Ubuntu month of screencasts

This month, the Ubuntu screencast team will release one video per day. They contain information on how to accomplish various tasks, such as printing, file sharing and even how to download and burn a Ubuntu CD using Windows.

The project is called Month Of Screencasts 2007, and is available in lots of different formats.

This relates to an earlier post about using videos to describe tasks, and it seems that the screencast team has come a long way and are doing well.

Full Circle Magazine issue 4 – not only new content

The Ubuntu-centric magazine Full Circle Magazine released their fourth issue earlier this week. Of course there is lots of new interesting content as usual, but this time there is another thing to take note of.

The format of the magazine has wandered away from the regular A4/letter format and uses a format perfect for on-screen reading. This is some serious thinking outside the box, and makes for some interesting design opportunities, and constraints.


Great work as always!

Edit: Ops, I accidentally wrote the wrong issue number.

VDrift – an open source racing game

VDrift is described on their website as “an open source drift racing simulation”.

I found it okay, and the fact that it is cross-platform and there is network play will make som office coffee breaks very interesting. There are some rough edges, for instance the sound of screeching tires even on grass. I don’t know if I will keep it for a long time, but it sure will bring some fun to drive around those tracks for a while.

vdrift-drift.jpg vdrift-start.jpg vdrift-to1.jpg vdrift-to2.jpg vdrift-to3.jpg

It seems that if you try installing it from the Ubuntu repositories, only the vdrift-data package is available, and not the binaries. The best solution is probably just to grab the whole thing from getdeb.

Thanks to Tom Dryer for bringing VDrift to my attention.

Disable the Synaptics touchpad when typing

On my HP laptop there is a button above the touchpad where I can disable and enable it directly in hardware. This button does not exist on my Dell laptop though, so something in software has to do.

If you have followed my guide about fixing the speed on the touchpad earlier, you can skip this step. Otherwise you will have to add the following to your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file under the synaptics input device. Note that quotes are converted by WordPress, so remember to change those to normal ones.

Option “SHMConfig” “on”

Now go to System – Preferences – Session and click New and add make it look like the following image:


That is “syndaemon -i 1 -d”.

If you have added the SHM option, you have to restart X, Logout and press ctrl-alt-backspace. If you just added the session command, just logout and back in or run the command manually.

This will disable the touchpad once you start typing and enable it after one second of typing inactivity.

Speed up your Synaptics touchpad in Ubuntu

The synaptics touchpad found in many Dell machines and others is extremely slow in the default Ubuntu installation. Manipulating the mouse settings in the preferences doesn’t help either, so what to do? Using it when this slow becomes really frustrating in the long run.

Luckily I came across a post by aboe on the Ubuntu forums, which suggested some additional options in the synaptics section of xorg.conf. After trying this out, the touchpad immediately felt snappier and is finally useful!

I have copied the configuration here for reference, if the original post ever disappears.

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver “synaptics”
Option “AlwaysCore”
Option “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “LeftEdge” “130”
Option “RightEdge” “840”
Option “TopEdge” “130”
Option “BottomEdge” “640”
Option “FingerLow” “7”
Option “FingerHigh” “8”
Option “MaxTapTime” “180”
Option “MaxTapMove” “110”
Option “ClickTime” “0”
Option “EmulateMidButtonTime” “75”
Option “VertScrollDelta” “20”
Option “HorizScrollDelta” “20”
Option “MinSpeed” “0.60”
Option “MaxSpeed” “1.10”
Option “AccelFactor” “0.030”
Option “EdgeMotionMinSpeed” “200”
Option “EdgeMotionMaxSpeed” “200”
Option “UpDownScrolling” “1”
Option “CircularScrolling” “1”
Option “CircScrollDelta” “0.1”
Option “CircScrollTrigger” “2”
Option “SHMConfig” “on”
Option “Emulate3Buttons” “on”

Yes I know, the quotes are converted by WordPress. Sorry about that.

Lock and unlock your Gnome screensaver using your Bluetooth phone

I have created a small shell-script which monitors the Bluetooth space around you for a phone or other bluetooth device. If you step outside the perimeter with the device, your computer will automatically be locked. When you later walk up to your computer, it will unlock automatically.

You need bluez-utils installed. Ubuntu users can install it like this:

sudo apt-get install bluez-utils

You of course need a supported bluetooth device on your computer as well. You will need to set your bluetooth address in the script. It can be found by running hcitool scan with your phone in discovery mode. Start the script using your session manager, or manually by running a command like this:

sh bluelock.sh &

If there is demand, I will make it a proper Python application, but this works fine for me.

Note that you may want to disable the normal screensaver which usually kicks in when the computer is idle, since the script will unlock the screensaver if your phone is in proximity after a couple of seconds anyhow.

A Python version can probably be made smarter, but the real problem is that hcitool needs to be run as root to make some really cool things happen. Suid root on hcitool – acceptable?

Using Ubuntu at work

I have been using Ubuntu at work for the last couple of months, and here are my impressions and thoughts about the whole experience.

First of all, I work in a small IT security company, so the work is very varied, meaning that the operating system, window manager and applications must be able to handle lots of different usage scenarios. Everything from programming PHP, Python and C to connecting to remote Windows machines using RDP, using and configuring smart cards etc. is considered normal day-to-day use.

Email requires the use of client certificates, which leaves Mozilla Thunderbird as the only available option, since Evolution doesn’t seem to support it. Thunderbird does work though, and very well too!

Remote desktop using rdesktop works great, but it is lacking one very useful feature – file transfers. In Windows, the remote desktop client can map \tsclient to local shares or drives. I am not sure about the implications of actually coding this feature, but since all things Microsoft seems to be secret, it will probably require some amount of reverse engineering.

The second problem also involves remote desktop. There is no problem reading smart-cards for authentication in Linux, but authenticating using a smart-card when connecting to a remote Windows host using rdesktop is a whole other story. The same thing as before probably applies here too – reverse engineering.

There are of course problems using the Wise installation system, but that is nothing to be done about, and it’s easy to just remote desktop to a server and running it there instead.

The only real problem I have faced is that some services need Internet Explorer for ActiveX components and similar things. There is for instance a web application for writing smart-cards using an ActiveX component, which of course only works in Internet Explorer.

Now for the good stuff! Editing files and normal file management on remote hosts running SSH couldn’t be easier using sftp:// in Nautilus. I try avoiding the command-line as much as possible to make co-workers realize that using Linux isn’t as hard as it once was.

One of the show-stoppers with working in a Windows environment is the lack of a decent virtual desktop manager, and here Ubuntu (or Gnome to be precise) shines, with fast and easy to use virtual desktop switcher. If Compiz Fusion is enabled, the effects are remarkable, which of course will make the co-workers very envious. Hopefully this will lead to more people switching soon.

So to conclude, I can use Ubuntu for all daily work-related tasks but I do keep a Windows partition available if there should ever be something needing a Windows installation, like writing a smart-card using the web application. Since I only have been using Ubuntu at work for a couple of months, it’s too soon to say anything conclusive, but I will continue, and of course air issues as they appear.

Compiz Fusion and resuming from suspend

Today I decided to give Compiz Fusion a go in Ubuntu Feisty, and there seem to be lots of websites out there explaining how to do this in Feisty. Enable compiz-fusion in Ubuntu Feisty seems to be popular, so give that a go if you decide to try.

Anyway, earlier when I have been running Compiz or Beryl, everything runs fine until the time comes to resume from suspend. I always get a blank screen with only the cursor showing. I hoped that using Compiz Fusion would make that problem go away without me having to actually dig into it – I was wrong.

After some digging, I found Bug #96240 in Launchpad, which had some nice tips and tricks for making it work. After some trial-and-error (actually more error and frustration) I got it working by simply disabling “Sync to VBlank” in the Compiz settings manager.


I also needed the following two lines in xorg.conf, in the Device section.

Option “AddARGBVisuals” “True”
Option “AddARGBGLXVisuals” “True”

Now I am enjoying Compiz Fusion where ever I go!

Add a PDF printer in Ubuntu

Adding a PDF printer makes it possible to create PDF files from virtually any application, including Firefox and Thunderbird.

The first step is to install the Cups PDF plugin by opening a terminal and typing the follwing:

sudo apt-get install cups-pdf

The next step is to add the printer itself. You can open the printer settings by clicking on System – Administration – Printing, and you will see something like this:


Click on New Printer and select the PDF printer like the following image:


Select the Generic manufacturer and the postscript color model:


The last step is to assign a name for the printer, which could be anything you like.

When you print documents with the PDF printer, they will end up in the PDF directory in your home directory. Don’t worry, it will be created automatically if it doesn’t exist.


There you go. Easy to do, and very useful!

Vmware server now available in Canonical repository

As noted by the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, Canonical has just added Vmware server to their commercial repository! This means that it is now even easier get started with virtual environments.

Vmware server is a free application, so you need to use Vmware Workstation or ESX server to create your virtual machines. Once you have them added though, you can just connect to the server running Vmware server from any computer using the server console. You can also download pre-made vmware images for different uses on the Virtual Appliance Marketplace.

And yes, you need to register with Vmware before you use this.

For this to work, you need the Canonical repository enabled. Its deb-lines looks like this:

deb http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu feisty-commercial main

Just do a search for vmware to install it, but the package is called “vmware-server”.