Ubuntu on Windows: Refreshing & Fast

Microsoft has been doing interesting things with Windows, such as adding Windows Subsystem for Linux, which allowed me to install and run Ubuntu from the Windows app store.

I love having a full and familiar Linux bash command shell at my fingertips, with the utilities I know and love, including ssh. It’s fast.


Prior to this, I used cygwin on Windows, which was also good. However, I prefer Ubuntu, mostly.

There are some caveats:

  • The home directory is in a different place from the Windows home. So for easy access, I symlink Documents, Downloads, Pictures and Videos to my Ubuntu homedir.
  • Still need to keep the Ubuntu software up-to-date. Microsoft’s app store doesn’t do it for you. Run sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get upgrade
  • Removable drives aren’t mapped into the filesystem automatically — cygwin was better in this regard.
  • It’s a subsystem — a container, so it doesn’t manage Windows. E.g.
    — Can’t reboot from the command line
    — Can’t manage Windows processes or users

How to solve the annoying Windows 10 pop-up “These files might be harmful”

This morning, I was helping my children copy pictures for a school project to a USB flash drive. The pictures are located on my Linux server, and shared using samba. Each time we copied one to the USB flash drive, Windows 10 helpfully interrogated us with the question, “These files might be harmful to your computer”.

A google search found a solution on superuser.com. Thank you, Google, StackExchange, Mr. Atwood, and Wouter.

HDMI audio output and the power of a community

Tonight, I wanted to show a KSL.com news story to my children, and when I plugged the HDMI cable into our Windows 8.1 laptop, we saw video, but there was no accompanying audio. ūüôĀ

Fortunately, a google search for “Windows 8 HDMI audio” yielded a solution from ‘wasala18’, who posted a link to an Intel driver:


that link takes u to an update from Intel for they’re hd graphics and audio drivers.. I found the solution for my laptop NO THANKS TO HP OR MICROSOFT!! and these updated drivers aren’t even available through windows update.. just plain sad.. I still stand by everything i said before..

I’m grateful for the power of community to help solve problems, for Google searches, and for Intel’s drivers.

Now we can enjoy HDMI audio piped through the stereo.

Norton turns my computer into a snail

We’ve used Norton Online Family for well over a year in order to give our children’s accounts time and website restrictions.¬†During that time, our five-year-old Vista computer became unbearably slow, and it’s been difficult to identify the culprit, since the I/O slowness is attributed to svchost.

My experience with other Norton consumer products has been poor, and so I guessed that by uninstalling their Online Family software, it might improve performance.¬†Since uninstalling it, the computer feels at least twice as fast — for login and logout, for network file copies, etc.

I liked Norton Online Family’s functionality, but I couldn’t bear it’s performance hit to the user experience. Now I’m in the market for another solution. Do you have any recommendations?

The Missing PrintMaster Address Book

Janice got frustrated tonight when her address book disappeared.

She had been using PrintMaster to add address book entries so she could print mailing labels, and the addresses reportedly disappeared. When I looked at it, PrintMaster couldn’t find an address book. Janice mentioned that we used it to print mailing labels a few months ago. Since PrintMaster stores its address book in an unspecified location, I went searching the file system for the address book, knowing that it had to be¬†somewhere.

Since I’m a Linux and shell scripting regular, I resorted to comfortable tools: Cygwin bash and find. I didn’t find file names containing the word “address” in her home directory, so I searched my user’s home directory. Nothing. I searched c:\Users\Public and one I created, c:\Users\Shared. Still nothing.

So I searched the entire C: drive, and found C:\ProgramData\Broderbund Software\Print\PrintMaster\Books\ADDRESS.ABK

Interestingly, I couldn’t open it from Janice’s account — permission was denied. There were no permissions on the file. So I started my cygwin shell as Administrator, and then I could view it. I made a copy of the file and used cacls to give Janice access to the file:

cacls.exe JaniceAddress.ABK /e /g "Janice":f

At that point, PrintMaster was able to find and use the address book.

Now that I think about it, I could have run Explorer as Administrator, and the security tab of the file properties window would have been easier to use than cacls.

Why Linux?

I’ve acquired a used desktop computer with 6GB RAM, and I’ve been trying to figure out whether to put Linux or Windows 7 on it in the long term. I’d like it to be useful to the whole family.

Windows 7 is great for playing DVDs, Youtube movies, doing Netflix streaming, games, printing to our aging Kodak EasyShare 5100 printer, syncing with my iPod Touch, and it has a fantastic photo screensaver. Some of our favorite applications are available for Windows, but not Linux.

Windows has great parental control software available — via it’s built-in controls, or via third party software. We limit the amount of time our children can be on the computer each day, and we limit the kinds of websites they can visit.

Linux, on the other hand, costs less and supports the sound card and the graphics card better than Windows. And much to my surprise, Linux now supports our Kodak printer (but not its scanner).

There are several Linux distributions available, and I’ve tried Fedora 17 and Ubuntu 12.04 on this machine in their 64 bit variants. Both are well supported by a vibrant community and by commercial companies.

Fedora¬†doesn’t play DVDs, has trouble with some Youtube videos, can’t stream Netflix, doesn’t have parental controls, doesn’t sync with my iPod Touch, and doesn’t even include a screensaver — just a screen blanker (thanks to the unfinished state of its shiny new-and-highly-immature desktop, Gnome 3). It’s possible to rectify many of these limitations, but it takes time to find and configure the software. Netflix streaming isn’t an option.¬†Getting a photo screensaver requires the use of an alternate desktop environment, like KDE or XFCE. In short, Fedora isn’t family desktop ready.

Ubuntu¬†has most of the same limitations as Fedora, but its¬†desktop experience is more polished and the online help is¬†phenomenal. The Ubuntu Software Center not only has application ratings, but can also recommend other apps. Ubuntu automatically told me there were proprietary ATI drivers available, and it was painless to switch to them, with enough improvement in accelerated performance to make it worthwhile. Ubuntu has¬†parental controls in the form of¬†Gnome Nanny, but it doesn’t work with 64 bit Linux, although a¬†web browser extension¬†is an option.

So why do I bother with Linux? It’s an exceedingly useful swiss army knife, runs blazingly fast, and doesn’t slow down over time when software is added.¬†I’m heavily invested in it, and it gives me a technical edge in the workplace.¬†There are thousands of interesting tools that are easy to install — Inkscape, Gimp, meld, Chromium and others. Linux has full featured, freely available development tools for C, C++ and Java — not crippled ones. And it’s multi-user enabled via ssh, remote-X, vncserver, or NX server.¬†Mail servers, web servers and other servers work extremely well. With Linux, it’s easy to see what application or service is slowing down my computer with ‘top’ or ‘iotop’, whereas in Windows, it’s obscured because services run as threads in svchost. I love Linux Live CDs for troubleshooting computer problems, testing hardware and internet connections, and for recovering data from broken Windows installs.

So Linux is great for me as a software developer, but¬†I’m not convinced that Ubuntu, Fedora or any other Linux distribution deserves to be a family desktop environment.


Easy updates with iOS and Linux vs bomardment from Windows

When I want to check email on my iPod Touch, I simply unlock it, load the email application, and read messages. What a joy. The tool works and works for me. It is my servant, instead of me being its servant.

Compare that to my corporate Windows Laptop. I open the lid and unlock it, wait for corporate anti-virus (I think) to chew through the I/O on my machine for several minutes. Then I can read my email using the¬†unimpressive and¬†slow Lotus Notes¬†(I’d rather be using Thunderbird, Outlook, or speedy¬†mutt).

Or compare to my home Windows Laptop. I open the lid, log in, and am bombarded with requests from several programs to install updates. I just want to check my email, not be attacked with annoying “update me!” windows. I see one from Thunderbird, another from Adobe Flash, another from Mozy and another from Firefox. By the time I’ve upgraded, sometimes I’ve forgotten what I wanted to accomplish in the first place.

Apple has it right with updates for the iPod Touch: They stay out of my way until I want to bother with them, and then they’re all manged together.

Linux has it right: A single package manager updates everything, in one shot, including from third parties.

I’ll continue to use Windows. There are other benefits, even though third-party updates are annoying.

Worth the money: Automated, online backup

*10 February 2010*

Yesterday, I found out I’d lost over three thousand calendar entries, and I had lost them five months ago. Fortunately, I had been using an
automated, [online backup service](http://mozy.com) and was able to restore the missing data.

I found out about my loss when I searched for a phone number on my Palm TX that should have been in my calendar, but was missing. I wondered what was up, and started going through my calendar a month at a time. I noticed that calendar entries after Sept 7, 2009 were present, but nearly everything before that was missing.

My Palm TX is synchronized frequently with Windows, and infrequently
with Linux. My Linux copy of the calendar wasn’t going to help me,
because it was missing the calendar entries as well. The same was true
for the Windows copy.

The Palm-to-SD-card backup that happened every night wasn’t going to
help, because it deletes any backups older than seven days old to make
room for the new backups. I needed something that stretched back five
months or more.

The backup of my Linux computer wasn’t going to help me, because I _overwrite_ my old
backups with new copies of the same files, using ‘rsync’.

I thought my Mozy backups worked the same way. Fortunately, I was
partially wrong. Mozy keeps point-in-time backups of some files. I don’t
know how they determine which files to do it for, but they did it for my
Palm Pilot calendar database file. I was able to restore my missing calendar entries, which was a huge relief.

I heartily recommend automated online backups. Manual backups aren’t
done by most people and if they are done, they’re sporadic and
incomplete. My intermittent manual, replace-the-old-files style of
backup to USB hard drive wouldn’t have allowed me to restore the
calendar entries. The $5/month that I spend for online backup was very
worthwhile, and easy to justify considering that it’s less than the cost
of eating out for lunch. It’s less expensive than a cell phone or
monthly internet service.

If you aren’t already doing automated backups, I recommend that you sign up with an online backup service today. Here are some recommendations:

1. [Dropbox](https://www.dropbox.com/) is the most popular. Works on Windows, Mac,
Linux, iPhone.
1. [Spideroak](http://spideroak.com/) is the second most popular. Works on
Windows, Mac, Linux.
1. Alternatives to these, including [Mozy](http://mozy.com), which is what I use for Windows: [http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/](http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/).


A word of caution: backups can’t work miracles. If a file was
corrupted BEFORE it was backed up, no backup solution is going to be
able to solve the problem. This is why I make two copies of all photos
from my digital camera BEFORE deleting them from the camera. Still, if
the memory card in the camera contained corrupted images, even this
wouldn’t be good enough.


The missing calendar entries were, in fact, not missing. They were
corrupted. I found this out by running `jpilot-dump -D | sort -r` on my linux computer. I had 3462 blank entries listed on 12/31/1969. The first time
I restored my Windows datebook.dat, and hot-synced, all of the restored
records were again “deleted” because my Palm though it had the more
current copy of those records in 1969. I had to purge the records from
my Palm _before_ hot-syncing with the restored datebook.dat file.


Techrepublic has a [Review of 10 outstanding Linux backup utilities](http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=895), many of which work on
other platforms as well.

Personal solutions (not hosted):

– [Simple Backup Suite](https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BackupYourSystem/SimpleBackupSuite) for Ubuntu and Fedora, which does full and incremental backups, on a schedule or manually. Install it on Fedora by running “`yum install sbackup`”. Configure and run by running “`/usr/bin/simple-backup-config`”
– [fwbackups](http://www.diffingo.com/oss/fwbackups), of which Techrepublic says, “This is, by far, the easiest of all the Linux backup solutions.”
– [Rsnapshot](http://rsnapshot.org/)
– [Duplicity](http://duplicity.nongnu.org/) which is a command line utility, and is recommended by http://rsync.net

Backup that laptop!

Recently, a relative called and said her laptop wouldn’t boot. She wondered whether I could help. I asked if she had a backup. “No” was her answer.

I booted into linux (using [Knoppix](http://www.knoppix.net/) from a bootable CD) and attempted to back up her Windows account to an external USB hard drive. As I worked with the laptop, I discovered it was shutting itself off. On my second attempt, I managed to make a successful backup.

I tried running the system restore, but it would fail at random intervals. Next, I booted into the [System Rescue CD](http://www.sysresccd.org/) and ran the memory test. It shut at random intervals during each memory test. I figured it couldn’t be the hard drive that was at fault, but that the hard drive had probably gotten corrupted from the computer powering off suddenly.

My relative took her laptop to Geek Squad to see if they could diagnose the problem. They ran the system restore, and it succeeded. They didn’t do any further troubleshooting. They charged her $50.00 without solving the root problem. It continued to shut off at random intervals.

A colleague of mine looked at the computer, and found that the heat sink on the CPU was clogged with dust. Most likely, the CPU was getting too hot and powering off. He removed the dust buildup, and from then on, the laptop seemed to work well. I was able to restore the files, and my relative was much happier.

And she bought an external USB hard drive to do future backups. Good thinking.

I use [Mozy](http://mozy.com/) for automated, regular backups of my most important files. It’s not a complete solution for my whole hard drive, but it’s far better than nothing, and it only costs $5.00 a month. For linux, I need a similar solution. It turns out that there is one: [spideroak](https://spideroak.com). It runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. And it can synchronize files between several computers.

Fedora 10 lacks “wow” appeal; OpenSolaris 11

I upgraded one of my machines to Fedora 10 last month, and for me, this release lacks the “wow” appeal that other releases have had. A minor annoyance is that the keyboard repeat delay [is broken](https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=475747) for me and so far, there is no fix other than disabling keyboard repeat. On the plus side, Fedora 10 includes OpenOffice.org 3 and other [new](http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Releases/10/ReleaseSummary) [features](http://www.heise-online.co.uk/open/features/print/112093). Be sure to check out the [Common Issues](http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Bugs/F10Common) people have experienced with Fedora 10.

The other day, a co-worker handed me an OpenSolaris 11 Live CD. I booted it, expecting to be underwhelmed like I was with the Solaris 10 JavaDesktop. I was pleasantly surprised, however. Sun’s “Nimbus” GNOME theme knocks the socks off of the boring Fedora window manager themes. The experience felt like I was running Linux. It was responsive, supported my newer hardware, and the system was built with GNU utilities on the command line so I get my favourite options to ‘ls’, ‘grep’, etc. It supported my NVidia card out-of-the box, and had Compiz eye-candy as an option. The only thing I missed (in my superficial test) was the familiar ‘yum’ and ‘rpm’ for package management. I suspect that if I used it from day to day, I’d find other things I miss. Does OpenSolaris support encrypted file systems? Does it have as much optional software as I can get with Fedora Extras?

I’ll keep my eye on [OpenSolaris](http://www.opensolaris.com/) a little more closely in the future.