Category Archives: linux

Fixing Webcam black screen on an Asus Eee PC

I’m reviewing the Asus Eee PC, running Linux. I was not the first user of this machine; I guess it was reviewed by someone else and then the OS was restored before it was sent to me. No problem with that; except that the webcam did not work. If I ran the webcam app I got a black screen, though the webcam led lit as if it were working. If I ran the diagnostic it did not detect the webcam, but said “Plug in your webcam” and “Failed”.

Here’s the fix. Reboot the machine and press F2 to go into the BIOS settings. Select the Advanced page and then OS Installation. It’s set to “Start”, right? Press Enter, and select Finished. Then F10 for Save and Exit. Webcam now works.

Seems to be a common problem for Eee PC users who have restored the OS.

Technorati tags: , ,

Gutsy Ubuntu and Precipice Computing

The good news: I’ve successfully upgraded two machines from Ubuntu 7.4 (Feisty Fawn) to the new 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). I followed the instructions here. The bad news: neither upgrade was without incident.

I’ll start with the server. I use this for SlimServer and for experimenting with interesting Linux-based software; it has no GUI installed. Towards the end of the upgrade I got this message:

Message saying Could not install the upgrades. The upgrade aborts now. Your system could be in an unusable state. 

Not good. I call this “precipice computing”. In the UK a few months back there was some fuss about “precipice bonds”. These are a type of savings bond that guarantees at least your money back, unless certain conditions are met, usually to do with stock market growth. The conditions do not look likely to occur, but if they do, all bets are off and you could lose heavily.

Computing is like this sometimes. You tinker with your system and safe, user-friendly options guide you every step of the way. Except that under certain circumstances they do not, and then you may be deep in the mire.

It turned out to be not so bad. Ubuntu automatically ran dpkg, a package management tool. It reported some dependency issues and suggested how I might fix them. This worked. It is all because I have been messing around with Fuppes, a promising UPnP media server that is not quite done yet. I had to compile this manually, which entailed installing a bunch of multimedia development packages, and it was two of these that tripped up the upgrade. I doubt this would have happened on a production server, and in any case one would not upgrade a production server so soon and so casually. Even so, it was a scary message.

How about the other PC? This one is a Toshiba laptop which I have written about before. I had it running sweetly, and there was really no need to fiddle with it, except that I need to try new stuff for my work. I ran the upgrade. I was presented with some difficult dialogs offering to remove “obsolete” packages. Naturally I had no idea whether these were really obsolete or not, but I allowed the upgrade to remove them on the grounds that I could always put them back later if necessary.

All went smoothly until the inevitable restart. Unfortunately the machine would not longer boot. It reported “Drive does not exist”, if I remember rightly. Fortunately I had seen this before. The upgrade restored the same wrong settings that it used on initial installation, and I had to edit the grub boot menu.

After that is was fine, except for a disappointing lack of 3D desktop effects, normally the most visible new feature in Gutsy. The desktop had gone a slightly deeper shade of brown (I don’t much care for Ubuntu brown) but otherwise little seemed to have changed. The Appearance Preferences did not offer anything exciting, like the rotating 3D cube effect when switching desktops.

I investigated. I went into the Synaptic Package Manager and installed compizconfig-settings-manager, following a tip from the Ubuntu forums. That helped; I now have an option called Advanced Desktop Effects Settings, and can select the Desktop Cube and more. Something is not quite right though. After the upgrade, I only had one workspace instead of 4. Apparently there is an interaction between the Workspace Switcher and the Compiz desktop effects. To add workspaces when Compiz is running, it seems you have to use the General Options in the Advanced Desktop Effects dialog, under Desktop Size. I set this to 4, then restarted the X server.

Now I had 4 desktops, and could sometimes, but not always, switch between them with a rotating cube effect. What was odd is that I actually seemed to have more than 4 desktops, but could not switch between all of them using Ctrl-Alt-Arrow. To do this I had to use the Workspace switcher. Even then, I managed to get into a state where I knew Open Office was running, but could not switch to it at all.

At this point I reminded myself that I don’t much like the 3D cube effect anyway. Disabling it again was no great loss.

Just a few minor problems, then. The next question: does the upgrade deliver anything of value? I’ll let you know.

Adobe: friend or enemy of open source, open standards?

I’m sitting in a session at Adobe Max Europe listening to Senior Product Manager Laurel Reitman talking about what a great open platform Adobe is creating. She refers to the open sourcing of the Flex SDK; the open bug database for Flex; the ISO standardization programme for PDF; the donation of source code to Tamarin, the Mozilla Foundation ECMAScript 4.0 runtime project, and the use of open source projects such as SQLite and Webkit within AIR, the Adobe Integrated Runtime which lets you run Flash applications on the desktop, and the fact that AIR will run in due course on Linux, though the initial release will be Mac and Windows only.

So is Adobe the friend of open source and open standards? It’s not so simple. Adobe is more successful than any other company in promoting proprietary standards on the Internet. It ceased development of the open SVG standard for vector graphics, in favour of the proprietary Flash SWF. Adobe’s efforts may well stymie the efforts of John Resig and others at Mozilla to foster open source equivalents to Flash and AIR. View the slides of his recent talk, which include video support integrated into the browser, a canvas for 3D drawing, HTML applications which run from the desktop without browser furniture, and web applications which work offline. Why is there not more excitement about these developments? Simply, because Adobe is there first with its proprietary solutions.

Adobe is arguably more a consumer than a contributor with respect to open source. It is using the open-source Eclipse for Flexbuilder and Thermo, but as far as I can tell not doing much with existing open source projects within Eclipse, preferring to provide its own implementations for things like graphics and visual application development. It is using SQLite and Webkit, and will no doubt feedback bugs and improvements to these projects, but they would flourish with or without Adobe’s input. Tamarin is perhaps its biggest open-source contribution, but read the FAQ: Adobe is contributing source code, but not quite open-sourcing its ActionScript virtual machine. The Flash Player itself remains closed-source, as do its binary compilers.

Like other big internet players, Adobe is treading a fine line. It wants the world to accept its runtimes and formats as standards, while preserving its commercial advantage in controlling them.

My prediction: if Adobe succeeds in its platform ambitions, the company will come under pressure to cede more of its control over those platform standards to the wider community, just as Sun has experienced with Java.

RM’s Linux miniBook

Palm may have abandoned its Foleo; but others are willing to take a crack at the sub-notebook market. Educational suppler RM has partnered with Asus to offer a Linux miniBook starting at £169.00 (around $300). That’s substantially cheaper than a Nokia N800 internet tablet. Here are the specs:

  • Mobile Intel Celeron-M ULV 900MHz processor
  • 7″ TFT screen
  • 256MB or 512MB Memory, 2GB or 4GB Solid-State Hard Drive, SD card reader
  • Integrated Modem and LAN, Internal wireless 802.11g
  • Integrated webcam, microphone and speakers
  • 3 USB ports, VGA out port

According to the press release:

Students will be able to use the RM Asus miniBook to send and receive email, create and edit documents, view photographs, play videos and MP3 files, browse the Internet, listen to online radio and participate in instant messaging.

It caught my interest because I am constantly frustrated at having to carry a relatively bulky laptop in order to get my work done. So I could be in the market for one of these, though it is aimed at students. Bluetooth is not mentioned, which is a shame as this helps with mobile phone integration. According to this post, based on a preview, Windows may be available as an optional extra – I presume this would be Windows Mobilethis article says Windows XP.

If the category succeeds, of course there will be others like it. Why will this be different than other failures or semi-failures, such as the Windows CE Handheld form factor, Tablet PC, or UMPC? Price, mainly. The mass market is reluctant to buy a sub-notebook when there are much more powerful laptops available for the same or less money. That’s now changing, and at this level it just might catch on.

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

Great for debugging: Microsoft to release .NET Framework source

Scott Guthrie has the details. As my title implies, this is great for debugging. There will be benefits for the Framework as well, presuming Microsoft listens when a developer says, “Why does your code do this and not that?”

Is this a big radical step for Microsoft? I don’t think so. Nor does it merit this kind of predictable backlash – Steven J Vaughan-Nichols saying that Microsoft is tempting open source developers to use its code and become vulnerable to lawsuits.

I recall an early .NET briefing in which an IT exec from the Nationwide Building Society (an early adopter) said how grateful he was to Microsoft for sharing the source to the .NET Framework. How come? Well, ever come across Reflector for .NET? If compiled .NET libraries are not obfuscated, you can easily decompile the code. Admittedly you will not see comments, but it is still pretty effective. As far as I know, the .NET Framework has never been obfuscated, so in some ways we already had the code.

I do understand the risks for projects like Mono, which seek to be clean-room implementations, but I doubt they are significantly greater than before. Further, I suspect that if Microsoft wanted to bring legal guns to bear on Mono, it is likely that it already could. Although Mono builds on ECMA standards, it implements plenty of stuff that is not covered by those standards. I have no idea whether it breaches any Microsoft patents; but I would not find it surprising. What stops Microsoft pursuing Mono? Mainly, I imagine, because it is good for .NET and therefore a benefit to the company.

Technorati tags: , , , ,