mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)
The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives | WHDb
The following fifty proprietary programs are listed in no particular order within broad categories along with their open source alternatives. In some cases you could probably write your own book on frustrations with the proprietary programs shown here. In other cases, you’ll discover that the open source alternative isn’t quite up to snuff yet. And, in other cases still, you’ll learn that some proprietary programs are real gems, but that the open source advocate can replace those gems with equally shiny objects from the open source repertoire.
I don't necessarily agree with everything in this list, but it's a good place to start if you're wondering whether your critical needs will be covered if you switch to Linux, or if you just want to try something different on Windows. Many of my favorites are on the list.

(From InfoWorld.)
mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

The last couple of days I've been helping the [livejournal.com profile] chaoswolf install Ubuntu on her ageing HP Celeron system. The initial problem, of course, was to back up the old contents; I tried several hacks of varying effectiveness before discovering that the Seagate drive I was using came with a Windows partition-imaging program on its install CD. Who knew?

Once that was taken care of, actually doing the install was a piece of cake, modulo a crash scanning the partition table and its inability to shrink the existing NTFS partition as much as it should have been able to. (There may be a connection.) There may be some bad memory in that box; it's quite flaky.

The Wolfling seems to be pretty happy with Ubuntu, which is a good sign. Of course, she still has her shiny new XP machine; I'll get her a KVM switch tomorrow.

mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)
This article in InfoWorld points to a particularly disturbing article and accompanying FAQ:
The code, published over the weekend by researchers Adrian Pastor and Petko Petkov, exploits features in two technologies: The UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) protocol, which is used by many operating systems to make it easier for them to work with devices on a network, and Adobe Systems' Flash multimedia software.

By tricking a victim into viewing a malicious Flash file, an attacker could use UPnP to change the primary DNS server used by the router to find other computers on the Internet. This would give the attacker a virtually undetectable way to redirect the victim to fake Web sites. For example, a victim with a compromised router could be taken to the attacker's Web server, even if he typed Citibank.com directly into the Web browser navigation bar.
The InfoWorld article's title is "Flash attack could take over your router", but it's really much more general than that: a maliciously-crafted flash movie could theoretically take over any UPnP device as long as it could guess its local IP address. Routers just happen to be ubiquitous, and come with only a limited number of default setups.

Turn off UPnP on any device where it's not absolutely essential. The article says, "Users could avoid this attack by turning UPnP off on their routers, where it is normally enabled by default, but this would cause a variety of popular applications, such as IM software, games, and Skype, to break and require manual configuration on the router", but it's not as bad as all that. Skype, IM, and games work perfectly well on my kids' Windows boxes, and my router is a Linux box without UPnP.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft is a major promoter of UPnP -- it stands for "Universal Plug and Play" and, like so many "features" from Microsoft, it's supposed to make things easier for their users. If they made cars, they'd all have the same key because somebody with two cars might get them mixed up.

Gratuitous Icon Post: The icon comes from the print I bought recently from [livejournal.com profile] ohiblather's shop on deviantART.
mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

The project for yesterday was getting Dorsai, my "new" recording box, set up with a realtime kernel and the right set of applications. Specifically, the plan was to install the 64-bit version of Debian Etch (the base for 64Studio), and the 64-bit version of UbuntuStudio (which, being based on Gutsy Gibbon, includes Audacity 1.3.3). Along the way, I wanted to make the multi-OS Grub menu work properly. It took all afternoon.

the details, for the technically inclined )

This afternoon's challenge is completely different. The Wolfling has a batch of documents, taken off her old computer, that she needs to print. Unfortunately, they were written in Microsoft Works, which has a proprietary format incompatible with everything in the known universe, and the only copy in the house is on that old computer. So I have to get it back in operation somehow I have it in the office hooked up to my KVM switch, so with luck it will Just Work[tm], but this is Windows we're talking about. (... OK, it boots. But I never made myself an account on it, so she'll have to deal with it when she gets home, unless I can do it from the guest account. The fact that it won't shut down properly doesn't help.) Maybe the recently freed version of Works will work on Colleen's machine. Maybe.

5:45pm Guest was able to print from the keychain drive. And there is much rejoicing.

mdlbear: (kill bill)

Finally set the workgroup on the YD's new laptop, thanks to a couple of Windows geeks on the flist. Oddly enough, I'd been on that tab (System/Computer Name) earlier to fix a typo I'd made during setup, but failed to notice the default workgroup. This may have been in part because I was expecting it to be the old default name, WORKGROUP, instead of the current one, which is apparently MSHOME. I had also spent quite a lot of time looking in the networking area, which is where things like the DNS (name server) parameters hang out, and where the system and workgroup names were in earlier versions of Windows.

And now it wants to be rebooted. Sure.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on my network, ...

[steve 502] ssh -lroot dmz
Last login: Wed Aug  1 06:34:07 2007 from 198.180.216.25
gc:~# uptime
 07:41:12 up 494 days, 12:21,  2 users,  load average: 0.15, 0.07, 0.02

That machine has had its IP address, DNS name, and firewall rules changed, and its software updated, more times than I can remember over the last year and a half. I think the last time I took it down was to change the battery on the UPS.

Look, folks -- if somebody with a masters in computer science and 40-odd years experience in the computer industry has trouble navigating Microsoft's pile of obscure icons, oddly-named tabs, and twisty little popups crap, it is not ready to put on the desktops of non-technical users. And before the Mac users reading this jump in, ask yourselves what IP forwarding rules are doing over in "sharing" rather than "network". (Sure, it's obvious that IP packet routing has more to do with "connection sharing" than with "network connections" -- obvious once you know it!) I'm not saying that Linux is perfect in this respect, or even a whole lot better. But at least everything you need to tweak is in one directory, in text files you can search. And modern Linux desktops have control panels that have had more thought put into them, if you want to go that route.

I'm reasonably convinced that people put up with this nonsense only because they don't know that things could be different. If you've only used an OS that crashes every couple of days, you're surprised to hear somebody complaining about how their flaky Linux box crashes every six months or so. If you're used to clicking down through a half-dozen folders to open a file, you're don't know what I'm complaining about when I gripe because an application doesn't remember what directory it was started in from the command line. If you're used to reconfiguring your desktop and reinstalling your favorite applications on every new computer, you don't know why I keep my home directory on a fileserver. The idea of having a set of desktop configuration files that haven't been substantially changed for 15 years is simply inconceivable.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

The Y.D.'s laptop is now properly set up with Firefox and OpenOffice.org. BTW, you'll want to download OOo from a mirror -- the main site is down to a crawl. You have to scroll down to find the mirror, and then go browsing around the mirror to find the right image. Bad web-page design.

She can take it from here, except maybe for figuring out how to change her workgroup name. I couldn't figure it out, either; it would probably take an hour or so of trying various control-panel icons to find whichever non-obvious one it's now kept under. I'll ask $EMPLOYER's IT guy in the morning, if I remember. And at some point we'll want to copy files; the simplest way is probably to pull the drive and mount it in a USB enclosure, although booting up Linux and sharing it with Samba is a possibility as well.

Needless to say, I haven't gotten much else done this evening.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Some random updates. Nothing vital.

I don't appear to have mentioned what we got at Costco yesterday. The main thing was a SwissGear (Wenger) 24" rolling suitcase for the [livejournal.com profile] flower_cat Normally I'm the one who gets luggage, and the Cat just grumbles about it, but this was purple. Came with a nice little carry-on bag, as well.

The Dell Vostro 1000 laptop that I ordered for the Younger Daughter arrived this afternoon. I was shocked at the small amount of packaging -- the huge box was mostly empty. Apparently it uses cleverly-folded cardboard to keep the styrofoam inner box with the laptop in it from rattling around too much, but it was still altogether too loose for my taste. Well, it booted up this evening, so that's ok. Took me a while to figure out some of the stupid installation steps: after it gets through figuring out that it's connected to a wired ethernet network and bloody-well registering itself, it asks you to set up its internet connection and asks you for your ISP's phone number. At that point you have to back up three steps and tell it you don't want to set up a connection now. Idiots!

Got in a decent three-mile walk at lunchtime.

mdlbear: (abt)

Spent some time this morning looking at what remains to be done for ABT and realizing that, no, there's no fscking way I can have it done by Monday. And besides, I want the versatility of being able to have a mix of CDROM, CD-Extra, and pure-audio disks on hand. So I fired off an RFQ to proactionmedia.com (they're not open on weekends). Wish there was someplace local that did inkjet printing on CDRs.

After the usual weekend 4-mile walk I stopped by Staples, because I'd seen them on a web search for CD duplicators. What the heck; if they had the DupliQ I might just buy one. No duplicators, but they did have a shiny new HP D5160 that (wonder of wonders) prints on CDs! Apparently somebody's patent has expired, because it used to be an Epson exclusive. Filed the information away for future reference, and headed across the street to Fry's to see whether they had it for less.

It was the same price, $89, but there was somebody there from HP who, in response to my query, said that it worked fine in Linux. HP has been pretty good about Linux printer drivers, while the latest Epson (the R260, successor to the R200 that's been giving me grief lately) is listed as a "paperweight" in the linuxprinting.org database. That clinched it, and I brought it home just in time to spend the next hour trying to find some way of printing a character sheet for the Y.D. Turned out that not only was the Epson suffering from clogged jets, but the cheap print server it's attached to appeared to be hosed (or at least unresponsive, even after a power cycle), and the SMB server on Nova appears to be inaccessible to the Windows machines. Again. GAAAH! And in spite of having what I thought was a reasonably complete set of fresh ink cartridges, I was suddenly reminded that I couldn't find a magenta cartridge the last time I went ink shopping. Guess which one I need. Finally put the page on my keychain drive, hauled it over to the Linux workstation, and printed it on the laser printer.

There are lots of reasons why I do most of my reading on the screen these days, but a well-founded loathing for printers and printing in general, and Windows printing in particular, is right up there.

Still haven't installed the HP -- no useable print server at the moment -- but I'm hopeful. I've never had particularly good luck with HP equipment, but I really like the fact that their ink cartridges include the nozzle assembly, so that even if you haven't used it for months, all you have to do is change the cartridges to get a totally new, clean, print head. Unlike the Epson.

Spent the rest of the afternoon fixing ABT's Makefile to correctly (I hope) write cd-extra (pressed-multi-session) disks, because although it's perfectly feasible to add audio tracks to a CD-ROM, I don't think most of my customers will be amused by 20 minutes of silence on track 1.

mdlbear: (kill bill)

After spending a couple of hours worth of trial-and-error searching, it seems that the dialog box for changing the node name and workgroup of a computer running Windows XP is no longer part of the network connection dialog -- the one with the list of protocols -- but hangs off a menu labeled "Advanced". Grump. My problem is that I know too much.

Meanwhile, the [livejournal.com profile] chaoswolf has gotten her new computer to see the local workgroup by setting up a VPN?? Weird. (It's true that our network topology is, um, unusual. I'm guessing that the VPN config stuff lets her search for workgroups, and be part not only of the "local" one she's misconfigured, but of the "remote" one as well.) But it ain't broke, so I'm not going to run around the house trying to fix it.

For reference purposes, the current name of the household Windows workgroup is "Workgroup", not "STARPORT" the way it used to be. Meanwhile, if you want to be able to browse around your network neighborhood the way you used to be able to, install Xandros.

mdlbear: (kill bill)

Stupid goddamn Windows! For some reason, Windows on the Younger Daughter's machine wasn't responding to the keyboard. Mouse worked fine, and the keyboard worked for the bootloader and Windows login, so it's not hardware. Anything I could think of to do to fix it would, of course, involve typing in a URL to find software. Nuke and pave. Takes roughly half an hour to load the install image from three CDs, and probably another two hours to install a minimally useful set of programs (Firefox, OOo, network config for the printers). Foo.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

...isn't as easy as you think! -- an amusing (and all too true) review of Windows from the perspective of a long-time Linux user.

mdlbear: (borg)

Stupid goddamn WinXP apparently doesn't know how to route LPR requests between subnets. Stupid goddamn WinXP stupid firewall apparently doesn't allow port exceptions for the same port on multiple machines. Stupid goddamn WinXP...

For the record, here's how you connect to a CUPS/IPP printer on a Linux box:

  1. Set up the firewall to allow a connection to port 631 on the machine you want to print on.
  2. Add a printer, telling the stupid wizard that you want a network connection. DO NOT browse for the printer, specify the HTTP address (third radio button down)
  3. Specify, e.g., <http://nova.thestarport.org:631/printers/lp> as the URL.

Hmm.

Oct. 14th, 2005 08:48 am
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Fry's doesn't seem to have their $250 Windows boxen on sale today, but they do have $450 laptops. Of course, at that price they're probably junk (my experiences with off-brand laptops have not been happy ones), and it's still $200 more than I was planning to spend. It would probably have trouble running Linux, too -- laptop displays are notoriously weird. The Cygwin X server would mitigate that problem, of course.

... OK, I wasn't looking hard enough. It's on the back page of their Friday flier; twice as fast a CPU as the laptop, and I know it runs Linux. Pretty easy two-stage install: use Xandros to resize the NTFS partition, then blow it away and replace with DeMuDi or Etch. (Sigh! I was thinking of getting a flash recorder with that money...)

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

... is an aging Windows 98 machine. The disk seems to be flaking out -- it hangs in Scandisk. I was able to "fix" it tonight by booting into Linux, mounting it, and unmounting it. But that's clearly not a long-term fix. And much as I'd like to declare the office a Windows-less zone, that won't work either -- everyone would just hang out in the back bedroom on the [livejournal.com profile] flower_cat's machine. I could probably put in a new drive and keep it limping along for a while, but 98 is still a flake, and a 500MHz K6 is looking pretty slow these days.

So it looks as though I'll be wasting money on another cheap XP machine from Fry's the next time they have them on sale. At least I know how to make the damned things quieter now. Another $300 I wasn't planning on spending.

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