The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Operating Systems' Category

Extreme Disappointment Regarding Nokia N900

Posted by Deliverator on 26th May 2009

Let me state first off that I’ve owned and been an active, everyday user of all three of Nokia’s Maemo-based Internet Tablets (Nokia 770, N800 and N810). A couple days ago, released substantial amounts of leaked info on the next generation Nokia N900. The basic information provided has since been verified by sources associated with Nokia on the Internet Tablet Talk forums who have proven spot on accurate through several past product release cycles.

MobileCrunch wouldn’t release photos it had of the device due to apparent watermarking, but asserted the following image as an accurate representation of the device.

Is this the Nokia N900???

CELLPASSION on the other hand had no compunction about releasing a photo of what it claims is the N900. The photo is low resolution, but basically matches MobileCrunch’s depiction.

Is this the Nokia N900?

The biggest shocker about the N900 is that it will in fact be a phone. Previous internet tablets had bluetooth connectivity for data connectivity through a phone and several VOIP platforms were supported officially and through 3rd party installable software, but this will be the first Nokia Internet Tablet with direct cellular connectivity. The device supports quad band GSM and 3 band 3g data. T-mobile was mentioned as a release partner and it is quite possible that this device will be provider locked and possibly subsidized, at least initially. If this device is truly T-mobile only and not independently purchasable unsubsidized and unlocked I will be extremely disappointed. I’ve purchased several Nokia phones due to them being one of the few sellers of high quality unlocked, carrier scourge free GSM phones.

The good:

-OMAP3430 500/600 Mhz processor will be amongst the fastest on market. The Palm Pre is the only other phone I know of at the moment using this fast of a processor.
-5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash and sliding lens cover. Can capture high resolution video and save in h.264 format.
-built in GPS and accelerometer. The GPS built into the n810 and N95 were absolutely terrible, with extremely long lock times and poor reception. Hopefully Nokia has learned from this and included a decent chipset from MTK or Sirf and the GPS isn’t just thrown in to fulfill another marketing bullet point.
-32 GB of flash with room for even more expansion via micro-sdhc
-256 MB of ram (up from 128 MB in the N810) with ability to set up to a 768 MB page file (up from 256 MB on N810). I had hoped for a little more headroom, especially since a lot of the added frameworks in Maemo 5 are going to eat up some of this working memory.
-This will be the first Linux based phone from a major manufacturer with nearly the full compliment of Linux libraries and frameworks built in. Maemo is now on its 5th major revision and is a mature, stable platform. With a huge complement of open source apps available plus the newly announced Ovi app store, this could be the best (for the consumer) combination of both open and commercial application development. The closed “apple knows best” nature of the Iphone and the crappy hardware thus far released for the android platform have made both unattractive to me. Finally a decent alternative.

The bad:

-The n810 had a 4.1″ 800*480 screen which was already at the limits of my squint abilities. With the N900, Nokia is making the screen .6″ smaller while keeping the resolution the same. While this makes the device a little more pocketable, it make it much less useable.
-Nokia has done away with the 4 way D-Pad entirely, several other hard buttons and apparently the stylus as well (although the last is somewhat uncertain at this point). The Maemo 5 interface has gone off the deep end towards oversized buttons, fonts and other UI elements. It is obvious that they want you to use your big fat greesy fingers for everything. I absolutely hate this for a wide variety of reasons. The ability to interact with programs in a variety of ways was a big selling point of the Maemo UI and device controls in previous versions. From what I have seen of Maemo 5, I am VERY doubtful that Nokia is going to be able to implement as fluid a user experience as the iPhone with an exclusively finger oriented Maemo UI. Nokia is doing a really good job of eliminating their strong points and trying to fight the iPhone on its own turf.
-Nokia has replaced the 4 row keyboard of the N810 with an inferior 3 row one which places a lot of common characters on second functions. I am seeing MASSIVE numbers of negative comments on this one. WTF were they thinking?
-No mention of Bluetooth functionality at all. Previous Nokia tablets could tether with a phone for connectivity, use of Bluetooth keyboards, headsets, etc. Have they eliminated this functionality in their phone inclusive tablet because with Linux as the basis it would be too easy to write a bluetooth tethering application to share out the device’s data plan?
-The N900 is reported to be somewhere in the vicinity of 185 grams. This is substantially heavier than either the Palm Pre or Iphone 3g which weigh in at ~130 grams or even the G1 Android phone which weighs in at ~160g. For all that weight, extra radios and processing power, the N900 has a fairly low battery capacity of ~1300mah. The G1 garnered a LOT of complaints about its poor battery life and I can’t imagine a similar debacle would be good for Nokia’s reputation or the future of such a device.
-A lot of similarities between this device and the N97 which is being released in a couple of weeks in the US. Having two such similar devices is likely going to undercut the market for both.

I really want a Maemo Linux based phone to succeed in the market, but find a lot of the design decisions apparent in the N900 to be actively repulsive. I can’t see this device being nearly as useful to me throughout the day as my current two pocket solution. The compromises in overall functionality of the N900 vs a two pocket solution are just too much. I know without needing to even set my paws on the device that the smaller screen size, bad keyboard, button and UI decisions are just too much of a deal breaker for me. Even in this economy, I would have gladly up-ended my wallet for a straight forward refresh of the N810 with more ram, storage, faster processor and integrated (carrier agnostic) cellular functions, but as it is, I just can’t see this device as proposed fitting into how I want to live my life.

I went ahead and ordered a new Mugen extended life N810 battery. I’ll try and get a few more years of use out of my N810 and if Nokia hasn’t impressed me by then, I will probably move to something like the Viliv S5 for my mobile internet needs.

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Alphagrip AG-5

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd April 2009

I recently went searching for a handheld, touch-typeable input device for a wearable computer project, but came up pretty dry. Long standing favorites of the wearable community like the Twiddler 2 chording keyboard from Handkey are no longer being manufactured and are next to impossible to find through after-market channels like eBay. I found no single-handed device which combined both keying and pointing, but I did find a two handed one called the Alphagrip AG-5.

The AG-5 is shaped like a game controller and has discrete keys for all letters and a few of the most common punctuation marks, with less often used symbols as second functions. It also has a variable speed trackball. Sadly, there is no scroll-wheel and middle click is somewhat awkward to activate.

I’ve been practicing touch-typing using this typing tutor, which has a module for the alphagrip. I am not typing very fast yet, but I am touch typing with pretty high accuracy. I am slowly developing muscle memory and will hopefully be able to type much faster in the future. I’ve seen video of people typing at 40-60 wpm.

I really like the Alphagrip. It is pretty ergonomic for my size hands and comfortable to use for an extended time. I could see it benefiting those who have trouble typing on a conventional keyboard due to stress injuries. A lot of thought has obviously gone into key placement and overall design of the AG-5, and it is easy to believe that it went through 5 major revisions before being released to the public. It is not without its faults. The biggest is the lack of wireless support via either Bluetooth or a USB dongle. I can understand the need to bring a version 1 product to market to support future development, but at the same time it seems like an obvious feature which would greatly increase the appeal of the Alphagrip.

As you might have guessed, this entry was composed on my Alphagrip.

Posted in General, Rants and Raves, Windows CE | 1 Comment »

Core i7 Upgrade

Posted by Deliverator on 27th March 2009

I finally decided to bite the bullet and do a significant upgrade on my main computer. It has been over two years since the system’s last processing power upgrade. At that time, I did a drop in upgrade of the processor from a AMD X2 3800+ to a dual core Opteron clocked at 2.6 ghz and upgraded the video card to a Nvidia 8800GTX with 768 MB. The Opteron wasn’t performance competitive with the Intel Core 2 processors available even then, but I was looking to avoid a motherboard swap and OS reinstall at all costs. These days, Intel’s Core i7 processors have the performance market neatly wrapped up and AMD is only nominally competitive on a price/performance bases with Intel’s lower end quad offerings. I usually buy a few offerings back from the bleeding edge to spare my wallet, but felt the need for a little more future proofing this time around.

The last time around I purchased a motherboard, AMD’s socket 939 was a mature platform and socket AM2 boards were just coming onto the market. If I had went with an AM2 board, it is possible I could have upgraded with yet another drop in processor upgrade without having to swap boards. To me, both AM2 and Intel’s LGA 775 sockets are on their last legs and I just wasn’t interested in upgrading to something with no future this time around.

Currently, the cost of putting together a Core i7 isn’t really in the processor. The lower end 920 processor is only around $300. The cost really comes from the lack of availability of cheap motherboard and ram options. DDR 3 ram currently commands a price premium over DDR 2 ram and motherboards tend to be of the “Deluxe” variety.

Anyways, I picked up a Core i7 920 retail boxed processor, an MSI X58 motherboard and 6 GB of Kingston DDR 3 ram and went to work nuking my system. This time around I went with Vista 64 to support the additional ram. 32 bit operating systems unfortunately limit one to a little over 3 GB of addressable memory, so that wasn’t really an option in this case. I may actually upgrade to 12 GB when the price on DDR 3 drops a bit. The motherboard has 6 available slots and I’ve only used 3 of them.

Performance increases from the upgrade have been quite remarkable, especially in 64 bit enabled applications. Working with large images in Lightroom is now a fluid joy and I am able to sprint through work flows that previously took me 2-3 times as long. Since the upgrade, I’ve noticed that a lot of tasks which were previously processor or ram limited are now hardly straining the proc, but are instead constrained by disk IO. My guess is an upgrade to a SSD is next on my list.

I’ve seen mind blowing performance increases in video encoding, file compression / archiving and not least of all in my priorities, games. Upgrading to a Core i7 over cheaper available options in today’s economy is a tough decision, but I am very happy with the results and hope to remain so over a longer time horizon.

Posted in General, Operating Systems, Tech Stuff, Windows | No Comments »

Major Security in Vulnerability in DNS

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd August 2008

Dan Kaminsky is a well known and respected security researcher. In recent months, he has alluded to a widespread vulnerability in DNS servers and clients, but has publicly kept fairly tight lipped as to the exact nature of the vulnerability in order to give ISPs, OS and device manufacturers a chance to release updates to fix address the issue. Many major ISPs and OS vendors have done a coordinated fix, in order to minimize the window for potential exploitation. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have gotten the memo and this will have very unfortunate consequences for users of such devices/services. Dan will spill the beans officially at the upcoming Blackhat computer conference, but enough details have leaked out from Dan and sources close to him that the nature of the vulnerability alluded to by Dan is now believed to be known and is being actively exploited “in the wild.” I highly recommend visiting Dan’s site, DoxPara Research and click on “Check My DNS” to see if your ISP’s DNS is vulnerable. If your ISP’s DNS is vulnerable, I suggest contacting them to inquire as to what their lazy admins are up to and then switch your computers to use OpenDNS or other more responsible DNS server until your ISP gets its house in order.

The vulnerability appears to allow an attacker to poison the cache of affected DNS servers, allowing them to inject bogus nameservers into your ISP’s cache for a given domain and set a very high time to live on the cached information such that it only expires after a very long period. This in effect allows attackers to redirect queries for any arbitrary website.

For instance, they could redirect traffic for to a look alike page which installs viruses or other malware on your computer. Or, they could direct traffic for to a lookalike page and steal your online banking information. They could redirect traffic for common antivirus packages such that your copy of Norton never updates itself or Windows Update fails to run. The possibilities are almost endless. Unlike phishing attacks which rely on a credulous user to click on a link in an email, this attack corrupts your service provider in such a way that all users of an ISP, even those with a modicum of common sense, will be affected simultaneously. More advanced users who are in the habit of checking SSL certificates and the like are less likely to get bit, but the potential for creative larceny on this one is soo high that I’m certain that all the potential ramifications of this attack have yet to be worked out.

Even assuming that ISPs get their act together quickly, you tend to find DNS servers shoehorned into all manner of commodity hardware and these are less likely to be patch promptly, either from lack of action on the part of device manufacturer or lack of awareness by the device owner/administrator. I fully expect to see more localized versions of this attack for years to come. Batten down the hatches folks, this storm is going to be a bad one.

Posted in General, Operating Systems, Security, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Terminal Multitasking

Posted by Deliverator on 25th March 2008

One of the things I like best about my n810 is its ability to serve as a remote access client using RDP, VNC or SSH. With RDP and VNC, the bandwidth requirements are such that a WiFi connection is needed to work efficiently. With SSH, the bandwidth requirements are much lower, such that I can effectively use my N95’s EDGE wireless wan connection. While T-mobile’s EDGE coverage around the Seattle area is good, it is simply not practical to keep the connection up all the time. Even if the coverage were perfect, battery life issues would prevent a continuous connection all day long.

Unfortunately, by default SSH only gives you a single terminal session in which to launch applications. If the connection is interrupted, so is any app you might have been running. What is needed is a way to multitask and keep the application running. Screen fits the bill nicely. With it, I can ssh to a server from my n810, start up multiple command line tasks and before disconnecting, decouple any apps I wish to keep running from the session. I can then move elsewhere, reconnect to the server using ssh and with the simple command screen -r, reconnect all those running apps to my new session. This ability comes in really, really handy. I can leave things like IM clients, IRC clients, email, network monitoring apps, backup jobs, long software compile operations, etc. running all day long and just connect to them as needed. If you haven’t given screen a try, I highly recommend starting off by reading this introductory guide, as official documentation is sparse.

Posted in General, Linux, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Grandma Stable, Server Stable

Posted by Deliverator on 15th March 2008

It has been touch and go with my grandmother over the last half week, but she seems to be doing better since yesterday. She has been bleeding a lot internally and the doctors have given her 8-10 units of blood and have been draining the internal bleeding almost as fast as they have infused. Prior to all the bleeding starting, they put her on Coumadin, an anti-coagulant drug to try to break up a clot. In retrospect, this seems to have been not such a great idea, as I believe this greatly increased her internal blood loss. Once they stopped the Coumadin and started giving her blood like mad, it still took several days to get it out of her system and they gave her shots of Vitamin K to try and reverse the effects. Wikipedia notes that this method of reversal is somewhat out of fashion in favor of using Prothrombin Complex Concentrate. The treating physician mentioned to us several times the results of clotting tests that they were doing and from what I can tell, her case seems to meet the criteria used by various practice standards bodies as to when it is preferred to use the PCC method of treatment vs the blood+ Vitamin K method. Then again, I am not a hematologist and Wikipedia isn’t known for being the best authority on some issues. Because they had to stop the Coumadin before it had a chance to break up the clot, they decided to put in some sort of filter stent in one of the major arteries of her neck, to catch any clots that might break loose before they could give her a stroke. Anyways, she seems much improved. She is more alert, eating a bit more and was able to briefly walk and spent part of the day sitting in a chair. We hope this means she gets to spend some more time with us.

From the trivial news department, I made an in person visit to Frankenputin and did some upgrades. Frankenputin now has a external backup drive with 232 GB of capacity. If you are a silverfir user and would like to make use of the new drive to backup your website or other data, contact Ryan or myself for instructions. I moved Frankenputin and associated hardware onto a UPS. The UPS has a serial port for monitoring, and I hooked it up, but haven’t had a chance to investigate Linux UPS monitoring agents yet. Oasis, the older desktop machine which used to host Silverfir (and still hosts a few things like the TRC mailing lists) unfortunately couldn’t go onto the UPS as well do to over wattage concerns. I also added a KVM switch, older LCD monitor, compact keyboard and trackball to the desk on which Oasis and Frankenputin sit. This should make in-person administration a little bit less of an exercise in not knocking things over.

Update: Frankenputin felt a bit slow while I was working on it this evening. I checked and it looks like during the upgrade to the Gutsy Gibbon release of Ubuntu, the Linux kernel got switched to using a i386 one which doesn’t support smp. In effect, Frankenputin was only using one of its two PIII 933mhz processors. I manually switched to using the “generic” Ubuntu kernel, as this one now supports SMP by default. The old way of doing smp on Ubuntu, by installing the linux-image-686 meta-package has been discontinued.

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Panic…Don’t Panic…Panic

Posted by Deliverator on 10th March 2008

As Ryan noted earlier today, Silverfir had an attack of the Hiccups. Ryan noticed what appeared to be some sort of file corruption. We had some notices from Silverfir’s RAID controller, a Compaq Smart Array 5302, a few weeks ago that one of the drives in the 14 disk array (which Silverfir uses to store all the websites it hosts) was having problems. At the time, I didn’t worry worry much, as the array was constructed in such a way that two drives could fail at the same time without data loss. In addition. I designated a drive in each array as a hot-spare. Essentially a hot-spare is a drive which is kept unused in reserve so that if a drive fails, the hot-spare can automatically be brought in as a replacement without the server maintainers needing to so much as lift a finger. Still, given the age of the drives in the array and my own real world experience of hard disk failure rates, I was more than a little worried. I headed over to check on the server in person, while Ryan went to work troubleshooting the problem remotely. By the time I got there, Ryan had already dismounted the array and was running a fsck (a type of filesystem integrity check) on the array. The scan found a number of file system issues, most likely due to power failures during disk writes. Silverfir had its own UPS, but it was recently removed do to a dead battery. We never set up UPS monitoring/management agents, so all the UPS was doing was preventing the briefest browouts and power outages from causing problems. Thankfully, Silverfir uses a journaling file system and the file system check was able to repair all the issues with little to no apparent data loss.

On my end, I found no idiot lights or other indications of actual drive failure. None the less, I went to work tarring up important (to me at least) data directories and transferring them over the network to my laptop. While I do occasionally back up my WordPress database, user account home directory and other assorted files, I don’t do it nearly as often as I should or in a real systematic fashion. Silverfir’s users are largely left to back up their own damn data themselves, thank you very much! This is a nice sentiment in theory, but the lack of a locally available backup drive or of a fat pipe for internet based backup has made this problematic.

Silverfir has largely been a stompbox for Ryan and I, and as a result hasn’t exactly received the same diligent administrative attention that we would apply to a “real” server. We have largely just let it coast. I think we are both reaching the point where a little systematic backup and other prophylactic measures would give us both some peace of mind. Towards that end, I installed a PCI->USB 2 adapter card to allow an external hard disk to be hooked up for backup purposes. I am going to purchase a large enough backup drive that we should be able to take quite a few backup points before needing to delete intermediate data points. I will also likely donate a UPS and some other hardware for the good of the order.

Long term, I would like to get Silverfir on some more modern, compact, lower power, quieter server hardware; achieving as much reliability through hardware as possible. I think Ryan on the other hand would just assume move Silverfir onto commodity desktop hardware and achieve peace of mind through virtualization and/or rigorous backup. I think both approaches have their merits, so at some point we will need to have a discussion. For now, I think we are both happy to let the server go back to coasting (once we get the backup drive set up).

Posted in Linux, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

PING! You Are Dead!

Posted by Deliverator on 18th January 2008

This last patch Tuesday, Microsoft released a patch for what many are calling the worst security vulnerability ever in the (dubious) history of Windows. Microsoft has released information on the vulnerability in the form of Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-001. Happy New Year to us all! What a way in ring in 2008! In short, the vulnerability is in Microsoft’s TCP/IP stack and relates to the handling of IGMP packets. TCP/IP is the basic networking protocol for the internet and most corporate and home networks. All recent, commonly used versions of Windows including XP and Vista are affected by this vulnerability such that simply receiving a specially crafted packet could lead to a system being compromised and taken over for assorted nefarious purposes. Windows 2000 is affected as well, but only to the extent that such a packet causes the TCP/IP stack to crash and the system would need to be rebooted before it is able to communicate with the network again. While Microsoft has shipped Windows with a software firewall turned on by default since XP SP2, because this attack is against TCP/IP itself and not simply some service hiding behind the firewall, the Windows firewall provides no protection whatsoever. Hiding behind a hardware firewall/NAT router will protect you, but only from packets inbound from the internet, not from already compromised computers behind the firewall. Using an unpatched machine on a public network such as a coffee shop, library, etc. would be an extremely bad idea, not that it has been a great idea for a long time. And that is part of the point, a vulnerability like this doesn’t just magically go away after a patch is released. This is one shit storm that isn’t going to blow over for a LONG LONG time.

Posted in Operating Systems, Rants and Raves, Security, Tech Stuff, Windows | No Comments »

Updated information about Nokia N810

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2007

Thoughtfix just got back from the Web2Summit event where the N810 was announced. He managed to take home a retail boxed demo unit and held a live interactive video “show and tell” with the Internet Tablet Talk community using which allows for live syndication of video content using flash based video. You can chat with the host(s) of the show using an integrated flash based chat room. About 80 people showed up for Throughfix’s impromtu show and almost everyone came prepared with a ton of questions.

Here is what I learned from Thoughfix’s show:

-The 2 GB of flash that is built in is 80% full of maps to begin with and is likely fat formatted, so those hoping for expanded storage space for Linux applications can look elsewhere.

-The memory card slot is indeed Mini-SD. The slot insertion/removal mechanism is difficult to operate. The maximum theoretical overall capacity of the unit is 10 GB when combining internal and external flash.

-The battery door is difficult to open, but without an internal card slot there isn’t much point. Door is solidly in place and doesn’t rattle in its frame like on the n800.

-The top keys have been improved with the full screen and +/- buttons seperated as on the 770. There is a hardware lock key on the top that locks the device from coming out of power saving mode due to accidental key presses or bumping of the screen while it sits in one’s pocket.

-The camera appears to use a higher quality sensor than on the n800. I spoke with him over my n800 using google talk video during his show. There was very little “speckled” ccd noise evident in his stream, whereas my image was a noisy mess despite a lot of overhead lighting.

-The screen is brighter and also appears to be transflective a.k.a. direct sunlight viewable.

-The keypad has a nice back lighting feature that is activated/deactivated automatically by the ambient light sensor.

-The casing/construction is almost entirely metal and has a very solid feel to it.

-Despite not being an officially listed feature, the N810 paired with a set of Bluetooth stereo headphones (A2DP). When attempting to use for voice calling, got a lot of stuttering/poor quality noise.

-Would pair with a bluetooth mouse, but does not support the profile.

-The new Firefox based web browser seems to work better with a lot of Web 2.0 websites, but also crashed on a number of occasions.

-The revamped Desktop Applets/Plugins functionality looks to be cool and applets can now be resized and can overlap.

-The UI skins look nice and utilize transparency well. Best default visual theme of any NIT yet. Navigation and opening of programs was quite responsive.

-The GPS was able to lock onto five satellites indoors at Thoughtfix’s house. Software was extremely slow in plotting a route for a 600 mile trip within the same state. The 3d view still doesn’t show street names. The N810 comes with a cradle and a basic screw-type mounting bracket for in car use. It sounds like many GPS features will only be functional for an additional price.

-Keypad seemed to be slow and cumbersome as an input method due to chiclet sized keys with a very stiff response. Hitting keys along top row is somewhat difficult due to the overhanging lip of the screen. Several common keys like tab are simply not present (arg!). Many common keys including number keys are on a second function and there isn’t a function lock/sticky keys mode for more efficient entry. Nor will holding a key down longer activate the second function for that key. This has become a common convention on compact qwerty devices. Hopefully Nokia will improve this in a software update.

-The D Pad positioning is as awkward as it looks and the center “enter” key of the D Pad is too large. Hitting up on the D Pad is difficult as it is against the side of the screen when extended. It sounds like Nokia needs to make the slider extend more.

-The soft slip case is pseudo-seude leather and is made in turkey and better fits that N810. There is no official hard case in the works as far as anyone knows.

-The speaker volume seems adequate and the N810 has the same special jack that allows one to use a standard set of headphones or a special set of stereo headphones with a built in microphone.

-Expanded video format support has not been shown in my mind as the N810 crapped out on a number of attempts to play formats listed in the new specifications. I would like to see a systematic testing of a wide variety of formats under rigorous conditions. I would like to see an official statement as to what resolutions and bitrates the N810 is capable of playing and what subversions of formats are supported (i.e. if you state WMV support, does that mean WM8, 9, 11, etc.?)

-There is no FM radio tuner on the N810, a disappointment to many people that used that feature on the N800.

-Despite long promises of an improved email client, the default mail client on the N810 is the same POS as before. I recommend installing Claws Mail and forgoing the built in client altogether.

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Latest Ubuntu Linux Now Available!

Posted by Deliverator on 18th October 2007

The latest release of one of the most popular Linux operating systems just hit the web. I have used Ubuntu through several generations on a wide variety of different hardware platforms (this server runs it) and I have been really impressed by how each new release introduces technically ambitious, substantive new features and integrates them into the look and feel of the OS in a consistent, thoughtful manner, which is a lot more than I can say about the Windows OS space. Also unlike the most recent version of Windows, Ubuntu feels fast and responsive on even fairly modest hardware. This latest release, codenamed “Gutsy Gibbon” introduces a slew of new features. Some of my favorite include:

-Latest version of the Gnome desktop environment with 3D visual effects turned on by default. Also, unlike Vista, the 3d environment can actually be put to good, functional use.

-Much better support for detecting and configuring your graphics settings without needing to modify arcane text configuration files

-Plug and play printer installation. I know this has been in the Windows world for ages, but Linux has had a different focus for a long time. To be able to just plug a printer into a Linux system and have it work with no fuss is a big deal.

-Supports reading and writing to NTFS formatted disks, which makes cohabitation with Windows formatted drives much easier.

-Ability to encrypt the full hard disk.

-Improved power consumption for laptops and desktops

-First version of Ubuntu to support AppArmor which allows one to place strict boundaries on what files/devices (on Linux the distinction between the two is muddled) a program can access. This is great as it allows one to confine programs to only the resources they need, so that they can’t harm the rest of the system. It is fairly common in the Windows world in particular for an undocumented vulnerability in a program such as a web server to be used to gain access to the broader system. In this era of internet worms, exploitation of common vulnerabilities can lead to millions of affected computers in a very short time. Not everyone keeps their systems patched and up to date, and even those that do can fall prey to an undocumented exploit. Technologies like AppArmor help to seriously limit the potential fallout of such an attack.

Anyways, download Ubuntu and give it a truly no risk free trial via its bootable cd mode and when you are ready to install it on your computer full time, your pocketbook can rest easy as Ubuntu is free then too. If you aren’t ready to commit to Ubuntu entirely, you can even install it in a dual-boot mode which will allow you to preserve your existing Windows installation.

Posted in Linux, Operating Systems, Tech Stuff | No Comments »