The new Ubuntu theme

I’m not sure I like the new Ubuntu theme. But I should probably mention that since I started using Ubuntu in 2005 I’ve not used any default theme for longer than a day, and have instead largely stuck with the default Gnome theme (currently Clearlooks), or anything that is blue and doesn’t get in my way.

I’m a great fan of user interface, and think a good interface is integral to a pleasant computing experience. But I also believe in the freedom to make my computer look however it needs to look to be productive for me. I’ve had a play with the beta version of 10.04 tonight, and it took me about a minute to get it looking identical to what I’m used to.

This largely means that although the new theme is not to my taste, it will in no way make me less productive. And being productive is all I really care about because the quicker I can do what I need to do on my computer, the quicker I can be spending time doing the things that really matter.

Reinstalling Ubuntu

This weekend I decided to reinstall my laptop. Largely because it’s been through two Ubuntu upgrades (8.10 –> 9.04 –> 9.10), and also because it was still on an ex3 file system and my netbook on ex4 is a lot snappier with less memory. I also wanted to reclaim the disk space previously used for Vista, which was largely going to waste.

My method for re-installation is as follows:

  1. Back up the whole of my home directory (including hidden files). In my case this was about 83Gb.
  2. Do a clean install of Ubuntu 9.10 from USB. This took under 10 minutes, which was a record for me.
  3. Do software updates and installation of anything outside the base install that I need (very little in my case). This required a reboot for a new kernel.
  4. Copy back the home directory, trying not to do anything else at the same time to avoid config files getting overwritten.
  5. Download and install dropbox.
  6. Log out, and log back in.

After an hour or so (of copying data) I found myself with an identical looking interface, but with a lot more extra space, a snappier feel, and no loss of data.

It probably took about 2 hours in total (of which 90% was copying data), and I didn’t have to do anything I’d regard as too scary for a non-technical user.

Various technology related ramblings

I was going to write a post about the iPad, but I think most of what I wanted to say has been expressed in quite a few other places. Largely, I think it looks pretty, but the lack of customisation and multitasking mean that if I was to get one, I don’t think I’d get the use out of it that the price tag would require, although I do concede that this product is going to appeal greatly to non-technical users.

I should also mention Firefox 3.6, which actually does seem faster than 3.5, and which I’ve been using for a few days now without noticing anything different other than the speed (I like new things, but I also dislike unnecessary interface changes because they cause my brain to have to think for an extra second or two).

Ubuntu users wanting to get hold of the latest releases of Mozilla software might want to try the ubuntuzilla repository which seems to work a treat.

What else?

Well, I’ve not really stumbled upon any other new and interesting technology this week, largely because I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work and have had very little recreational internet time. I have however noticed that Facebook seems to be prompting me to “reconnect” with people I see every day (it’s not suggested Steph yet, but it’s only a matter of time), which makes me wish there was a setting to define people with whom I largely interact with offline. That way Facebook might actually prompt me to talk to people I really do actually need to reconnect with.

Setting up a quick and easy virtual web server

I did a fair bit of work on this about a year ago, and then never got round to writing it up. What I was trying to achieve was to have a minimal virtual server running in VirtualBox, which could been seen from the outside world and would appear to all extent and purposes to be a real physical machine.

Start off by creating a new VM. I went with a totally stripped down installation of Ubuntu (from the alternative CD), adding just openssh-server and apache2 to the default install. I called it Ubuntu Minimal (the name will become important later).

Boot up the new VM, and then on the host machine enter the following commands (replacing the name of the VM with what you decided to call yours):

VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/ssh/HostPort" 2222
VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/ssh/GuestPort" 22
VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/ssh/Protocol" TCP
VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/apache2/HostPort" 8008
VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/apache2/GuestPort" 80
VBoxManage setextradata "Ubuntu Minimal" "VBoxInternal/Devices/pcnet/0/LUN#0/Config/apache2/Protocol" TCP

Power down the VM, start it up again, and then you should be able to ssh into it on port 2222 and pull up apache’s “it works!” page by browsing to http://localhost:8008. At that point you can install web apps and do whatever else you want with the server.

It doesn’t take up a great deal of memory, so you could probably have a couple of these running on most computers without any obvious performance degradation.

A brief life update

This week I’ve largely been:

  • Listening to the new albums by The Flaming Lips, Atlas Sound, Charlotte Hatherley and Broadcast (all of which I’m really enjoying)
  • Updating my main workstation to Ubuntu 9.10
  • Learning about Google Wave
  • Trying to juggle various work tasks (and not dropping anything hopefully).

Oh, and I still hate this time of year. Even though we had no annoying begging children this year, there is still the firework-hating dog to deal with.

A few words on Operating Systems

To me, Windows 7 doesn’t seem much of an improvement on Vista. What is does do is return to making me think that the look and feel was modelled on a child’s toy. With XP it was Fisher Price, with Vista it was some flashy Japanese toy that looked good but no-one played with. And with 7 it is Lego. Just look at the dock and tell me I’m not right.

What with Snow Leopard being underwhelming, and Windows 7 not exactly making me want to switch back, I think Ubuntu 9.10 has me totally sold in the Autumn 2009 OS wars.

But there again, I’m ever so slightly biased.

Sensible window sizes on Dell’s version of Ubuntu

I love my Dell Mini, but there are a couple of “features” added by Dell that drive me mad. One of these is called Maximus. It’s an application that tells any window that opens on the desktop to open full-screen. It’s particularly annoying with applications I’ve added myself (like Empathy), as the default applications seem preconfigured to ignore it. I’ve had a poke around in gconf-editor (install it with sudo apt-get install gconf-editor if it doesn’t exist already), and the key that needs editing is called /apps/maximus/exclude_class (see below for details):


It’s basically a list of applications that open with the same window size they closed with rather than open in full-screen.

Double click on the key, and you should get the following dialogue:

Screenshot-Edit Key

Click on the plus button, and add whatever applications you need as shown below:

Screenshot-Add New List Entry

Then click on OK. Next time you open the applications in question they should honour your desired window size.

Upgrading Ubuntu 8.04 to 3.1

This guide has all the required info, and worked like a charm on my netbook running 8.04 and my laptop running 9.04 (although it was simpler than the guide suggests in both cases). I’ll hopefully write a more comprehensive guide at some point soon, because I think 3.1 is something that people should consider upgrading to.

I’m really not noticing the fact that I’m running 8.04 on my Dell Mini, largely because I’ve upgraded most of what I use regularly to later versions.

Mass converting .bmp to .jpg

I’m largely posting this because I’ve had to do it twice recently and forgot how to do it both times.

The command to convert a whole folder of images from .bmp to .jpg (on Linux, obviously) is:

mogrify -format jpg *.bmp

It’s really that simple, and is actually a lot quicker than I thought it would be. You need ImageMagick installed, but most distros will have that by default anyway.

Synching with folders outside of /dropbox

This could probably be summed up in a few words (the words being “use symlinks”).

Basically, what I wanted to do was to sync several folders outside my dropbox folder (for various reasons). The solution was to create a shortcut in the folder I wanted to sync, and then moving the link to my dropbox folder.  This can be done of the command line by typing something like:

ln -s /home/folder/to/sync /home/andy/dropbox/synched_folder

This could be used in all sorts of ways, some of which I may blog about over the next couple of weeks.