Ubuntu Desktop Applications – Part 1

After getting a minimal Ubuntu Desktop installation working I’m moving on to the application side.

I like to tune out some of the office “noise” with music. So the first thing I started looking for was a way to play or stream music. Apple iTunes does not work on Linux, but I found the out of the box Rhythmbox a reasonable start of a replacement, but the list of streaming Radio channels only contains 19 stations, which is a very small list compared to iTunes. But, the other features seem to work.

I could not get Pandora to stream via the browser, but I did find the Pithos app to be better than the browser based streaming. http://kevinmehall.net/p/pithos/

Chrome had Flash issues streaming some YouTube content, but after installing the ubuntu-restricted-extras the Flash issues were resolved.  

# sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras


My first application stumbling blocks appear to be chat related. I need to be able to communicate with my team in real time, but so far have not gotten any chat or IRC clients to work.

Sounds like a good topic for my next post.


Ubuntu Desktop Install

First hurdle, my work laptop does not have a DVD burner, and I don’t have a flash drive I can make bootable. Easy solution: use the Ubuntu Windows Installer


A couple of clicks, the installer downloads a bootable iso for you (no need to download the iso on your own). In a few minutes I had booted into Ubuntu.

Initial configuration customization was to un-mirror my dual displays (why is this ever a default?), change the background to black (I’m a design minimalist, and flashy gradient desktops are not my thing), and adjusted the mouse sensitivity.

Issue #1 – There appears to be some known Linux + wireless Microsoft Mouse Scrollwheel bug where the scrollwheel is hyper-sensitive. The “work around” is to unplug the wireless dongle, wait a few seconds for the driver to detect the change, and plug the dongle back in. This worked. Although, if I have to do this repeatedly during the day the Mac users are going to start giving me a hard time.

With a usable desktop interface I then saw a proprietary driver update notice, which would not install. I also wanted to install Chrome, but that would not install either. I ran the system updates, and afterward the proprietary driver notice disappeared and Chrome was able to install.

Since I can log in, and minimally use the desktop, I’d say this has been the most successful initial install ever.

Now to try some applications.


Ubuntu Desktop Replacement

Every few years I give Linux another shot at being a Windows Desktop replacement. 20 years ago I gave it the first shot, and ended up getting tired of downloading sources and compiling EVERYTHING, with multiple conflicts and version dependencies that could not be sorted out. The last time I tried was with Ubuntu two years ago, and while you no longer have to download sources, nothing just worked “out of the box”. I had to troubleshoot wireless drivers, network drives, video drivers, mouse issues, wireless keyboard issues… and that was before I started trying to read Office docs, use OpenOffice and *gasp* expect what was on the screen to actually look like what came out on the printer.

In my new job my focus is less on Windows Server management, and nearly 90% Unix. So, I’m giving Ubuntu Desktop another shot. Half my co-workers use Mac OsX, and the other half use some Linux distro. The Mac folks still joke about the Linux guys having to recompile X-Windows before they can accept meeting invites.

I’ll be posting my experiences as I try out Ubuntu Desktop 12.04.

Hopefully I won’t miss any meetings.


overlooked resources: favicon.ico and robots.txt

I’ve been doing a lot of development work on a fun new project and suddenly feel like using my blog to document some of the tools I am enjoying.

First up, I’m cleaning up the nagging error.log messages for things like favicon.ico and robots.txt

Here is a handy favicon generator at favicon.cc

This one was pretty easy to use. It has a full color picker, with transparency, easy right click delete, and you can drag your work around to fix the alignment and centering with a nice preview of what it might look like in an address bar. I quick click on Download Favicon and you are done. Or, if you want to save your work and return to it later you can register. (You can also make animated icons. But, please, don’t…)


The other item is the robots.txt file. You can get some handy information from http://www.robotstxt.org/, where you will learn (or be reminded) that the robots.txt is optional and in no way secures your site or guarantees a search engine won’t index content you ‘disallow’.

So why would you use it? It might be helpful to request search engines not download and index all of your images (to save bandwidth), especially if having searchable images doesn’t help customers find you. Another handy use of the robots.txt file is on your test servers so that search engines don’t end up making error pages searchable, or exposing information that isn’t ready to be released.

In all cases the robots.txt file is a polite suggestion, and if you really want to keep prying eyes out, you better use firewalls or the .htaccess (or whatever your server uses) to properly restrict access.