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Internet content filtering in Linux 27 January, 2009

Posted by aronzak in Linux, Mozilla Firefox, web.

For some reason you want to use content filtering software. You’ve probably heard of or used a few tools specifically for Windows.  Here are some solutions for Linux:

1. Dansguardian

Dansguardian works best with the proxy squid. It does some advanced url filtering, using slightly more complicated techniques to block some URLs. sites containing both one and a second listed word are blocked, as well as media such as pictures and video URLs with listed words. This is fairly clever, but has some problems. Sometimes, this has blocked Google for me, as some URLs with random strings of characters (used to track which search results are clicked on) can be blocked.

Content filtering is done with words and phrases having scores, positive or negative. Sites then get a total score based on their content.Interestingly, this can be positive and negative. For example, the word ‘breast’ is bad, but ‘breast cancer’ is a good phrase. In theory, this should limit the amount of overblocking. Dansguardian also filters against anonymous web proxies, which could otherwise be used to bypass filtering.

Sites are blocked if their score is over the ‘naughtiness’ threshold as defined in /etc/dansguardian/dansguardianf1.conf.

Dansguardian is meant to be used in a public sector network, such as a school or library. By default, it blocks many downloads that could contain viruses, or filtering circumvention software. In a home setup, this is just irritating. To stop this, blank out the configuration file that controls blocking files based on extensions; echo “” > /etc/dansguardian/lists/bannedextensionlist

Installation instructions

Dansguardian needs to be used with a web proxy. The installation of Dansguardian itself is fairly easy, with Dansguardian filtering on one port. Getting it to filter the entire connection is more complicated.

1 Install the squid and dansguardian packages.

apt-get install dansguardian squid

2 Edit /etc/dansguardian/dansguardian.conf file and remove the line that says “UNCONFIGURED”.
3 Start the dansguardian daemon.

/etc/init.d/dansguardian start

4 In Firefox,  open up edit -> preferences -> “Advanced” tab -> “Network” Tab > “Settings” button. Set it to manual proxy. Put (localhost)  in the IP address box and 8080 in the port box.
5 Try to connect to goolge.com to verify you can still connect to the internet.
Finally, check that the filter is working by checking that the network traffic is being logged. Open the file /var/log/dansguardian/access.log.

cat /var/log/dansguardian/access.log

There should be an entry there saying google.com. If the file doesn’t exist, something isn’t set up right.

2 Willow Content Filter

Willow adopts the novel concept of using Bayesian analysis to filter the web. Bayesian analysis is currently useb by most spam filters. The concept is that you have a ‘good’ and a’bad’ sample, and the filter can find ‘spamminess’ as a percentage match to the samples. Unfortunately, spammers attempt to make this difficuly by inserting ‘normal’ text into spam. Unlike spammers, most adult website owners are probably broadly supportive of efforts to more effectively filter the internet, as evidenced by the existence of voluntary labelling efforts.

In theory, Bayesian web filtering should work better than the more rigid score based system, with less overblocking or underblocking. Not only does it use words in the title, metas and body of a page, but it analyses the structure of the page itself. The system may also run faster than Dansguardian.

One issue this creates is that samples of content must be provided, including both kinds. Currently, these are not encrypted, or obfuscated. This creates some potential legal and moral hurdles in distributing and using willow.

Installation instructions

1. Download willow

2. Extract it to /var

3. Edit /var/willow/willow.conf and remove ‘exefilter’

4. You might need to.install some more software. Try installing python-profiler and python-central

5. That should be it. Run /var/willow/willow.py –config=/var/willow/willow.conf

6. Set up Firefox as above, to port 8000 (or whatever it is set to in /var/willow/willow.conf)

If that doesn’t work, edit the configuration some more. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much support for willow right now.

3 Fx Extensions

While not as effective, Procon is extremely easy to install. Foxfilter is another filtering extension, but I find it a little slower and more clunky. If firefox is your only browser, this is an easy option.

(4) MintNanny

Linux Mint has introduced a novel way to prevent domains from being accessed by redirecting the request to by modifying the /etc/hosts file. This is a neat approach as it does not require any software to be set up, but, unless you are going to try and subscribe to a domain blacklist, it is relatively ineffective. Most web routers will give you this kind of simple filtering anyway.

If you want to give this a go, you don’t need the MintNanny frontend. Just get in there and edit /etc/hosts yourself. You can even redirect to another IP. Just add in a site you really don’t want to see, as in the example.          microsoft.com   microsoft

The IP here is one for google.com. Neat. You could also put in the IP of your own server.


So there you have it. If you are setting up a non-home network, you’ll probably want to filter transparently. This is complicated to set up and involves editing the configuration of iptables or your proxy. Good luck. Below are some extras that you might want to use if you do use DG or willow

You may want to edit the page that Dansguardian shows when a resource is blocked to give you the full reason. This can be quite long, so I stuck it in a box.

	<font color=red>
	<font color=black>
	<form action="/html/tags/html_form_tag_action.cfm" method="post">Full Reason:<br />
		<textarea style="width:500px;height:100px;background-color:#FF9900;">
		</textarea><br />

The logs Dansguardian gives contain a whole lot of sometimes irrelevant information. Below is a list to process a log file using the tab format, so that it is easier to read. In the future, it would be nice to work on a way of adding this to a database, and sorting into domains.

# Author: Aronzak
# License: GPL
# A script to process Dansguardian log files

# Use tab formatted access.log
# 1	Date Time
# 2
# 3	IP
# 4	URL
# 5	Full Denied report
# 7	File size
# 8	Score
# 9	Short Denied report
# 10	1
# 11	HTML error code
# 12	Type
# Edit the following variable to add/remove wanted fields in processed log:


cat /var/log/dansguardian/access.log | cut -f $DESIREDFIELDS > $DEST/full
cat /var/log/dansguardian/access.log | grep DENIED | cut -f $DESIREDFIELDS > $DEST/denied
if [ -f $DEST/old ]; then
	diff $DEST/denied $DEST/old > $DEST/diff
	if [ "`cat $DEST/diff | grep '<'`" != "" ]; then
		echo "bad"
cp $DEST/denied $DEST/old

Willow has a minimal page displayed when a resorce is blocked. I changed this to be more like the Dnasguardian page. The page that is displayed is set three times in urlfilter.py, domainfilter.py and contentfilter.py.

DEFAULTMSG = ('<html><head><title>Content Filtered</title></head>'
              '<body bgcolor=#FFFFFF><center>'
              '<table border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=2 height=540 width=700>'
              '	<td colspan=2 bgcolor=#FEA700 height=100 align=center>'
              '	<font face=arial,helvetica size=6>'
              '	<b>Access has been Denied!</b>'
              '	</td>'
              '	<td align=center valign=bottom width=150 bgcolor=#B0C4DE><font size=1 >'
              '	<a href="http://www.digitallumber.net/software/willow/" target="_blank">Willow Content Filter</a>'
              '	</td>'
              '	<td width=550 bgcolor=#FFFFFF align=center valign=center><font size=4>'
              '	Access has been denied.<br><br><br><br>'
              '	The content of the resource requested has been determined to be innappropriate<br><br>'
              '	If you have any queries contact your ICT Coordinator or Network Manager.'
              '	<br><br><br><br><br></tr></table></body></html>')

You might want to back up the files before editing them. Have fun.


PortableApps in Puppy Linux 1 January, 2009

Posted by aronzak in Linux, portableapps, Puppy Linux.
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Puppy Linux can be installed on your USB stick. So can PortableApps, a collection of cross platform open source software that can run on Windows. Interestingly, nearly all of the apps also run perfectly in wine, except for a few issues. So, I got an idea. Why not try and integrate the two.

I created a simple script that can run at startup to check weather the Portableapps.com suite is installed, and then if wine is installed, offer to start it, and if not, offer to download and install wine. Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s some screenshots of it in use:

First, the obligatory desktop shot.


After copying my script to the ‘Startup’ folder and restarting X, a dialog pops up.


In a new version, the network connection setup comes up so that you can actually set up a connection before you try and download a file (whoops).

3The file will download and then you are prompted to install the package.


All done, wine is now installed.


Just keeping the user clued in.

6And now the desktop with the PortableApps Menu


Ok, and finally, two versions of abiword are running, the PortableApps one on top, and the native one on the bottom.


NB. Take a look at that compatibility page. Abiword doesn’t work that well.

Finally, here’s a new version of the script that I wrote:

# Author: Aronzak
# Download and install wine

if [ -f /mnt/home/PortableApps/PortableAppsMenu/PortableAppsMenu.exe ]; then
 if [ -f /usr/bin/wine ]; then
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --yesno "Wine is installed. \nWould you like to run PortableApps?" 0 0
  [ ! $? -eq 0 ] && exit 0
  wine /mnt/home/PortableApps/PortableAppsMenu/PortableAppsMenu.exe
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --yesno "You have PortableApps installed on your usb stick.\n Congratulations. Would you like to download and\n install wine so that you can run PortableApps in Puppy?\n (Download is around 8MB)" 0 0
  [ ! $? -eq 0 ] && exit 0
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --no-cancel --msgbox "Please use the networking wizard to set up a network connection." 0 0
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --yesno "Would you like to download wine now? \n (Download is around 8MB)" 0 0
  [ ! $? -eq 0 ] && exit 0
  echo "wget http://downloads.sourceforge.net/wine/wine-1.1.10-i486-1kjz.tgz?modtime=1228522686&big_mirror=1" > /tmp/runme
  echo "wait" >> /tmp/runme
  echo "tgz2pet wine-1.1.10-i486-1kjz.tgz 2> /dev/null" >> /tmp/runme
  echo "wait" >> /tmp/runme
  echo "exit" >> /tmp/runme
  chmod +x /tmp/runme
  rxvt -bg "orange" -title "Puppy Universal Installer" -geometry 80x10 -e /tmp/runme
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --no-cancel --msgbox "Wine downloaded. Will now install." 0 0
  pupget /root/wine-1.1.10-i486-1kjz.pet
  Xdialog --title "Run PortableApps" --no-cancel --msgbox "Wine should now be installed. Will now run PortableApps." 0 0
  wine /mnt/home/PortableApps/PortableAppsMenu/PortableAppsMenu.exe

I’d appreciate feedback to improve the script. Does this work for you?

Windows vs Linux mk 2 26 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux, Windows, XP.

A short while ago, I installed Windows XP on one of my computers. *horror*. It’s not so bad. It does some things quite well. Even after bloating it up with about 50 open source apps, it still seems to chug away quite merrily. I gor rid of the antivirus software, as it slowed the system down. What is this  ‘virus’ thing that everyone keeps talking about anyway? Today, a win to Linux and a win to Windows XP.

Round 1: Camera images. Winner: XP

First, I tried to copy some images off a camera. Not having a card reader handy, I used the camera itself. Plugging it into Debian did SFA. didn’t bother doing anything. Ubuntu seemed not to want to boot a few times (she can be rather tempramental) and finally, when it did, it failed. A camera icon came up, clicking on which did nothing. CentOS failed, bringing up an error that some driver or another wasn’t there. Plugging this into the XP installation, it worked straight away, with no need for any extra software. I remember the dumbed down system is terrible, so I opted to use ‘advanced mode’ and just copy the pictures straight off the machine. Worked a treat. Win to XP.

Round 2: Shell extensions. Winner: KDE

Right. THat was done. Next, I had a bizarre idea of trying to make QEMU easier to use by creating a shell extension in the context menu, so that I can double click on a disk image (.iso) and automatically virtualise it. It isn’t at all obvious how to do this. Searching for some combination of ‘context menu’ and ‘windows XP’ on the net is disastrous. Huge numbers of results come up, all telling me a very particular way of doing one particular thing. Most of them want me to install thier own crappy freeware utilities, which will pimp out some aspect of my context menu or another. After going through the registry (I remember that thing! I hate it! I really do hate it! In fact, it’s the worst thing there is about Windows. It’s worse even than shared dlls, which accumulate like cholesterol) in several different places, and hoping that modifying any of the different keys and values wouldn’t set my computer on fire, I achieved little. Well, now I can get a command prompt to open when I click on a folder.

After ploughing through the arcane scrolls of the Windows registry, I decide to venture into ‘Folder options’ and file associations. I have to create my own entry for .iso, as the dumb system doesn’t recognise it by default (come on!). Anyway, the long and short of all of this is that after spending over an hour loking up different things nothing worked. Amazingly, QEMU seems to like being run from a shell, and given the name of an iso after -cdrom, but using “%1” does not work. Really strange.

Then, swith to KDE to see if it is possible. I right clicked on an iso, clicked on “open with > other” and then clicked on a drop down box. I noted vlc %U, then simply entered qemu -cdrom %U. Works a charm.That took me two clicks and about ten seconds. Win: Linux.

Really, the final winner is Linux. I know that pictures have worked for me straight away with no hassles in Ubuntu before, but that was an old install. It’s the conficurability that gets me more. I mean, I wasted a whole lot of time on the assumption that operating systems are made to be configured to suit the user’s needs. With Windows, this simply isn’t true.

I think that the whole XP experience has taught me a few useful lessons.

1. Linux is not ‘vastly superior’. Many Linux people have not used Windows on a powerful computer at home. The last version of Windows that I had run before was ME, which was fairly unimpressive. I had only seen XP on an underpowered laptop (where it ran appalingly) and on school and uni machines. I think that there’s a risk of ‘setting up the straw man’. That’s when you argue against a something that you claim is an opposition’s arguement, but isn’t. There’s a risk of that if Linux people have never really used Windows for themselves, and merely rely on what other Linux people tell them. Finally, I think that it’s good to acnowledge this:

Windows XP is good but has some faults.

Windows Vista is good but has many faults.

Mac OSX is good but has some faults.

Linux is good but has some faults.

In some tests, Linux will vastly outperform Windows. But that;s just propaganda. In reality, both have their strong points and substantial weak points. Windows is mainly weak on letting power users get on with what they want to do. Linux is extremely weak at helping new users, but is getting much better.

2. Open source is best marketed on the Windwos platform.

There are hundreds of open source applications that are cross paltform and will run under Windows. More people downloaded Open Office 3 Windows executables than Linux packages when it came out. Yes, many Linux people will use their distribution’s own software updating system to get a new version, but still, it says something. I think that trying to get people to use open source programs will be more successful if you offer them new applications, rather than a whole new operating system. People are generally afraid of breaking their system, and having to ‘learn something new’. Keep a few installers on a USB stick, as well as a live Linux distribution.

Sexism and Linux 17 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Linux.
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A lot of people have been kicking up a stink because of a post on a Debian developer mailing list that was designed to incite anger. In and of themselves, flames are nothing new and certainly nothing to get excited about. What is, however, is that in this instance sexist humour was used, demonstrating a  deliberate intention to insult female developers in the Debian project. According to a guide to encourage women to participate in Linux development, this is the number one thing not to allow.

Sexist jokes are the number one way to drive women out of any group…

Already two developers have considered leaving the project. Discouraging developers from open source projects is a bad idea. Clearly, this is a significant issue for project leaders to face. The questions that must be asked are why does this occur; and what can be done about it?

1. Attacking others is a result of insecurity.

Josselin Mouette, the one that wrote the offensive post, has written about it on his blog. He makes a few telling statements.

While a few developers have the chance to be paid for their job on Debian, most of us are doing it on our spare time, for fun

Debian has a long history of its releases being late. The previous release, codenamed ‘etch’ was delayed for several months. This was due to a highly controversial decision made by the Debian Project Leader (DPL) of the time who created a programme to raise funds, and then pay some people so that the etch release would be on time. This backfired, as there was an objection “that by financially supporting developers, Debian would become a two-class system”. The current DPL may be in favour of introducing a similar scheme in which some developers would be paid.

The reason Joss writes his tasteless joke is possibly out of anger at the current DPL, and possibly out of fear of his own contributions not being valued. Because of this, Joss tries to draw attention to himself, and build up his own reputation. Joss’s original post contained a link to a site that counted the number of visitors. This is purely egotistical.

2. Attacking others is the result of poor guidelines.

The DPL, when “faced with a sarcastic email sent to an announcement mailing list, immediately rushed in to send a ban request to list masters”. This is the right response, but it it only reactionary. It would be better if clear policies regarding what is allowed to be posted to mailing lists were in place.

3. Attacking others is the result of poor moderation.

As well as better guidelines, we need to use better software. One article in FSM suggests that forums are the answer, as the moderation system is better. Also, a critical element of every forum is the little bar that shows how respected someone is. That way, a noob is marked out, and it is made clear that their opinion is not that of the group.

So ban the jerks and put the fun back in for everyone. Mailing list software is lousy at moderation options, so don’t use it!

Finally, I agree with Joss on one thing:

So it seems the only thing the DPL has to do, at a time when we’d rather need people to fix RC bugs, is to protect the project from seditious members

And at a time when devs like you should be doing their jobs, they are sending sarcastic and inflammatory messages designed to provoke anger and boost their ego. Did someone drop you on your head when you were a baby?

At the moment, the major distributions are Ubuntu, Fedora and Suse. If someone asked me about Linux a few years ago, I would have recommended Debian to them. Now I’d recommend Ubuntu.

Debian has never been a user friendly distribution. It has always had an elitist ideology, discouraging beginners. Ubuntu came along and created something better. Community backed, delivering reliable releases, and targeting ordinary users on the desktop, Ubuntu has achieved what Debian never accomplished. After Ubuntu stole the spotlight from Debian, a nasty and ultimately pathetic undercurrent started to appear. This doesn’t help anyone, and it is killing off the last of the project. Debian has been marginalised by Ubuntu, and will continue its slide into irrelevance if the childish antics of its developers continue.

Ext4, a new Linux Filesystem 4 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux.
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Phoronix has tested the new Ext4 filesystem, which is a step up before going to the even newer and better btrfs system. Ext4 will be backwards and forwards compatible, with stable support coming soon in the upcoming 2.6.28 Linux kernel. Ext3 was adopted as default by mainstream Linux distributions, mainly due to its stability. It is not feature rich, however, lacking many useful deatures that are present in the alternative ZFS. Ext4 being a spepping stone should ensure mainstream adoption of new filesystem features.

In the tests, Ext4 outperforms ZFS in 5 of 8 tests. though the differences for ordinary users are not great. The exciting thing to watch will be btrfs, which will probably be released next year.

Promised NSW Laptops: Linux in the wings? 30 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux, Netbooks, Open Office, Windows.
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In the 2007 Australian Federal Election, the incoming Labor leader, now Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, promised federal spending on the state’s education systems, particularly to increace access to computers, calling it an ‘education revolution’. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, it turns out that the New South Wales (NSW) Government will spend money by buying netbooks, probably 10″ models, for secondary school students.

A prize phrases in the article is

“NSW stands ready to deliver teenager-friendly, custom-built laptops to the nation,”

What does the phrase ‘teenager friendly’ mean? It is likely to refer to the design, being lightweight and portable. But when I read it, it just sounded like the OS. There’s another interesting phrase here:

These custom-made laptops are … powerful enough to support all the IT needs of our high school students.

Just what are the IT needs of the high school students? Facebook? MySpae? But I digress… If you consider the needs of a student to be working on documents in an office suite, then Linux should be fine. In fact Linux may be an advantage, given that it will be harder for students to install games. Unfortunately, OpenOffice is not percieved to be fully compatible yet. Students typing out a document in OO then wanting to work on in on their school computer, that has MS office, there will be problems. Will there be pring servers set up to work?

So, I think that Linux is a good posibility, but the education department probably isn’t that smart. They don’t understand Linux, and that’s a problem. If they go Linux, MS will probably come along and lobby. Nothing is beneath them. When I first heard this issue discussed, over a year ago, the only $500 netbook was the Linux EEE. Now there are plenty of XP models for less.

Those Ruinous Plurilists 29 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Open Office, Open Source Adoption.
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Oh wow. Linux Loop gives a list of things that aren’t liked. At the bottom, and prosumably is thus worst, is:

I just can’t stand those people who think it is OK to have a little closed code on your system. You know, the people who are too spoiled to use gNewSense.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be one of “those people“. In fact, just a single of that code will make you guilty as sin. And of course, since you can’t construct a good argument against the proponents of reasonable compromise, they must be ‘spoilt’. Obviously.

How can you stand touching any evil .doc files and MP3’s? Why can’t they just bug people into using other software! If their boss doesn’t like it, they should just get a new job.

Wow man, I thought that we were talking about software, not good and evil. The last prt is good. Imagine the conversation:

– I’ll send you a file
– Ok, thanks

– Umm, I couldn’t open the file
– Quick, quit your job, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
– Umm…

Yes, I tried that once, to a guy that had sent me a .docx. Apparently, Hotmail, IE or both wouldn’t let him download the file, saying that an .odt is a security risk. It’s just not worth it. Use rtf if you can.

Some open formats work and some don’t. HTML is great, the internet wouldn’t really exist without it. But ODF just isn’t. There’s worse things. The sad thing is, some people just don’t get that there’s more to life than software choices. And borrowing from the ad hominem attack above, the software choices you care so much abut would actually make a difference if you had more than one friend.

Apple attacks open source iTunes replacements 28 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in apple, Linux.
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Apple’s moderately popular ipod line has always been a POS. It’s overpriced, uner featured, and generally overrated. It is an expensive toy that has limited use, not being able to open up most media formats known to man (such as .wav or .ogg). Next, if you want to actually plug it into a computer (that is, a real computer, not a boat anchor), you’ll need to use a special proprietary cable that manages to connect to; usb. Why couldn’t they have put in a mini usb connector? Anyway, your computer mounts the device and hey presto, since you don’t have iTunes installed, (and on Linux, can’t), then tough luck, you can’t use it for anything. But wait, a brave team cracked the retarted and useless database system, and miraculously, you can now use the device with a decent media player (sich as Winamp, Songbird, AmaroK, etc).

Apple doesn’t like this. They assembled their own crack team of anti-compatibility experts, bringing together the top minds in the field (and then some), creating a newer, and crappier system that messes up your media in a different way to before. Now, if you bought a new generation of i stuff, you won’t be able to use it with a decent player. Sucks to be you. But, again, a group of people have gotten together, and have started sharing ideas on how to crack this new annoyance. (But not to crack the also irritating DRM). They were discussing this on Bluwiki, which has a front page saying:

Imagine a world where everyone can publish online. Without censoring, popups, or banner ads.

Well, imagine away. Unfortuantely Apple has confused discussion over their crap product as a Digital Milenuim Copyright Act (DMCA; Read: Evil) violation. How unexpected. The EFF is seeing red over this, as they should. And good luck to them and the crackers. But couldn’t we all just follow Japan’s lead and not buy the crap? I mean, really you should be using ogg by now. And when you want a player that can actually talk your language, look no further.

OpenSUSE 11 22 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Distro Wars, Linux, Suse, Ubuntu.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Having been disappointed by Ubuntu 8.10, I moved on to Fedora. Absolute failure. Looked ok, couldn’t set up a network connection. Fro some reason, /bin and /sbin were not in root’s $PATH, so for a moment I was unable to run dhclient and ifconfig. Don’t have a clue why that was. Next, I tried the Red Hat admin GUIs. Why they are GUIs, escapes me. you have to type system-config-x, as there is stupidly system-install-packages and system-control-network, so no tab completion for you. This is exceptionally stupid, as the former is just the program pirut, and the latter is a form of system-config-network. Why there are two escapes me. On the plus side, the graphical installer (anaconda) was good, and the startup display is quite good. It also has a nice gdm setup that does away with usernames (you click on your icon then enter a password).

Next, up, OpenSUSE. This has a very nice version of the old installer, which, on newer hardware, actually runs decently. The installer is very clean with a green and silvery look. On the downside, however, it suffers from the same problems as before. Partitioning is a mess. Surprise surprise, I don’t want to wipe my disc. To get custom partitioning, you have to click on a drop box, then click on partitioning. It’s something most people would want to configure, yet is bundled with useless options in a hard to access location. No warning is given that it is going to format a disk, except for small red text, so noobs could easily just click through and not realise until it is too late that they are going to lose data. That one really should have been addressed by now. Also, even though I am installing from a DVD, it has a funny box that lists the installation media that are in use, along with a total. Looks a bit stupid. The install is extremely slow, compared to others.

Now I start to remember why I dislike Suse. First, it makes you except a EULA. I feel dirty whenever I have to do this. It also makes you accept one for Firefox, something that caused a furore in the Ubuntu crowd.

Next, it comes without nano. This is highly annoying as nano is my primary editor.

Thirdly, it bundles a desktop search called kerry beagle. This may be usefull for some users, but this really should be opt-in, rahter than a difficult opt-out. Somewhere, there should be an explicit option to enable or disable it. It caches the user’s home directory, as well as keeping all of firefox’s web history. Also, even in KDE 3.5, it bundles the stupid ugly menu, which Novell made. Though, it is easy to go back to the getter ‘classic’ menu.

Fourth, it gave me the hostname linux-th98. Whatever the hell that is. I don’t remember a choice. Ubuntu handles this by making the domain username-laptop or somehting, which works fairly well for some.

Fifth, yast blows. Yast2 (graphical) is a pain, and the non graphical one is really difficult to work with (Imagine a UI where instead of having a mouse, you press tab.) I wanted to eliminate the beagle group, but there is no groups settings that I found, other than user 1000. The Gnome settings dialogues are more useful. Flowing from this is that files such as fstab and menu.lst are expected to be edited in a stupid GUI (even though they’re text) and so there is no clean tab format.

So. All in all not too bad, as I can’t find too many things to complain about. Most of these are my personal preference. There are other things that have good defaults, like the screensaver and kdm theme. I’ll hang onto this one for a while if I can figure out how to blast beagle off the face of the Earth.

On the black machine, Suse wins. But generally, I would say that Ubuntu wins thus far for ordinary users. Of cource, Debian is the natural choice for those in the know.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Dissapoints 17 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Distro Wars, Grub, Linux, Ubuntu.
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Ubuntu has a long and sad history of disregarding the needs and wants of power users in their drive for ease for users who are unfamiliar with, and have little inclination to become familiar with Linux. To me, it’s dissapointing. More hardline flamers have become angry at Ubuntu and Canonical. This is my experience.

I have a cheap computer. An old one died, so I simply bought a few cheap components to replace the dead box, reusing some drives. The machine has integrated grpahics, because I haven’t coughed up for a real card yet. Vesa drivers work fine, but both the 2d nv and proprietary nvidia divers don’t work. Probably because the mbo only cost me ~70AUD. I’ve known about this since I’ve had the machine. I can’t be bothered to fix it, because I can use 3d apps on another machine.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex uses a new version of xorg. Supposedly, it has a very little configuration needed and can dun with no /etc/X11/xorg.conf. This sounds like a good idea. But, for me it means that there are problems.

After finishing the Debian installer, Ubuntu boots. No grub menu is shown, another pet peeve I have. If you do hit escape, you are confrinted with an ugly, black screen. Then you get usplash. Great for some. Then again, if you turn it off you get ugly readouts from a kernel with useless timing enabled. Ok, this is a problem in Debian too, but I compiled my own kernel. Then you get the same ugly gdm theme Ubuntu has been using since forever.

The problem is, gdm didn’t come up. Rather than dropping to a shell to let me diagnose this, there is an ugly black screen with low resolution. I try as few options, none of which work. To finish applying settings, I’m informed that the xserver will restart in one minute. Pressing ok leaves the screen pitch black. The Ubuntu developers must be fond of black.

Dropping to a shell lets me find that there is indeed an xorg.conf. Wonderful. startx works, after killing xinit. And he voila, gnome appears. In SVGA (800×600) resolution. Xrandr will only let me change this down to 640×480. Brilliant. Copying over Debian’s configuration file is no good. Somehow, the new xorg does not accept screen resolutions in the configuration file. Anyway, after trying the other trick I’ve heard of, I remove the file. This works wonders, and now, somehow, my screen size becomes 1024×768 when using startx. No such luck when starting, the xserver still refuses to start. My next move is to uninstall the nv driver. Good thinking, I hear you say. Well, now gdm will start. But somehow, my former trick doesn’t work, and I am stuck with SVGA. So what am I supposed to do? Reinstall a broken driver?

Forget it. I’m sticking with Debian. Debian has failed in interesting ways, but I have always been able to fix it. I don’t like xorg.conf, or for that matter grub’s menu.lst, or fstab. But I’ve just learned to get used to them. Sooner or later I’m going to man up and just use vim. Don’t get me wrong, making the user do less work is great. I like apt, and rarely compile anything from source. I’m not a sadist. But, I think that these ‘miracle’ fixes, like having no configuration files, are a dumb idea. Why? Because there are situations that no developer can foresee, and they will end up just not working. And what do you do then? You edit the configs. I’ve done things the hard way, and my Debian install has more or less worked ever since.