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Share your Mac files with Ubuntu in 10 seconds

Need to access your Mac files from Linux? Downloaded something on one OS and need to put it on the other? Sharing files between OS X and Ubuntu is easy. The following guide takes 10 seconds and doesn’t involve any terminal usage or extra software.

In OS X

Open System Preferences

Tick Windows Sharing

That’’s all. At the bottom of the window, OS X box will mention the following details:

Windows users can access your computer on \\IP_Address\share_name
Enabled accounts: your_user

We’ll use these details to connect to the share from Ubuntu.

In Ubuntu

Click Places → Connect to Server

  • Service Type: choose Windows Share
  • Server: the IP address
  • Share: the share name
  • User Name: the enabled account

Leave the rest, and click Connect.

You can now access your Mac files (including your Desktop, Documents, Pictures, and more) on your Ubuntu desktop, as well as via the Places menu.

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Technology

7 reasons you should download Miro now

Miro is a tool to discover, subscribe to, and watch high definition video feeds. We’ve been using it for a month, and today we realized we’ve been using it more than Firefox. If you use Linux, and want to be entertained, you want Miro. Here’s why.

  • It shows major media content like NBC news in HD, Comedy Central, and the Onion News Network
  • It can play every type of video format
  • It can fetch files either traditionally or via Bittorrent
  • It has independent good stuff like WebbAlert (a five minute straight-dope update of tech happenings) and GigaOM. Because if anything will comfort us in these trying times, it’s Om Malik’s weirdly enigmatic smile
  • It can find, show, and download anything from Google video, YouTube and Revver.
  • It’s Open Source, packaged, and provides it own apt repository so you can update it at the same time as everything else
  • It works.

Miro was born from the old DemocracyPlayer, but whereas DemocracyPlayer was all talk the last time we tried it, Miro’s all action.

It’s beta, but there’s been two whole bugs for the months I’ve used it: one minor glitch affecting screen redraw when scrolling, and a problem that required a once-off config file tweak to change the video engine.

As of today’s update, both those issues are resolved.

Ubuntu kids will need the ubuntu-restricted-extras package first, other distribution will need their equivalent codec pack.

Done? Now go download it already.

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Technology

Massive LAMP scalability on a startup budget

Amazon’s web services have been around for a while now. The Elastic Compute Cloud provides incredibly cheap Xen based virtualization, and Simple Storage Service provides terabytes of storage for around the cost of a cinema candy (and not the expensive cinema candy either).

They’re popular with a bunch of startups, including 37Signals’ Basecamp, but haven’t been suitable to run a full LAMP stack based server.

Until now.

Amazon’s web services are Amazon’s own infrastructure provided as a product to third parties. There’s a bunch currently available, but there’s two of particular interest:

Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a shared computing service. While Amazon don’t make this clear, EC2 is based on Xen virtualization, with each VM providing a 1.7Ghz CPU and 1.75G of memory. EC2 is still in beta, which may explain why the default install is an old release of Fedora, but you can easily make images for Ubuntu LTS, CentOS or another enterprise OS. Servers are controlled with a few clicks in a Firefox plugin, or shell commands if you prefer. The elastic part of the equation is being to scale up and down using these tools. You can go from 1 to 20 (and beyond if you call Amazon and make arrangements) in a couple of minutes. All the servers share the same Xen image, and differences are written to copy-on-write snapshots.

Elastic Compute Cloud is purely a computing resource, and does not provide persistent storage – ie, the servers will revert to their original state and the snapshots will disappear if you shut down the machine or the host server fails. That’s why EC2 has historically been limited to crunching code, transcoding video, and so on.

Simple Storage Service (S3) is Amazon’s storage service. It provides literally terabytes of storage for a few bucks (check the pricing on the linked page). The storage is made available by HTTP to the wider internet and EC2.

S3 is also accessible by EC2. But HTTP is not a popular access method compared to say, iSCSI, NFS or CIFS. Most people run a storage engine (like MyISAM or InnoDB) that lives on a mounted filesystem. This is why LAMP has been unable to take advantage of Amazon’s services.

In the last few months, two solutions have emerged to the problem. More are likely on the way:

S3DFS

S3DFS allows you to write to S3 like a regular disk. It’s filesystem driver that runs in userspace, like the SSH and HTTP drivers provided in desktop Linux distributions. Its proprietary, and relatively expensive, but the commercial support options may be attractive.

S3 Storage Engine for MySQL

The S3 storage engine for MySQL replaces the regular MyISAM or InnoDB storage engines, and writes content directly to S3. It only has one developer, but he offers paid support. It’s also Open Source and there may be performance advantages from cutting out the filesystem layer.

Here’s where each fit into the equation, compared to a traditional MySQL setup:

The Advantages

Either solution allows you to scale your LAMP systems and storage at peak times more quickly than a traditional data center, meaning you don’t have to purchase these assets in anticipation of load. Furthermore, you can actually scale downwards when you’re off peak, rather than wasting money on unutilized assets. Both of these are killer features for startups, who need to handle experience massive growth spikes without turning away customers but don’t have the massive amounts of money to purchase real datacenter infrastructure.

Storage is simple: if you want something that isn’t in your EC2 Xen image, write it to S3 and you’ll be able to retrieve it.

Amazon don’t offer SLAs, but traditional SLAs don’t guarantee anything anyway – just provide a partial refund for when they’re broken.

The Drawbacks

Word around town about the connectivity between EC2 and S3 is 10MB/sec and 200MS latency. You’ll want a fairly cache intensive design – be glad each EC2 VM has a 160G disk – and even then this may not be sufficient for your workload. If your VM is powered off or its host fails, you’ll lose cached data & your database will then start re-pulling from the storage engine again.

Conclusion

Ultimately the use of either of these depends on your workload. Neither solution has been around for long enough to be used by a well-known startup. There’s a place for Amazon’s services in your infrastructure – whether it’s your LAMP stack should depend on your testing. But this is certainly a space to watch.

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Technology

Who copied who?

Popular Linux desktop application Avant Window Navigator received a large amount of flak for using the same depth effect as Apple’s upcoming release of OS X. But things aren’t always what they seem, and the example proves two important truths about the technology industry.

Quoting one Digg user:

“Wow Leopard…. I mean Linux looks good…

Way to come up with original ideas ”

We think Avant (at top) was probably inspired by Leopard (in the middle), but Apple’s engineers would have likely looked at other desktops themselves. Including Sun’s Project Looking Glass, an experimental interface which has been around for years. Check the uncropped version of the screenshot below:

That’s one very old Mozilla. The image is from a Sun Presentation in 2003. While we’re at it, you might be interested in something else from Looking Glass at the time – the ability to play music by sorting through the album artwork covers of your CDs (warning:fast forward the video to 5:05, or you might see a man in a ponytail) – what Jonathan Del Strother later developed and sold to Apple as Cover Flow.

Is Apple ripping off Sun? No.

There’s two lessons here:

1. Good engineers try competing products, and get inspired by them. The Unix sudo command becomes Red Hat and Apple’s graphical equivalent, which turns into Vista’s famous Cancel/Allow dialogs (which don’t need the password typed at all). Each improves in a small way on what went before.

2. Parallel thinking happens. Good ideas are often obvious to engineers faced with the same problems.

  • Public key cryptography – the basis of online commerce – was created twice. First by British Engineer Clifford Cocks in 1973 and then four years later at MIT, by engineers unaware of Cocks’ classified work.
  • Being able to moderate articles was a frequent user request on Slashdot.org since the late 90s. Digg improved on Slashdot by finally catering to that suggestion, but the idea wasn’t new.
  • Dilbert creator Scott Adams (whose a pretty sharp guy) created a calendaring service that used your appointments to provide related advertising – and then found out someone at his gym had already done so.

I’ve personally thought of great ideas for online security and discussed it with a management consultant friend, who then told me he had a friend at Deloitte who’d been working on the same thing.

If you’re an engineer working on a 3D desktop, and there’s a large flat object on the bottom of the screen, a logical conclusion would be to have some depth of field.

If the problem is sorting through music, and you want something more visual than text, it would also be reasonable to use album artwork for that purpose.

Though we hope Cover Flow isn’t patented.

Update:

  • That’s an ancient Mozilla using the Netscape 4 theme, not Netscape 4.
  • Sun desktop shown is Project Looking Glass, not JDS.
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Technology

How to use Apple Remote Desktop from Ubuntu

Need to access your Mac from your Linux desktop? While Apple Remote Desktop software might be compatible with VNC, anyone who’s tried to use a regular VNC client will know it doesn’t work. Here’s how to fix it.

First, the Mac:

  • Open Finder and click System Preferences
  • Under Internet & Network, open Sharing
  • Enable Apple Remote Desktop. Then Access Privileges
  • Enable VNC viewers may Control the screen with password, and then pop in a password.

Then on Ubuntu:

  • Click System → Administration → Synaptic Package Manager
  • Install the tsclient and xtightvncviewer packages
  • Uninstall the xvnc4viewer package (for Ubuntu 7.10) or the xvncviewer package (Ubuntu 7.06).This is the important part – Apple Remote Desktop isn’t compatible with regular VNC. Uninstalling it makes Ubuntu prefer the alternative Tight VNC version (which uses a compression that works with Apple Remote Desktop).
  • Click Applications → Internet → Terminal Server Client
  • Under Computer type the IP address of the Mac, select VNC as the protocol and click Connect.
  • If all goes well, a window will pop up in the top left of your screen asking for a password, and you’ll be connected to your Mac.
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Technology

Don’t feel like screwing around to get your laptop working with Linux? Get a 100.

Want more than what Dell and System76 have to offer, but don’t feel like screwing around to get your system working with Linux? You’ll be wanting a 100.

I use Linux because it lets me use the computer how I want to. Because I like the apps installed out of the box on Linux – Evolution, Firefox, GAIM, Banshee, evince, F-Spot, and Bittornado. Because I like the speed of Gnome. Because I like choosing a wireless LAN from Network Manager with a single click. And because I’d rather not run 4 separate apps hovering around waiting to find out if my media player, PDF viewer, JRE, and firewall need updating.

I don’t use Linux because I like messing around to get my computer working. At work I can happily script an app to document a server, or add a few hundred users and mail them their randomly set passwords. But that’s at work, with someone paying me.

So at home, do I want a laptop that can work with Linux?

No. You probably don’t either.

I want one that does. Flawlessly. I.e.:

  • Sound (including multiple apps simultaneously)
  • Widescreen video
  • 3D acceleration
  • Wireless and wired networking
  • Suspend / resume
  • Multimedia keys
  • Media readers (for SD cards and so on)
  • Inbuilt camera
  • Bluetooth
  • Modem (apparently some people use these)
  • All other advertised hardware functionality…

work without…

  • any configuration editing
  • any terminal usage
  • any software not provided by the install CD and default repositories
  • any non-prompted configuration

At all.

Introducing the 100

To shorten the above description, and to distinguish such machines from those that require any sort of messing to work, I’d like to propose such laptops be called a 100. I.e.,a laptop where 100% of the above conditions are true on a given variant of Linux. No config editing, no terminal usage, no software not provided by the install media, no non-prompted configuration.

Laptop work fine if you ‘Open a terminal and….’? Not a 100. Work fine if you ‘just add this repository’? Nope. Not a 100 either.

This doesn’t exclude laptops which require proprietary firmware or drivers. Since Ubuntu 7.04, an NVIDIA card can be installed by simply following the prompts after logging in.

You could get a 100 from a Linux OEM. System76 has shipped Ubuntu 100’s for a while. Dell recently announced laptops that shipped with Ubuntu too.

But maybe you want more than just a CPU and video card. In 2007, after a solid decade of interest in Linux on the desktop, decent companies paying people to write open source drivers, there quite a few systems you can buy off the shelf that aren’t designed to work Linux, but which, when you pop a Linux distro on, reveal themselves as 100s.

I just bought one.

HP DV2000 and Ubuntu Studio

I recently decided to ditch my old Dell Inspiron 8500. It’s a Pentium 4, Intel’s blazingly slow CPU with typoon quiet fans. It’s also a works-with-Linux laptop, since that was what you could expect in 2003.

The replacement had to be a dual core, lightweight laptop, with a wide screen for Evolution’s vertical mail view and the odd movie, and good looks for my narcissism (hey, I don’t have to justify myself to you, OK).

It also had to be a 100.

The laptop was an HP DV2000, specifically a DV2305. The distro was the recently released Ubuntu Studio – Ubuntu with a few extra tweaks for creative folk (including some video stuff). After reading a fascinating piece of paper supplied by HP that post-install setup of Windows Vista (which it ships with) may take up to 25 minutes, and involve an unresponsive machine, I decided it may be best to cancel, and not allow, Vista. I then installed the Ubuntu Studio DVD. Let’s run through the 100 check:

  • Widescreen video – yup, resolution included in the Ubuntu Studio installer
  • 3D acceleration – fire up Google Earth or Doom 3 and see.
  • Sound – Banshee wails out Eagles of Death Metal while I marvel at the surprisingly non-annoying sound theme installed with Ubuntu Studio. Should I need to replace these noises with my own amateurish efforts, the inbuilt microphone works fine in Sound Recorder on its default settings.
  • Wireless and wired networking – pick a wireless network from Network Manager’s list and click it.
  • Suspend – yup. Resume too – that’s important.
  • Webcam – installed Ekiga. The inbuilt camera detected automatically as a V4L2 device during the startup wizard, and suddenly people all over the world who listed themselves in the Ekiga phone book were being harassed by random Australians. A little blue light and a panel app let you know that now isn’t the right time to get changed in front of your computer.
  • Media reader (for SD cards and so on). Just pop ‘em in and they appear on the desktop.
  • Bluetooth – Yup. Installed gnome-bluetooth. A tray icon pops up. My Nokia N95 phone can pair with the laptop, cunningly called ‘pavillion-0′ by HP. I can send Eagles of Death Metal songs to my phone by right clicking them and hitting ‘Send To’, or receive camera pictures to add to F-Spot when sent from my phone.
  • Touch Sensitive Multimedia pad. Touch a function, it works.
  • Modem – Yep, even that. Maybe I can call an ISP who cares?

Oh yeah, there’s a remote control that comes with the laptop too. It’s infrared. I only know this because it doesn’t work if I point it in the wrong direction. I have no idea what driver it’s using, because I don’t care, because it works. I can start the laptop, and scroll around web pages, and everything works just fine thank you very much.

Is a 100 something great? No. It’s what you should expect in 2007. But there’s a few reasons why I like the DV2000: it has the same casing as the DV6000, which HP is about to collect an prize for at the 2007 Red Dot Design Awards: a black exterior and metallic keyboard, with a swirl of subtle pinstripes in the surface. It’s very smart and businesslike, even though HP sell the DV series as Entertainment PCs.

And on the outside:

It looks very smart, except at night where the blue LEDs on the keyboard make it look a little 2-Fast -2-Furious. Oh well.

It’s also incredibly reasonably priced: about 1400 bucks Australian, which in US dollars amounts to a chocolate coin.

Have I had any hassles at all with the DV2000? Yeah, wireless didn’t work this morning when I turned on the machine. Googling for answers revealed the pertinent question: ‘do you have a button that turns off wireless?‘

Yes I do. And it seems to have caught in my bag. Switched Wireless button to ‘on’, and wireless networks magically appear, and the bluetooth item in my panel is there.

After years in the hardware wilderness, these are the kind of problems we deserve in 2007.

Mike MacCana

Addenda: since writing the original article, people have pointed out the following 100s:

  • Apple: Current MacBooks & Mac Mini with UbuntuStudio 7.04