Ubuntu 10.04 on a ThinkPad T42

October 31, 2010 3 comments

I am typing this entry from my 5 year old IBM ThinkPad T42 laptop. Why? It’s a simple matter that I decided to give Linux one more try on this machine. In the past I have had bad luck with Linux on this particular laptop because it does not play well with the ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 video that the laptop came with. It would run like molasses until I hacked and hacked just to make it somewhat usable. This was true for recent past releases of Ubuntu, Xubuntu and OpenSUSE.

I was pleasantly surprised when I installed Canonical’s Ubuntu 10.04. Right out of the box it runs well – very well. Compiz effects included. I know the latest release is actually 10.10 but 10.04 is the most recent LTS release (Long Term Support – 3 years) and I have heard of some performance issues with 10.10. For me, 10.04 has been pretty impressive but at the same time not flawless. I’ll get the bad out of the way first and then get into the good stuff:

The bad. :\

This laptop’s internal wireless radio has been broken for a while now. Under Windows and other Linux releases I have been able to use the laptop just without proper use of the wireless. Under Ubuntu 10.04 the startup gets stuck in an infinite loop with the message “Unable to start the card”. I eventually had to disable the wireless radio in the BIOS to get to the desktop. Not very good error handling.

Over the last few years, many Linux distros have been touted as having everything you need right out of the box. You know, your office apps, web browser, that sort of thing. I therefore have one small gripe: There was no Flash or Java plugin installed. Come on guys, most of the web runs on that stuff! Even something for SilverLight should have been there because there’s enough websites using that technology now too.

Now I know, I know, these are not open source products. However, there are open source alternatives to them. I have no problem installing the plugins myself but from a marketing point of view it makes sense to package some open source alternatives since there’s everything else loaded right out the box.

There really should be some proper means (not via command line) of changing key mappings. Prior to the “Lenovo era”, ThinkPad laptops did not come with a Windows key. On Linux that’s the Super key and is mapped to some shortcuts. Under Windows I used IBM’s utility to remap my right ALT and CTRL to WIN and MENU but it’s not so simple under Ubuntu.

Note: As far as the Compiz effects go, if you want to remap the shortcut keys so you don’t need the Windows/Super key, you can use the Ubuntu Software Center, search for “Compiz” and install the CompizConfig Settings Manager.

The good! :D

The first thing I have to say is that I am very glad the Radeon 7500 is finally supported out the box. It’s not flawless; with full effects on the card is too old to get the edges smooth when wobbling windows around (though the motion itself is very smooth) and I can’t get the water effect to work. All in all though, it works pretty well and is smooth with transparencies and everything enabled. I even installed Celestia and gave it a run. It’s smooth enough.

Ubuntu 10.04 running Celestia

Ubuntu 10.04 running Celestia

In terms of software, notwithstanding what I spoke about before Ubuntu comes with most of the essentials built in. There’s OpenOffice.org Presentation, Spreadsheet and Word Processor 3.2 as well as some games, CD/DVD creator, dictionary and media players. Installing software is a breeze; just go into the Applications menu and run the Ubuntu Software Center. Find what you want and it downloads and installs without issue.

Note: The software is not flawless. OO.org did not display my PowerPoint slides very well and the SABRE flight simulator hangs but it would not be fair to hold Ubuntu responsible. That would be like holding Microsoft responsible for Adobe software crashing. I am mentioning it as the PowerPoint issue could be a problem in the workplace.

There was a built in alert that my battery may be old at only 42% capacity upon startup. This test machine is a 5 year old laptop so that’s precisely the case. Windows never gave me such an alert. My HP 6980 printer installed without a hitch over the Ethernet connection.

I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but the interface seems generally cleaner and more refined than I remember it to be. Mind you I changed my setup to something blue – Ubuntu’s default orange/brown look is not a favorite of mine. It is decidedly attractive and intuitive though.

I am no code geek. I code yes, but to get websites and administrative tasks running. I don’t want to have to mess around with command lines and manuals to get my OS set up so in that respect, Linux has come a very long way indeed – particularly under Ubuntu. I honestly feel like it has finally matured past the Geek’s OS stage enough so that I can even install it on my parents’ computer. I won’t – but I feel like I can.

Ubuntu 10 seems pretty much built around the idea of the cloud with built in access to Ubuntu One and Chat Accounts right next to the clock. Pretty good considering that there’s a Netbook edition of Ubuntu.

In Summary.

Will I be moving my primary PC and Laptop to Ubuntu? No, not anytime soon. It is not that I don’t like Ubuntu because I do. It is not that I feel it has too many quirks because I don’t. It is because I live and work in a Windows world. I like Windows and the applications I use for work and play reside on Windows. I would need to install an emulator like Wine to work on Linux and to me that’s just counter productive.

I would however consider (after further use) using Ubuntu in some classroom environments – you may be surprised at the sheer quantity of educational software available in the Ubuntu Software Center. I would put it on older corporate machines being donated to orphanages and the like. I would gladly run it on a Netbook.

Ubuntu is no Windows replacement, but based on my experience thus far it has come a very long way indeed. Unless you are like me and are tied to Windows applications then using Ubuntu as your OS may be something to consider.

 

The setup used for this review was Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit Desktop Edition with Special Effects set to “Extra” on an IBM ThinkPad T42 with an Intel Pentium-M 1.6GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, Western Digital 120 GB 5400 RPM PATA Hard Drive and ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 video.

An education network for the Caribbean

October 25, 2010 2 comments

In 2007, the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN) proposed the creation of a regional research and education network for the Caribbean called called C@ribNET. The project has since been quietly in development and is now at the stage of developing the national networks between institutions that will eventually interconnect for the final product.

When completed, C@ribNET will allow collaboration of knowledge and ideas among institutes of higher learning across some twenty (20) Caribbean nations. It will provide a viable platform for knowledge sharing, e-Learning, e-Government and a whole host of other regional services. Further, C@ribNET will eventually allow connection to other knowledge networks across the globe.

In at least my opinion, this venture represents a significant step forward in integration of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the formation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). As citizens of the Information Age it is important to ensure regional and global communication, particularly at the research and education levels which the C@ribNET project is targeting. I look forward as well to the distance education opportunities that may arise out of this.

The project is expected to cost approximately US$20 million and is being sponsored by the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank.

CKLN Website: www.ckln.org

Change Start Menu Power Button behaviour via Group Policy

October 18, 2010 Comments off

First of all I would like to apologise for the recent lack of updates. The last almost two weeks have been rather hectic but I hope such long breaks in updates are rare if not nonexistent in future. On to the matter at hand:

Do you have Windows Vista workstations on your  Server 2008 domain? If these are public access computers you probably have an all too familiar problem: That annoying power button that resides in the start menu. That annoying button’s default behaviour is to put the machine to sleep. Handy at home, but not so much at a public workstation when users think they shut down, but instead put the machine to sleep locked under their profile.

At home, you can just change your power settings using the Power Options applet in Control Panel. In a domain environment, try this:

Open the desired group policy and open Computer Configuration\Policies \Administrative Templates\System\Power Management\Button Settings.

Here you will find the following settings:

  • Select the Start Menu Power Button Action (Plugged In)
  • Select the Start Menu Power Button Action (On Battery)

Just enable these and set the action to “Shut down”. Personally I would have liked a “Log off” option as well but I guess we can’t have everything. :)

Please note that this setting is stated as supported on Windows Vista only, but on the bright side Windows 7′s default action is already “Shut down”. It might also be worth noting that this setting is separate and distinct from the setting for your system case’s power button – which is located in the same place if you want to modify that as well.

Set default logon domain via Group Policy

October 4, 2010 5 comments

How many of us have had a call that someone could not log on to their computer, only to find that they were trying to log on to the local machine instead of the domain? Worse yet, what if you have a forest with multiple domains?

Server 2008 and Windows Vista, Windows 7

If you are the lucky administrator of a Windows 2008 or 2008 R2 Active Directory with just Windows Vista and Windows 7 clients then your job is easy. There is a group policy found in Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Logon called “Assign a default domain for logon“. Enable this policy, enter your domain’s name and you are finished.

Server 2003 and Windows XP

However, what if you are one of the many who still run an older version of  Active Directory or happen to have tens, hundreds or thousands of those faithful Windows XP clients operating? You will need to create a script and set it in the machine startup scripts of your Group Policy Object (GPO).

Let us examine the following script courtesy of Microsoft’s Knowledge Base Article 555050:

Dim sDomName
Set oWshShell = CreateObject(“WScript.Shell”)
sDomName = “TEST-DOMAIN”
oWshShell.RegWrite “HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\DefaultDomainName”, sDomName

Create this script in notepad and save it with a .vbs extension, for example DefaultDomainScript.vbs.

  • sDomName is just a variable that holds your domain’s NETBIOS name which in this case is TEST-DOMAIN. Change this to whatever your domain name actually is.
  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\DefaultDomainName is a registry key of the client machine that we want to set. This key will be set to the value of sDomName.

Now you need to open the Group Policy Management Editor of one of your Domain Controllers and choose to edit or create a Group Policy Object that applies to the Organizational Unit (OU) containing those computers you want to affect. If for some reason you have not organized your domain into OUs or you want to affect every single PC on your domain, then edit the Default Domain Policy.

Expand Computer Configuration\Policies\Windows Settings\Scripts (Startup/Shutdown) and double click on Startup. Under the Scripts tab, click on “Add…” and then “Browse…”. You will be provided with a dialog box. Copy and paste the startup script you created into the dialog box and open it. You do not need to provide any parameters in the second text entry box.

That’s it! Your clients will use the script at their next restart. Microsoft’s article suggests running GPUPDATE on a domain controller as well, but I have personally found this step not really necessary as the changes tend to propagate quickly enough on their own.

Just how well does the script work? It works well, but there is one little flaw. If the user hits CTRL+ALT+DEL to  log on as soon as the machine completes booting, then the script will not have time to set the default domain. This should generally not present much of an issue unless the systems use sandboxing software such as SteadyState that undo session changes upon restart.

Nonetheless, this can help reduce at least some of those calls by users trying to log on to the wrong domain.

Student Laptop Programme

October 2, 2010 6 comments

On Wednesday 29th September 2010, the Ministry of Education of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago began distribution of laptops for students entering secondary school for the first time. The initiative cost TT$83 million (approximately US$13 million) in direct acquisition costs but I am unable to locate any information on the cost allocated for training of the teachers and (presumably) improved infrastructure at the schools.

Based on my research, a summary of the machines would be follows:

  • 20,300 HP 425 Notebook Computers with Windows 7
  • 14″ LED-backlit display
  • 2.2 GHz AMD Athlon II Dual-Core Processor
  • 320 GB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • 3 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless and Bluetooth radios
  • 9 cell battery
  • Carrying case
  • Microsoft Innovative Suite (MSIS) including Microsoft Office
  • Remote tracking and remote-wipe capability
  • Warranty, “Food and Beverage Damage” and spare parts warehoused in T&T

Unlike other classroom laptop projects around the world, T&T students will be permitted to take these laptops home and use them on their own time. Under the government’s plan, in the next five years all secondary school students will be equipped with a laptop computer. I am unsure what the government may have in mind for those students who choose to pursue the additional two years of Form 6 schooling.

While the general public argues over the merit of this project, there are some factors that IT Professionals, Educators and Market Analysts must bear in mind now that the initiative has become reality.

Brand Recognition: An entire generation will grow up on HP and Microsoft products. This is marketing at its best – by offering products at a massive discount today, an entire generation – and their parents – will become likely return customers in future. For those involved in PC supply and repair, expect a larger customer base in a few short years and an increase in HP products on the market. Developers and administrators can expect no reduction in the demand for Microsoft products and platforms. Perhaps it is time to start ramping up those SharePoint and Office Web Apps deployments.

Social Networking: As it is, we Trinis are on the social media bandwagon and it may be reasonable to expect a further significant increase in T&T Facebook and Twitter accounts in the coming  years. It is no secret that teenagers and young adults represent a significant market segment and now they will have laptops en masse.  I recall creating a Facebook advertisement targeted at Trinidadians and Tobagonians aged 16-34. When I entered these criteria into Facebook’s advertisement builder, it provided me an estimated reach of over 248,000 persons. This was a few months ago before any laptop distribution. Webmasters, App Developers, Business Strategists, Advertisers, take note!

Bandwidth: Internet access for teachers and students will be provided via the government’s Wide Area Network (WAN) known as GOVNETT. It is claimed this will have no impact on residential and commercial customers but I am skeptical: The speeds offered by ISPs are increasing – just recently my 10 Mbps cable package made a leap to 25 Mbps. However, my actual browsing and download speed has not really reflected this change. It suggests to me that our links to the outside world may be in need of an upgrade, particularly with a large number of students jumping on board. From what I can find, GOVNETT uses   the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and I would consider it poor design if there is no backup connection via a second ISP.

Training: Teacher education programmes will need to place a greater emphasis on using technology in the classroom. It simply will not do for the students to better understand the technology than their educators. The workforce is going to change. For several years now, employers have been increasingly asking for their workers to be computer literate. In order to stay relevant, older generations must return to the classroom and ensure that their ability to use the tools of the digital era are in line with their experience in their respective fields.

Links:

Hello world!

October 1, 2010 1 comment

Welcome to the IT Log Blog! Here you will be able to read IT tips and tricks, news and developments as related to Information Technology.

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