Wish I Could Do That In Linux

i-a4af6612f71a071eefb29bd2dcab3c53-ubuntux.pngFor a few weeks, I’ve been slowly, slowly learning my way around the Open Source operating system Ubuntu Linux. Lots of things work just fine. Indeed, they work incredibly well considering that I downloaded an entire operating system with office software for free from the net. But every now and then I run into things that force me to boot Windows XP or lower my expectations. They may be fully possible to do in Ubuntu, though too complicated for me to accomplish at my current level of ignorance; or semi-possible to do in Ubuntu through an ugly kludge that’s not worth it; or they may simply be impossible to do in Ubuntu.

Here’s the list as it stands today: things I wish I could do in Linux.

  • Connect to a protected wireless access point whose password I have.

  • Access the contents of my hard disk’s NTFS partition (where WinXP resides).
  • Communicate with my Pocket PC handheld computer over a USB cable.
  • Communicate with my Garmin GPS navigator over a USB cable.
  • Access and edit a Pocket Query geocaching database file.
  • Use a web page as desktop wallpaper (“Active Desktop” in Windowese)
  • Share the laptop’s touch pad between user accounts. Currently it only works for the first person who logs onto the machine!
  • Get Ubuntu to work reliably with the laptop’s power management mode. Currently, I’m getting a lot of freeze-ups.

I guess some of these issues may have been resolved in last Thursday’s release of Ubuntu, ver. 7.04 Feisty Fawn, and that more improvements will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, Dear Reader, if you happen to know any easy fixes for these problems, don’t be afraid to say so. My main general complaint is that it is still far, far too complicated to install downloaded software in Ubuntu. Just gimme an icon to double-click, OK?

Comments

  1. #1 Flaky
    April 22, 2007

    Accessing files on an NTFS partition is pretty easy, though only read access is available. (This should be fixed soon. I understand that there’s already an experimental write-enabled driver available.) All you need to do is add a single line into the file /etc/fstab. Possibly there’s a GUI tool for doing that automagically, but I cannot understand why, if such a tool exists, it can’t be easily found in the system menu.

  2. #2 Flaky
    April 22, 2007

    Here are instructions for enabling read/write access to NTFS:
    http://www.ubuntu-se.org/Wiki/Ntfs-3g
    They do appear to lack a bit in details though.

  3. #3 Flaky
    April 22, 2007

    Better instructions and in English:
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=217009

  4. #4 Neil
    April 22, 2007

    The easiest way to install stuff is to go to Applications|Add/Remove as that allows you to find the software in the first place. If you’re downloading from outside the repositories, you need the .deb package, which you can double click to run the package installer (rather like an .msi package in Windows).

    I think you can do the Active Desktop thing in KDE using kwebdesktop. Gnome has no such alternative.

    NTFS: Go to “Applications|Add/Remove”, select “all available applications” and search for “NTFS”. You should see an application called “NTFS Configuration Tool”. Click the checkbox and click Apply. You will now have a menu entry under Application|System Tools, and your NTFS drive will have appeared on your desktop automatically. The tool itself allows you to control whether the drive is read-only.

  5. #5 Hans Persson
    April 22, 2007

    For the two GPS-related items, the answer is almost definitely gpsbabel.

  6. #6 Janne
    April 22, 2007

    You do not give enough information for anyone to give you specific help – I don’t that was the point of your post either; you’re looking for info on how to proceed, really.

    For most things, the answer hangs entirely on details on the hardware in question, and exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Accessing a an encrypted wireless access point worked right out of the box for me personally with Feisty – but your success depends of course on your setup. For instance, you don’t say what card it is, whether the problem is accessing an encrypted point specifically or if the problem is to get the card to work at all. Or, for that matter, if the issue is that you need to get it running from the command line, not from a graphical interface (in which case it should be fixed with Feisty).

    “Communicate” with things – again, you need to specify what you expect to be able to do, and what hardware you have. I have no doubt that transfering files or data between either device and Ubuntu should wither work out of the box if you’re lucky, or be one command away in other cases. If by “communicate” you mean something like “automagically sync email, addressbook and project files” or “get the data and fire up Google Earth to show me where I’ve been”, then no, that won’t most likely happen without you installing some extra bits of software.

    Web page as desktop – neat idea; wonder why we don’t have that? Perhaps you can use GDesklets for it?

    Touch pad and power management both sound very much like bugs. Three answers, with increasing complexity: Google “Ubuntu [your laptop model]” to see what pops up; upgrade to Fawn – hardware support continuously gets better; file a bug and see what answers you get from that.

  7. #7 Janne
    April 22, 2007

    Oh, one more thing. Ubuntu certainly is not perfect. Lots of bugs, annoyances or small oddities. But I was in your opposite situation six months ago; I started using Windows XP for some software development on a machine. The experience has been incredibly frustrating. My experience has been that XP is a lot more unfriendly and difficult to run than Ubuntu – you can’t plug in so much as a mouse without having to deal with driver installations and other stuff. I use the machine only for software development by now, and have a separate machine with Linux for doing email, browsing, wordprocessing and so on.

    The real lesson is of course that we’re very habit driven. Our sense of “normal” is completely determined by our previous experiences. Some problems I’ve had are real (I have two high-res screens with oodles of real estate; why can’t I resize tiny dialog windows to actually see more of the contents?), but many other are mostly an effect simply of things working differently under XP than under Ubuntu. Not better or worse, but just a matter of getting used to it.

    Keep that in mind when you want to bang your head through the screen in frustration.

  8. #8 Josh Rosenau
    April 22, 2007

    Freshmeat.net is the best repository for open source software, I’d search for GPS, geocaching, WiFi and PocketPC in there.

  9. #9 Linux User 473442
    April 22, 2007

    You can go into your mouse settings and set it for double click mode if you want to. Also, have you tried other linux distros? Mepis is a Ubuntu based distro that has much better hardware support.

  10. #10 Martin R
    April 22, 2007

    Many thanks, everyone! I’m going to try following your advice. However, I don’t think I’ll weary the Aard readers with too much detail of my progress with Ubuntu. You guys will certainly be seeing me periodically on the Ubuntu Forums, lowing plaintively for help.

  11. #11 Rebecca Clayton
    April 22, 2007

    It sounds like you are progressing quickly for a novice user. Good luck with it. One great thing about learning with Linux is that once you have solved a problem, you know more about your hardware and software than before. In Windows, I never feel any the wiser after solving a problem. It may not seem like much now, but if you continue with Linux, you’ll soon notice you understand more about how computers “work” and you can answer other people’s questions. It’s exciting stuff!

    One of my favorite sources for help is http://www.linuxquestions.org/

    I don’t use Ubuntu myself, but they seem to have a large and growing group of users. I’ve found answers to most of my Debian troubles there.

  12. #12 James
    April 22, 2007

    Unfortunately, some of your problems are NOT the fault of Linux, but of the vendors products you are using not supporting Linux. You should contact those companies and ask them what their plans are for Linux support.

    # Communicate with my Pocket PC handheld computer over a USB cable.
    # Communicate with my Garmin GPS navigator over a USB cable.
    # Access and edit a Pocket Query geocaching database file.

  13. #13 Ken
    April 22, 2007

    “Connect to a protected wireless access point whose password I have.”

    I don’t think this is an issue with Linux at all. I am sure Ubunutu has it although I use PCLinuxOS (www.pclinuxos.com) and work all day with wireless networks — at home as well as at work.

  14. #14 Josef
    April 23, 2007

    #Use a web page as desktop wallpaper (“Active Desktop” in Windowese)
    Don’t know about Ubuntu, but in Kubuntu (the same thing but with KDE) you can do that pretty easily. Just open web browser (Konqueror), open the desired web page and tweak advanced window properties (it can regognitze the window by its title ot part of it). You can set it up as borderless and lowered. And since you have got session management you will find the window there every time you start your PC. I guess you can run it with a smart command line this way and create a shortcut afterwards but for you as a Windows refugee this should work fine. BTW – if you are this demanding you should really consider using KDE as it is way more configurable than Gnome.

  15. #15 Martin R
    April 23, 2007

    Ken, the wifi issue is a common problem in Edgy judging from the Ubuntu Forums.

    Josef, I have strange demands: I want the OS to be stable, vanilla, middle-of-the-road, with a large user base — AND highly configurable.

    A sysadmin once described me as the most dangerous type of user: knowledgable enough to demand weird things and to fuck the system up, but too ignorant to clean up reliably after myself.

  16. #16 Henrik
    April 23, 2007

    #Communicate with my Pocket PC handheld computer over a USB cable.
    #Communicate with my Garmin GPS navigator over a USB cable.

    Could this be an issue with the USB-cable? A lot of USB-cables sold for the PC market do not come with linux (and mac) drivers. It appears that the majority of such cables are based on the PL-2303 USB-Serial chipset manufactured by Prolific Technology in Taiwan. Maybe they have what you need: http://www.prolific.com.tw/eng/downloads.asp?ID=31
    There are different chipsets of course, but the PL2303 is allegedly widely used in cheaper cables for mobile phones and such gadgets.

  17. #17 Warren
    April 23, 2007
  18. #18 Martin R
    April 23, 2007

    SynCE looks promising, though its installation procedure is daunting. I tried installing it and got as far as checking the source code out with Subversion. Then, however, the build scripts didn’t produce the expected results, so I had to abandon the attempt. One day there will no doubt be a nice APT version of this thing.

  19. #19 Jake
    April 23, 2007

    Hey dude, Ubuntu is a relatively young Linux distro when compared to others. Most of your bullets should be covered in another distro (besides the active desktop wallpaper and editing that weird DB file). NTFS read support has been around for ages, and SuSE accesses any wireless network I’ve tired (and that’s a lot). I would recommend you look into Suse, Fedora, Mandriva, or Linspire. They’re all pretty good.

  20. #20 Martin R
    April 23, 2007

    Yeah, I believe the NTFS access issue is in the category “fully possible to do in Ubuntu, though too complicated for me to accomplish at my current level of ignorance”.

  21. #21 pk
    April 23, 2007

    Get automatix2, a quick search on the Ubuntu web forum will take you to it, three lines to cut/paste, then install it.
    Follow the prompts.
    Almost all of what you want will be available upon completion.

    I loaded Feisty Fawn Saturday night, ran Automatix2 Sunday morning and had it all that afternoon.

  22. #22 Joseph Smidt
    April 23, 2007

    My only advice is: Stick with Linux. I know at times things will seem hard, but if you give it time and effort you will be surprised how much you like it.

  23. #23 mo3ejac
    April 23, 2007

    On this topic there is a pretty good unoffical starter guide for those new to ubuntu linux (7.04).

    http://ubuntuguide.org/wiki/Ubuntu_Feisty#Unofficial_Ubuntu_7.04_.28Feisty_Fawn.29_Starter_Guide

  24. #24 Akshay Guleria
    April 23, 2007

    “Connect to a protected wireless access point whose password I have.”

    I use it day in day out on my ubuntu laptop. It just works. Perhaps, the only thing that i wish there i that it should prompt me for a password when my wireless needs. Right now, i have to navigate and change it in desklet. Thats painless though but for roaming profiles, that may be an issue.

  25. #25 mike
    April 23, 2007

    Akshay, Martin

    if you want Ubuntu’s wireless conf to behave more like windows zero conf tool, then you should definitely check out wifi-radar (it’s in the package repository). It allows you to set up profiles for networks, specify a connection preference hierarchy, and can support WPA via wpa-supplicant. Since installing it, I have not touched the dreaded “connection properties” dialog once. What’s more, since configuring wifi-radar, I haven’t touched it once either. It just works.

    I couldn’t reccommend it more highly.

  26. #26 Jeffrey Gordon
    April 23, 2007

    * Connect to a protected wireless access point whose password I have.
    wifi-radar:
    http://packages.ubuntu.com/cgi-bin/search_packages.pl?keywords=wifi-radar&searchon=names&subword=1&version=edgy&release=all

    * Access the contents of my hard disk’s NTFS partition (where WinXP resides).
    http://www.ubuntugeek.com/widows-ntfs-partitions-readwrite-support-made-easy-in-ubuntu-feisty.html

    * Communicate with my Pocket PC handheld computer over a USB cable.
    synce:
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=30936

    * Communicate with my Garmin GPS navigator over a USB cable.
    * Access and edit a Pocket Query geocaching database file.
    gpsbabel:
    http://packages.ubuntu.com/cgi-bin/search_packages.pl?keywords=gpsbabel&searchon=names&subword=1&version=edgy&release=all

    * Use a web page as desktop wallpaper (“Active Desktop” in Windowese)
    Possible in KDE:
    http://linuxreviews.org/screenshots/kde_3.4.x/tn/007_kde_webpage_desktop.jpg.index.html

    * Share the laptop’s touch pad between user accounts. Currently it only works for the first person who logs onto the machine!
    Sounds like a bug. There’s probably a fix. Post to ubuntuforums and if you can’t get help, file a bug report.

    * Get Ubuntu to work reliably with the laptop’s power management mode. Currently, I’m getting a lot of freeze-ups.
    Google your laptop’s model number and “linux” and see what comes up. Some laptop models are difficult. There aren’t any guarantees, but there are often workarounds.

  27. #27 Larry Ayers
    April 23, 2007

    Hi, Martin, I’ve been enjoying your blog. I’ve been using Linux (mostly straight Debian unstable) since 1995, and I feel your pain. Problems arise, often after an “upgrade”, but they do tend to heal themselves. The upside is that there are many smart Linux users out there, and when they solve a tricky configuration problem they tend to write and make available a web-page describing their travails, helping you to avoid them. I’ll never go back to proprietary operating systems; the open-source world is a community, unadvertised and thus invisible to most computer-users, but it’s a nice area of cyberspace to inhabit.

  28. #28 Matt Easton
    April 24, 2007

    Use a web page as desktop wallpaper (“Active Desktop” in Windowese)

    What? That actually works in WINDOWS, you say?

    I’ve “fixed” so many windows computers over the years by booting into Safe Mode and disabling Active Desktop, that I am truthfully astounded that anyone actually tries to use this “feature”.

  29. #29 Adam Williamson
    April 24, 2007

    I suggest you stop equating ‘Ubuntu’ with ‘Linux’ and try some other distributions. You may find they work better, despite the hype.

    (Of course, I’m entirely biased – I work for Mandriva. But I don’t think I’m wrong. :>)

  30. #30 p johnston
    April 24, 2007

    One issue that is not addressed here is that in Linux the most popular hardware is usually well supported and is usually recognised at installation. You need to remember that these drivers are not provided by the hardware manufactures but by people who are intrested in opensource software. If you tried to install a windows OS you will find nearly nothing will work out of the box.

    I feel that if you have a grievance with hardware under linux you should address the hardware manufactures about this issue.

  31. #31 Martin R
    April 24, 2007

    Mike, I agree, Wifi-Radar is good: that’s what made it possible for me to connect to unprotected access points. So I disabled the protection on my home router. WPA support, however, has proved elusive. The WPA Supplicant option is too sparsely documented for me to be able to use it.

    Matt E, I only use the “active” desktop to show a static local HTML file with my most-frequently-used links. I suppose that eliminates a lot of potential problems.

  32. #32 Martin Rundkvist
    April 24, 2007

    Adam, I just want something vanilla, with a huge user base and regular updates. Remember, you’re talking to the dreaded luser here, not to someone with the skill and inclination to tweak unix installations for fun.

  33. #33 Henry
    April 24, 2007

    Feisty comes with NetworkManager by default. This is a wonderful application that takes care of all the network issues. It is fairly easy to install NetworkManager in 6.10, but I had problems connecting to a WPA access point (WEP worked fine). After upgrading to Feisty, it works with no problems at all. NetworkManager also auto switches from wired to wireless etc. FYI, my wireless card is the Intel 3945.

  34. #34 Frank Russo
    April 24, 2007

    Martin,

    It’s good to see another blogger switching over to a Linux distro and writing about their experience. I won’t cover many of your issues as they’ve already been covered. I will briefly discuss the trackpad issue.

    The first thing to do is hit the Ubuntu forums. Do a brief search on the relevant terms (trackpad, laptop model, etc). If you don’t see anything similar, create a post. Don’t expect immediate responses. Give it 48 hours.

    If you have not received a relevant response in 48 hours, go to the Ubuntu bugzilla (or whatever they call the bug tracking system now a days). Do a search on the relevant terms. If you do not find anything relevant, it is your “civil duty” to file a new defect. This alerts the developers that there is a problem and ensures that it gets fixed.

    After filing the defect, paste a link to the defect in your original forum post. Doing this will ensure that future users with the same problem find the post ‘and’ the defect.

    Try not to get upset if the defect does not get the exact response you desired. Sometimes, developer responses are brief and cryptic to the average user. They mark the bug as resolved with a brief “fixed in cvs 20070420″, which doesn’t really give you what you desire. Sometimes they will ask for more information, but use shorthand like, “can I get an lspci -vv and xorg log?”. Once you google and figure out how to give them what they desire, they will chastise you for cutting and pasting into the defect rather than submitting it as a tar’d attachment. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse and nothing to get upset over. Eventually, things fall into line and the kinks get worked out.

    I’m a RHEL SA by day, but use Gentoo at home. I used Ubuntu for approximately one week. My first defect? I have a Logitech “Access Keyboard”. lspci sees it as a Logitech access keyboard. xorg sees it as a Logitech keyboard. Gnome saw it as a typical PC104 keyboard. I had to actually set it to Logitech in the keyboard properties tab. It was my opinion that this should be automagic (since 3 different subsystems were also automagic). Some day, users won’t have to tell gnome what type of keyboard they have, because someone took the time to go through the motions of filing a defect.

    The point is, relax and go through the motions. Finding an issue in a distro doesn’t make you a problem user, it makes you part of the solution. Go through the motions of troubleshooting and bug submission and you will be contributing to the advancement of your distro, and indirectly other distros.

    Have a nice linux,
    Frank

  35. #35 Martin R
    April 24, 2007

    Thanks Frank! My plan is to wait (a month?) for a corrected version of Ubuntu Feisty, install it, go over my problem list and see what’s already been fixed, and then hit the help forums again.

    I love the feeling of running OO software. When it works! As it usually actually does.

  36. #36 Hans Persson
    April 24, 2007

    From what I read, Automatix may be a way to get things to work in the short term, but they way they are done is bad. Things apparently tend to get really messy at upgrade-time.

    Easyubuntu is helpful for some things like installing flash and a few other things, and I haven’t seen any upgrading issues with that. It won’t help you with NTFS, though.

  37. #37 Tachyon
    April 24, 2007

    Funny, every one of those things works great under openSUSE 10.2.
    Guess standing around hugging isn’t the best way to make a Linux distro.

    Tachyon

  38. #38 Stomfi
    April 25, 2007

    I have exactly the same problems when I go to a Windows centric company.

    I am so used to the way UNIX and Linux lets one do anything one wants, like ones ability to configure everything through text based files, use text console tools for checking communication and running processes, and most importantly open standard formats to use the output of one application as the input of another.

    I am completely bamboozled when it comes to fixing stuff that doesn’t automagically work on Windows or more importantly how to perform creative problem solving using multiple applications.

    I press the wrong key sequence or button and here is the program shutdown message and work lost in the pit of doom, or I install the wrong driver for that “unknown” piece of hardware and crash/reboot with the blue screen of death and no way of knowing what to do. No Linux friendly “Login as root and fix the problem”.

    So forget about all that “can’t do at the moment stuff”. Linux is a very different approach to computing than Windows and needs to be learned. You sort of go up on ramps, with a big step at the end of each. It takes about 3 months to learn how to jump, so you can get over the 3rd one, but then you know how to get over all the rest.

    By the time you’ve been learning Linux for 6 months, you will realise what a poor man’s computing environment Windows is, and what you have on your desk is a real UNIX workstation setup, something you’d pay at least $10K for if it had to be bought from one of the big UNIX vendors.

    You will also realise what a brake the Windows monopoly puts on paid for computing development, and that FLOSS is the only way you and I and the rest of the world can get things going rapidly forward again.

  39. #39 informavore
    April 25, 2007

    I used the Debian stuff, which is very simple, once you figure
    out how it works. The documentation sucks big time.

    I have a script, called like this…
    mapping eth2
    script /etc/network/mapping-scheme

    which does an iwlist eth2 scan, looks at the accesspoints I
    can reach, and prints out a key word for my preferred one.
    (just a bunch of if’s, where your preferred one is earlier
    in the list.) i.e. It outputs ‘SCinet’ if that is the where I am…

    then in the in the rest of the files, it says what to do
    for each file. Here is one stanza for one network, without WPA…

    iface SCinet inet dhcp
    wireless-essid SCinet
    wireless-mode Managed
    pre-up /etc/network/SCinet_stuff

    here is one with WPA, which is the password stuff you want…

    iface BSQT inet dhcp
    wpa-driver wext
    wpa-key-mgmt WPA-PSK
    wpa-group TKIP
    wpa-ssid MyFavorite
    wpa-psk a6153246234l3254kjrtwerfewpt6234623

    The wpa-psk, is a form of password.
    The value faked badly, not many hex numbers have k’s in them :-)

    but anyways, then you just do sudo ifup eth2, and it comes right up.

    This assumes:
    — your wireless drivers are working.
    — you have wpa-supplicant (used by the ifup stuff.)

    try man interfaces.

  40. #40 menek?e ile halil
    September 14, 2007

    Accessing files on an NTFS partition is pretty easy, though only read access is available. (This should be fixed soon. I understand that there’s already an experimental write-enabled driver available.) All you need to do is add a single line into the file /etc/fstab. Possibly there’s a GUI tool for doing that automagically, but I cannot understand why, if such a tool exists, it can’t be easily found in the system menu.

  41. #41 Martin R
    September 14, 2007

    I’m running Ubuntu Feisty now, and it can read the Windows partition on my machine per default. No write capability yet, though.

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