Ubuntu Annoyances

I’ve always been a RedHat man myself. Since around RedHat 3 I’ve run with that, and then Fedora, on my laptop and RedHat/CentOS on my servers.

At work Ubuntu is the choice and so that’s what I’m using there. I have recently found a few annoyances though, that I’ve not come across with RedHat/Fedora.

/boot fills up

It seems that with the default installation of both 12.04 LTS and 14.04 LTS versions the boot partition fills up over time (less than twelve months). The system installs updated versions of the kernel and related files. This continues until the partition is out of space.

I had to Google to find the fix, as root on the command line:

  • determine which kernel version is running with uname -r
  • delete the unused files from /boot
  • prevent this from happening in future with apt-get autoremove
  • you’ll probably need to run apt-get -f install to clean things up

I’ll be checking back on the servers to make sure that I really have fixed the problem.

Upgrade requires interaction

Yesterday/last night I decided to take the plunge and update my desktop machine from Ubuntu 12 to 14. I set it going and it warns that it can take hours. I expect that. When I checked back after a while there was a dialog asking if a file should be replace. Such prompts popped up a few times during the process. This sucks!

With Fedora you set the process running, come back in the morning and it’s done.

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Firefox Offline broken

For some time now it seems that Firefox offline mode is broken or borked in some way.

I notice this on the train when I need to refer to Android documentation. Documentation can be downloaded as part of the Android developer kit. This used to work just fine in Firefox on my netbook when offline. Recently though, perhaps two releases of Firefox ago, it utterly fails.

Firefox displays nothing other than a blank white page whilst trying to connect to google.com or googleapis.com. Yesterday/today it has been particularly frustrating as I’ve been trying to work on stuff that I’ve not done before. Documentation was essential.

A search of the internet suggests that it might be add-on related. Some suggest restarting Firefox in safe mode. Disabling add-ons, safe mode make no difference. It is core Firefox that is at fault.

I have now installed Epiphany. It can open the local files, though the search function doesn’t seem to work. Better than nothing.

It looks like Mozilla broke something in Firefox 27?

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Handy Layouts

When developing Android applications the interface layout is usually defined in XML files. Commonly the file main.xml is the definition for the first interface that the application presents to the user.

Android also allows for different layouts to be defined in XML files in different folders. The names of the folders define when the layout should be used. So, for instance, the layout-land folder holds the layouts for the application when running on a device in landscape mode. This method allows design and function to be neatly separated.

It occurred to me on the train this evening, whilst working on an app, that it might be handy to have folders for left and right handedness. This would allow for asymmetric designs, especially in portrait mode, where the device – typically a phone – is being held in one hand. So if an application has multiple buttons on the display for instance, then the more important buttons could be sized/positioned to make them easier to reach.

I don’t know if this already exists, but I wanted to get it out there so that there is prior art, hopefully preventing the likes of Apple, Microsoft and RIM from claiming it as a novel invention and patenting it.

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Laptops and Linux

I’m looking for a laptop and it’s proving very difficult! This will be my main machine, used for programming and general web stuff. It must run Linux, preferably Fedora. This is what I’m after:

  • 14 or 15 inch display with better than 1366 by 768 resolution
  • Graphics card that is supported under Linux. Needs to be good enough to run Gnome 3 but it won’t be used for games, so integrated graphics are fine
  • DVD re-writer, not bothered about Blu-Ray
  • 256Gb SSD drive (128Gb would do)
  • Intel Core i5 or better
  • Decent battery life
  • Backlit keyboard
  • USB 3 port(s)

I’m working up a table of manufacturers/models which I’ll publish here soon. In the mean time, any pointers would be very welcome. Thanks!

Update 1: Dell Latitude are looking like the favourite at the moment. Only missing USB 3.

Update 2: After much deliberation I have gone for a Dell Vostro 3550. The other factor that I didn’t include above is now much I’m willing to pay for a laptop. The Latitude looks great, but at nearly £1,500 it’s way too expensive. (It also doesn’t have USB 3 ports.) The Vostro doesn’t match on a few of the requirements; resolution is 1366 by 768 and the hard drive is a 320Gb SATA, though spinning at 7,200 RPM. Given that my current laptop is an Asus A6000 the new machine should be a joy to use!

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UK Government ICT Strategy

I have read the Government ICT Strategy a few times now. As a user and keen advocate of free/libre open source software I hope that strategy is effective. As a local government employee I am, regrettably, sceptical.

Open Standards/Open Source

These terms are used throughout the document, including these actions:

  1. To create a level playing field for the use of innovative ICT solutions, the Government will publish a toolkit for procurers on best practice for evaluating the use of open source solutions
  2. To assist with the development of agile solutions using open source technology, the Government will establish an Open Source Implementation Group, a System Integrator Forum and an Open Source Advisory Panel. These will aim to educate, promote and facilitate the technical and cultural change needed to increase the use of open source across government
  3. To enable delivery of interoperable and open ICT solutions so that they can be shared and reused, the Government will publish a reference architecture
  4. To allow for greater interoperability, openness and reuse of ICT solutions, the Government will establish a suite of agreed and mandatory open technical standards

It sounds like good stuff, but I’ve heard it before. Back in the government published their Open Source Software Policy document. From that document:

  • UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
  • UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
  • UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

It seemed to have little or no impact. For example, vendor lock-in, which is also mentioned in the new strategy, paragraph 36 … The adaptation of compulsory open standards will help avoid lengthy vendor lock-in….

Microsoft is a master at vendor lock-in. A powerful example this is the Home User Programme. It allows employees to buy a cheap copy of Microsoft Office so long as their employer has an Enterprise agreement. In 2010 the NHS terminated their Enterprise agreement. The knock on effect is that employees can no longer legally use Office purchased under the HUP license, as noted on the Microsoft NHS Resource Centre page.

Microsoft claim that it’s docx, xlsx etc formats are open. Those that follow Groklaw will understand that this is not so. My understanding is that even Microsoft Office is incapable of producing documents that strictly adhere to the OOXML standards. The standard is flawed and they incorporate elements that prevent them ever becoming truly open. Read more on the Groklaw ODF/OOXML Resource page.

ICT Projects and Providers

The strategy also talks about reducing waste on ICT projects. This is supposed to happen through the application of lean and agile methodologies and promotion of a public service economy based on open ICT markets with increased participation of SMEs, the voluntary and community sector, and other diverse providers….

Well, things will have to change then. ICT departments like to buy products that are supported by the supplier. They like to be able to pass the buck back to the supplier when things don’t work. The strategy does seem to recognise this; Government has become over-reliant on external expertise from consultants, contractors and interim staff…. This is spot on. Want a new Sharepoint intranet? Better get in some consultants.

Desktops

This is the final point I want to highlight. Action points 18 to 20:

  1. To improve the flexibility and reduce the cost of desktop solutions, the Government will publish a common desktop/device strategy with detailed implementation plans.
  2. To examine the benefits of delivering standardised desktop services using a cloud-based model, the Government will develop a desktop prototype for the cloud.
  3. To detail how services will shift to cloud-based technologies, the Government will publish a Cloud Computing Strategy with implementation plans

So, a standard desktop. Will it be Windows? If the standard office product is Microsoft Office then how can it be anything other than Windows? Last time I checked Microsoft didn’t do a version of Office for Linux. So will it be a product that supports ODF? That would widen the choice of products that support the format and, for example, Libre Office is cross platform.

Cloud based services. Really? We like to keep all of our data on our own servers. We cripple machines through the use of software to lock down all useful services, like wireless, like Bluetooth, like USB. So is the government going to produce and host it’s own cloud? That wouldn’t be cheap, and government is facing big budget cuts. Would we ever us Google Docs? (I think some US government bodies do.)

To summarise then, some promising plans, and I really hope that open source and standards prevail, but I really don’t think much will change.

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GParted

I upgraded Elliot’s PC to Windows XP today. The drive was partitioned as a 2Gb C: drive (system) and a 14Gb D: drive (data). The version of XP was old, but there wasn’t enough space to install SP2. Time to reach for GParted!

I found that I’d left half the disc empty (don’t know why) so I first moved (extended partition) D: up to use all the space. I then resized the partition to leave 6Gb unallocated above primary 1.

Next I tried to resize the primary partition to 8Gb. I got bad sector errors that chkdsk wouldn’t fix. Seems that they were phantom errors that are widely noted on the internet.

Finally I used fdisk to delete then recreate primary 1, then ntfsresize on the command line to force the resize.

At reboot XP wanted to run chkdsk but it booted fine and seems good. Happy!

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Fedora 10 FTW!

I upgraded my laptop, an old Asus, from Fedora 9 to 10 just this week. I have to say that it’s great. To start I now have the latest OpenOffice.org, version 3, though not had chance to use it. I’m looking forward to the latest GIMP and Inkscape too.

The big difference that I tested was recognising my digital camera, a Nikon S600. This camera doesn’t act as a mass storage device, so under F9 I had to drop to a command and connect to it. This is fixed in F10, with the camera running in PTP mode. Plug it in and it automatically appears and is browsable. I’m working through testing other stuff. So far the other big win is that I can now use the SD card slot, not just for SD, I also find that SDHC works.

Gnome is looking good too. I ran with the Echo icon set in F9 and that has carried over. The upgrade was painless and has maintained everything as far as I can tell.

Excellent!!

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