Returning to Ubuntu, Maverick Meerkat

After using Windows 7 for a long while, I got bored and wanted to give Ubuntu another go-around. For the uninitiated, Ubuntu is an operating system that is free for you to use and tinker with. It’s a GNU/Linux distribution and development is spearheaded by a for-profit company called Canonical (which is run by a South African billionaire, Mark Shuttleworth). Major updates to the operating system are pushed out every six month thus guaranteeing that things are always going to be kept fresh/updated. I went with Ubuntu primarily because I like how it looks out of the box. By accounts, Canonical/Ubuntu has done a lot to ensure that their Linux distribution is user friendly which has made Ubuntu, the recommended distro of choice for newbies. This post will talk about my experience with installing Ubuntu and applications that have made my transition from Windows to Ubuntu less jarring & worth the move.

Preliminary Steps:

If you’ve decided to make the switch, please make sure sure you have backups. I like to talk about backups because not having them is devastating when you need them. Here is a small rehash review of things to think of backing up:

  1. Browser bookmarks: If you use Chrome, you should’ve enabled the Google “Backup” feature baked into Chrome. In Firefox, export your bookmarks by going to “Bookmarks” and selecting “Organize bookmarks”.
  2. Address book and/or Calendar appointments: Outlook can backup your calendar & addressbook in comma or tab separated values or in the proprietary .pst format. Pick your poison; Just make sure the email program you intend on using in Ubuntu can support import of the backed up file. To be on the safe side, I never use Post Office Protocol (POP) for accessing my emails through my email client; IMAP is the way to go. That way, you don’t have to worry about keeping your emails on disk.
  3. Music files (pay particular attention to backing up your Amazon MP3 files because you can only download them once or twice!), painstakingly handcrafted music playlists, important photographs or screencaptures, downloaded video files, free/paid downloaded programs, etc
  4. Above all, make sure those important items are on an external hard drive and not on the disk that you are about to wipe! Once you’ve done this step, it wouldn’t hurt to have a full disk backup which you can do via Windows 7’s built-in Backup Program or using Acronis True Image.

The Ubuntu Installation Process

  1. As of 02/27/2011, the current version of Ubuntu is 10.10 dubbed “Maverick Meerkat”. Make sure you have the right architecture type i.e. if your notebook is a 64-bit computer, download the 64-bit version of Ubuntu. Burn the .iso file to a DVD file using ImgBurn on Windows 7. Label this disk with the date and Ubuntu version. Insert the Ubuntu disk into your notebook’s CD/DVD tray and restart your computer. On HP notebooks, you may have to tell the computer to boot up from the CD/DVD drive. You can do that by pressing “Esc” (on the dv7-3080us notebook) once you see the HP logo appear about 1-2 seconds after the computer starts back up. If pressing the “Esc” key doesn’t work for you, make sure you know what that key is by closely observing any text that you see the next time your computer boots up. On my notebook, I have to press “F9” to navigate to the BIOS boot up options and tell the computer to look in my CD/DVD drive. Once you’ve done that, the computer restarts and boots up from the disk in your CD/DVD drive.
  2. The last version of Ubuntu I used was 9.04 so I noticed that the Ubuntu installer got tweaked and made the process of partitioning or wiping my hard disk easier. At some point, I do want to know more about my system, but this time, I was content with letting the Ubuntu installer be the smart one. In my case, I chose to wipe my entire hard disk. If you are interested in running both Ubuntu and Windows off the same disk, I’ve read that it’s best to install Windows first before installing whatever distro you have next.
  3. While the new installer is running, you’ll have to enter details like your first and last name, username for logging in, and whether or not you want to encrypt your home folder. I opted to encrypt my home folder to ensure my data would remain unreadable if someone decided to pop my hard disk out to read in a different computer.

After The Installation

  1. One of the first things that happened on the reboot was: Update manager popped up with almost 300 mb of updates. Whatever you do, it’s always a good thing to run Update Manager (or Windows Updates) after a fresh install first. While my updates were downloading, I took the opportunity to start copying my files from the external hard disk over to my /home folder. I tried to avoid doing any customization until I restarted the computer after this first set of updates.
  2. My notebook has an Nvidia graphics card and there is a proprietary driver available for it. Thankfully, Ubuntu detected this and I was able to download and install this as well. If you’re big on gaming, you’ll want to install this driver as it enabled 3D acceleration and unlocks some more functionality.

Installing Applications

With Windows 7, I had 2 apps that I would *always* reinstall whenever I reformatted my notebook:

  1. Camtasia Studio: Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio always made the list because it made creating videos, of whatever I was doing on my computer, ridiculously easy.
  2. SnagIt: Another TechSmith production and a must-have because it made creating screen captures painless and annotating those screen captures even easier.

Thus far, I’ve found a worthy alternative to SnagIt, no real Camtasia Studio alternatives *AND* discovered a new application that has made my life easier!

  1. Shutter: Shutter is written in Perl and stands heads-and-shoulders above the other screen capture contenders in the Ubuntu Software Center. Created by Shutter-Project.org, Shutter makes screen captures in Ubuntu as painless as SnagIt is. To be fair, Shutter is not as snappy as SnagIt, but for a free product, I was blown away. Check out my Min.us gallery of the options available with Shutter or look at this animated image (created in GIMP! :P)showing all the options available in Shutter.
  2. Min.us: is a photo-sharing site that I found out via HackerNews. Since my switch to Ubuntu, my use of the Min.us service has soared and allowed me to see just how useful this website is. You see, I didn’t realize that my method of sharing my files was archaic & painful until I used the Min.us desktop tool.Previously, TwitPic was the photosharing site I used and uploading pictures to the TwitPic service looked like this:
    1. Visit the TwitPic website
    2. Login with their horrendous Twitter authorization system; Caveat: If you’re logged into Twitter.com, you’ll automatically get logged into TwitPic. If not, you have to suffer through this image every.time.
    3. Click the link that takes me to the “File Upload” page
    4. Upload my file, have to annotate it right away. Also, remember to uncheck the “broadcast to Twitter” box; bad TwitPic.
    5. Highlight and copy the url for sharing.

    In fact, it was *better* for me to use Tweetdeck to upload images to my TwitPic account!

    Anyway, I needed a better means of dragging-and-dropping to share my screenshots from Ubuntu and Min.us has a very simple solution; On Ubuntu, download the .deb file and install it (which should bring up the Ubuntu Software Center).

    With Min.us, your photo-sharing steps are reduced to this:

    1. Go to the Min.us website
    2. Drag and drop your file on to the Min.us webpage
    3. One-click sharing of the screenshot to: Twitter, Reddit, Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon or good old-fashioned E-mail. Or copy the conveniently provided URL to your clipboard for sharing in IM chats or blog posts like this one. 🙂
    4. Visit the TwitPic website.
    5. Login with their horrendous Twitter authorization system; Caveat: If you’re logged into Twitter.com, you’ll automatically get logged into TwitPic. If not, you have to suffer through this image every.time.
    6. Click the link that takes me to the “File Upload” page
    7. Upload my file, have to annotate it right away
    8. Highlight and copy the url for sharing.
    9.  

    The developers are connected to their growing base of user via the @mindotus twitter account, the Min.us Facebook page and the Min.us feedback forum. In my experience, they have been very responsive to issues I’ve had such as the problem installing the Min.us desktop tool on my 64-bit Ubuntu system. When installing the Min.us desktop tool on x64 Ubuntu, you will get this message:

    Don’t panic. I contacted the devs at Min.us via Facebook (and Twitter) to let them know of the problem and within 24 hours, I got a response detailing how to work around the issue.

    Here’s the solution to the “wrong architecture” message I got when installing the minusubuntu.deb file for Min.us v. 1.1. For the “TL;DR” version: see my Pastebin of the results.

    1. Fire up the terminal and type “sudo dpkg -i –force-architecture /path/to/minusubuntu.deb“. You’ll be prompted for your password; Enter it.
    2. You’ll get this warning:

      dpkg: warning: overriding problem because –force enabled: package architecture (i386) does not match system (amd64)

      and be alerted to more potential dependency problems:

      Selecting previously deselected package minus-desktop-tool.
      (Reading database … 164082 files and directories currently installed.)
      Unpacking minus-desktop-tool (from …/jane/Downloads/minusubuntu.deb) …
      dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of minus-desktop-tool:
      minus-desktop-tool depends on libqt4-gui (>= 4.7); however:
      Package libqt4-gui is not installed.
      minus-desktop-tool depends on libqt4-core (>= 4.7); however:
      Package libqt4-core is not installed.
      dpkg: error processing minus-desktop-tool (–install):
      dependency problems – leaving unconfigured
      Processing triggers for desktop-file-utils …
      Processing triggers for python-gmenu …
      Rebuilding /usr/share/applications/desktop.en_US.utf8.cache…
      Processing triggers for python-support …
      Errors were encountered while processing:
      minus-desktop-tool

    3. The key takeaway from that glob of text is that: you need to install the following packages: libqt4-gui and libqt4-core. Do this by typing:
      apt-get install libqt4-gui libqt4-core” which should spit out this message:

      The following extra packages will be installed: libqt4-designer libqt4-opengl libqt4-script libqt4-svg libqt4-test

      The following NEW packages will be installed: libqt4-core libqt4-designer libqt4-gui libqt4-opengl libqt4-script libqt4-svg libqt4-test

    4. As for Camtasia Studio alternatives, I’ve currently working with Pitivi Video Editor (reviewed on LWN) and recently released OpenShot Video Editor. So far, I’m cautiously optimistic about OpenShot which was featured on LWN.net.

    If you’ve enjoyed this article, follow me (@janetalkstech) on Twitter for more and subscribe to the blog’s feed!

Personal Computing tip: Scanning Documents with Adobe Acrobat Pro 8

At home, I possess an ADF-enabled printer (ADF stands for “automated document feeder“), the HP OfficeJet J6480 which lets me scan documents without resorting to manually feeding all pages of the document by hand. Using HP’s software, scanning multipage documents is painless. However, if you still own a printer without this ADF-feature like a certain HP PSC 750 printer, I feel slightly sorry for you (unless you have a dedicated workhorse scanner). This ancient puppy has a flatbed which means I can’t leave the computer until I have manually scanned all the pages into the computer. The purpose of this post is to note what I have done to help ease the frustration of keeping multipage documents in 1 scanned (.pdf) file and walk you through the steps & possible pitfalls.

Previously, I would simply scan each page of my document via the built-in Windows 7 “Fax and Scan” utility. Sidenote: Access Windows fax and scan by hitting the “Windows” button and typing “scan”. You should see this image:
Built-in Windows Fax and Scan

This method saves scanned items as .jpg files. If I scanned 10 pages, I would end up with 10 .jpg files. My next step towards consolidating all 10 jpg files would be to combine them into 1 .pdf document using Adobe Acrobat Pro version 8 (I refuse to “upgrade”). The entire scanning and converting process used to take over 5 minutes, but I figured out an easier way to streamline the process. Here’s my new method:

Scanning Multipage Documents with Adobe Acrobat Pro 8 (on Windows 7)

  1. Step One: Fire Up Adobe Acrobat Pro (version 8): Click on the “Create PDF” button as shown in the image below. The option you want is “from Scanner” so click on that.
    Create a document in Adobe Acrobat 8
  2. Step Two: Select Your Scanning Device Depending on your printer, all you may need to do is: “Select your scanning device” as shown in this image below. If you haven’t installed your printer yet, follow the instructions on your users’ manual to get that important step squared away.
    Select Your Scanning Device - Adobe Acrobat 8
  3. Step Three: Changing Scanning Settings: With Adobe Acrobat 8’s document creation via scanner feature, you have the option of (depending on your printer’s capabilities):
    • Choosing how the documents get scanned i.e. 1-side or both sides.
      Scanning One or Both Sides
    • Color mode i.e. black/white, grayscale or in color.
      Color Mode for Scanning Documents in Adobe Acrobat Pro 8
    • Scanning resolution. A common DPI for print documents is 300DPI. Any higher makes the scanning process longer and in my case, makes the printer more likely to wig out and fail halfway. 600DPI is as high as I’ve dared to go.
      Changing DPI for Scanning in Adobe Acrobat Pro 8

    In truth, there are WAY more options than you need to concern yourself with if you want a simple foolproof method of scanning a paper document to a portable document format (PDF, get it? :P).

  4. Step Four: Start Scanning: Once you have completed Step Three, press the “Scan” button and you will be prompted to write in a name for the .pdf file you are about to create.

Possible Problems.

  1. There’s something about HP printers …: HP printers are ‘well’ supported on Windows 7 … if you agree with HP’s need for you to install their suite of products on your computer just to get the printing and scanning functions working properly. Not to be misleading, my (discontinued) HP OfficeJet J6480 will work even when treated as a plug-and-play device; The operating system (Windows 7) found drivers for it when I connected via USB, etc, but I since found that accessing the more advanced features of my printer required fiddling so I caved in and downloaded the 115.77 megabyte basic printer driver installation program from HP’s website. The full featured driver for my printer weighs in at 246.43 megabytes.


    HP Printer Driver Download Size for HP Officejet J6480

    All of this to say: you might need to download either the basic printer driver from HP’s website or if you don’t care about installing yet another piece of bloatware, go ahead and download the full featured driver. In fact, if you’re using HP products, please be intimately familiar with this website: http://hp.com/go/support and if possible, have a fridge sticker with your HP product’s serial or product number. On this website, you will find software/firmware updates that even the HP Update or HP Support Assistant won’t pick up on.

  2. Printer Blues:With the HP PSC 750, I ran into a problem where the printer/scanner would get hung up and flash a message about a “scanner failure”. What happened was either the printer or Adobe Acrobat 8 would get stuck after I completed Step Four even so using the built-in Windows Fax and Scan option worked so I knew the printer/scanner *was* working. I was able to resolve the issue by altering the scanner options up at Step One.

    By default, Adobe Acrobat *hides* the native scanning interface that you get with Windows Fax and Scan tool. By changing the setting in the image to “Show Scanner’s Native Interface”, I was able to get my printer/scanner and Adobe working for the greater good again. 😛

    Adobe Acrobat 8 scanner options

If you found this too long to read, here’s your takeaway: Invest in a printer that had an automated document feeder with double-sided printing capability. With the right software, and yes, this might mean downloading your manufacturer’s bloatware, you may never need to manually change pages for scanning again.

Setting Up Ubuntu in Oracle VM VirtualBox

I’m way too enamored of Windows 7 to consider wiping it off and replacing it with Ubuntu Lucid Lynx. However, I’d read lots of good things about it and wanted to see/feel the changes firsthand. The next best solution for me was to install Ubuntu in SunOracle’s VirtualBox software. I’ve always found VirtualBox friendly to use, but realize that that might not be the case for everyone. So, I created this long-ish video showing you how to install Ubuntu as a Virtual machine in VirtualBox from a .iso file. Ingredients for doing this:

  1. ~ 1 hour to spare.
  2. Make sure you’ve downloaded the .iso files for the operating system you’d like to test out. Visit DistroWatch for a selection of OSes to pick from.
  3. Install VirtualBox
  4. Watch my video called “32-bit Ubuntu on Oracle VM VirtualBox” on the Jane Talks Tech! channel on BlipTV and on Youtube as well (embedded below).
  5. The same video is up on the Facebook page for Jane Talks Tech! (janetalkstech.com).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jV23KKsCKn4