I have an ambitious plan for Sunday

Big plans for this Sunday, all of which revolving around one particular computer. First, we go over to Sara’s mom’s house sometime in the morning. Sam, Sara’s sister, wants to upgrade their Dell Dimension 5150, and also to reinstall Windows to get rid of some long lingering issues. My plan is, first I’ll assess the computer situation, make a quick backup of everything on their desktop’s hard drive, then get caffeinated while this is happening. I’ll also check out the RAM specifications, and make sure that the computer’s capable of installing more, and figure out exactly what kind. Sam and Jodi will likely make a trip to Staples to obtain some replacement / upgrade RAM; I may or may not come with.

Then, the plan is to repartition the 230 gig drive. I plan on setting up XP on about 80 gigs, and porting over Sam’s documents and programs (as much as I can manage anyway — with particular focus on World of Warcraft). Then, I’ll be setting up a roughly 100 gig drive for all the Documents and Settings folders for the various users on the computer. This drive will be separate from her Windows drive for a very good reason — Windows needs to be reformatted very often in general, and it would be nice for her to not have to worry too much about losing documents in the future. Also, I will be setting up a Linux on another partition.

Yeah, that’s right. Ubuntu, of course. And this is at her own request, as Jodi did a brilliant job of proselytizing and sharing the Good News about open-source software, winning us another convertee who will no longer go to Blue Screen of Death when she dies. ONE OF US, ONE OF US.

Ahem.

So yeah, Linux. Separate home partition, will also set up WINE and try to get WoW working under it. Back when I played, I had to recompile WINE with a tiny bit of hacked code, to compensate for a minor bug where you couldn’t click on monsters and have the focus follow them. By minor, I mean pretty major. Luckily this is long since rectified, as it’s been about three years since I played WoW and WINE has since had its 1.0 release and subsequent bugfixes even after that.

As I understand, this new WINE even has good enough DirectX capabilities that you no longer have to set it to OpenGL mode, as I did back when I was hooked. Which is good, because OpenGL apparently can’t do the shadow effects in WoW presently. I’m guessing those effects just haven’t been coded for yet, as the same issue exists when running WoW on a Mac. Why they didn’t just code it for OpenGL first, I don’t know. Oh wait, I DO know, it’s because Microsoft makes their toolkit for Windows the de facto standard by making it the best one, and implementing only a very very old OpenGL standard. But I’m not bitter.

So yeah. Ambitious plans. Reformat, back everything up, reinstall Windows, partition, install Linux, and get WoW working on both sides. And all I ask in return is food and caffeine. It’ll be fun!

MS’ duplicitous “olive branch” to Linux is aimed at the backs of our collective skulls

Recently, Microsoft got a good deal of press for having open-sourced its Hyper-V drivers for Linux, releasing them under the GPL v2 even. To anyone paying attention to Microsoft’s earlier rhetoric about the GPL being “un-american“, this is surprising news. To those of us who know what’s actually going on underneath the finely crafted patina of a sudden change of heart, this move is every bit as cynical as every other Microsoft has ever taken.

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Two boats tethered together on a lake

I’m going to extend Greg Laden’s metaphor proclaiming (rightly, in my opinion) that the so-called “New Atheists” and the so-called “accommodationists” are in the same boat and bickering about what amounts to be the 1% difference between their philosophies. But first I’m going to set the stage for this rant, and I’m also going to do what a number of people in this Internet High Dudgeon have done — define all my terms (favorably to my argument, naturally).

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Firefox 3.5 on Ubuntu

FYI, in case you weren’t aware, Firefox 3.5 is available on Ubuntu in the repositories as firefox-3.5, so grab it in Synaptic (or Alt-F2, then type “sudo apt-get install firefox-3.5″ without quotes). It installs concurrently to your 3.0 installation, and automatically makes a copy of your existing profile, so you won’t lose anything.

Must remember to also update my work computers… sigh. At least I have a method of creating MSIs out of the Firefox installs relatively easily. I hope the IETab extension isn’t broken though, that could put a kink in my upgrade path.

Oh, and it’s out for Windows too, though to get it you’ll have to go to their site, click on the Download link, click Save, then go doubleclick on it, and next your way through the wizard. I’m also unsure if it installs concurrently, and in fact suspect it probably doesn’t. Who says Windows is easier, again?

FreeDOS turns 15; James Hall steps down

It’s amazing what a little do-it-yourself attitude and a stubborn unwillingness to let go of your old DOS apps can get you. Fifteen years ago today, FreeDOS was born (site), though it has gone through a few name changes since its PD-DOS days (Public Domain is so gauche now! OSS FTW).

C:awesome.exe

C:wesome.exe

Originally intended as a safe harbour for DOS application users for when Windows 95 finally did away with the underyling DOS on which Windows ran, it has grown and evolved and easily has become the most compatible, featureful and widely used DOS-compatible operating system available today, being preinstalled on pretty well every laptop and desktop whenever you ask to skip having to pay the Microsoft Tax. It’s compatible with just about every piece of software out there today, has its own TCP stack and USB (legacy) support, and you’ll frequently find it (packed in DosEMU) on classic “abandonware” gamers’ lists of must-have software. It is installed on every single rig I ever build for personal use, and it’s even installed on my work laptop presently. I swear by it, and as a classic gamer, it is one of my most-used apps. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Please, if you haven’t already given it a spin, do so now.

Sadly, however, this silver lining comes with some dark cloud, as Greg Laden puts it, its “benevolent dictator” James Hall is stepping down from the project.

I was originally going to let my farewell at Greg’s stand, but Stephanie Zvan prodded me into posting about her friend’s accomplishment, and rightly so — this deserves whatever weight I can throw behind the Google trending. James, your steady hand will be missed, but hopefully will be emulated by the next person to ascend to stewardship of your brilliant project. Cheers to fifteen years of awesomeness!

Oh COME ON, Elections Canada!

POST #300! Didn’t even notice until after I posted it! This is like a geek version of a car odometer rollover.

After the results of their latest election post-mortem, in an effort to ramp up the amount of participation in our electoral process, Elections Canada wants to set up voting over the internet. Boy howdy will that ever increase participation. Probably get well over 100% turnout, in fact!
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Lose the CD library, fellow troubleshooters!

One thing I have always hated about being an IT guy is being expected to have CDs on hand for a million pieces of software (Microsoft, especially!), to be ready for any occasion when called on to do some bit of troubleshooting. Partly because CDs are bulky and there’s too damn many of them to have to lug around “just in case”, but mostly because CDs are way too fragile a media to have to rely upon when you’re expected to keep 150+ computers operational. As always, I have a fix for this.

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The smoking gun that came in the form of a chicken

Dana Blakenhorn was at a convention in Taiwan, and after noticing only one device preinstalled with Linux in the whole show, cracked the Asus / Windows / Linux story wide open with one simple question: “what happened to all the Linux?”

“In our association we operate as a consortium, like the open source consortium. They want to promote open source and Linux. But if you begin from the PC you are afraid of Microsoft. They try to go to the smart phone or PDA to start again.”

Blakenhorn framed it as a chicken-and-egg problem where not only does the chicken come first, but the chicken is owned by Microsoft.

View the whole Netbook maneno in light of this admission, and you have a pretty good idea what happened to the Linux. PJ at Groklaw realized this is the smoking gun, and I agree with her 100%. It’s truly sad that Microsoft is so afraid of proper competition that they have to shoot the other horse in the starting gate.

PulseAudio and I have a strained relationship

Ever since the Ubuntu folks switched their underlying sound architecture from ALSA to PulseAudio, I’ve had some manner of issue or another. At first, it was certain applications (e.g. Audacity) not running, due to never having been coded to use Pulse instead of its default, needing hours to hack around. Then after PulseAudio sorted out its own ALSA backward compatibility, it was the server crashing every time I opened an RDP connection using RDesktop (a recent version thankfully fixed that issue).

Today, I did some manual updates for my Jaunty installation, the first I’d done in about a week. I have automatic updates disabled on my work laptop for a number of reasons. One of the packages that came down was evidently PulseAudio, because after a reboot, sound wasn’t working. Nothing was showing as out of the ordinary on dmesg (the Linux command line based system event viewer — like in Windows going to My Computer > Manage > Event Viewer > System, or under Ubuntu you can go to System > Administration > Log File Viewer), and when I installed the PulseAudio Device Chooser applet to get access to the default device configuration, it was showing my sound card was functioning perfectly and was even outputting sound properly according to its internal diagnostics. My system volume was turned up, the laptop’s mute function was not active, and as far as I could see, everything else was working just fine, so I Googled the problem, and found this.

I wasn’t having the shutdown problem described in the bug report, but I’d had problems with ALSA disabling its own PCM in the past, so I opened my volume control via the sound icon and found that the PCM slider was all the way at the bottom, and the Mute button for it was ticked. PCM is the equivalent of the “Wave” slider under the Windows volume control — it’s the slider that handles most of the sound output aside from the “master” volume control, so basically anything that’s playing and isn’t a CD in the CD-Rom would be affected by it. I increased the volume on PCM and un-muted it, and magically sound started working again.

Now that I know this can happen because of a PulseAudio upgrade, I’ll think to look at this first, the next time this happens. But ultimately, why did it have to happen? I can’t think of a reason to ever change the PCM volume in the process of an upgrade — and if you have to default it to anything because the settings get wiped, it should default to 80% or something like that, something reasonable that doesn’t give a person the impression that something got broken over the course of an upgrade.

Don’t get me wrong. PulseAudio was a necessary and in fact laudable step toward unifying the Linux sound architecture world, where it can not only mix multiple sound streams, but can output to different sound devices or all sorts of devices simultaneously, including over the network. I will one day build a media centre that we can tune into from any computer in the house (probably including my Wii using Mplayer on the Homebrew Channel). But until that day, it’d be nice if they get the little things right before uploading their new versions.

Or maybe one day I’ll get around to learning C and step in myself…

Asus used to be supporters of Linux, now not so much

I had allowed myself to be convinced that the campaign to push Windows on consumers looking to buy an Asus Eee PC was a hoax, but it turns out it’s real. For a time, by offering low-cost netbook Eee PCs with embedded Linux and consumers realizing that it works just as well, Linux was actually getting some adoption by the consumer-end of the spectrum.

Then Microsoft realized their “biggest competitor” was gaining a foothold in the netbook market and quickly moved to crush it by allying themselves with Asus. Boy, it sure is sad that Microsoft is so afraid of a little legitimate competition that they have to fight Linux just like they would a company with a large installation base and a large amount of money to invest.

Ah well, at least there’s still Google Android. And the Nokia internet tablet series. And the PS3, if you ask for it with Linux pre-installed. And, well, everything on this list.