jueves, 30 de diciembre de 2010

KMail adventure

After I moved to Linux, I favored Thunderbird as my email client because I found it easy to configure. Of course, I knew that KDE includes a client called KMail, but its appearance was not attractive enough for me. However, I decided to give it a try now that I have some spare time...those brief moments in which my four-month old daughter is asleep and I can go play with the computer.

The question was if I could configure KMail on my own and get it to work properly. Given the fact that I am not an expert, the issue is significant because if I can handle it, that means that KMail is user friendly.

On my desktop computer, the inbox started working pretty fast and I could retrieve the emails stored in my pop3 account. However, the outbox was a little more complicated to configure. I had to try several times to get my SMTP working.

Interestingly, in my netbook, the problem was the other way around: sending was a one-step process, but I got stuck getting the KMail account to read my inbox. I could do it after three error messages of wrong configuration.

I am glad the program is now up and working, and I must admit that it is very functional despite its plain appearance.

viernes, 24 de diciembre de 2010

Gimp in Mandriva, a glitch than can help you rescue files

As I have said before, Mandriva is a nice Linux distribution for working if you blow up your Windows system. However, unless you install it, Mandriva ONE cannot be used as a rescue distro because it does not mount other partitions in Live mode, so you cannot access and retrieve your stored data. That was at least what I thought until yesterday.

I was testing Mandriva ONE 2010.2 and, sure enough, my other partitions could not be accessed in Dolphin (it reported the same error message when trying to mount them). I believe this is done to prevent damage to the primary OS in the computer, be it Linux or Windows.

The interesting part is that I decided to launch Gimp, the GNU image manipulation software, to see how fast it would open. It opened pretty fast, so I went to the menu to look for any image to load it... and, as I was doing it, I was saying to myself that the attempt was a futile one since I had no images in Live mode. Nevertheless, I saw my other partitions in the open menu and playfully hit the icon where my home partition is sitting on my hard disk. I got a pop up message informing that the operation I wanted to perform required root privileges and asked for my root password.

A root password!
A bit amused and expecting an error message, I typed "root" and voilà ! It mounted my home partition. In disbelief, I looked for a picture there and opened it, quickly modified it, and saved it to my home partition in a different folder.

I tried to open the folder in my home partition with Dolphin and it worked: I found the new image file.

I repeated the process with Gimp to see if it would mount my Windows partition as well. It did, so I took an image from Windows, modified it, and put it into a different folder. Using Dolphin once again, I noticed that my Windows partition was also mounted. I looked for the new folder I had created and located the file there.

I thought that it might be a glitch in Mandriva 2010.2, so I repeated the process using a Mandriva ONE Spring (2010.1) CD. When Gimp asked me for my root password, instead of typing "root", I hit "cancel" and it went ahead and mounted my home partition anyway. The same happened with my Windows partition, which shows that inputting a password is not actually necessary. Other programs, such as Gwenview, could also open files in other partitions after the process.

Now, the practical application of this is that you can retrieve all sorts of files (not just images) once your other partitions are mounted. In other words, you can use Mandriva as a rescue distro provided that you have any usb flash drive in which you can copy your retrieved files.

It is just too bad that Mandriva ONE does not come with K3b, the CD/DVD burning software. It could have made Mandriva a very good candidate for my perfect rescue distro quest.

Gdeskcal in Mandriva

Gdeskcal is a little desktop calendar (in Windows, like the one in Webshots) that lets the user specify events.

This program can be downloaded from Mandriva official repositories, but, after the installation, it won't run if you use the version ONE of Mandriva (it does in PowerPack).

To solve the situation, use Mandriva Control Center to install
gnome-python-gtksourceview and the program will run perfectly.

To launch the application when you start your session, you must go to the hidden folder home/.kde/Autostart. Once there, right click to create a basic link to the gdeskcal file on /usr/lib/gdeskcal.

To change skins, download the corresponding .tar files, unpack them and copy the entire folders into the folder "skins", located as a hidden folder in home (.gdeskcal). Use the View menu in Dolphin and check the box "show hidden files" to see it.

UPDATE:
I just discovered that this little program connects to korganizer, so your appointments are also logged there if you want fancier alarms. Great!

domingo, 19 de diciembre de 2010

A Quick Glance at Mandriva 2010.2

YES, MANDRIVA 2010.2 IS HERE!

As I was updating my Mandriva Spring PowerPack, I noticed that it asked me whether or not I wanted to get version 2010.2 packages. I was a bit surprised because Mandriva promised to release that version (I ignore its code name) on the 22nd.

I decided to upgrade and discovered that the time for launching certain applications improved significantly (Gimp, for instance). The grub changed a bit, too. A new entry (alt-Windows) was added. When I booted, I saw that the grub says "Microsoft Windows" and not only "Windows". I also got Chromium for the collection of browsers that are included (Konqueror, Firefox, Opera).

Of course, there were some drawbacks. If you plan to install some applications, go ahead and do it BEFORE you upgrade because they can be left out. For example, I wanted to install Audacious but, after the upgrade, the dependencies were not selectable. The game Supertuxkart was another loss. The graphics are all messed up.

However, if you install Audacious, add the PLF repositories BEFORE YOU UPGRADE, or install any other software (from those programs I like, that is), there is no problem... except for Supertuxkart. I guess I'll have to entertain myself with Frozen Bubble instead.

Aside from that, my untrained eyes haven't seen anything else so far. Yet, I'm happy with the new responsiveness of the KDE environment, which was rather sluggish with Spring.

UPDATE: My netbook, which runs Mandriva ONE, reports in the control center that it is now Mandriva 2010.2. That's great because that is going to give the chance to evaluate its performance.

viernes, 17 de diciembre de 2010

Intellectual work, speeches, and Linux

After a week of buzzing academic work in the University, the II Congress of Modern Languages is over. It was a successful reunion of international participants and speakers who, with their intellectual stimulation, made that activity a memorable one.

Megatotoro and I had to prepare a speech and a workshop. The former was on gender issues and criticism. The latter aimed at teaching colleagues how to use GNU/Linux & FOSS to solve common problems involving technology... nothing fancy, as both of us are plain users, not computer gurus.

The Speech

As I commented previously, Megatotoro and I gave a speech on masculinity in the Japanese film Shall We DANSU?. Since the presentation was made using mainly open source software (which includes programs we had never used before), I consider that it is relevant to post my after thoughts about that particular activity. Apparently, the audience liked the speech and I know that part of its success was due to the fact that we could rely on software that not only acted as expected but also displayed the information beautifully. Basically, the speech consisted of a Prezi presentation running on Wine (waiting to be summoned, on desktop # 2) complemented by some clips taken from the movie via Avidemux, which were opened as a playlist in Kaffeine (hidden, sitting on desktop #4). We used my netbook (running Mandriva 2010 Spring) and we started with nothing on desktop # 1. As we moved to desktop #2 for the presentation, the change of the cube got the attention of the audience, that was probably expecting a traditional PowerPoint slide show. Prezi might not be as fancy as Open Office.org transitions, but its novelty did catch the participants' eyes... and then we switched from desktop # 2 to #4 to display the clips. This was easily done thanks to KDE Kwin's cube.

The result: many positive comments after the speech was over. One of them was particularly meaningful for us, as it came from an intellectual giant who was a former professor of ours, a woman whose incisive criticism made us question lots of gender/literary/social paradigms as we coursed undergraduate and graduate school.

I wish I could say that our argumentation was effective...but I know that much of the success of this talk comes from the technological delivery. I feel happy because I can trust my OS. Linux has never betrayed me in public.


The Workshop on Technology

All I can say is that it was heartwarming to see the reception that this workshop had. We made 25 Mandriva CDs, 25 SimplyMepis CDs and some bootable flashdrives. Yes, we were prepared to work with 25 people, expected no more than 10, and ended up working with 28 participants, who were very happy because we gave them the CDs and the flashdrives as a present.
Someone told me that several people were sad because they could not register for the workshop. This activity was also successful.

I'd love to get into the details, ... except that Magatotoro already did it.

lunes, 13 de diciembre de 2010

Some experiences editing video in Linux

For a conference in an International Congress, my brother and I planned a talk on gender (masculinities) in the Japanese 1996 film Shall We DANSU?. Since we want to illustrate the arguments with video clips, we decided to rip the video from an original DVD with Spanish subtitles for the audience and, then, to cut the most meaningful clips.

I had undertaken the process successfully in Windows before using programs like Virtual Dub but, because of the metrics of my system (not to blame XP solely for eating up the memory), the encoding of the video took a long time.

Anyway, my first problem was the ripping of the DVD video because I had never done that before. I stumbled because K3B would refuse to read the DVD. I learned that it was because it was locked, so I downloaded the repository to unlock it and then K3B read it. The ripping took like an hour. However, I could not paste the desired subtitles (I don't know how to do it), so I had to use a .srt file downloaded from the Web.

Here, I had to face the question of what video editor to resort to for pasting the subtitles and clipping. I decided to use Avidemux because I found it similar to Virtual Dub. To my surprise, Avidemux read the subtitles and created the segments in a matter of minutes without any hassle.

One advantage of Avidemux over Virtual Dub is that the filter for adding subtitles is included in the program. I remember I had to activate it the latter software following a process that a beginner could not guess: I could do it because I got the instructions from a tutorial.

Avidemux, on the other hand, has a pretty intuitive interface. Even when I had never used the program before, the process of loading the video, inserting the filter, and clipping the video was very clear even without any previous training. Of course, I understand that using other software in Windows for producing video has a positive impact on my learning curve, but it's also good to edit videos using an OS that actually helps you in the process. In the end, the computer I used was the same, the results were the same, but the time to achieve the objective was significantly shorter under Linux than it was in Windows.

The presentation of these clips and the talk will be on Wednesday 15. We will use my Mandriva netbook for this activity, so I'll report on how the computer performed then.

domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

And I thought I was daring!

Those who saw the 1989 movie entitled "Dead Poets Society" might remember Mr. Keating's romantic words concerning "living life to the fullest". As the English teacher, he would use the powerful poetry of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, among others, to urge his students to break out from the shell and be daring.

Yesterday, I posted an entry on how I decided to use Linux and Open Office in my yearly report presentation for the University Professor Assembly, and I really thought I was being daring then.

However, I realized that there are others who are far more daring than I was or could have been. How about risking your chances of finishing your studies in a graduate program to prove that open source software and Linux can be used in a demanding professional context? Read about this experience here.

That is being daring!

sábado, 27 de noviembre de 2010

It's not the same hearing a thunder and seeing lightning!


Last week, the Dean called for a Faculty meeting in which the only topic was, to the dismay of those who claim Linux is dead, Free Software!

With this meeting, it's the second time in two months that professors hear about the existence of something that is not Windows and the University's ongoing plan to migrate to open source.

I wanted to post about that, but I was preparing my yearly report for the Professor Assembly and, therefore, had no time... but it occurred to me that I would use the chance to contribute by showing all professors how a computer running on Linux works. So, although they had a Vista 7 Starter laptop ready for the reports, I asked permission to use my modest netbook running Mandriva.

All my colleagues displayed their reports using the Vista 7 laptop and one professor suffered the embarrassment of MS PowerPoint 2007 not responding as she expected. I cannot say that was an "atypical behavior": all of us have seen something like that happen time and again. I felt bad for her due to the fact that she told me that she slept till late because she invested a lot of time to create a beautiful PowerPoint presentation for the occasion.

When my turn came, I had my netbook ready and woke it up from hibernation (Yes! It DOES work in Mandriva 2010.1), unplugged the VGA cable from the laptop and plugged it to my netbook. As a good OS should behave, Mandriva picked up the signal and let me configure the display in a matter of five seconds. The picking up of the signal made me a little anxious because, prior to the meeting, they had to change the projector because 7 Starter did not let them change the display size of the screen (How about that!) and I had everything ready with the previous device.

However, my Linux OS did not let me down and all the people laughed when they saw my Cosmic Cat wallpaper on my desktop # 1.

Of course, they gasped when I turned to desktop #2 and my presentation, made using Open Office, was there, ready. The beautiful OpenGL transitions made the ones in PowerPoint look like sorry excuses, especially after I said "This is the free software that the Dean is trying to promote", moved to different desktops to display other information, and returned to the presentation via Kwin Cube.

After my presentation, which went without any problem (wasn't Open Office "unprofessional" according to the MS video?), the professor who was embarrassed by MS Office 2007 borrowed my netbook to play with it for a while and loved the behavior of Linux.

Yes, seeing is believing. Now, my colleagues have seen a computer running open source software in the most demanding of contexts... and it neither got stuck, nor was difficult to operate. Oh, and it didn't blow up, either. Can you guess what software was proven to be unreliable?

For many of them, the thunder might not be as impressive as lightning. Now they have seen the truth: Linux can run flawlessly on a netbook and they were impressed. Many people are becoming aware that they can work in a more beautiful way by using Linux than by settling down with an OS that gives them the same problems year after year.

martes, 16 de noviembre de 2010

Mandriva 2010.2 announced!


These cold winds have brought some good news for Mandriva users: Mandriva will release version 2010.2 of the distribution as a Christmas present.

They claim this release will polish 2010.1 Spring (Farman) and will fix certain issues. Additionally, the company announced the schedule for the development of Mandriva 2011 (to be released during the end of May, 2011) and changed the two-release cycle to only one per year.

As Mandriva is my favorite Linux distribution, I can hardly wait to test Mandriva 2010.2. Of course, I'm also supporting the Mageia project and will settle for the one I find the most useful.

sábado, 13 de noviembre de 2010

Linux Mint 10: A beautiful rescue distro

In my perennial quest to find the perfect Rescue distro, I downloaded and tested Linux Mint 10 (Julia) and I must say that I was very pleased by the way it performs.

I downloaded the image (it does not fit a CD, so you have to burn it to a DVD instead) and ran the Live mode.

After 1:15 had elapsed, I could see the well-known Linux Mint logo as a splash screen. For those who are not familiar with it, Mint features green as its trademark color, which is not strange for a distribution that is made in Ireland. It took 2:15 to show the desktop and an additional 15 seconds to use it and I was surprised by the desktop wallpaper.

Interestingly, Mint's desktop moved away from the green freshness that originally attracted me to the distribution: the new look is darker. You get a black wallpaper with shades of gray: That shocked me at the beginning because I've been following Mint since the seventh release, and Gloria, Helena, and Isadora all paraded wearing green clothes. Of course, if you dislike this darker look, you can easily change it and set any of the good many green Isadora wallpapers. Gloria's default wallpaper is also there in case you are trapped by nostalgia. All of the wallpapers are tasteful and beautifully designed.

Julia's somewhat Gothic appearance, however, is no omen of poor performance. As a matter of fact, this Live DVD comes with everything you might need for using it as a rescue distro: it has Brasero (for burning media) and mounts your Windows and Linux partitions without any problem. It also lets you delete files from Windows (not from Linux) and works with audio and video out of the box. I tested .flv, .mpg, and .mp4 formats for video and all of them worked flawlessly. As for audio, Julia beats Ubuntu Maverick Meerkat because it gives you the preview of MP3 files by hovering over the icon out of the box.

Julia comes with Open Office, a dictionary, and several applications that might help to finish your pending office work you if your computer acts up. For localization, you must install the distribution. The process does not seem difficult, nevertheless.

Concerning the Internet connection, it picked up my cable connection automatically, so I browsed the Web for a while with Firefox. I also set up an IM account with Pidgin and everything went up fine.

This is certainly a great rescue distro: easy to use, responsive, elegant, and functional. The only flaw I found is that it does not fit a CD...which is the same case of the alpha release of SimplyMEPIS 11. Is Linux moving to Live DVDs instead of Live CDs?

domingo, 7 de noviembre de 2010

IM clients and possibilities

Most Windows users are familiar with MSN Live Messenger, which they call "the chat program" (not accurate technically speaking because MSN Messenger is an instant messaging (IM) service, not a chat). They believe that it is the only way you have to communicate with friends who are away if you do not have Skype.

However, thanks to the proliferation of botnets and MSN viruses, Windows users might have noticed how their sessions with MSN are plagued by unwanted messages ("See this video", "click here for an offer", blah, blah) and by unreliable log in time.

When I migrated to Linux, one of the first things I discovered was that you can keep using MSN Live although you are not running Windows. You do it with one of the many Linux IM clients...and the beauty is that you do not get the problems that are associated to MSN Live Messenger. You have to learn to compromise, though, as their functionalities are different.

aMSN

This program is an MSN Live Messenger clone. It can enable video calls, but not conferencing. For those who like IM with a cam, this is a good option. I have tried it from Mandriva to Mepis (Linux-Linux) and it works. The cam feature does not seem to work from Mandriva to Windows, but it is OK with me because I was never fond of the video cam sessions anyway. As MSN Live Messenger, this IM client works only using MSN network. That might seem obvious, but I said it because most Windows users think that they need an independent program for each different account they have. So, most Windows users have a program for MSN, Skype, etc.


Kopete
This is the default IM client in KDE. This Linux program is simple and supports many more accounts. One interesting feature is that this little program lets you know when one of your MSN contacts is in invisible mode: that's right, no hiding from the eye of Sauron. The problems: no video.




Pidgin
This is a simple but extremely powerful IM client. Because of the possibility to extend its functionalities, this IM program can control your MSN, Yahoo, and even your Skype account without any hassle. Yes, you log in and you can communicate with all of your friends and contacts with this little thing. It also has a fun feature called "psychic mode" that lets you know some seconds in advance when one of your contacts is typing a message for you before he or she sends it (you read something like "You perceive a disturbance in the force").
This program can also run in Windows. Again, it does not support video but for that's fine with me because I like IM to be fast and reliable. Video is a nice add on, but not an indispensable one for communication.

As I said, the IM experience in Linux can be a little different if you learn to compromise: there are features that you don't get, but there are many others that you were not even aware of and that might enrich your IM sessions, such as data encryption, effects, plugins, etc.

sábado, 30 de octubre de 2010

What the Pro-MS Office video does not say

Microsoft released a video attempting to persuade people to use their proprietary office suite. It starts like this:
"Considering Open Office.org? Consider this."

Not surprisingly, there has been a wide reaction to it and some people even claimed that Microsoft had finally revealed its true stance concerning open source software. Although I think that the Redmond company has the right to attack competitors, the information that they used for advertising their flagship product should not be fallacious, as this post proves when discussing the academic productivity issue brandished in the video. Basically, the video's core point is that MS Office (2007/2010) constitutes the best office solution in the market because of two features: its new interface and its interoperability and functionality.

Concerning the former, "Ribbon", as this new user interface is commonly called, has its lovers and haters. What is more significant is that Microsoft is trying to patent it and, hence, the company is becoming "a grave threat to the future of software development", as Mike Gunderloy, a former MS Contractor asserted.

In regards to interoperability and functionality, the issues are not normally visible to the common user. However, those technical flaws represent a major problem for companies that require specific features: 1, 2. What everyone knows is that, by pushing users to save documents in .docx instead of the standard de facto .doc format, Microsoft wanted to create a vendor lock in.

In addition, Microsoft is also slanting information to favor adoption of its office solution. I have heard several times that .docx is an ISO standard, just like .odt. That is simply not true. Basically, ISO approved .docx if certain changes were made to the format. This format version is called ISO/IEC 29500 "strict". The reality is that neither Office 2007 nor Office 2010 can generate the ISO standardized "strict" format and Microsoft has not committed to implement it.

The format that the company is using today is the version known as ISO/IEC 29500 "transitional", which ISO determined was not to be used for the creation of new documents. In other words, it can never be the default format for saving new documents as it does not have the status of an international standard and, therefore, it should not be used for electronic transmission or storage of documents.

This distinction is significant because official documents produced by government institutions, such as schools, have to be created following a principle of interoperability, which Microsoft has admitted not to follow with its default-save .docx.

Of course, the video omitted that detail. I wonder if Bailey Mitchell, who claims having "heard a collective sigh of relief" when the schools in Forsyth County returned to MS Office, and who is last quoted in the video, knows about this and saves new documents in .odt format instead of mindlessly pressing the save button in MS Office and generating a questionable .docx file...

domingo, 24 de octubre de 2010

Tux and the Sixth Sense: I See Dead Linux!

"DESKTOP LINUX IS DEAD!!"

It was so comforting to read those features asserting the unquestionable death of the Penguin OS on desktop computers at last. Windows is growing; Linux is disappearing. That's the way it should be. Linux can stay on servers, mainframes, supercomputers, highly important systems, where it belongs, not inside computers used by plain people. After all, why would regular users want an OS that runs on supercomputers sitting on their home/work systems?

When I read the first article about the death of Linux desktop, a shock of unbelief went through my spine. Could it be true? Could the dreams of glory of these obnoxious Penguin lovers be shattered as broken glass by the supremacy of the Redmond empire that we love so much?

More posts came up; all of them reinforced the idea of how Linux plummeted. Hence, a smile of satisfaction appeared in my face as I tasted the wine brewed from victory.

However, something happened which began to unsettle me.

IS LINUX DEAD?

In my city, I had only seen a Linux computer in the wild: it was a bothering little aubergine desktop in a small restaurant. Except for that one, all of the computers that I have seen for public use were nice and friendly Windows systems. So, I expected the owner to come to his senses in a two-month period...Yet, the Ubuntu computer is still there after four months. It's one example of unexplainable phenomena in the world.

Then, I recall that only two professors used Linux netbooks in the Faculty of the University where I work. Those systems were like a pair of little insects; I knew their owners had to switch to Windows soon. But they never did. As a matter of fact, I realized that there is another professor that is running Linux on her netbook and now wants to put it on her laptop as well...And there's a dual boot desktop in one of the offices, too. Every time I see it, the machine is running Linux.

Does that mean that Linux on the desktop is still alive and kicking? No, that's simply not possible! The articles were very solid and convincing. There must be something wrong here.

Let me take a look at numbers again:

From 1 Ubuntu desktop, 1 Mandriva netbook, and 1 Mepis netbook, it has gone to 1 Ubuntu desktop, 1 Mandriva desktop, 2 Mandriva netbooks, 1 Mepis netbook, and 1 Mepis desktop in a five month period.

Slowly, unrest took hold of me as I attended an event in the Faculty last Friday. It was a speech about Open Source!

They are announcing an institutional migration to Linux!

From 4,000 licenses the University paid to Microsoft two years ago, they went down to 500 this year. With the additional budget, the University has managed to acquire new equipment for students. The madness has gone to some regional centers, where they have already substituted their Windows systems. The University is also promoting open culture with a repository called Kérwá. As if all this were not enough, the University has a mirror server for ... (the horror!) Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and there is even an institutional customized version of Open Office!

My colleagues who went to the talk also want to migrate to Linux and Open Office! Didn't they see the beautiful video Microsoft produced explaining why you shouldn't? Or how the grades of students are affected negatively if they use Open Office instead of MS Office for their assignments?

Maybe people are actually reading the EULAs and they do not like the idea that you become a serf of Microsoft (a Microserf!)....I mean, if you neither own MS Office nor the proprietary formats (.doc, docx, etc) in which you save the files, how can you claim that the documents you produced are yours?...Could that be the reason explaining why professors and researchers here are gradually abandoning beautiful MS Office and its fair price? Or is it that they read the EULA and discovered that its terms are threatening their productivity?

But the story does not end there... Why should students of a Language School want to install Linux? They are simple users, not engineers! Linux is for GEEKS, not for normal people! Are they so geeky after all? What's wrong with them?? LINUX IS DEAD!!

I have suddenly realized that I must have paranormal powers... Yes, I have the Sixth Sense! Aaaargh!

Wanna know a secret...?
I see dead LINUX!

domingo, 17 de octubre de 2010

Is Ubuntu 10.10 the perfect rescue distro?

The coming of Canonical's new release, Maverick Meerkat, has stirred a beehive and we hear a lot of noise among Ubuntu fans lately. Claims like "the best Ubuntu release", "the fastest boot up", and "a truly horrible wallpaper" were repeated in many blogs. All these words in the wind have stung my curiosity.

Although I am not particularly a fan of Ubuntu, in my quest to find the perfect rescue distro, I decided to download the Meerkat Live CD and give it a try. One never knows...maybe Canonical discovered the philosopher's stone.

A rescue distro is what I call a GNU/Linux distribution that can help a computer user backup, restore, and modify files from other OSs sitting on different partitions. That is, a rescue distro does not need to be installed to achieve that purpose, otherwise most Linux distros would do the trick. Another characteristic that I ascribe to a rescue distro is its ease of use: a plain computer user should be able to resort to it without a great deal of effort or technical training.

Can the Meerkat enter the arena and claim the crown? To discover Ubuntu's potential as a rescue distro, I ran my newly-downloaded distro and
I found that the fast boot claim is true, even for a Live CD. The Meerkat started in less than 1:45 minutes, beating my install of SimplyMEPIS 8.5 and the boot of Mandriva 2010.1 ONE in Live mode (which takes a lot longer). There is a catch, however. Even though you see the familiar aubergine desktop, it is not ready for use: you get the installation/trial screen next. So, I chose "try" and the boot up sequence got a little prolonged. I could use the system after 3 minutes had elapsed. That is rather fast for a Live CD in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I cannot say anything about what new features Ubuntu brings for I am not familiar with this Linux distribution. I was not crazy about the wallpaper, but it was not so disturbing as the one I had seen Ubuntu fans criticize so much. I had also heard that this Ubuntu release would bring LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice.org, but I saw the latter.

Positive Side: performance and software
I liked the fact that you get an automatic preview of .ogg sound files by just hovering over the icon (this feature does not work with MP3s, though).
Firefox (3.6.10) runs fast, too. The dictionary is a nice add-on. Hibernation seems to be working (I am not sure because I was running a Live CD, but the computer reacted as it should have). Both my USB card reader and my MP4 player were supported. Wired network connectivity was perfect.

Negative Side: performance
Interestingly, Ubuntu Software Center crashed when I was just browsing the options the first time I used the Live CD (I tried to replicate the crash unsuccessfully, so maybe it was an isolated problem).

Although other partitions are mounted, the Meerkat did not let me delete files from any of them. I can copy files to a Windows partition from Ubuntu 10.10, but it is impossible to copy to or delete files from my Mandriva partition and, therefore, I must conclude that the Maverick Meerkat does not outperform SimplyMEPIS 8.0 for rescuing a troubled OS in Live mode. Maverick Meerkat might be very good to recover files from Windows in Live mode, but it did not work with a Linux system like Mandriva.

I must keep looking.

viernes, 15 de octubre de 2010

I know how to use Windows properly, so it's not my fault!

"I know how to use Windows properly, so it's not my fault."

With that declaration and the particular stress on the possessive adjective, Mr. Valmers started his testimony before the inquiring eyes of a judge and the jury members, who began whispering and shaking their heads in disapproval. They had listened to the technical report of a software expert before the afflicted average computer user sat in front of them.

Sensing the effect that his initial words had on the atmosphere of the room, Mr. Valmers paused timidly and cleared his throat before the microphone, causing listeners to tilt their heads for a second that became awkwardly long. Pierced by the prying eyes of the prosecutor, the fifty-something owner of an infected PC wished he could have uttered something like: "I know how to use Windows. I took courses to learn how to use my Windows computer, you know, so do not patronize me, techie." However, he just sat there, mute, as a target for the questions that, sooner or later, would dart from the mouth of the implacable man in front of him.

Mr. Valmers thought for a second. How could he prove that he did nothing wrong according to what he learned in those Windows courses he took? In spite of the fact that the expert had made it clear that such action was a pre-requisite for a secure Windows computer, no instructor had ever told him that he was supposed to disable autorun. Darn pedantic guy! But then, why was it that the stupid autorun feature was enabled by default in Windows if it was so dangerous? Mr. Valmers had done what he was told in four courses to be safe from malware: he bought an expensive antivirus (what a poor investment!), he had that software installed along with MS Security Essentials, and he made sure that the Windows firewall was on as he browsed the Web. Religiously, the man had downloaded antivirus updates and the traitor software never gave a warning of the infection that had him sitting as a fool in front of all those people that looked down on him.

"This is not fair," he heard himself say, "if autorun is so dangerous, or Windows is insecure, I am not to be blamed. I did not do anything to make my computer any more vulnerable than it was when I bought it."

How he wished that Microsoft's CEO, that bad-tempered bald guy, had been there in his place! This guy was actually the one who was responsible for all computer infections...He was the careless person that approved the release of such a defective product for mass consumption!

"It was your negligence that caused the infection. It was your computer, Mr. Valmers, which was spreading viruses to several Government institutions," charged the prosecutor, assuming a stance of superiority. "Your computer," he stressed with poorly-concealed satisfaction.

The possessive adjective lingered for an additional second on the thick air of the room and echoed inside Mr. Valmers' head. "Your computer, your computer," repeated a hypnotic voice while the man felt as an insect pinned on a wall.

All of a sudden, that simple four-letter word opened his heart with hope in a Joycean epiphany.

"Yes, sir, it was my computer," he replied. "But, according to the EULA, Windows is not my software. I do not own it. I did everything in my power to secure my computer, but I cannot do anything to improve the condition of the software".

Murmurs of the listeners grew until they became a tidal wave of noise that forced the judge to demand silence... (to be continued)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes, this is a piece of fiction I am working on. However, it can turn into a reality if people are dumb enough to accept Microsoft's newest trickery: a call for banning sick computers from the Internet. Read about it here.

Microsoft Windows 7 Starter EULA and customer abuse

Today, as I was reading this post, I decided to pay Microsoft a visit and download a copy of their glittering Windows 7 Starter EULA. I read some requirements that unsettled me. Let me transcribe an excerpt of the Windows 7 Starter EULA to tell you why those conditions are simply outrageous:


"By using the software, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, do not use the software. Instead, contact the manufacturer or installer to determine its return policy. You must comply with that policy, which might limit your rights or require you to return the entire system on which the software is installed [...].

You may use the software as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not
  • work around any technical limitations in the software;
  • customize the desktop background
  • reverse engineer, decompile [...]
Certain features of other Windows 7 product editions, including Windows Aero and the ability to change the desktop background, are not included in this software." (Microsoft Windows 7 Starter EULA)

I doubt that Microsoft lawyers seriously expect users to comply with those ridiculous terms and conditions. First, an interesting tautological falsehood is created if you must accept the software (Windows 7 Starter) with all its flaws and the license forbids you from "working around technical limitations". If you accept the conditions of this EULA and take Windows vulnerability to malware as one of the implicit "technical limitations in the software", the logical implication is that the EULA itself forbids you to install an antivirus solution to protect your Windows system. Of course, lawyers will claim that the clause refers to improving the OS itself, not "helping it" with additional software. However, the contradiction lies on the fact that the EULA makes the OS and the system an indivisible unit (remember: you must return the computer if you do not accept the license). Therefore, if hardware (tangible, made by an OEM) is ridiculously bundled with software (intangible, made by Microsoft), why would they claim that other software running on the OS to protect it is not an indispensable part of the system? Because it is third-party software, not Microsoft's, they will probably say. Well, how about the hardware the OS is running on? Is not that third-party, too? Why is it that I must return the hardware if I reject the software (Windows), then? After all, the hardware was not made by Microsoft. I suppose that Microsoft representatives would say that it is because the OEM agreed to install Windows. If that is the case, then the OEM should be required to agree to the EULA, not the computer buyer.

The situation, however, becomes even more ridiculous with the second clause. The statement is categorical; there is not any ambivalence to it. I guess you can even rephrase it as a biblical commandment: "Thou shall not customize the desktop background".

Basically, dissatisfied people who found third-party programs to change the hideous Windows 7 Starter background are against the law. Yes, they are violating the Second Law of Microsoftics. Period. There is no argument about it. Nevertheless, I do not see Microsoft's legal war machinery aiming its weapons at them. Why not? Well, because the progenitors of the unpopular 7 Starter knew from the beginning that sober people would never comply with such buffoonery and that other software companies would palliate the situation which, in the end, saved Microsoft's face (yes, Starter seems to be a rival for Clippit's unpopularity). That is why the Redmond bully never filed a lawsuit against Oceanis, for example, even though the latter company produced a program designed exclusively to make users break the "unalterable background" law.

Interestingly, Microsoft's failure to launch an attack to force users respect the content of the Windows 7 Starter EULA spawns yet another contradiction: Can this permissiveness be taken as a signal of amnesty toward infringement? If so, then the whole content of the EULA goes void, which means that I can pirate Windows 7 without any concern. But you know how this would end: Microsoft lawyers would not hesitate to take me to court if I do.

I wonder what would happen if people realized how anti-democratic these EULAs are. Not only do these irrational licenses cut your freedom, but they also establish discriminatory policies against users who "rebel" against them. This looks more like fascism than anything else to me. (The image was censored because it depicted inappropriate content for Microsoft, I suppose. After all, any visual connection that you make between this company and fascism is perceived as such regardless of the clearly anti-democratic practices the company promotes. What attribution does this company have to "limit my rights" as an individual and transfer the execution of this violation to OEMs?)

miércoles, 13 de octubre de 2010

SimplyMepis 8.5 Challenge: Conclusions

Although Xandros introduced me to the world of Linux, Mandriva was my definite choice for both desktop and netbook use. I am a regular computer user, not a techie, so Mandriva became a perfect selection because it is easy to use, beautiful, and functional. However, among the many Linux distributions, there is one that generally goes unnoticed: SimplyMEPIS. This is a distribution that can beat Mandriva's simplicity and, thus, I decided to install it and test it for a week to compare them. Of course, my feedback is not technical; my impressions are those of a common computer user that has used Mandriva for almost two years without any formal Linux training. In the last days of my experiment, this is what I saw:

A. Repositories: Synaptic vs Mandriva Control Center
I had assumed that my previous usage of Synaptic in Linux Mint was enough training to use Synaptic in SimplyMepis. However, I stumbled on the installation of VLC because I used the Debian repositories for that purpose and they have dependency conflicts. I tried to undo what I did, but I could not trace my steps back appropriately and could not improve the quality of video.
However, I could solve the low volume problem. I also had some problems adding the Mepis Community Repositories.
I guess that my problems were generated because you cannot transfer the experience of using Mandriva Control Center to Synaptic so easily after all. In Mandriva, you have Mandriva repositories by default, so it never occurred to me that you had to add Mepis Community Repositories manually.

B. KDE/Plasma crashes
Even though both distributions work with KDE very well, they both have certain issues:
MEPIS: When opening kmplayer, KDE crashes. I think that it is because of the mess I made with codecs trying to install VLC. Sometimes MEPIS suspends the composition and the effects are therefore disabled temporarily.
MANDRIVA: The clock sometimes freezes (only in the netbook). This is corrected by enabling the display of seconds in the clock options.

Concerning performance and ease of use, both distributions can satisfy the needs of users who lack technical computer knowledge or formal Linux training. I feel that SimplyMepis might be a better choice for users who want a simple system and do not really care much for eye candy. In addition, Mepis comes with Java pre-installed, whereas you must install it in Mandriva.

I decided to keep Mepis next to Mandriva in my netbook's HD for further learning.

sábado, 9 de octubre de 2010

Thank you, Linux! My Windows computer is infected

That's right. My desktop, which runs Windows, is infected and I blame Linux.

As it normally happens in these cases, this new infection in my XP system can be traced back to user carelessness. However, I think that calling me "careless" is not fair for I did everything on the book (and more!) to keep a Windows machine healthy:

1. I have an updated antivirus, which runs full scans when I turn the PC on.
2. My firewall was up and running.
3. I have additional anti-malware software for protection.
4. Firefox is my browser and I installed add-ons for extra security.
5. I neither open suspicious email attachments nor visit questionable sites.

Since I was not careless, I am not the culprit. However, if I did something wrong, this is it: I have been flirting with Linux for over a year. Yes, Linux is guilty, not I, for the infection of my Windows computer!

Let me explain: After a whole year of using Linux (mainly Mandriva, but now Mepis because of an experiment I indulged in), my security sense became somewhat softened. After all, I do not use any antivirus to go online with Linux and the computer has never gotten infected during all this time. In addition, USB viruses cannot jump onto the hard drive and, thus, I suppose I grew over-confident. But it was not my fault! Linux made me do it!!

I used this public computer and saved a file onto my USB drive. Then, because I am accustomed to working without any concern thanks to Linux, I forgot to check the USB contents. When I returned home, I booted my desktop computer in Windows and plugged the infected USB drive.

Since Windows XP has become a little slow, I went for a cup of coffee and, when I returned, my computer was behaving in a way that I had not seen for quite long, yet not one I can call completely unfamiliar. My firewall was flashing alert messages crazily, the antivirus could not be updated, and the system froze on me as I sat dumbfounded. As you can see, THE PENGUIN NUMBED MY WINDOWS SECURITY SENSE!

Had this happened two years ago, my reaction would have been one of total despair and indescribable suffering. I would felt miserable anticipating the days trying to restore my system and I would have probably called myself a large assortment of expletives.

Today, all I can say is...THANK YOU, LINUX!

Yes, thank you, because Windows is boiling with viruses and I just do not care. Linux has taught me to relax when Windows is infected because my productivity is not brought to an abrupt halt. Even when Windows is down, my computer can WORK!

I am not irresponsible; I am realistic. According to this post, awareness is paramount during a computer infection. I am aware that MY COMPUTER IS NOT INFECTED; WINDOWS IS. As a matter of fact, I can boot this same PC in Mandriva and work normally, unaffected by the condition of the Windows partition. I think that it is far more irresponsible to make people believe that Windows problems are equivalent to PC problems. That is misinforming the public, you know?

Oh, but the author also suggests that I should be concerned about my files. Well, if I need a particular file, I can access the sick Windows partition and retrieve it with Linux, so, why to worry? Let the viruses feast on the OS that cannot protect itself appropriately for a while. When I can spare four days or so, I'll take care of the pesky little hungry thingies. Right now, I am extremely busy and have no time to lose babysitting an OS that, like a spoiled child, selfishly craves for undeserved attention.

jueves, 7 de octubre de 2010

Simply Mepis 8.5 challenge: the first four days

I decided that it was time for me to test SimplyMepis 8.5, so that I could have a closer impression of this efficient Linux distribution to write a non-technical review. As I promised, I have been running SimplyMepis consistently for four days now and these are my first findings:

DAY 1: Access to networks and browser customization
Mepis magic was a perfect match for Mandriva magic concerning picking up networks, both wired and wireless. I had to do absolutely nothing: just click to see the available networks and then click again to pick one Actually, I am typing this post from Mepis, using a wireless connection down here in campus four days after the experiment started. I downloaded my favorite add-ons for Firefox and customized it.


DAY 2: Desktop configuration and package installation
I had anticipated that, being a Mandriva user, the lack of an orchestrator of all the processes in Mepis could bother me a little. After all, Mandriva Control Center has become an innovation that some other Linux distributions aspire to emulate. However, my previous training with Linux Mint enabled me to use Synaptic without a great effort. Visually, there was a difference between downloading packages with Synaptic and doing it with MCC, but it was nothing to be traumatized about. I tried to customize the KDE desktop a little. I noticed some unresponsiveness of the desktop cube, but that was nothing I ignored, so I counted it as a minor bother. What actually became a major headache was the placement of four different wallpapers on each side of the cube. Everytime I booted the computer, the wallpaper images would play hide and seek with me. Sometimes, the images I selected went to a different cube side; some other times, they would be replaced at random and I would get a solid light blue wallpaper instead. I was also familiar with that behavior because Mandriva 2010 (Adelie) was shipped with the same KDE environment and, consequently, would show the same Kproblem...after several trials, I think that the four wallpapers have finally stabilized.

Package installation went fine. I installed Cheese! for the cam (it can take snapshots, but I do not get cam image) and then tried to install aMSN. That was a real problem because it would not finish installing a dependency, so used Kopete.

DAY 3: More installation and configuration
I tried installing aMSN again and it turns out that a Debian server might have been down because the installation went smoothly. Aside from that, there is not much to say because the computer is working perfectly.

DAY 4: General use
I have used SimplyMepis for my everyday work (typing letters, checking email, sending documents, opening video/audio files) and it has met all my needs magnificiently. I hardly find any problem other than my Mandriva customary behavior. Well, and maybe the visual impact was also a minor concern when I started. However, I am used to seeing the Mepis dark blue by now.

To sum up, my experience as a Mandriva user handling Mepis is satisfactory up to this point. SimplyMepis is not simply a disappointment. I think that it rivals Mandriva in its KDE handling...maybe a simplified experience than the one I am used to with Mandriva, but Mepis had given me little to complain about.

What's next? The following days I will try a multimedia class. This will let me assess the video display and the sound quality.

domingo, 3 de octubre de 2010

A challenge for a Mandriva user: SimplyMepis!

After I read Megatotoro's stats on his Mepis experience here, and the honest and motivating reviews of SimplyMepis 8.5 by Susan Linton and Rudresh Jariwala, I decided that it was about time for me to try this admirable Debian-based Linux distribution on a consistent day-to-day basis.

I mean, I have seen it work before and I even gave a SimplyMepis Live CD it to a colleague who trashed his XP system in a way I would have never imagined possible. Thanks to Mepis, we could back up his files...and resurrect his computer! I even used Mepis myself to achieve the same purpose when I was learning about Mandriva 2009 and my experiments went seriously wrong.

It is not that I am letting Mandriva go. As a Desktop Linux, I am extremely satisfied with Mandriva 2010 Spring. However, as a rescue distro, Mandriva is not a good choice: you neither have software for burning, nor access to other partitions in Live mode, which is not convenient if something happens to your Windows system.

What happens if you, like me, experiment with your Linux and break it? To be able to rescue my files sitting on the Mandriva partition, I had Linux Mint Gloria as a second boot choice in my netbook. I kept this Ubuntu-based distribution in another partition of my Dell Inspiron Mini10 and I used it from time to time, attracted mainly by its green freshness. Nevertheless, to be honest, despite Mint's elegance, I decided that it was time for me to share the house with Mepis, the poor prince, one of the least known Linux distributions that actually does its work well.

Megatotoro was kind enough to remove Gloria and install Mepis for me, after which, as in the Sioux hanblecchia, I was left alone on the hilltop...or, more accurately, inside the Mepis pyramids. This is the beginning of my challenge: For the next week, I will only use Mepis on my netbook to feel the differences. Remember, since I am not a computer guru, all I have is my limited empiric access to this fascinating world.

What do I think I might find problems with?
Well, the lack of the Mandriva Control Center will probably bother me a little, I can anticipate. The slow Kwin effects might also be an issue. In spite of that, I am willing to learn; I want to openly experience Mepis and I will log my observations later.

viernes, 1 de octubre de 2010

OS representations and the choice of migration

I have noticed that there are several representations of Linux and Windows that are used to dissuade people from migrating. Unfortunately, an uninformed migration normally ends up in disappointment and, as a result, hurt people resort to disqualifying depictions again in a never-ending circle. I decided to list some of those representations here as a reminder of the fanboy spirit that rests upon the pedestal of prejudice.

1. Windows, the Imaginary Friend

Many users, blind because Windows constitutes their only experience with an OS, simply reject the opportunity to try Linux. Their perception of satisfaction has been dulled by years of exposure to the same problems, to the point that they just accept those shortcomings as "natural". These people are not to be blamed, though. After all, when one is immersed into a paradigm, rarely is it that one questions the nature of the experience one is going through. So, as major security flaws and abusive policies become the air these people breathe, they consider themselves satisfied if they can obtain an "additional feature for free". I cannot but think of MS Security Essentials because these people fall for deals like those you see in TV offers ("If you buy the hair styler now, you get, completely free, the power cord!") or they are even willing to pay to unlock OS features that were previously given to them (wallpapers or language packs in Windows 7 Starter, anyone?). Yet, they think Windows is their loving friend...A friend that rips them off time and again...But they are happy!

2. Linux, the Deadly Monster

MS evangelists do train people to bluntly reject Linux. This is not a myth; I had an encounter with one of those brain-washed professionals once and she tried to disqualify Linux even though Windows made her look like a fool during her presentation.

When you mention the word "Linux" to these individuals, they cringe and gnaw wildly. It is true that they have no practical reason or criterion to badmouth the penguin, but they do it just the same because it is part of their creed. I suppose that they sing:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory,
of good, old Microsoft.
It is trampling out the kernel
where the Linux code is stored..."
or something like that before they are sent to the world. These people are self-deluded and become irritated if they see Linux succeed in public...especially if Windows failed at performing the same task.

3. Linux, the Redeemer

"Break the shackles of tyranny! Go Linux!," cry out certain people for whom Linux has become the solution for computer problems, social injustice, environmental disasters, and metaphysical concerns. They are the Linux equivalent of the MS evangelists I described above.

Let us be realistic: yes, Linux can give solutions to a number of computer-based concerns and it can make your computer more appealing and practical once you know how to work with it. However, if you believed that Linux is the promised land, then remember there was a long pilgrimage on rough desert terrain to get there. This applies particularly well to Windows users who simply grabbed an Ubuntu Live CD and installed Canonical's distro thinking that it would magically read all hardware (something that Windows cannot do, either, unless you have the drivers) and, after banging their heads on walls, they curse ALL Linux distributions today...or Mandriva users who update to Cooker and wonder why the computer is not working as it was before...Yes, believe it or not, there are people who actually do that and later blame Linux!

4. Linux, My Bodyguard

For these beginner Linux users, Linux represents an all-mighty fortress that stands impenetrable. Consequently, they engage in all sorts of risky on line behavior. While it is a fact that Linux is more secure than Windows is, the hubris of these tragic heroes gradually leads them to their destruction...or to the bitter realization that a great many of the attacks a computer can suffer are fostered by a careless user.


Fanboys always wage wars based on prejudice. Regardless of the OS you like, an open mind will help you fly over the clouds of ignorance and, eventually, you can make a conscious choice about whether or not your OS satisfies your needs or if a migration is the solution to your computer woes or the beginning of them.

viernes, 24 de septiembre de 2010

Mandriva and Mageia: two open roads

Today, I had my first contact with the Mageia project. It came unexpectedly, like the gently march of the clouds up in the sky. I was reading entries in different threads in the Mandriva Community Chat Forum and, stung by curiosity, I re-opned a thread dealing with Mageia and another one following the official post by Mandriva S.A.

What I read in both threads steered from optimism to skepticism and back. Nevertheless, regarding Mageia and Mandriva, there was a very pragmatical post by DarkFoss that stated: "I wish both well.. Hard drives are large and cheap..plenty of room for both on my comp." To this, the moderator replied "That's the spirit!"

Then, suddenly, the fog of gloom that had been encircling the whole Mandriva/Mageia business vanished. To be honest, I was getting worried about what distro to use if Mandriva plummeted when I first heard the news about the company's financial woes. This apparently unsubstantiated worry cannot be understood unless one has suffered enough with Windows and happens to find a Linux distro that resembles his or her "ideal OS". That was my case with Mandriva.

However, with the Mageia fork, more uncertainty piled up, I must admit. I therefore visited the Mageia's page and joined an IRC... and, as in the Mepis/Mandriva forums, after a nice exchange with someone who kindly gave answers to my questions, I felt really welcomed. I have decided that I will follow both distros closely and support them both the best I can.

How about fanboyish spirit? I don't know. For a fork situation, I noticed a peculiar collaborative behavior that is not common when a house is divided. In the Mandriva Forum, a user is explaining what to do to join the Mageia mail lists. In the Mageia mail lists, if you reject the certificate of the page, it takes you to a Mandriva page. That does not look like the belligerent spirit that I have seen in other distros...

So, just like DarkFoss, I wish them both success, too. I hope I can enjoy the fruit of the Mageia project as much as I love my Mandriva 2010.1




martes, 21 de septiembre de 2010

Mageia and Mandriva


I've been using Mandriva since April, 2009. Thanks to this distribution, I realized that it was possible to operate a computer without Windows, despite I once believed that such an idea was unthinkable.

Of course, two years of commitment with this beautiful Mandriva OS have taught me a lot. My migration to Linux was a success because of the performance of this distribution.

However, Mandriva is now at the crossroads. Yes, here's where the road divides for the desktop distribution and the 11-year-old Linux company . The financial situation of the company has pushed a significant group of Mandriva developers to fork and they have started a new project: Mageia. This project comes as winds of hope for those of us who love the desktop distribution and that were puzzled by Mandriva S.A.'s secretism. Mageia's boat is full of seasoned Linux sailors and this new project was applauded in the community forum.

Shortly after the announcement about Mageia was made, Mandriva S.A. finally posted an official statement on the future of the distribution. Read about it here. So, it seems that the company does not want to let Mandriva (the distro) fall into oblivion.

The reaction to this new post in the forum showed opinions that collided. Some users want to stay with Mandriva; some others place their confidence on the Mageia project. All agree on the need to wait and see how events progress.

Will Mandriva come back stronger from its ashes, as a Phoenix? Will Mageia replace Mandriva and claim the heritage of Mandrake?

I suppose a year's wait will bring the answers to those two questions.

miércoles, 15 de septiembre de 2010

How to wake up to music with Linux

I remember that, to finish my thesis, I had to get up at 3AM for over two weeks. I had to sleep in my office and I used my computer to set and fire several alarms: one to play a song at the desired time, another one to launch the browser, and a third one to open the thesis document. Back then, I thought Windows was a great OS because I was able to do all that. However, to be honest, it was not Windows that was doing the trick, but third-party software.

Now that I migrated to Linux, I realized that you can achieve exactly the same but directly from the OS, that is, without resorting to third-party software at all.

This is the way to do it:

1. Before the OS loads, press the key that the computer tells you to get into the BIOS. It can be DEL, ESC, or any other key that the system indicates. You have to press it quickly; you will be taken to a screen that looks like this:



2. Once in the BIOS, look for the Power Management page and follow the screen instructions to get "Resume by Alarm" or "Power On Alarm".
Set the desired time. Save (normally by pressing F-10), accept (yes) and then the computer reboots.


With this, the computer will turn on by itself at the desired time as long as it is plugged to a power outlet. That should be enough if you want the computer to wake you up. However, the idea is to make it play a song that you like and launch the programs that you need. To do that, you need to set some alarms in KOrganizer.




3. KOrganizer is hidden in Mandriva 2010 Spring. To find it, go to the bottom-right panel and click on the arrow to display it. KOrganizer, which is the program that will fire the alarms you set up, is a nice organizer that works pretty much like Outlook, only that KOrganizer is not so heavy on computer resources.







4. Once you find it, click to launch it and input the date and the time. You can just select the time periods as blocks on the schedule. Once you have set the time, you need to choose whether you wan to add an event or a "to-do" task. Actually, there is little difference for our purposes, but I normally go for "Add new event".







5. The following step is very easy: the alarms. There is a red icon that indicates the reminders.


You must click the box to be able to configure reminders. Once the box is checked, some options are enabled. Click on "advanced" to configure the time. Take into account that if the event is set at 8:30AM and you choose the reminder "5 minutes before the event starts", your alarm will go off at 8:26AM.

Now, if you want the computer to play a song for you, select "sound" and look for your song.
Obviously, you have to click OK to confirm and your sound alarm will be ready. If you want to launch your browser, select "application" instead of "sound" and specify the name of your browser. You can do the same for any other program.


I hope this tutorial saves Linux newbies like me some time when there is not any to lose ;-)

domingo, 12 de septiembre de 2010

I got Seven from 7

Last week, as usual, my USB drive got infected from a public computer. What is interesting here is that this was a Windows 7 system. Coincidentally, the malware that jumped to my USB drive was called seven.exe so I checked online to see what it does, partly in jealousy because Megatotoro reported that he got his first beacon.

It turns out that seven.exe is a worm that has been around since 2007 (hence the name) and, consequently, predates Windows 7, which was released in 2009.

Because of this incident, I indulged in some irrational thoughts...

How come a two-year-old threat is still capable of infecting Windows systems in September 2010? I should have expected the so-acclaimed Windows 7 to be immune to the diseases XP and Vista suffered. After all, they called 7 "an UPGRADE". So, what qualities make it an "upgrade"? Apparently, security is not one of them. Spare me the new bar! What is so glorious about Windows 7 if old malware still compromises it? Where are the security improvements? MS Essentials? They take you to fake antiviruses to infect your computer with ransomeware!

I get a new virus from that computer every week and, every time, its owners claim that the system is well protected. It is until I plug the USB drive in Linux that I see the protection Windows systems give me.

No wonder why people are so reluctant to migrate from XP to 7. After the XP dynasty and the failed reign of Vista, one would have expected Windows 7, the successor, to be made of sterner stuff...

jueves, 9 de septiembre de 2010

Las particiones de Mandriva: ventajas y desventajas

Las HP Mini me están empezando a cansar. ¿Por qué HP vende netbooks con el disco duro tan particionado? Cuatro particiones (y dos prácticamente inútiles) son demasiadas. Además, eso impide que uno pueda fácilmente instalar Mandriva, ya que esta distribución Linux crea tres particiones: la partición de sistema, la de swap, y la de home (datos del usuario)

La ventaja del particionado de Mandriva radica en que, si por alguna razón uno debe reinstalar el sistema, sencillamente puede hacerlo formateando la partición de sistema. Todos los datos, elementos personalizados y archivos del usuario se mantendrán intactos. De esta forma, su computadora estará TOTALMENTE lista en cosa de media hora.

La desventaja es que, cuando el OEM misteriosamente crea cuatro particiones, es más difícil para un usuario inexperto instalar Linux. ¿Será esta una nueva técnica para impedir que los "usuarios satisfechos" con Windows 7 Starter migren a Linux?

domingo, 5 de septiembre de 2010

A prickly questionnaire

When people see my OS, they always ask the question "What version of Windows is that?" I answer that I use Linux and most of them look at me as if I had spoken a word in some sort of an alien language. Then, afer I tell them what Linux is and what it can do, most of them give me a funny look, that funny look, as if I were delusional.

I understand that people feel comfortable with Windows, despite the fact that this OS has a talent for hiding or corrupting files, failing to rescue documents, getting all sorts of infections, and "upgrading" to mostly cosmetic features instead of significant ones. After all, under Windows, you can bloat the computer with third-party software to patch holes or obtain the benefits that an OS should give you...or, at least, to try to get very close to that.

However, without third-party solutions, Linux can rescue your files, even when Windows gives up on you. Read this. In addition, Linux has a price that is difficult to beat , and its learning curve has been grossly exaggerated.

I created this questionnaire (based on my experience with Windows) to ask back to those people who think that Linux was not a good idea for me. Maybe, this is going to explain my choice more clearly to them.

A Questionnaire for Windows Users--from an ex Windows user

1. When was the last time that Windows succeeded at rescuing your files?

2. Was the need to rescue files derived from a virus infection, a hacker intrusion, or a normal crash of your OS?

3. Do you truly think that your OS crashes should be considered "normal"?

4. What OS were you using last time you got a virus in your computer?

5. If your antivirus detects a virus but can't remove it...do you know how to remove the threat manually?

6. If you do... Is that an easy process that you can repeat in exactly the same way for all viruses?

7. How long does it take to remove a virus (in average) using your AV software?

8. And without it?

9. Are you happy when you add up the cost of the OS, the office suite, and additional security software?

10. Do you pay for all that?

11. If you pay for your OS, do you do it because you are entirely satisfied with the product, because you are a loyal costumer, or because you have no choice?

12. If you did not pay for your OS, are you a proud pirate?

13. Would you like to get a legal suit from an economically-powerful software company?

14. What would you do if you got one from the company that makes your OS?

15. If you pirate not to pay for software...don't you think that using only free software makes more sense?

16. When was the last time you had to pay for your hard disk to be formatted and your OS to be reinstalled?

17. Do you feel satisfied calling formatting and reinstalling "regular maintenance operations"?

18. If you install your OS yourself...how long does the process take?

19. Did you include the time for the office suite and all the programs that you like in your answer for #18?

20. Do you have any guarantee that the next version of the OS you use will support your printer, scanner, and other hardware?

21. How about the files you made with the office suite you paid for? Will those be supported, or are you going to be expected to buy a new office suite?

22. If you consider carefully your answers for #20 and #21, do you think that the company that makes your OS really cares for your needs as a costumer?

23. If you understand that the company wants to make a profit at your expenses and it overlooks your needs, why do you support it with your money and why are you even willing to pay others to solve the problems that the company's products create?

24. If your answer was "because there is no choice", you know there are other choices. If fact, you are seeing one. Why are you brushing off the question?

25. How much more are you willing to take in the name of your OS? Let me rephrase that, "What does it take for you to try other choices?


I asked myself all those questions a year ago and that explains why I am using Linux today. Of course, I had to learn to operate this new OS and I made mistakes. However, in all this time, I haven't had anything that resembles--even remotely-- all the problems I had with Redmond's OSs. Nothing justifies all the money and time I wasted with Windows in 11 years.

One thing is sure: when my Linux computer finally stops working, at least I will know that my OS did everything possible to keep it alive. Windows, on the other hand, just tells you that your computer is not "good enough" to run the OS. But I learned that, for Microsoft, no currently available computer is good enough to run the latest version of Windows anyway. Mark my words: your nice computer running 7 today will be "obsolete" by the time Microsoft releases Windows 8. However, we know that, although some of the hardware might have become "older", what is actually obsolete for the Redmond software company is their OS, not the computer itself. And they have no regrets about spending any amount of money to fool you into believing that your hardware is to be blamed!

viernes, 3 de septiembre de 2010

Confessions from a Relatively New Linux User

I was a Windows user once. Well, I still am to a certain degree: in my work, I sometimes have to use the XP platform that, with iron claws, resists the burial services that Microsoft has sung in its memory more than twice.

I began my Windows experience with Windows 3.11, jumped to 95 (I still keep the upgrade CD that rendered my computer useless), bought my copy of 98, and even learned to coexist with the rather recurrent BSODs of Windows ME. During those days, my brother received a bonus CD that included promotional software. I remember seeing the word "Linux" there for the first time but, although I felt tempted to try it, I never did. This way, Linux became a distant toll of an unknown bell in my head. To be honest, Windows "Mistake Edition" had grown so dear to me that I stubbornly refused to abandon it to try XP. Yet, my determination failed with the purchase of a new computer and XP became my system of choice. Back then, Microsoft would still let me "choose" my OS...or so I thought.

As a plain user, I spent more than eleven years of my life mastering life-saving secrets to protect my Windows system. The peak of my learning took place during the XP dynasty; my brother, who has always been two steps ahead of me, gave me fine weaponry that included a zombie monitor, an antivirus solution, a firewall, a malware monitor, multiple vaccines for USB drives, programs for regaining browser control and many other third-party software solutions that supposedly transformed my Windows system into the desktop equivalent of an M1 Abrams. Yet, regardless of all protection, my computer was still vulnerable. Mysterious viruses would easily filter through cracks invisible to the untrained eye and nest in the untouchable brain tissue of the OS. Therefore, shamanic rituals were required to keep my desktop usable...some more aggressive forms of therapy, like formatting, had to be repeated once every three months to keep malware from growing and spreading.

Then, Vista came along with its bothersome "Are you sure you want to to this?" and virtually the same problems XP had. I began suspecting that there should be more to life than that never-ending sense of vulnerability.

Thanks to a netbook, I had contact with the Penguin again. This netbook was powered by Linux Xandros, an OS that I decided I loathed despite being invulnerable to well-known threats, so I replaced it with the familiar XP. It was a deadly mistake: because of the modest metrics of the netbook, XP would take five minutes to boot, menus would freeze, and XP ate disk space avidly...not to mention that I had not even installed the office suite! With Xandros, the computer was fast as a bullet (30 sec to boot), had enough disk space to work, and even received voice command! Thus, I decided that, if I was to use Linux, I had to find a Linux that I liked.

I knew nothing about Linux then, so my impractical (yet fun) plan was to download distributions at random and to test them one by one. Thus, I got Kubuntu first. I liked the way it looked, but there was a terrible flaw: it did not activate the wi-fi.

Hence, I downloaded Mandriva 2009. If it failed, my next choice was Linux Mint Gloria...but Mandriva picked up the wi-fi without my intervention. For me, that settled the matter and I installed Mandriva to the netbook. With it, the machine worked almost perfectly, except for a nuisance: one had to turn off the computer manually. "If I could live with viruses all this time, I can certainly overlook that problem", I said to myself. Nevertheless, I did not have to deal with that issue for long. In November 2009, Mandriva 2010 ("Adelie") was released and this new version took care of the shut down problem.

I cannot say that my journey with Linux was a rosy road. I have discovered that Mandriva has several flaws (the way of handling uninstallation of dependencies is, by far, its Achilles' heel). However, my determination not to go back to the world of viruses has pushed me into learning about Linux. Today, I'm using Mandriva 2010.1 ("Farman") and I'm the happiest camper.

Although my brother was reluctant to try Linux at first, he discovered SimplyMepis and fell for it. And, despite his somewhat tardy start, he is still two steps ahead of me.

Some weeks ago, he asked me if I remembered that almost-forgotten bonus CD with Linux. He said that he ran it to see which Linux distribution it contained.

"So, which distro was it?", I asked.
"Mandrake", he replied.

When the disciple is ready, the master will come.

sábado, 28 de agosto de 2010

Are these actually PC problems?

When this blog was born, I wanted to record everything I was learning from computers. I believe that a computer is a great tool when it works on your side and not against you.

Since I started recording my experiences here, I have seen many problems and read a lot online about many more threats. Interestingly, they are all reported as PC issues. Among the most common situations one can find:

1. Rarely are USB drives clean. It doesn't matter what your antivirus software tells you (AV technologies catch in average 19% of threats according to statistics). Once those jump into your HD, prepare for a whole lot of fun trying to remove them.

2. Portable Hard Disks are not immune to USB viruses. USB viruses think of them as gigantic flashdrives.

3. Security is almost a synonym of insecurity. Even the highly-praised MS Security Essentials got hit and cooperated with viruses!

4. You must be prepared for your system to fail, be it due to a system failure or a user-caused problem. Sometimes it will happen sooner than expected. How about four months (as in this case)? Well, that should give you a reasonable time span for you to make your back ups... Being computers fallible and vulnerable, users should bear and grin when these problems occur.

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Well, I disagree. I also bought a netbook four months ago. It is, by definition, a PC, but it has not crashed so far. It does not get infected regardless of how many hours I spend online everyday or how many infected USB drives I plug to it (I have seen 53 different viruses in two weeks). So, it is secure. When people ask me about my efficient antivirus, they open up their eyes in astonishment as they hear that I do not have an antivirus because my OS protects me; it is is my antivirus.

An experienced reader who goes online under PJCOLON once said: "It's disconcerting that when the so-called technical publications report on malware, trojans, botnets, etc, it is always a PC problem they never call it out for what it really is: A Windows OS/application problem. I'm using a GNU/Linux powered PC and I do not have any malware problems. Do you?"

So, PJCOLON is right. Those in the list are not PC-bound issues, but OS problems. The press should start reporting them as what they really are: the intrinsic flaws of Windows, not of PCs. My Mandriva desktop has none of those. Nor does my Mandriva netbook. As far as I have heard, the other members of the Linux family (Mepis , Pardus, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, Sabayon, Arch, and the rest) that run on PCs stand solid against viruses.

However, before you migrate to Linux, you must know that, as in any change of OS, a successful migration depends on intelligent choices and understanding of the situation. I will discuss that later.