Canonical Offers Sale of Proprietary Codecs for Ubuntu

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has decided to offer it’s users the option of purchasing proprietary media codecs. It doesn’t matter if the users purchase their copy of Ubuntu, download it or bought a computer pre-installed with Ubuntu.

There is an animated dicussion going on about this news at slashdot and other places.

Canonical has definitely opened a can of worms with this move and we will have to wait and see how the open source community in general reacts to this decision. This decision to sure get a lot of attention by the opensource community.

Canonical, it should be made clear, is not going to develop proprietary codecs. Canonical is only streamlining the process of installing those codecs and charging a small amount for it. Most of the actual codecs are developed by a company called Fluendo and the DVD playback is being offered through a version of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD software.

I should clarify that Fluendo and Cyberlink have both been making the said software since a long time and Linux users have always had the option of purchasing PowerDVD or Fluendo’s media codecs.

Software codecs and DRM are a touchy issue. It is sad that a user with legally purchased media cannot play it on a computer, unless he/she also purchases software to play it. Sad but true.

Ubuntu has also always offered a way for users to easily install most media codecs, for free, using a relatively smooth process, but depending on your country of residence, that could have been illegal. Now, all Ubuntu is giving to its users is an option to, instead, purchase those codecs legally and be able to enjoy whatever media they own or come across on the Internet.

Ubuntu is not stopping the users from downloading illegal codecs and using them on their machines. The open nature of the operating system is still there. The option of purchasing this software just makes it easier for the non-geeks and paranoids among us to be able to enjoy the benefits of Linux without getting bogged down by the technicalities.

Legal codecs on Linux also make it simpler for system integrators to offer a decent out-of-the-box multimedia experience. The geeks among us who are used to the free and open nature of Linux can still download and install whichever codecs they want, legal or not.

I think this is a win-win situation, and not a compromise, for all the parties involved – Canonical, Ubuntu and the users.

I know there will be always be purists who will rally against Canonical for this decision and I’m sure the company is ready for some flak, but if Linux has to compete with Mac OS X and Windows, they had to make a start somewhere and this looks to be the right way to go.

Unix 101: Manipulating files – Copying, moving, deleting

This post is the next in a series of posts we’re doing on Unix. The aim of the series is to get our readers familiar with the basics of working on a Unix or a Linux system.

Uptil now we’ve learned a bit about how the Unix system works and how to navigate around the filesystem. We can now login to a unix system and start viewing the files and moving around between different directories. We also know a little about processes on a Unix system.

What next ?

This post will teach you about different file manipulation operations. By file manipulation, I mean, commands to copy, move or delete files. Since, on a Unix/Linux system everything is a file, the commands that we learn about today can also be used to work with directories, with some changes.

Unix commands have a reputation for being terse and short, which goes back to the old days when all input to a system was through some complex circuit manipulations or the computer had to be fed punch cards to recognize input. It made sense to use short commands for the purpose back then and modern Unixes/Linuxes have just carried on the tradition.

Take for example, the command to copy a file, cp, the syntax for which is:

# cp <sourcefile> <destinationfile>

For eg:

# cp test1 test2

The above command will just make a copy named test2 of the file named test1. Simple, isn’t it ?

Continuing the tradition of terse commands is the command to move files, mv.

# mv <sourcefile> <destinationfile>

For eg:

# mv test1 testdirectory/test2

The above command will copy the file named test1 to the directory named testdirectory and will change the name of the file to test2. If you don’t give the name of the destination file (test2 in the example), the file will be moved with the same name as the source.

The last command that we’ll be talking about today is the remove command, or rm. rm is the command to use when you want to remove a file from the system.

# rm <filename>

For example,

# rm test1

The above command will delete the file named test1. Use the command with care, though, since unlike Windows there is no concept of a recycle bin in Unix/Linux and any file that you delete using rm will be gone forever and you cannot change your mind later.

The above commands also work on directories, since a directory is also a file in Unix, a special file.

That was a basic overview of the cp, mv and rm commands. As always, I’d urge you to RTFM (read the fine manual – man pages in this case) and try out these commands for yourself. The only way to understand Unix is to use it.

I really hope this series of posts is benefitting atleast someone out there. I would love to hear some feedback from you guys on how I can improve my next posts and also what would you like me to cover.

Has Ubuntu lost it's relevance – Why does it suck so much !

Ubuntu has long been the darling of the media, or at least the small number of people who actually cover Linux and related technologies. And I haven’t read anything but good things about it … until recently. Has Ubuntu lost it’s charm as the “Linux for human beings” ? Are there other contenders for the human linux title now ?

A small but growing number of users are being vocal about the fact that even after more than 5 years in the market, Ubuntu has still not been able to fulfill their promise of a Linux system which normal human beings can use.

Ubuntu has long been the darling of the media, or at least the small number of people who actually cover Linux and related technologies. And I haven’t read anything but good things about it … until recently. Has Ubuntu lost it’s charm as the “Linux for human beings” ? Are there other contenders for the human linux title now ?

A small but growing number of users are being vocal about the fact that even after more than 5 years in the market, Ubuntu has still not been able to fulfill their promise of a Linux system which normal human beings can use.

I’ve been an Ubuntu user since the last 3 years and have actually been quite happy with it. Except for small annoyances, Ubuntu had been serving me well … until recently. Because of all the problems I’d been having with it, I removed Ubuntu 8.04 from my notebook last week and have now moved back to Debian, which I used to use before I got into Ubuntu. I have to say this. The latest version of Ubuntu just plain sucks ! I’ll repeat it again. Ubuntu 8.04 sucks. And no I’m not going to upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10, 9.04, 9.10 LTS or whatever it is that they decide to name it next.

I’m not off Linux and I’m certainly not getting on to Windows. I’m off any distribution which makes me relearn everything that I’ve learnt in the last 9 years. I’m against Ubuntu because it doesn’t help me configure my graphics cards any better, and instead makes me search for well known configuration files by wandering around obscure directories because the file locations have been changed in the name of evolution.

I’m off Ubuntu because I don’t want to configure the wifi card (which was anyway a pain to configure in the first place … but that crib’s for another day) again just because I decided to update my operating system. Which is what happens to me each and everytime a major upgrade comes through … which, for Ubuntu, is almost every week.

The updates, btw, include kernel upgrades, which force me to reboot. In the two months that I had Ubuntu 8.04 for, I already had about 5 kernel upgrades in my grub.conf. I mean, seriously, if 8.04 wasn’t ready, why did they have to release it !

I don’t even understand who are they trying to compete with. Microsoft, updates their flagship operating system once in like 5 years. Apple does it once in a maximum of two years. And Ubuntu … every 6 months.

Now, to be fair, I’ve been a Linux user for the last 9 years and have been hand editing configuration files all along and have no problems with it. But, my mom can’t edit configuration files. And when a distribution claims what Ubuntu claims, I expect it to be good. And that makes me crib.

Infact, the next time a friend comes along asking me about Ubuntu, I’ll tell him to install Debian instead. Sure, it’ll take a while to configure but atleast it won’t be a hassle to maintain after that. A Debian server that I installed 6 years ago is still running along with the latest updates. Sure, it has been rebooted a couple of times but atleast I haven’t had a hardware fail on me because the latest update decided to not include the particular driver.

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Update: Iam Murdock wrote two blog posts on similar lines and those pretty much summarise my reasons for leaving Ubuntu. I welcome your comments on my thoughts but please understand that this is a personal decision. If you guys are happy with what Canonical and Ubuntu are doing, all power to you. If not, switch. You have the freedom to make your choice.

FUSE: Filesystem in Userspace

According to wikipedia, a filesystem is:

is a method for storing and organizing computer files and the data they contain to make it easy to find and access them.

It is the filesystem which provides us the abstraction of folders, directories and sub-directories that we use to store files on a computer. Infact, it is the filesystem only which lets us store and retrieve any data that we store in a computer.

Filesystems are usually a part of the kernel, the heart of the operating system and the code runs in a privileged mode known as kernel mode which means that only the operating system has access to that code. That is also the reason why developing a real filesystem is usually the domain of highly talented kernel developers.

FUSE changes all that. FUSE, which stands for “Filesystem in USErspace”, provides an API (application programming interface) for anyone to create their own filesystem, which runs like a normal user program. If all this is confusing you, don’t worry, cause you don’t really have to worry about these details.

How is FUSE useful for you ?

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TechCruch's Tablet PC – And what we really want

[tablet] Michael Arrington from TechCrunch recently posted about a tablet PC that he wanted built. And I have to admit that the mock up looks very cool.

Michael Arrington from TechCrunch recently posted about a tablet PC that he wanted built. And I have to admit that the mock up looks very cool. And he wants to sell it around the $200 price point, which is doubly cool.

What is not so cool, however, is that our man Arrington hasn’t put in much thought in the product itself. Don’t get me wrong here, I, more than anyone else, would love to have a gadget like the one that is being talked about, but I just don’t think it is technically feasible to make such a device right now. And given the cost of the parts it is highly unlikely that the cost can be anywhere close to $200. I’d  have been less skeptical if Michael had spoken of a $1000 price point.

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Unix 101: Unix processes

I’m sure you’ve heard people tell you that Unix (and Linux) is a multiuser/multitasking operating system. But, what does that mean ?

Well, for one, you can create multiple users on linux and let all of them use the machine at the same time, by letting them login remotely (We’ll cover this later). And thus, Linux is a multiuser operating system.

Multitasking is a little more complicated.

You see, a Unix system at any time is always running more than one programs simultaneously. Ah, but I am only running my browser, you ask ? Well, yes and no. The browser is the only program that you are running but there is more to the operating system, than just the browser, right ? For example, the graphical interface that you’re running. And what if there are more people working on the same system (the multiuser part of it), then all of them would be running their own programs, right ? So, to cut things short, any Linux or Unix system at any time is always running multiple programs/tasks and thus, is a multitasking system. How does it do that ?

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The story of a Linux convert

First of all I’ll get my credentials out of the way. I have been using computers since the last 10 or so years. That’s not much by a lot of people standards, but I like to brag about it anyway !

I used windows for the first year of my computer using life, got bored, moved to Linux, was fascinated and used Redhat, fedora, debian, slackware, ubuntu for the next 6 or so years.

I then got myself a Mac, a 2004 model iBook (I like the way Macheads use the year to describe their machines, as if its a car or something … like I’ve got a 2008 model Ferrari ! ), and fell in love with Mac OS X. I did install Linux on the iBook once but removed it soon after since, obviously, Mac OS X was so much better ! Or so I thought. My iBook came with Mac OS X 10.3 and soon after I bought the iBook, Apple released Mac OS X 10.4, the version with spotlight (which, by the way, beats the crap out of beagle anyday). I *had to have* 10.4 on my iBook but I realised that I had to pay for it, so I did what any self respecting Indian would do. Asked a friend for a copy (Well, actually he pointed me to a torrent which I then used to download my copy).

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Unix 101 – Help aka 'man' pages

UNIX is basically a simple operating system, but you have to be a genius to understand the simplicity.”

– Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie is one of the creators of Unix and the above quote summarizes the philosophy behind Unix. The Unix command line is terse by design and it can take a new user a long time to understand (and remember) the nuances of a particular command line.

Fret not, cause man is at hand.

man is the unix/linux command line utility designed to display documentation about a given command. For example, suppose you’ve forgotten the option used to display the long list of files in a directory, you can use the following command to view the help manual for the ‘ls’ command:

$ man ls

That’s it.

This will display a page with a description of the ‘ls’ command and all the options that it supports. If you’re lucky, the man page writer would have also included some examples describing the usage of the command.

Now, try viewing the man page for all the other commands that we’ve discussed till now.

Unix 101: Listing and reading files and moving between directories

In the last post of this series, we learned about logging in to a Linux box, creating a new non superuser account and start using that.

In this post we’ll learn how to start working with files. Creating, deleting and managing files is the reason you use a computer, right ?

Unix has a concept of directories, which is the same as a folder on Windows.

To list all the files in the current directory, use the following command:

$ ls

This will give you a list of directories in what is called the wide format.

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Unix 101 – Basic Unix skills

I have a confession to make. I’m a Unix guy, have always been and will always be. I’ve been using Unix for the last 10 years or so and will continue using it for as long as I can. There is something about the simplicity of the unix command line that none of the flashier operating systems can match.

I’ve also been interviewing people with basic Unix skills for various positions over the last couple of years. For some reason, I’ve found that Indian college curriculum doesn’t put too much emphasis on Unix and so, most people who come out of these colleges don’t know much beyond the flashy GUIs that most Unix/Linux distros have. Infact, a lot of people who come for interviews tend to thing that Redhat/Fedora IS Linux. And when asked, tell me that the only Linux they have experience on is Linux version 9 !

Anyway, I’ve decided to start series on basic Unix skills on this blog in the hope that this’ll be a useful reference for someone starting to learn Unix/Linux. I’ll be mostly concentrating on Linux as that is what I’m most comfortable with and currently work with, but if I do get requests for similar posts on other Unix systems, I’ll be happy to oblige.

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