Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix

In September I bought the Acer Aspire One, unfortunately being a cheapskate I chose the crippled SSD version and have regretted the slow write speeds ever since. At first I worked with the Linux Distro included however it was hard to upgrade and my 3G Dongle was poorly supported, then I opted for Windows XP however over the past couple of months I've grown frustrated with the slow loading and 'jelly mode' that the whole OS seems to enter when trying to write to the SSD.

I've tried various hacks including loading Firefox from a RAM disk but they only help so far. I was considering giving up and selling my Aspire One for the more powerful and sexier yet more expensive HP Mininote. This was until Ubuntu 9.04 was released.

It's well documented on the Ubuntu site that the Aspire One is well supported however it was my 3G dongle that concerned me. Ubuntu took about 30mins to install after using the Windows utility to write the image to my flash drive. 

Ubuntu Netbook Remix
The interface of Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix has been specially designed for a small screen and works surprisingly well. Navigating through complex menus with a touchpad has always been a pain so simple side tabs and large icons works excellently.

Fortunately when plugging in my 3G adapter I was asked about my country and provider. It automatically added the interface to my network icon and I was able to connect quickly.

Ubuntu has breathed new life into my netbook and has made it useful again. It fits in nicely with my OS X and Windows Network and provides enough features at a good speed to give an improved experience.


Digital photography has become so easy and cheap that if you’re like me I have hundreds if not thousands of photos on my computer. While Windows offers some basic photo viewing and editing options it doesn’t really allow you to touch up your photos to make them even better. One option is Google’s free photo editing program – Picasa 2 (

). When first installed it scans either your documents folder or hard drive for pictures. This can be annoying if you have graphics in your documents folder as you then have to remove them from Picasa. Unfortunately as many pictures and photos share the same file types it is very hard to distinguish them. Picasa allows you to do all the basic photo editing fixes such as removing red eye, straightening the photo, cropping and altering the colour/contrast. 


As well as these there are more advanced options for tuning the light, highlights, shadows and temperatures as well as a range of effects including sepia, black & white and tint. Editing photos is simple in Picasa, I usually use Adobe Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks but these can be complicated especially with the range of options available for advanced users. While Photoshop gives you more control over the photo Picasa is easier for the average user.


Apart from the editing functions in Picasa, it makes a good photo viewer allowing you to zoom in and out of photos as well as setting up slideshows and timelines. Picasa is similar to iPhoto on OS X while I prefer the interface in iPhoto, Picasa is more responsive when moving through a large library. Picasa provides easy ways to share your photos as well as print them. There are also options for setting pictures as desktop and screensaver.



I found the batch operations to be very useful. With my cheap Kodak camera being able to correct the colour and contrast makes such a difference to the quality of my photos. If you don’t like any of the changes made by Picasa you can revert back to the original. Picasa will work with the majority of digital cameras and is available for Windows 2000/XP and now Linux. Overall Picasa is a feature rich program that is free and will cover all the basic needs for managing photos.


Linux #12 ? Directory Structure

In this article I will be looking at the basics behind the Linux Directory Structure and what you should expect to find behind each directory. You will notice that the Linux directory structure is very different to that of a Windows PC. This is because the Linux directory structure comes from Unix and is built logically rather then simplistic. However once you know what is behind each directory then it is easy to know where to look for things. I will start with a couple of terms that you maybe unaware about. Source code -The code behind a program before it has been compiled.

In order to edit or modify a program you need its source code. While Windows you cannot get the source code for most programs in Linux most programs come with the source code so that you can modify the program to suit your needs if you want to. Executable program - Sometimes called executable, program, or binary. Once the source code has been compiled it becomes an executable, in windows they often have the extension .exe after them.

In Linux you will find a number of executable program types try to look for .rpm files as they are normally the simplest to Install. Linux executables often have the extension .bin. Process - Sometimes called task. A program that is executing may need additional information about how to run it. Kernel -A program that forms a bridge between applications and the hardware they run on. /bin - stores essential binaries (programs) needed when booting the system or working in single user mode to maintain the system. /boot - stores kernel images and boot configuration files. /dev - stores device special files used to access hardware devices. /etc - stores system configuration files. /home - stores the home directories for the individual users. /lib - stores library modules used by the commands. /lost+found ?

If your computer isn't shut down properly when it reboots the Kernel may find something that is corrupt, if so it will be put in this directory. /mnt - a mount point for other storage devices. /opt - This directory contains all the software and add-on packages that are not part of the default installation. Generally you will find KDE and StarOffice here. /proc - This is a special directory on your system.

It has special processes used by executables. /sbin - stores commands required to administer the system such as shutdown. /tmp - used for temporary files /usr - used for programs, libraries, documentation, etc used by normal users /var - stored system data that varies or changes frequently such as system logs, mail and print spool files, etc Not all distributions will have all these directories and don't worry if when you install a certain distribution one of these directories isn?t here. Most of the time you wont have to worry what is in any of these directories but it is good to know what the directory contains.

Linux #11 - Gaming in Linux

Gaming in Linux is still somewhat behind Gaming in the rest of the world and if your hoping to be able to play all your games for Windows in Linux then you may have a small struggle ahead of you. However one company is helping to make things easier for Linux Gaming. Transgaming produce a program called WineX that is a more advanced version of the Windows emulator Wine that has been specially written for gaming. Though the site does require you to pay $5 a month in order to use the program, this is because certain files are copyrighted.

However you can download a free version and compile it yourself, this gives you OpenGL drivers which are an alternative to DirectX that can be used to play games just the same as Direct3D would. Transgaming currently doesn't support all games but a lot of the big titles are supported including Civ3, Diablo 2, Max Payne, GTA3 and The Sims.

I full list can be found here Some newer games you may find come with Linux installers with them, for instance I brought a copy of UT2003 a few weeks ago and found that on the third CD there was a Linux installer, I did have a few problems with mounting and dismounting drives but this wasn't too hard to get around.

Once installed the game played as well as it did in Windows, which is a massive step forward for me in Linux gaming. You can also buy a seperate Gaming pack for Mandrake Linux, this comes with games like The Sims and uses Transgamings technology in order to work. Hopefully more games will come with Linux installations in the near future.

Linux #8 - Installation

Whichever distribution you finally decide on you will need to install it on your machine in order to take full use of the operating system. Once you have downloaded or brought your distribution and it is on cd the best way to start the installation is to boot it from the cd/dvd. This is done quite simply; enable the cdrom as the first boot device in the bios then put the CD in the drive and reboot your computer. Whichever distribution you install will probably give you a number of options.

SuSE for instance gives you a number of different boot options for different types of installation. You will want either graphical installation or simple installation. The installation program then boots and will try to configure as much as it can without any need for you to change anything. SuSE for instance will default select a package and attempt to rearrange your partitions for you, though if you don?t like anything it has changed you can always change it back at this stage.

Redhat and Mandrake will require you to change the partitions yourself this is normally the only difficult stage on the installation and I would recommend you use a program such as partition magic as described in the previous article. Once you have gone through the simple installation procedure you are ready to start copying files to your hard drive.

This can take anywhere between 20mins to 2hours depending on the speed of your computer and how much you install. A typical desktop system with office will take around 2gbs of hard drive space so there is quite a lot of copying to be done! After everything has been installed the installer will run a number of configuration programs to configure different bits of hardware such as network cards, graphics cards and printers.

Most devices will automatically be configured properly however you do have the option to tweak any settings you wish at this point. Its best if you look up your distributions guide while installing too as this guide is quite general into installation through out the major Linux distributions. Installation is the most nerve racking part of getting Linux but is also one of the most important parts.

Linux #7 - Partitions

All hard disks have to have partitions on to hold any sort of data, different operating system require you to have different partitions. Windows generally uses either a FAT32 partition type or NTFS. If you have a pc with windows on the chances are that you only have 1 partition on. For Linux we're going to have to make some changes to your partition table and introduce 2-3 new partitions.

Don't worry if this all sounds complicated, the newest distributions especially SuSE has tried to make partitions as easy as possible, it comes with a utility built into YaST (SuSEs installation program) which automatically resizes your main fat32 partition to fit Windows and Linux on along with any other small changes which need to be made. If you feel more comfortable controlling how much space exactly to give each operating system I suggest you use a program like Partition Magic rather then Fdisk.

I'm not going to go into great detail on how to use these programs but I will mention what you need to do with these programs. Depending on how big your hard drive is will depend on how much space you want to allocate for Linux. I normally go for around 10gbs as my root partition for Linux as this gives me plenty of space to work with. You can install Linux on a number of different partition types the most common being EXT2/EXT3.

The newer distributions will use EXT3 and the older EXT2. Though the differences between the partitions do not concern us, it does not make a major difference which you choose. Once you have your main Linux root partition you will need a swap partition. It took me a while to get my head round this concept but swap partitions come in very handy and speed up day to day tasks a lot. Swap partitions originally came from the days when ram was very expensive so the idea of using your hard drive to substitute ram came about. Windows uses a similar technique known as virtual memory.

Your swap partition doesn?t need to be over big, a minimum of 128mbs and a maximum of around 500mbs. Generally the less ram you have the bigger the swap partition you need. If you have a large enough hard drive and space isn?t a big issue it doesn't harm having a bigger swap partition but there is no need to over do it. Finally if your hard drive is bigger then 8gbs and the Linux partition isn?t the first on the drive then you may need to make a boot partition if you intend to duel boot with windows. Boot partitions have to be the first partition on the drive as need only be a maximum of 50mbs formatted to EXT2.

This makes it easier for installing any boot managers needed to duel boot the system. Without one you may find when you reboot your pc after installation only windows will boot and the only way you will be able to access Linux is with a boot disk. The exact principles behind how partitions work is not really relevant for using Linux. The general idea is that Windows uses either FAT16, FAT32 or NTFS partitions and Linux uses EXT2, EXT3, REISER and SWAP. All these can easily be created using Partition Magic or Linux Fdisk.

Linux #6 - LUGS

LUGs or Linux User Groups have come to form a vital part of the Linux community. Most areas or county?s will have a user group where anyone can join to give there advice about Linux or to try to get help about different things. User groups and free to join and are run by the LUGMaster, to find out the nearest lug to you visit http://www.lug.org.uk/.

The groups will normally have a meet once a month where sometimes demonstrations can take place or a less formal meet happens. You get to meet a wide range of people from all different ages with very different backgrounds but all with a common interest of learning about Linux. LUGs maybe a more geeky side to Linux however if you do have an interest in Linux join up and you might find people in the same position as you.

The user groups normally have projects that members can join into, our local LUG has been looking at wireless WANs though this is beyond me financially and logically I have learnt a lot about wireless ways and what benefits they can bring. Some LUGs are a lot more active then others, this normally depends on the motivation in the group and the number of members, my local LUG happens to be active thus can be a very useful service when trying to work things out in Linux. The LUGs main ways of communication apart from the meets are over IRC and mailing lists.

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