OS was just announced, and it is poised to compete directly with Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Moblin Linux, and Windows 7 Home Basic, but the new OS isn't planned to ship with netbooks for another year.

Chrome OS will basically be the Linux kernel, a new windowing system (which I assumes means something other than Xorg, and not just a window manager), and Chrome. There will be no other applications. ("There is only Zuul.") All applications will be web apps. It will run on ARM and x86.
However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we're announcing a new project that's a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Moblin emphasizes on-line possibilities, too, but has many more local applications to connect with.

UNR sits slightly above Mobin, with a standard operating system and an innovative interface.

And then there's Windows 7, which will "run" in 1GB, but sertainly won't be a speed demon. Even though MS dropped the hard three-application limit, you'll still be limited to somewhere near that number by RAM requirements.

I predict those levels are basically how the market will break out, too. The ultra-cheap netbooks based on ARM and intended solely for surfing will get Chrome OS; Moblin and UNR will take the low-end of the marke; and Win7 will get the top 50-70%.

That's just my prediction.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ubuntu (UNR) Wins Maximum PC's Netbook OS War

Maximum PC has a nice article comparing five operating systems on a standard netbook. The netbook tested was the popular Acer Aspire One AOD250. The OSes tested were Windows , Windows 7, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Moblin, and Slax.

Ubuntu was the choice based on the memory usage, completeness, and overall look. Apparently, everything worked out of the box. The only problems UNR had were with playing an uncompressed MP3 and opening a MS Word document quickly.

Congratulations, Ubuntu. You've gotten some respect from a major mag.

More Evidence That Tridge is a Deity!

The TomTom One in-car navigation system.Image via Wikipedia

Andrew Tridgell (or "Tridge") is not only a prolific Samba developer. He is probably best known for his script from 2005 which pulled Linux kernel sources out of the proprietary BitKeeper version control system (VCS), leading directly to the BitKeeper/Linux war, Linus Torvalds ditching the VCS system he loved, and Linus creating the now ubiquitous distributed version control system (DVCS) named Git. Whew! That was a mouthful.

Tridge again steps up his game and gives Linux a great way forward, this time in the FAT patent situation. Let's look at a little background about that situation before we find out how Tridge soved the dilemma, shall we?

FAT (or FAT16) is an ancient system originally used on DOS and only supported eleven-character filenames (commonly called the 8.3 format). Windows used a backwards-compatible variant of FAT, called VFAT or FAT32 which supported longer filenames while still having the shorter names. Long filenames were written as is and shortened to 8.3 for the legacy system. This is origin of the "C:\Progra~1" jibe common in *nix circles ten years ago when referring to "C:\Program Files." filed patents for the process of having both long and short names on FAT partitions, and those patents were granted (patents and # in the U.S.) in 1996 and 1998, respectively.

In 2008, Microsoft decided to start suing businesses over infringement of these patents, and they started with TomTom, a manufacturer of in-car navigation devices (shown above) that are Linux-based. The message to everyone was clear: "Linux infringes our patents. Don't use it in your embedded devices." Despite community attempts to find prior art and nullify the patent, which are still being carried on by the Open Invention Network, TomTom was forced to settle the suit and remove FAT functionality from its hardware. The Linux community was rocked and considered pulling FAT from the kernel completely, virtually killing it's ability to read thumb drives and otehr removable media.

Wait! What's that on the horizon? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Tridge in his super-suit here to save humanity ....

How did he solve this riddle and allow Linux to keep FAT? The key was in the patents. They cover methods to have both short and long filenames. Tridge proposed a patch which would write the short filename if under eight characters, and write only the long name if it was over eight. Since Windows will crash without the short name, the method writes invalid characters to the short filename space, not creating a valid short filename, and also not crashing Windows.

All hail Tridge! ;)

On an aside, this is my 256th (2^8) post, meaning that I have averaged over one post every three days for the two-plus years I've had this blog. Cheers. I hope to be around for another byte's worth of posts.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Valencia -- a Vala Plug-in for GEdit

I write about Vala fairly often because I think it's a new and interesting part of the Gnome desktop. For those who don't know about Vala, it's a C# and Java-inspired language which pre-compiles to C and eventually becomes native binaries. This means that Vala programs don't need a VM and are suitable for embedded operations, etc. Vala supports the following interfaces
Vala 0.7.4 was recently released, and added support for array properties, support for implicit and explicit GValue casts, initial support for generic methods, and Postgres bindings.

There have been a couple of popular IDEs for Vala, namely Valide and MonoDevelop, but Gnome's default text editor has been left out until now. Sure, it's had Vala highlighting, but that's not enough for a lot of people.

Welcome Valencia, a Vala plug-in for GEdit that offers the following features:

  • no configuration needed: simply open a .vala file and browse its symbols immediately
  • jump to definitions of classes, methods, fields, and variables
  • build your project within gedit, with build output in a gedit pane
  • double-click any build error to jump to the line where it occurred
  • use the Run command to run your program, with output appearing in a gedit pane
The Valencia Wiki gives the following installation instructions.

To build Valencia, you'll need to have the following programs and libraries installed:
  • valac, the Vala compiler. We recommend using a relatively recent version, but you cannot build Valencia with valac 0.7.4 due to a Vala bug.
  • gedit
  • libgee
  • libvte
On Ubuntu (and perhaps Debian), you can install the required build dependiencies like this:
sudo apt-get install valac libvala-dev gedit-dev libgee-dev libvte-dev
You can download the latest source release at . Or check out the latest code (possibly unstable) at svn:// Then run make and make install. (Do not run sudo make install. Valencia installs in your ~/.gnome2/gedit directory, and if you install as root the permissions will be wrong.)
To enable Valencia in gedit, go to Edit->Preferences->Plugins and check the Valencia checkbox.
Adam Dingle, the developer, says
I know that there are a growing number of Vala IDEs and plugins available today. I believe that Valencia's particular strengths are its ease of use and its symbol browser; Valencia was designed to make it effortless to jump between symbols even in a large Vala program. Feedback, patches or code contributions are welcome!

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