Thursday, November 25, 2010

Installing Ubuntu using a USB Stick

A couple of weeks back I happened to see an installation CD for an older version of Ubuntu in a rubbish bin. Not very environmental friendly indeed. I think a lot of us have this experience of burning the installation CDs, just to chuck it aside after using once for the installation. For me I still have a number of installation CDs for older versions of RedHat, Fedora, Ubuntu, etc. Sometimes I just feel like throwing them all away, but stop short of doing that because somehow I just feel that it is a wasteful thing to do.
Of course for those who are doing upgrade you can choose to upgrade via the network using the update manager. But after a few upgrades later, you may feel like having a fresh installation instead because you just feel like doing a clean up of unwanted applications and library files from your system. So is there a more environmentally friendly way to do installation? Actually there is a way, and that is none other than using the USB stick. Following are the main steps involved to perform installation using a USB stick:

Check BIOS Setup
The more recent computers should be able to support booting up via a USB stick. This can be verified by going into the BIOS setup during boot up time by pressing a key (typically the "Delete", "F2" or "F12" key). Look for something called Boot Sequence, and you should be able to see whether USB device is listed as one of the option. You may need to move the USB device upwards in the boot sequence if it comes below the harddrive by default.

Download the CD Installation Image
Once confirmed that your system can boot up using a USB stick, the next thing will be to download the installation image. You can just download the same ISO file for the CD installation image. There is no special installation image just for USB device.

Copy the Image into a USB Stick
After the image has been downloaded, you cannot just copy the image directly into the USB stick as the USB stick needs to be made bootable. In Ubuntu, there is a program call "Startup Disk Creator" for this purpose. You should be able to find it under System -> Administration. When the program has started, you should be able to see the screen as follows:

For the Source disc image, browse to the installation ISO file you have downloaded. For the Disk to use, select the USB Device. Of course you need to plug in the USB Device if you have not already done so. You can leave the other settings to default, and click on the "Make Startup Disk" button to start creating the startup disk. The CD installation image is about 700 MB in size, so you have to make sure your USB device is more than 700 MB in size. Note that whatever contents originally in your USB device will be erased with this process.

If you want to create the startup disk in Windows, you can try using the open source burner call InfraRecorder. I have not tried this method though. 

Boot Up and Install Using the USB Stick
This is the final step to determine whether your bootable USB stick is working. Just plug it in and start the system. If the Ubuntu screen appears, then you are in business! It should boot up as a live CD, and you can proceed with the installation from there. If the boot up fail, you may want to check the BIOS Setup as mentioned above.

Related Links

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Burning the Ubuntu installation CD ISO image into a DVD-R

Burning the Ubuntu installation CD ISO image into a DVD-R, will it work? That was what came to my mind as I was trying to install the latest Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick). It happened that after downloading the the ISO image, I was unable to burn the image into a CD-R. I tried a few CD-Rs and also tried both the Nero software in Windows and k3b in Linux. But each time it will fail with an error message. I was wondering whether it was the burner's problem or the medium's problem. Then I remembered I have just burnt some other files into a DVD-R just a day back. Why not try burning the image into a DVD-R?

Well I tried google searching for people who have done that before, and could only find different people sharing about different results. But the main concern I could gather was that the DVD-R might not be bootable as the ISO image was meant for a CD. It was also mentioned that a number of burning software will outright reject the burning with errors because they expect a CD instead of a DVD. Anyway I just went ahead and tried because I was eager to explore the new features offered in the latest version.

True enough, my initial attempts failed because the burning software would not let me proceed as they were asking for the correct medium to be inserted. This happened both with Nero and k3b. I was about to give up when I noticed there was another burning software called Brasero Disc Burner. I had never used it before, and was not even aware it was a standard software in Ubuntu. So I decided to give it a try and bingo, the burning onto DVD-R went through smoothly without error.

Then the next test would be to make sure the DVD can boot up and kickstart the installation. I even did a check in BIOS setup to make sure the DVD/CD medium precedes the harddrives in the bootup sequence. So I put in the DVD and rebooted the pc. I was filled with relief when I saw the message on the screen saying something along the line of preparing to boot up from CD device. When the Ubuntu screen came up, I knew that I could start exploring the new version that very night. I shall share about some of the new and interesting features of Maverick next time.

New level with 45 new rounds for Angry Birds available in the Android Market

I have recently completed all the levels for Angry Birds in my android phone, except for 2 golden eggs which I was not able to find. Anyway the games in the golden eggs level were not really that challenging, but were rather more for the fun of it to see the pigs in some unusual arrangement. So I was feeling a bit loss with no more new levels, when I saw the update available message in the Android market for Angry Birds on my phone. It requires a manual update as you need to click on the "OK" button in response to a message that says that the upgrade will not erase your data for the previous levels, which was a good thing and also to my relief.

The upgrade will give you a new level with 45 rounds. There is also a new bird available, which looks very much like the original red bird, except that it is bigger, rounder, looks angrier, and is able to knock down stronger structures. There is also a story line for the new level, which tells about the pigs taking revenge by capturing some of the birds and putting them into cages.

I have just started playing the game, and indeed in one of the round there is a "boomerang" parrot in a cage. After clearing the round, the parrot will be highlighted on the screen, very much like when the golden egg is found. In the next round, there is a parrot among my birds. I am guessing that each time you save a bird from the cage, the bird will be added to your group of birds in subsequent rounds. Anyway I have just started on the new level, so I can only confirm this when I am done with more rounds.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to restore dual boot after reinstalling Windows

I have been running a dual boot system at home with Windows XP and Ubuntu for quite some time. Recently, there was some problems with my Windows, and I have to reinstall the operating system as I was unable to find a solution. This in turn lead to other problems. I was unable to boot up to Ubuntu after reinstalling window. I have been using the grub loader that came with the Ubuntu installation to handle the dual boot. Previously, a grub menu will appear for selection of which operating system to boot up with. Now the grub menu no longer appears, with the system booting straight away to Windows. The Windows installation must have overwritten the Master Boot Record (MBR), which was kind of expected.

Anyway I tried to google search for a solution, and the following were the steps to resolve the problem that appear in the most of the forum postings or articles I have found:
  • sudo grub
  • find /boot/grub/stage1
  • root (hd0,1)
  • setup (hd0)
  • quit
Unfortunately, what has worked for others did not work for me. I have to research a bit more to find out what the above commands are for, and adjust accordingly based on my system.

Anyway my system consists of 2 harddrives, with Windows XP installed in the primary harddrive and Ubuntu in the secondary harddrive. The MBR is in the primary harddrive, while the grub program is in the secondary harddrive.

Following are the steps I have taken that have finally helped me solve the problem, as well as some explanation for each step:
  • Boot up using a ubuntu live CD.
  • Open a terminal and type: 
> sudo grub
  • In the grub command line utility that appears, type the following:
grub> find /boot/grub/stage1
  • The above command is for finding where your grub is located. In my case the value returned is: hd1,0. This means grub is in the 1st partition of my second harddrive. If your grub is in the 2nd partition of the first harddrive, the value returned should be hd0,1.
  •  The next command is to "tell" MBR where grub is located. So you should use the value found in the step above:
grub> root (hd1,0)
  • Make sure there is a space between "root" and the opening bracket.
  • Next step is to tell grub which MBR to fix. Typically, this should be the first harddrive, which means hd0 should be used. If you have only one harddrive then it should be hd0.
grub> setup (hd0)
  • After that you should see some statements about the program is running and whether it is successful.
  • Once the program has finished running, you can quit the utility:
grub> quit

Now another thing I have to mention is that my Ubuntu was a rather old version (version 8.10). It is still using the so called "legacy grub". I think for Ubuntu version 9.10 and after, grub program used is grub2. The above steps are meant for "legacy grub". If you are using grub2, please refer to my related links for the solution.

Related Links

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Linux at Work Part 2 - Windows Equivalent Email Client

Email client is another type of commonly used software at work. In the Windows desktop, Microsoft Outlook is one of the more commonly used email client, and the usually the default setting is to use the Microsoft Exchange Server rather than imap or pop as the mail server. However, there are some options available in the Linux desktop even if your workplace adopts the Microsoft Exchange Server with Microsoft Outlook as the email client. Most of the email clients should support both the imap and pop email protocols, while depending on the setup of the exchange administrators, the Microsoft Exchange Server may usually also support the imap or pop protocols.

Thunderbird is a email client that belongs to the Mozilla family of open-source software. It is my favourite because of the ease of use and fast performance. Thunderbird does not support the Microsoft Exchange Server protocol. In order to access the email at my workplace, which adopts the Microsoft Exchange Server, I have to set it to use the imap protocol for receiving emails, as well as the SMTP protocol for sending out emails. One great thing about imap is that it also supports email folders. So you can create folders and move emails into the them just like what you can do in Microsoft Outlook.

The downside to Thunderbird is that it does not support the calendar and appointment functions like Microsoft Outlook, though these are not big issues for me.

As for alternative to the global address list available in Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird supports LDAP, which allows you to configure and access address list based on LDAP.

Other good points about Thunderbird include its support for gmail. With the Webmail add-on, it can also be configured to support yahoo mail and hotmail, which normally has to be accessed via the web browser.

Evolution is another popular email client in the Linux desktops. In fact it is the default email client in most of the Linux distros. One big plus point about Evolution is its support for the Microsoft Exchange Server. However, I have tried for quite sometime before getting it to work with Microsoft Exchange. In my case, the trick is to select "Exchange MAPI" as the server type when setting up the Microsoft Exchange email account. Previously I have tried selecting "Microsoft Exchange Server" and it simply refused to work.

Other than the sending and receiving of email, so far I have only tried out the global address list, which was working well. I have not tried out the calender and appointment functions though.

For the sake of completeness I shall just briefly mentioned KMail though I have not really tested it out before. KMail is currently the email module of Kontact, which is the suite of KDE-based applications that deals with Personal Information Manager (PIM). Other modules of the suite includes KOrganizerAkregator - Read your favorite feeds which handles calendar and scheduling, KAddressBook which manages your contacts, and Akregator which is a feeds reader.

Related Links

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Linux at Work Part 1 - Windows Equivalent Office Software

Many a times there will be people who ask whether it is possible to use Linux desktop instead of Windows for work. Well the answer to this depends on the nature of the job itself. The main issue will be whether you are using any specialized and commercial software that is only offered in Windows with no Linux alternatives. In my case the nature of my work is software development, and I have been using Linux desktop at work for the past few years. With the great improvements in the Linux desktop over the years, I would say more than 99% of my time at work now is using the Linux desktop.

I have started this series called "Linux at Work" to explore some options that we can have to make it possible for us to work using the Linux desktop. These options can also be easily extended to personal use of Linux desktop at home. I shall start by looking at some of the commonly used Windows software at the workplace, and their equivalent or sometimes even better Linux alternatives. In this first part, we shall take a look at the Office software.

In the office environment, we are definitely familiar with Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. These are office productivity software that we cannot do without in our everyday work. This can be a potential sore point in using the Linux desktop as someone may be sending you a excel file and you find that you have problem All thanks to OpenOffice, this is no longer a big issue for Linux users. OpenOffice also offers word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software that can read and write files in Microsoft propriety format. OpenOffice is on the top of my list as the alternative to Microsoft Office because it offers high level of compatibility with Microsoft Office files. On top of that, it is also open-source and free to use, and is packaged as the default office software in most Linux distros.

One thing to take note is that recently the open format versions of the Microsoft Office files (those with extensions .docx, .xlsx, .pptx) have become more widely used. Although being open format should make it more compatible with other office software, I have experience some problems with these files using OpenOffice. Initially the problem was these files were not supported by OpenOffice at all. Then OpenOffice was updated to support opening of these files. However, I was unable to save them in the original format after doing some editing, and have to save them in the propriety format (.doc, .xls, .ppt) instead. Then OpenOffice was updated again such that opening and saving of these files in the open format are both supported. Unfortunately, sometimes I am still facing the problem of having some parts of the files that somehow seems to be off in format from the way it looks in Microsoft Office. This is not a big issue most of the time as the files can still be read without any problem. But it will be a problem if the files are to be shared, and someone may need the format to be strictly correct as they need to use scripts to read and extract the data. In such circumstances, I will have no choice but to think of other ways to deal with it. I shall elaborate more about this  at a later time.

KOffice is a KDE based office software. Like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, it also offers a integrated suite of office applications that support word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations. I have only tried it briefly sometime back, but decided to use OpenOffice instead as its compatibility with Microsoft Office files was not as satisfying.

AbiWord and Gnumeric 
AbiWord and Gnumeric are Gnome's answers to Word and Excel respectively. I used to like using them as they were much faster in performance to OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. I remember there was one period of time when it would take ages for OpenOffice to open a file, though this has greatly improved over the years. I have decided to stick with OpenOffice due to its better compatibility with Microsoft Office files, though sometimes I still use Gnumeric when I want to do some work on the spreadsheet quickly.

OpenOffice, KOffice, Abiword and Gnumeric are available in most, if not all the Linux distros. They can be easily installed using package manager such as the Synaptic Package Manager.

Related Links

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Experience with Linux and Ubuntu

I have been a Linux user for the past few years, both at work and at home. I started off using Redhat, followed by Fedora, before settling down on Ubuntu. For those who find the terms Redhat, Fedora and Ubuntu alien, well these are different distributions of the Linux Operating System. Linux is a open-source operating system. A simple way to define open-source is that the source code can be used, freely modified, and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially. Certain group of individuals, volunteer organizations, and commercial entities may then adapt the operating system to specific needs, and package it differently under different distributions (distro). So users like us can choose among the different distributions available, and decide on one that best suit our needs. The more technologically inclined may decide to use a harder to use distro that allow them more free play in configuring the system to the most minute details. A normal user, on the other hand, may decide on a distro that leaves very little to configure, but take cares of most of the things so that the user can install and run the system with minimal fuss.

My earlier experience in using Linux has been rather painful, especially in the work place. More often than not, I will end up with no available open-source application available to perform a certain task. Sometimes even when an application can be found, it may not be packaged for the distro I am using, and I will have to compile the application using the source code. The compilation is often a very painful process, because once it fails to compile, it will be a nightmare to debug and find out why its not compiling. Because of situations like these, I was unable to totally stop using Microsoft Windows. I have to set up my system in dual boot mode, such that I can boot it up either in Windows or Linux.

My break finally came when I found out about Ubuntu, which was a new kid at the block when I started using it. Its comes with the relatively easy to use Synaptic Package Manager, which really makes installing applications a breeze. Almost any application that I need, I can easily find it, install, and ready for use. Since then, I hardly have the need to compile application on my own. I hardly need to dual boot into Windows these days as I can complete most of the tasks in Linux.

For those who are interested, you can download Ubuntu from its official website It also comes with a Wiki site,, which you can find answers to questions such as installation issues, recommended software, etc.

Angry Birds Full Version now available for Free in Android Market

Angry Bird is a very addictive smart phone game whereby the player catapults a bunch of angry birds into pigs hiding in structures of different configurations. The game was previously only available in iPhones, but has made its way into the Android market a couple of months back. Initially, only the lite beta version was available for free with about 15 levels of play. Then recently, the full version with hundred over levels of play is available for free in the Android market. Fans of the game with Android phones, please remember to look for the game in the android market!

Warning: The game can be very addictive, and you may find yourself playing it on the car, on the bus, in the train, and even in the washroom!

Creative launches Android based ZIIO tablets

Creative launches Android based ZIIO tablets. See press release.

Key Points
  • Creative Technology Ltd. announced the release of a new Pure Wireless Entertainment solution comprising of Creative ZiiO 7” and ZiiO 10” Pure Wireless Entertainment Tablets, Creative ZEN Touch 2 Wireless Entertainment Device and Creative WP-300 Bluetooth Headphones. These new offerings together with Creative’s already extensive range of Pure Wireless speakers, give users everywhere the most complete pure wireless entertainment system available today.
  • The Creative ZiiO touch tablet — the world’s first apt-X enabled touch screen tablet — which runs on Android, delivers the best wireless audio performance you will get from an Android™-based tablet in the market, differentiating it from similar devices. 
  • Creative ZiiO tablet also delivers the most seamless, fuss-free Bluetooth pairing experience you will ever have with Creative’s extensive range of speakers and headphones.
  • Creative ZiiO is available in 7” (480 x 800) and 10” (1024 x 600) display models. The 7” model is in white, while the 10” model is in black. Both models come in 8GB and 16GB memory capacities.
    • Compact Touch Screen Tablet
    • Stunning 16.8 million (7” version ) and 262K color (10” version) display for laser sharp images
    • Android 2.1 Operating System
    • Bluetooth 2.1 EDR (with apt-X and A2DP)
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g capable
    • X-Fi Audio Enhancements (X-Fi Crystalizer, X-Fi Expand)
    • Audio Supported: MP3, AAC, WMA9, FLAC, OGG, ADPCM, MIDI, WAV, Audible Format 4
    • Video Supported: H.264, MPEG4, WMV9, MJPEG, MOV, AVI, MKV
    • HD Video-Out (HDMI-Out)
    • Photo Supported: JPG, BMP, PNG
    • Front facing camera
    • Built-in Mic
    • Built-in Speaker (stereo)
    • Accelerometer
    • Playtime: Up to 25 hrs (MP3), up to 5 hrs (video)
    • microSD (7”) / SD (10”) card slot (up to 32GB)
    • Dimensions:
      • 207.4 x 133 x 13.7 mm (7” version)
      • 262 x 173 x 13.7 mm (10” version)
    • Weight:
      • 400g (7” version)
      • 650g (10” version)

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