Xubuntu

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Angela’s mum’s just got broadband installed, but unfortunately her PC is a bit on the old side (450Mhz Pentium III & 128Mb Ram) and was running (just about) Windows 98. It would take about a week to boot up and then promptly collapse in a big heap with the first five minutes of use – a fresh install would probably a breathed some new life into it, but of course Windows 98 is no longer supported and I wasn’t even going to try and install Windows 2000 or XP, so it was time for a bit of a change.

All that was needed was something for email, web browsing, managing photos from a digital camera and a bit of word processing – nothing that should be beyond a 450Mhz PIII with 128Mb of memory. A quick trip to the Xubuntu website to pick up an ISO image of the install CD and we were off.

To quote the website

Xubuntu is a complete GNU/Linux based system with an Ubuntu base. It’s lighter, and more efficient than Ubuntu with GNOME or KDE, since it uses the Xfce Desktop environment, which makes it ideal for old or low-end machines, as well as thin-client networks.

I had a old hard drive knocking about so I was planning on installing onto that in order to keep the data and photos that were on the original (8Gb!) hard drive. Nearly fell at the first hurdle when I discovered the IDE cable in the PC had only one connector (cheapskates), but fortunately I had a spare with two connectors that I swapped it for. The install process itself was a breeze, choose your language and the hard disk to install on and off it goes, installing the base package set without a hitch – until that is, it got to the part where it tried to configure Xorg.

Now to be fair to Xubuntu it wasn’t the simplest of hardware configurations to deal with – the motherboard had an intergrated Intel graphics chip (which it correctly identified) but the VGA connector on the back had snapped off some time ago so there was a second S3 PCI graphics cards in one of the expansion slots (which it also correctly identified) which was the one that we wanted to use. Finding two graphics cards Xubuntu decided I clearly wanted a multi-head configuration with the (broken) Intel one as the master – result no X windows.

Fortunately the fix was easy enough – just remove the Intel and multi-head configuration from the xorg.conf file and normal graphical service was resumed. Xubuntu comes with Firefox and Thunderbird as your web and email clients, with Abiword and Gnumeric providing the word processing and spreadsheet options – all of which proved a good deal more responsive than their Micro$oft equivalents running from the Windows 98 install.

Like Ubuntu it uses Synaptic as the front end to the Debian package managment utilities, so installing F-Spot for photo management was just a couple of clicks worth of effort. Then it was just a case of letting F-Spot trawl through the windows disk (which I mounted in Xubuntu as read only to avoid inadvertant damage) to pick up and copy all the photos into it’s own folder, and the job was done.

We now have a PC that’s more than good enough for light duties that it will be used for, that runs faster than Windows 98 ever did but is a lot more secure and stable, and that didn’t cost a penny to ‘upgrade’. There’s simply not a Micro$oft solution that you can use for these sort of requirements on this sort of hardware anymore, and that’s even before they (eventually) release Vista and tell us all we need another new computer to run that!

Xubuntu was no more difficult to install than Windows, and it identified and installed all the hardware correctly (including the broken integrated graphics chip!) – something Windows wouldn’t have managed. You’d have needed to download half a dozen different drivers from half a dozen different websites if you were doing a clean Windows install on the same hardware. That’s assuming you could find Windows drivers for the hardware in the first place – it is 7 years old after all.

If you’re fed up with Windows and you want to try out Xubuntu, or Ubuntu (Gnome), or Kubuntu (KDE) then they will all run from a Live CD – just pop into your CD drive and reboot. You can try it out without having to install anything on your hard drive…

There’s Babies Everywhere!

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It must be weather, there’s already been two new arrivals this month – first baby Darcey arrived to keep Zoe & Mike on their toes, and then yesterday it was the turn of Adam to suprise Jo & Mark by arriving two weeks early. Every seems to be doing really well, and we wish them all the very best and not too many sleepless nights!

Angela & Megan were off to Braehead today to meet up with Auntie Laura who’s up from Leeds for a few days – they seem to have had a good time, and Megan’s come back with a large pink (surprise, suprise) teddy bear which goes by the name of Strawberry Shortcake. Let’s hope it doesn’t scare Nikki & Holly too much – the two goldfish that took up residence last Friday. We’d been looking after the neighbours fish whilst they were away on holiday and Megan became quite attached, so now we’ve ended up with two of our own.

The iPod adaptor’s finally been fitted to the new car, and we tried it out with Angela’s nano and it works well. The radio treats it as a cd-changer so you can access the first nine playlists on the iPod via the first nine ‘cds’, with the last ‘cd’ used to mean all the songs. You can use the random button on the radio to shuffle the playlists, skip forward and back as well as fast forward and rewind tracks from the steering wheel controls, and it even charges the iPod as you go – all I need now is an iPod of my own.

It was snooker again last night, first time in a few weeks, and it was quite close (for a change). I won the first frame but Darren then won the next two and had a big lead in the fourth (so it seemed normal service had been resumed) until a couple of good breaks saw me level the scores on the black. I won the next two frames for a 4-2 lead before Darren pulled one back to setup a deciding frame. That could have gone either way but I managed to edge it to win 5-3 on the night and cut the overall lead back to 8-4 – still a long way behind!

The footy season starts for real tonight, with the first leg of the Champions League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa – we still don’t know where the away leg will be played, although it has to be a neutral venue given the troubles in the region, and Ukraine looks the most likely at this point in time.

In technology news WordPress have released a new patch v2.0.4 and I’ve loaded it against this site without too much trouble – however given the flaky nature of the previous release, I’ll leave it until I’ve had a chance to test it for a little while before rolling it out to Dave & Emma’s blogs. Firefox have issued a couple of bug fix releases in the last few weeks, the most recent being v1.5.0.6, as has Thundebird which is now up to v1.5.0.5 – if you use them you should upgrade, if you don’t then you should so install them anyway!

BT Openzone-in-a-Box

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The European Cricket Championships are being played in the West of Scotland at the moment, and whilst the Israeli team are generating the most interest, there are actually lots of other teams competing. The tournament organiser is a member at Clydesdale so I’d agreed to help setup some BT Openzone wireless routers he’d bought to provide internet access for the jounralists attending the games.

For a hefty fee BT will send you a BT Openzone-in-a-Box pack, that includes a wireless router, that plugs into your existing ADSL router (assuming you have one) to create an instant BT Openzone hot-spot. At least that’s the theory…

BT Openzone (eventually) supplied 5 of these boxes to be installed at Clydesdale, Polloc, Glasgow Academicals, West of Scotland and Ayr but of the 5 supplied only 3 actually worked. The other two simply failed to create the BT Openzone wireless hot-spot, just leaving you with a network called ‘default’ that wouldn’t serve up IP addresses to anyone trying to connect. There’s basically nothing you can configure on these routers, and just swapping out the broken ones for the working ones was enough to create the hot-spot so there’s no doubt the routers were just knackered.

So to summarise the service from BT Openzone

  • Only 3 of the 5 supplied routers actually worked – leaving two of the cricket grounds without hot-spots
  • The routers, which should have been delivered weeks ago, only arrived on Wednesday – the day before the tournament started
  • The BT Openzone vouchers that should have been supplied with them were nowhere to be seen – we’re still waiting for them

I can only recommend that if for some reason you are thinking about getting one of these – don’t!