October 13th, 2008

The OpenOffice suite revisited

Today OpenOffice.org 3.0, the better and cheaper (free, as in free beer) office suite was released. And yes, contrary to the “competition”, it runs on Linux too, of course. Get it today. And it supports the dreaded docx format too. If you want to know more about why I like this over MS, see my earlier writings.

PS: The site is heavily overloaded at the moment. That will be better in a few hours.

Apologies – our website is struggling to cope with the unprecedented demand for the new release 3.0 of OpenOffice.org. The technical teams are trying to come up with a solution. Thank you for your patience.

March 29th, 2008

The OpenOffice suite

OpenOffice.org 2.4 has been released. I am a strong promotor of using ooo as it is called. It is a free, complete office suite (text, spreadheet, presentation, etc. etc.) already used by millions of people. Personally, I find it easier to use than Microsoft Office. One of the many nice thing is a simple “Save to PDF”. Oh, and it’s free.

For those already using it: what has really improved is the uber-easy switching of languages. Probably not a big deal for US based reader, but for me, writing in my native language, but often using English quotes, this was a dearly needed feature.

The 110 MB download can be found here, but if you have a P2P client, it is sweeter to use that, as you will “give it back to the world”. Considering this release is just out, my P2P download, using Miro, was a blaze at 4 minutes.

May 11th, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04

I updated to Ubuntu 11.04 today (read, it said: “Shall I?” and I answered “Please do”).

While it took a few hours to download, the operation was relatively painless. However, here are a few words of caution.

1) the user interface has changed and I must say it does need some getting used to. The “start” and “running programs” bars have been integrated to one and it is on the LEFT side, floating in and out. And it is not entirely bug free. Nothing major, more in the realm of slightly annoying. Still, I am not convinced it is an improvement, but lets face it, no UI change ever feels like that the first few days.

2) my ATI video driver, while listed as 11.04 (“Nattty”) ready, refuses to install due to unsolved dependencies. That is sooo 2004. No functionality loss by the way, just slower (dual screen works fine).

3) OpenOffice has been replaced by LibreOffice (a fork created because of Oracle’s bad Open Source Community behavior, good decision). That was a no brainer for me personally, as I switched a week ago.

4) RythmBox (the music player) has been replaced by Banshee. I will hold my verdict on that one, but so far, I am not royally impressed, again on really small, but annoying issues.

So far so good! Will keep you posted.

Update april 30th: I decided against the new interface, even if making the icons smaller (did not want to go below 32×32). Easy to change at login. It is rumored the next version (by definition 11.10) will do away with the old interface, but probably the most serious annoyances, including some programs not behaving very well with it will be ironed out.

I think I can live with Banshee. It has a few pluses too. To an extend it replaces Miro, which is kinda cool. **

For me the most exciting news is, and it probably has nothing to do with this release is that Blackberry Desktop finally works in Virtual box. I don’t know when this happened, but this configuration works for me: Virtual Box 4.0.6 r71344, Windows XP running in it (fully updated), Blackberry Desktop 5.0 Bundle 1682. Note that it is required that in Virtual box the support for USB 2.0, called “EHCI” is disabled. This news does not allow me to ditch Windows completely, but it does allow me to ditch Windows 7 native. Yippee!!.

Update May 11th: re-switched to Unity, the new interface. With the video issues 99% ironed out, it is not too bad. No wild enthusiasm, but doable. Had a serious fight with the Wifi interface (basically it being stuck off). But again, here is the imho more interesting part that, again, is kinda unrelated to the upgrade. I used Simple Backup to backup to a USB hard disk, formatted NTSB. I started to get worried a lot as those backups started to fail because what seems to be a writing error on that disk. I made two rather important changes: I moved the disk to ext4 and I switched to Back In Time. Whoa! Now that is one great easy backup program. I am not into Apple, so I have never used the time machine thingy, but this is said to be the same, Ubuntu style. Me likey! (As usual, installing something in Ubuntu is easy as cake: Open software center, type Back In Time, select it, click Install. Done).

August 9th, 2010

The OS, again

This is a tech rant, but I expect to be working towards a happy ending.

Background. I tried to switch to Ubuntu earlier, but hey, I am getting a bit rusty, and there was never time and old habits die hard, etc etc. A few months ago, I got myself a new laptop, a dead cheap, but pretty nice Dell Inspiron 1750. I came from an old Inspiron 6400 with XP on it (managed to Dodge Vista, high five!). This friend came with Windows 7 pre installed. Now, I know a lot of people will not agree with me, notably the ones who DID use vista, as well as system administrators, but….. I hated it. From day one I hated it. I won’t go into much detail, but it was crap. Can’t find what I need, interferes with sound settings, craps up the software I earn my living with big time, etcetera. But I was in the middle of a project, so I suffered through.

Today, something snapped. Again, the details are unimportant, it was not ALL Microsofts fault, but hey, enough is enough. So, I bit the bullet, and now seriously.

  • Installed Ubuntu 10
  • Installed VirtualBox
  • Installed XP in VirtualBox (yes, all the way from my original ‘SP-0′ CD through all it’s updates till present time). For those who want to probe the water: VirtualBox can be run on a Windows host too.
  • Moved everything that was NOT OS dependant to my new Linux partition, including all my office files (I have been using OpenOffice.org for a long time, so that was a no-brainer, My truecrypt container (oh-yeah!), 4o+ GB of music, etc etc.
  • Installed Skype (too bad the Linux version is far behind)

I have a long way to go. Bear with me. It’s time for a change my friends. I’ll keep you posted.

Addition Aug 10 (I am taking this slowly, still dual boot).

  • Got my IBM Notes environment up in the XP Virtual machine. Was an unrelated issue. This means I can now do my WORK in this environment. Check!
  • Speaking of VirtualBox: I am really impressed. As Ubuntu cordially mounted my NTFS drive automatically, giving me access to all my “Windows” data native, I can bring up ANY folder, so that includes both that NTFS as well as the linux filesystem in a share in the virtual machine. I am really doing a soft-over, as all my data is in ONE place still. Check!
  • Printer: This may sound trivial, but it’s not. First of all, printing is never trivial, and second, my printer is a HP3600, which is a “host based rendering” printer. I did not expect a good driver for this but I was wrong. Out of the box btw. Whoa. Note that this printer does not work properly under Windows 7 and HP is giving everybody the finger. Check!
  • Goodbye, my friend Notepad++, hello gedit (included). Check!
  • GIMP (photo editing): Check!

Addition Aug 12

  • Citrix client, after some issues with not having the proper root certificate (Firefox’s root store anyone?): Check!
  • Blackberry desktop manager: ugh that has to go to the virtual XP machine (and right now, it is giving me a huge pain!). Note: well, over bluetooth it works, but I cannot manage applications. Seems to be related to USB handling change from Ubunto 9 to 10. Known issue.

Addition Aug 13

  • Winscp (a must if you need to securely connect to non-Windows host): Simply not needed! Ubuntu’s file manager connects as easily to Windows hosts as well as FTP, SSH, and a plethora of other protocols through Places > Connect to Server. Check!
  • PdfCreator: Not needed. A PDF printer is standard available (as is a pdf viewer). Check!

Addition Aug 14

  • JetAudio (I mean come on, Windows Media player never did it for me ever!): again, not needed. Ubuntu’s included Totem Movie Player does everything I need. Check!
  • eReader: I switched to the ePUB plugin for Firefox. Not the best reader in town, but works for me and platform-independent. Check!
  • Oh and speaking of eReader, I also installed Calibre, as I want everything I ever download in unencrypted EPUB format. Note: small addition here: I like Calibre’s reader better than the Firefox plugin actually.


I have done this conversion so far without a lot of pain. I was seriously worried about needing to dive too deep into technicalities. So far nothing has been a real show stopper. I currently only use the windows emulation for the Notes environment and the Blackberry desktop. My data is still in NTFS and I will probably keep it that way for a few months, as to not burn my ships, just in case (yes, I am a wimp).

I am truly surprised how much functional software is already either installed or can be installed with literally 2 mouse click from Applications >> Ubuntu Software Center. No downloading msi’s and installers, no heading out to Java, Adobe, ectetera. This all saved me tons of hours that I am used to spend doing a clean windows install. Again, this is totally against my expectations.

One thing though that has eased this move tremendously, apart from the insane work of the Open Source community, is that I switched to Firefox (from IE) and OpenOffice.org (from Office) years ago. I urge everybody who is contemplating of leaving windows to start with that.

Addition Aug 17

  • Audacity (audio editor, which I already used under Windows): Check! Again, since I already used Open Source software for this, instead of, say the Adobe flavor, I could switch to Ubuntu without literally any change. Same user interface, same program, same everything and installing was literally 2 mouse clicks, the string Audacity, one mouse click.
  • Miro (on demand TV for free channels, as I cannot think of a better way to describe): See Audacity: Check!

Addition Aug 18

  • Eclipse (programming): Check!
  • And for the great fun of it: Stellarium, your private nightsky emulator. Really cool: Check!


I am going to wrap up this post. It looks like I am on Ubuntu to stay. I feel more at ease than in Windows 7, and so far I have not ran into total show stoppers. If this is a route you like to follow without deep technical involvement, I would advice to take exactly the approach I took, and in this sequence:

  1. Be very conscious on what applications you use. This really step one and you should start doing that months before taking the dive. The open source community is a good starting point, as most OSS is written for multiple platforms. This takes the edge out of switching operating systems. Examples above. Of course you can skip in the build-ins.
  2. Do a side-by-side installation of Ubuntu. This will give the ease of mind of being able to “go back”. Even if you won’t (you won’t) :)
  3. Leave your data for a while on the Windows partition. Ubuntu supports NTFS out of the box, and Windows surely does NOT supports ext4 out of the box! Again, this might not be the most efficient way of running your system, but it supports the ease-of-mind.
  4. Install VirtualBox to run your die-hard Windows programs.

In the spirit of Open Source Software I herewith offer to help TWO people make the same transition, on the sole condition that they too, will make the same offer to others.

December 12th, 2007

The chase (case?) for open standards

The administration is actively seeking the use of open document standards in their systems. Earlier they formally embraced PDF, and now ODF is added to that.

In a rather silly, but predictable response, Microsoft critisized this move openly, stating the state “limited itself by adopting a standard that is hardly used” and “rules out suppliers with a certain development or business model”.

Well. First of all, even while they are the biggest player in this market, who is Microsoft to criticize a (for them) foreign government, who has and is spending massive amounts of tax payers money on their software? Secondly, who put in all their power to push a completely unnecessary and next to incomprehensible own “standard” through ISO, instead of writing a decent plug-in to handle ODF, which, for heaven sake, Sun already did? It’s only the most ignorant people who fall for the argument that the format is favoring OpenOffice.org or pushing out Microsoft. MS could write that plug in in a rainy wednesday afternoon. The reason they choose not to is exactly the argument they use against using standard formats: it enables users to switch to a better, or cheaper, or more suiting product. As they arguably already have the best product, there is nothing they should fear. Spin, spin, spin.

Related: The city of Amsterdam has finished a study to see if using open source software would be feasible for their most simple straightforward workstations (about 30%). Think Ubuntu, although they used Suse in their study. Turned out it was, worked nicely and stable, and was cheaper in hardware, licensing and maintenance than closed software. The study will be extended to cover more complex workstations.

September 10th, 2007

The office suite

I wrote earlier about OpenOffice.org, the open source alternative to MS Office. Things are in serious turmoil in office-land.

First, after allegations of manipulation by MS, the fast track route to ISO-standardize the document format they submitted was still turned down. This doesn’t mean OpenXML as MS calls it is turned down, just that it won’t be fast tracked. OpenOffice.org’s competing format, called ODF, already is a standard. This is an issue as more governments are expected to use standardized document formats exclusively.

Next, China (Redflag) announced they would throw in 50 programmers, with a focus on Calc.

And now IBM will contribute (believe me, when they say that, whey will not dedicate 2 programmers), with a focus on accesibility.

Together with the hundreds of people working on it, this will not only increase the development power, but heightens credibility a lot. Oh and btw, next to it producting those standardized documents and saving to PDF straight out, it also runs on Mac, Linux, etc.

Me, I tossed out Office long ago and am a happy OpenOffice.org user. So much more intuitive. IBM’s move will get me more Lotus Notes integration too, yeah!!

Mildly related: One of the larger global IT companies, CapGemini is starting to sell Google Docs Premier Edition. While I too have my doubs about the evilness of Google, I love docs, especially when collaborating with a team on data or documents.

April 19th, 2007

The Ubuntu OS

I have owned a few laptops in my life. The least troublesome being a PII Acer 166 MHz, although the screen hinges started cracking. It looked shit with glue and thin metal sheets around them, but it was a charm. My current Dell Inspiron 5100 is a dream, especially the sturdiness and the 1440×1050 15 inch screen, but I guess after 4 years of intense but loyal service, it’s getting old. I will buy a new one soon.

The one between those is a Fujitsu Siemens P650. Nice machine. I managed to get it on XP; it is a Win98 machine. It is intended for the kids to do browsing and basic work processing, but it has never been very stable since. I had to reinstall XP several times until after maybe a year I decided the kids would have to wait till I got enough from myDelly. It’s hard t part though from old loyal friends.

So tonight, reading about the latest Ubuntu Linux, I decided to give the Fujitsu a second chance. Delly downloaded the iso file and burned it to a standard CD. Now you have to know I have basic knowledge about Linux, but I really wanted to make this a no brainer machine, Linux biggest flaw, and Ubuntu is said to be just that. As long as it would be stable, run Firefox and OpenOffice.org, this beast would be my friend. This document is going to be my experience report.

  • 9:13:PM I booted the little rat
  • 9:25 PM Tataa music (try to boot XP from a CD). The screen looks clean and tranquil. Promising so far.
  • 9:36 PM A gnome error message pops up. I am playing dummy and try to click Close, the only choice. The system is still VERY busy, esp the CD drive. The mouse doen’t even move. Hmpf, but it is still boot-from-CD. I am determined to at least get through till it boots from hard-disk to get to e remotely fair comparision.
  • 10:28 PM Screen goesto background color only.
  • 10:35 PM Screen goes black. It’s still plowing on the CD.
  • 10:47 PM Uh oh, it’s rebooting
  • 10:48 PM error message on X server, do I want to like to see the server output to diagnose? Erm, yes. Nu useful info. It’s stuck.

I am giving up for the day. Sign. Maybe it’s the hardware after all.

*** Next day ***

As it MIGHT be a hardware problem, I decided to swap my Delly’s hard disk and give that one a go. EASY!!! The thing booted from CD in less than 4 minutes to a working state. I played Solitaire for 5 minutes to see if the User Interface was feeling “normal”. Then I hit “Install”. It took 4 minutes to answer a few questions and then another 17 minutes to completely install and do a few automatic downloads. This was all done without any user intervention. The machine rebooted and voila. It already came with OpenOffice.org 2.2, FireFox, runs VNC and RDP clients etc. I installed Skype (a breeze, although a 1.x Debian non-video version) and flash (required some terminal typing) to run YouTube. After some fiddling I managed to get my internet radio stations running. That required some plugins that were not automatically installed by the player; the movie player could though. Printer installation was a breeze too; it even recognized my USB connected color printer, while it was off!

The User Interface is calm and professional. Performace seems comparable. To make this work for me there is one hurdle to take, and that is a Lotus Notes client, as that is my professional thing. Ubuntu is not supported, so maybe it works, maybe it won’t. More about that later.

Added:  It seems Dell will start shipping Ubuntu as an alternative soon. Too bad I justordered my new (Deel) laptop, but still: good for them! (Thanks BoingBoing)

November 24th, 2006

The open source government

I write only occasionally about my profession. Here’s one.

Today, the French senate (Assembl√©e nationale) announced that it will migrate within 6 months to Open Source software only. We’re talking Linux desktops, Firefox, OpenOffice.org etcetera. Great move and a good kick in the back for Open Source.

The French are in general very technology-minded, and they don’t mind very much if a new thingy doesn’t work completely as expected immediately. Renault was probably the first carmaker with an all digital (sometimes flakey) dashboard, about 20 years ago. Progress is the word.

Coming to think of it, isn’t the internet a wonderful place? More and more sharing. Sharing software, sharing bandwidth, redefining voice, banking, etcetera, all in a far more international and multi-cultural context than ever conceived.