Category Archives: Linux

Command Line vs. GUI

Depending on your needs, the Linux GUI, which is available in many choices, such as GNOME, KDE, etc., is very much like the GUI in any other OS, like Windows. Except with Linux, you get to chose the GUI and can easily switch from one to another, until you find the one you like best. Some Linux GUIs are so powerful that you can customize them at the smallest level, if you choose to edit all the configuration files.

If you use Firefox or Thunderbird in Windows, they are almost identical on Linux, except a couple of commands are on different menus.

From my experience, if you do not want to use command lines in Linux, you do not have to. There are fewer and fewer things that force you to use the command line to work in Linux.

Personally, I use a mix of mouse/keyboard, GUI/CLI* in my computing, whether it is Linux or Windows. Even in Windows, there are some things that are easier to do with a command line, such as renaming a bunch of files in a directory. Granted, there are Windows utilities that allow a GUI to do the same thing, if that is your preference.

If all of your hardware is recognized by a given Linux distribution on first install, you can go through your time with Linux and potentially never use a command line. If you install software that is bleeding edge/beta on Linux, you will probably have to use the CLI. However, the same is true on Windows.

Learning to use Linux, is no different than learning to use Windows. I remember the days of the transition from DOS, BTOS, and other CLI based OSes to Windows 3.11 and Win9x back in the couple of years leading up to Y2K. The legacy applications were all character interfaces, and the new Y2K compliant replacements were GUI and Windows only. I have one colleague who tells the story of training a new user and having to take three hours to convince someone that moving the mouse on the desk will move the pointer on the screen. It all depends on your perspective.

I was anti-mouse because I am old enough that I started with keyboard only interfaces. Until I got a Windows 3.0 PC and saw the possibilities. Now I am a combination user. If I know the keyboard commands for the different menus, I can do a series of steps much faster than I can with a mouse. If the menu commands are conducive to it, I can fire away on the keyboard with one hand and click away on the mouse with the other.

The way one uses a computer is as varied as individual tastes in food, or other likes/dislikes. The beauty of Linux and other Unix-Like OSes is that they give you more than one way, and often three or four or more ways to process a given task. You may decide that Linux is not for you, but keep in mind that it does not force you to use the CLI like it did years ago.

*CLI = Command Line Interface

MEPIS 3.3.1 Initial Impression

I finally tried Mepis (3.3.1) yesterday. It is a live CD available in both a free and a fee version. I tried the free Simply Mepis version.

I have heard many good things about MEPIS, so I made time to try it for myself.

The philosophy of this Linux distribution is to make things easy for the user. Like the Knoppix and D**n Small Linux live CDs, it easily recognized my hardware and booted right up. It has all the familiar FOSS programs. One nice feature is a link on the desktop to install MEPIS directly to the hard drive of the PC. I plan to try this once I get a spare PC back in working order.

The one thing that frustrated me in downloading this distribution was the lack of an official Bittorrent. It is a single, yet full CD so it is over 650 MB, and took a couple hours, even with DSL. This is one thing that would help increase the adoption of this already popular distribution.

For its ease of use it does well in making it easy for a novice to make the switch from Windows to Linux. It has a very polish professional appearance. The creators of this distribution have done their homework on the usability front.

More will follow once in-depth testing has been done.

Is Linux Ready For The Desktop?

This is a question that gets tossed about on many news sites and blogs. I think the answer is a qualified “Yes”. It all depends on what you need to do with your PC. If all you need is email, web access, an office suite, and basic games like solitaire, then Linux is definitely ready.

If you need accounting software, you may have to turn to using wine to get Quicken or MSMoney to work in Linux. However, there are a number of personal accounting packages available for Linux to cover everything from basic check book balancing, to advanced accounting needs.

If you need advanced graphics software, there are some powerful options, such as the gimp, and animation software such as Blender. There may be some features power users need that are not yet available.

If you need a gaming system to run all the latest PC games, Linux is not ready. There are some games that will work in wine or its commercial cousin Cedega. I am not a big gamer, so I have no direct experience on this point. There are however, many free games available, from solitaire, majong, and asteroids clones, to turn-based games like FreeCiv a Civilization clone.

Many Linux distributions also come with a variety of educational software such as language study software for reviewing vocabulary, or typing tutors. There is even a high-quality stargazing software, Celestia. Linux has a wide variety of software available and much of it is free, like Linux. Some programs are better than others, but the same is true of Windows.

Perhaps the biggest complaint is the lack of good documentation that explains what you need to know in a concise format so you can get what you need out of a program. Thankfully, in the world or open source, many people volunteer their time to work on documentation, if they are not programmers. It is only a matter of time before all programmers who develop programs for Linux learn that better documentation is the key to their program gaining wider acceptance.

Another complaint is the lack of a common standard for graphical interfaces. Some programs try to perfectly emulate their Windows counterparts and work and look great, but are inconsistent with other Linux “standard” user interfaces. This too, is improving, and is becoming more of a minor issue.

Many complain that they do not want to learn the CLI (Command Line Interface) in Linux. With the improvement in Linux, one does not need to use the CLI unless desired. It is not needed for the majority of uses. The same is true in Windows, but power users will still find the CLI quicker for certain functions, like renaming all the text files in a directory.

For what the average PC user needs to do with their computer on a daily basis, Linux is definitely ready for the desktop. It gets better with each new release, and of course is cheaper and more secure than Windows.

If you want to try Linux without installing it, try Knoppix, the Debian-based Linux Live CD. A Live CD is a bootable CD that has an operating system on it that can allow your PC to run from the CD instead of the hard drive. It is an easy way to test your hardware to see if Linux is an option on your existing hardware. Unlike Windows, Linux does not require expensive or major upgrades to work with your PC. Windows always ends up running better on a PC that has 50% more than the minimum recommendation, Linux does not have this problem. Linux is a great option for extending the useful life of your older PC by many years beyond what Microsoft would prefer. Unless you have a commercial Linux distribution, there is little or no cost for obtaining the new version to upgrade

Linux is a stable and powerful operating system with a wide variety of software readily available. It is ready for the general user, and it is rowing more ready for other users. In a couple of years, we will look back an wonder why this was even an issue.

Volume Settings

I am frustrated with the lack of individual control of the volume on a shared PC. It is a dual-boot Windows/Linux PC. I can have the volume just right in Linux, but be blasted out when I boot to Windows. Likewise, I can have the volume for one Windows user just right, and another user will change it, and it affects the volume settings for all users.

If documents, wallpaper, etc. can be controlled by individual users, why can’t the volume be controlled to each user’s tastes? The volume is in part a function of the sound card, but there ought to be a way to control it to the taste of each user. If anyone knows of a free or low-cost program to keep sound at the level set by each user, please send me an email.

On a related note, I wish that all TV and radio stations had to use the same volume level, so I could change the channel and avoid the situation of not being able to hear some channels and then getting blasted out by others. This is not only frustrating to the person trying to watch TV or listen to the radio, but late at night it can lead to an unhappy spouse who was rudely awakened. Other than having to spend money to get a Tivo or similar device, if they can handle this situation, I think the only option is for the FCC to step in.

Wine 0.9

I “upgraded” to Wine 0.9, the new beta version,. Programs that worked before, tend to work now. The upgrade process is to uninstall the old version of Wine first, since prior versions were pre-beta versions.

Two Windows genealogy programs, PAF 5.2 and Legacy 6.0 Standard Edition (free), were easier to get working than with prior versions of Wine. Rather than all the hoop jumping, I had to use the Sidenet wine configuration Utility, which sets up Wine with a default emulation of Windows 98. I then had to install the VisualC++ runtime, vcredist.com, then both PAF and Legacy worked.

They still have some quirks, but the biggest issue with both is printing. Preview does not work, since it is dependent on finding the default Windows printer.

Legacy 6.0 now has a built-in web browser to display news and tips, that does not work.

All of the Fookes software, will install on a default installation of Wine without using Sidenet Tools. The look of the interface is clean, and there is very little that does not work. The biggest things are printing and the pasteboard feature in NoteTab. NoteTab can copy and paste to and from Linux applications, but the pasteboard will not capture text from Linux applications. It does capture from other open tabs. Now that Wine 0.9 makes it so easy to define Windows-style drive letters, one can more easily use NoteTab on a dual-boot system, and use the same drive letter designation for both. You can either share the same ini file or use one for each environment. NOTE: This requires that you use a FAT or FAT32 partition, since Linux can only read NTFS partitions and not write to them.

On the prior version of Wine 20050524, I had MS-Money 2004 working. However, things have changed enough, that I cannot get it to work, and am back to using Windows part-time. There is currently no information in the Wine database about what to do to make it work with the new version of Wine.

As with the past version of Wine, I cannot get my tax program, TaxAct, to work. It installs beautifully, in fact, almost any Windows program install will run without a hitch. However, it complains about a missing file, and will not start. Again, the Wine product database does not help. Using Windows on such a limited basis, as tax time, is not too bad. I have suggested to the TaxAct company that they improve their product to work on Linux. Yes, I know they have an online version that is free, but I have security concerns, plus I want to have control of my data, and I tend to have a more complex tax situation than most.

Wine 0.9 has some cool utilities that make it much easier to use, and there is no more manual fiddling to get a fake Windows partition to work.

The Sidenet Wine Configuration tool, while useful, can create issues. By default it will put the fake C: drive under the user’s home directory, and not under the /home/username/.wine directory. This is easily rectified, but if you are used to the default Wine installation, can totally confuse you.

This version of Wine goes a long way towards making Linux a viable desktop alternative to Windows. Using Open Office 2.0 is great for this too. If you do not have complex graphics, publishing, tax, or financial needs, then you can switch to Linux today. For home users, except for games, Linux is easily a viable option. However, more and more Windows games are starting to work on Linux. The better Wine becomes, the sooner the reality of the Linux desktop as major competition to Windows will occur. In addition, there are Linux products with the equivalent of Windows-based programs that are also getting better all the time, even leap-frogging Microsoft as with Open Office 2.0. Usability and clear documentation are the biggest handicaps to Linux, but that is changing everyday.

Wine Installation

Brief notes using Wine on FC3. It works best with Wine20050524 or newer.
I have been able to install any Windows program, but some just will not run once installed.
The Wine Beta is slated to arrive next week, so this will probably be obsolete.

Use Synaptic for GUI front end to synaptic on FC3.

  1. Start with a working Linux installation.
  2. Install wine -> .wine
  3. Install winetools -> website?
    1. Base Setup
    2. Create Fake Windows Drive
    3. True Type Fonts (Arial)
    4. DCOM98
    5. IE6 – Enables ability to install other pieces for even more functionality
    6. Install Windows System Software – HTML Help – directly launch CHM files
    7. Common Controls – helps buttons, etc. work better.
    8. wine program name – runs windows program from CLI
    9. wineboot – simluates Windows re-boot
    10. winefile – Explorer-like interface, like the old Win3.x File Manager.

Fookes Software on a Good Wine Install:
Readme.txt for all Fookes programs will open in the wine version of Notepad.exe.
Check for updates comes up in all Fookes programs and will launch site in IE or Firefox for Windows.
A4M – Installs and runs. A change was made that lets it work well on Linux.
AE3.5 – Creates album from sample images.
Easy Imager 2.0 – Exit -> “Access Violation at Address 00ADF19B. Write of Address 00405181” It starts with this message, but continues and processes album as on Windows.
Easy Thumbnails 2.8 – Creats thumbnail from sample image, or from images in Linux.
NoteTab Standard 4.96 – OK
NoteTab Pro 4.95 – OK, Replace MS-Notepad Replaces the wine version of Notepad. c:windows stb!!
Mailbag 3.8 – OK!
Firefox for Windows – OK – display of fonts a little off, but it works.
Insight 1.3 – Error “Unable to execute file: c:\windows\profiles\larry\start menu\programs\insight\?…” Shell Execute failed; code 31.” [OK]
eSword – OK!

OpenOffice.org 2.0 Quick Review

I have installed the new OpenOffice.org 2.0 on Windows 2000, Windows XP Home, and Fedora Core 3.

I had no problems with the Windows installations. There is now an executable. Double-click and follow the instructions.

I had minor problem with the Linux installation, after it was installed. The install is now RPM based, but one has to remove the distribution specific RPM files after unzipping the download. One then has to use the command line to perform the install. It is not hard for those used to the Linux command line, but this will make enough of a learning curve for users new to Unix/Linux, many will not bother. However, once installed, the learning curve is now very flat compared to MS-Office.

For all three instances, I uninstalled the Previous Version of Open Office (1.4 on Windows and 1.3 on FC3).

On all “three” systems (the WinXP and FC3 is a dual-boot PC) I was impressed with the speed at which Open Office now starts. The only delay is with the first application that is opened, it asks if you agree to the license, then if you want to import your old settings, then has a place to type in your name.

On both Windows 2000 and XP there was no problem at this step.

On FC3, I got an error when I told it to import the old settings. The error was something like this (/usr/lib/ooo-1.1/share/basic/webwizard):

error screenshot

There were different files (*.xlb), depending on what I tried to do. I opened a spreadsheet I use on a daily basis, and I got this error. I then tried to save the spreadsheet and I got this error. If I saved the spreadsheet again, before closing Calc, I did not get an error. However, when I opened the spreadsheet, this error and again when saving.

After trying to change settings and getting no resolution, I renamed the user configuration directory and started Writer. This tricked Open Office into thinking it was a new install and asked for my name, etc. However, this time I told it NOT to import from the old version. This time no error, and no problem.

This is not an issue with Open Office 2.0 itself, but with Open Office 1.3 on FC3 not uninstalling completely. I used Synaptic to uninstall Open Office 1.3. It left behind the empty directory: /usr/lib/ooo-1.1/program/.

Linux users that do not have a previous install of Open Office will have no problems getting started.

I did notice that Calc still seems to be slow to save a spreadsheet. It does seem faster than 1.3, but is not as fast as Excel on Windows. I did not try Calc on Windows.

I had a real-world test of Writer’s capabilities. Writer 1.3 on Linux and 1.4 on Windows did not recognize all of a MS-Word document that I needed to convert to PDF. I immediately tried this document with Open Office 2.0 and it displayed the lines at the beginning of the document that were otherwise “layered”. I converted to PDF and the only issue on Windows is that it inserted an extra blank page before the last page.

For some reason, the layout between Windows and Linux is totally different. I had to spend time fiddling with the margins. Also, graphics that are anchored in frames have text under them on Linux, that is fine on Windows. I think this is only an issue trying to keep the MS-Word format on Linux. When I converted it to the open document format, I had to undo a lot of edits to get it right. Another drawback is that the PDF created on Linux by Open Office is nearly double the size of the same one created on Windows. The trick to smaller PDFs is to print to file, on Linux, this automatically creates a PostScript file. This can then be converted to PDF using “ps2pdf filenams.ps filename.pdf”. This produces a PDF about half the size as the one produced by Open Office on Windows. What is needed is an explanation of what to do to get documents to look the same from one platform to another without lots of time fiddling with margins. If one creates a document from scratch, there should be no issues with getting it to look the same.

I did a quick test of Base, the new database/frontend in Open Office on Windows. I was able to connect to an MS-SQL database and view he tables. It has a feel somewhat like MS-Access, but cleaner. I will know more when I have time to build a database from scratch. Hopefully, it will allow building a database on one PC and easily transferring to another. I am done with MS-Access. I spent weeks building a nice Access97 database, and it would not work in Access 2000 because Microsoft totally re-did so many things, that I would have to re-write it from scratch. This is one tool I am hoping to scratch a big itch – easy to use, and not broken by the next version.

Overall, I am pleased with Open Office. It has power and flexibility, and all of the basics and more, that come with the full version of MS-Office. Best of all it is free, and works on a variety of operating systems!

Computer Solutions

Answers to common computer questions. I will post answers to some of the most common questions I have received as a computer support professional.

Any kind of problem solving, whether it is a mystery novel, crossword puzzle, or computer problem, they all involve starting with the simple and moving to the more complex. Think of this as “narrowing the focus”.

A good example is a puzzle. Most start with turning all the pieces picture side up, then trying to put the sides together. Then one finds objects to put together. This is why the sky is usually last, it is the biggest part, and it all looks the same. but by finding a cloud or area of similar color, the focus is narrowed and bit by bit the picture is completed.

This may help explain why when you talk to a computer professional that they ask you all the same questions you just answered, or just went through yourself. This is because they want to make sure they have covered all the bases. Quite often, a review of the basic questions will reveal that something very simple has been overlooked.

Once the quick and the simple tasks have been tried, one must exercise their patience and persevere until the problem is found. An experienced support person will have a lot more items to review before they enter new territory. You may think that when they talk to themselves and mutter in exasperation that it is time to panic. Unless your support person is running in circles yelling, “The sky is falling”, you know that they are not panicked. It is not time to panic until your technician panics. You may be worried and stressed over the situation, but a good support person will re-assure you and keep you informed of your options.

I am sharing here some useful information that may save you a service call, and unnecessary stress.