Tag Archives: ubuntu

Microsoft improves Windows Subsystem for Linux: launch Windows apps from Linux and vice versa

The Windows 10 anniversary update introduced a major new feature: a subsystem for Linux. Microsoft marketing execs call this Bash on Windows; Ubuntu calls it Ubuntu on Windows; but Windows Subsystem for Linux is the most accurate description. You run a Linux binary and the subsystem redirects system calls so that it behaves like Linux.


The first implementation (which is designated Beta) has an obvious limitation. Linux works great, and Windows works great, but they do not interoperate, other than via the file system or networking. This means you cannot do what I used to do in the days of Services for Unix: type ls at the command prompt to get a directory listing.

That is now changing. Version 14951 introduces interop so that you can launch Windows executables from the Bash shell and vice versa. This is particularly helpful since the subsystem does not support GUI applications. One of the obvious use cases is launching a GUI editor from Bash, such as Visual Studio Code or Notepad++.

The nitty-gritty on how it works is here.


Limitations? A few. Environment variables are not shared so an executable that is on the Windows PATH may not be on the Linux PATH. The executable also needs to be on a filesystem compatible with DrvFs, which means NTFS or ReFS, not FAT32 or exFAT.

This is good stuff though. If you work on Windows, but love Linux utilities like grep, now you can use them seamlessly from Windows. And if you are developing Linux applications with say PHP or Node.js, now you can develop in the Linux environment but use Windows editors.

Note that this is all still in preview and I am not aware of an announced date for the first non-beta release.

Ubuntu forum hack sets same-password users at risk

Canonical has announced a comprehensive security breach of its forums.

  • Unfortunately the attackers have gotten every user’s local username, password, and email address from the Ubuntu Forums database.
  • The passwords are not stored in plain text, they are stored as salted hashes. However, if you were using the same password as your Ubuntu Forums one on another service (such as email), you are strongly encouraged to change the password on the other service ASAP.
  • Ubuntu One, Launchpad and other Ubuntu/Canonical services are NOT affected by the breach.

If someone impersonates you on the Ubuntu forums it might be embarrassing but probably not a calamity. The real risk is escalation. In other words, presuming the attacker is able to work out the passwords (they have all the time in the world to run password cracking algorithms and dictionary attacks against the stolen data), it could be used to compromise more valuable accounts that use the same password.

Password recovery mechanisms can work against you. Businesses hate dealing with password reset requests so they automate them as much as they can. This is why Ubuntu’s warning about email accounts is critical: many web sites will simply email your password on request, so if your email is compromised many other accounts may be compromised too.

A better approach in a world of a million passwords is to use a random password generator alongside a password management database for your PC and smartphone. It is still a bit “all eggs in one basket” in that if someone cracks the password for your management database, and gets access, then they have everything.

It is a dreadful mess. Two-factor authentication, which involves a secondary mechanism such as a security token, card reader, or an SMS confirmation code, is more secure; but best reserved for a few critical accounts otherwise it becomes impractical. Two-factor authentication plus single sign-on is an even better approach.

Ubuntu 12.04: a fresh take on Linux

Canonical has released Ubuntu 12.04, a “long term support” version which will be supported for five years on both desktop and server.

I installed the new release on Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Installation was straightforward: download iso of install CD, mount in new Hyper-V VM, install, and wait while updates are downloaded.

This is the first time I have tried Unity, the desktop shell originally designed for netbooks which is now the default in Ubuntu. It is a clean, minimalist shell with a launcher on the left edge. The launcher is like the Windows 7 taskbar, in that it lets you quit as well as launch applications. The screenshot below is more or less the default, though I have added Google Chrome and locked the Terminal to the launcher.


I found the new Ubuntu a little perplexing at first. What about applications not on the launcher?

The secret is the top left button, called Dash home. Click this, and a dashboard appears.


At the foot of the screen are icons for Home, Applications, Files and folders, Music and video. Each one displays different shortcuts, but also operates as a search scope. In Ubuntu 12.04 search is a primary means of navigation. For example, to install the Audacity sound editor, I selected Applications and typed “Aud”. Audacity was then listed as an app available for download. There is also the Ubuntu Software Centre which is Ubuntu App Store.


Where the search UI gets rather odd is with the new Head Up Display (HUD). Run Audacity and it appears without any menu. If you click on the top bar (Mac style) the menu bar appears. Alternatively, you can press Alt, and a search box appears that says “Type your command”. I typed “pref” and the Preferences menu items appeared in a list.


However, this only works for applications that support it. If you run a LibreOffice app (the office suite that comes with Ubuntu 12.04) and press Alt, you get the HUD search but it will apply to the Ubuntu desktop and not the Libre Office app.

Some apps, such as Terminal, show menus both on the app window and in the top bar. All a bit messy and confusing.

Underneath it is still a variant of Debian Linux of course.

The strong points of Linux, and Ubuntu in particular, are evident in this release as you would expect, including multiple desktop workspaces, and easy discovery and install of new applications. Another key feature is Ubuntu One, cloud storage and sync with 5GB free. An additional 20GB is $29.99 a year. There is also a music streaming service for $39.99 a year, with 20GB of storage included and apps for iOS and Android. This only covers streaming of your own music files and photos, though you can purchase additional tracks from the Ubuntu One Music Store.

I have long since given up expecting that Ubuntu, or any desktop Linux, will truly unsettle Windows or Mac, even though considering the price (free), Ubuntu 12.04 is great, and with applications like LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Firefox and Chrome, and GIMP, it easily meets everyday computing needs. Rather, it is Android, which is Linux-based, that has disrupted mobile computing, and in tablet form is beginning to encroach on laptop territory. Still, I doubt Android would have happened without desktop Linux before it.

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx great as ever, no game changer

I’ve upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, and I’m using it to type this post. Ubuntu Lucid Lynx is a “long term support” edition,  making it suitable for businesses. The upgrade from Karmic, the previous version, went relatively smoothly. I say relatively because my laptop is dual boot and has two hard drives. For some reason Grub, the Ubuntu boot utility, always detects the partitioning incorrectly, so when I first start up after an upgrade it cannot find the drive. I have to hit “e” for edit, correct the reference to the boot partition, and then fix Grub’s menu.lst once I am back in.

That aside, all went well, Compiz didn’t break and I still have wobbly windows – a fun graphic effect that I have only seen on Linux.

I would recommend Ubuntu to anyone, provided that they can cope with occasional forays into menu.lst and the like. I cannot think of everyday tasks which are not easily accomplished on Ubuntu. Performance is excellent, and it feels a little faster than Windows 7 on this oldish Toshiba laptop. Considering the cost, it is a fantastic bargain for both home and business users. No Windows tax, no Apple tax, no Microsoft Office tax.

There are a couple of other issues though that continue to hold it back. One is what I can best describe as lack of polish. Part of the reason is that less money is spent on design; Linux looks less home-made that it once did, but put Ubuntu’s new Music Store (an extension to Rhythmbox) alongside Apple’s iTunes and the difference is obvious. Personally I prefer Rhythmbox, but for looks there is no contest.

Another problem is application availability. Many major Window applications such Microsoft Office can be made to work on Ubuntu via the Wine non-emulator, but it is not ideal. It’s certainly a problem for the work I do. I’m about to spend some time with Adobe’s Creative Suite, for example, which I could not do in Ubuntu.

One thing that will help drive Ubuntu and Linux adoption on the desktop is cloud computing. I have a separate blog post coming on this; but Microsoft’s new Office Web Apps could help considerably in mixed Linux/Windows networks. Specifically, I noticed that a Word Open XML document (.docx) which lost its formatting in Open Office, the suite supplied with Ubuntu, worked fine in Word Web App accessed with Firefox. Cloud and web-based computing goes a long way towards solving the application problem.

I like Ubuntu very much, but I don’t expect it to dent Windows or Mac sales any time soon.

A painful upgrade to Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex

I’m writing a piece on Ubuntu – makes a change from all that Windows at Microsoft’s PDC. I wanted to be up-to-date, so I upgraded my laptop from Hardy Heron (8.4) to Intrepid Ibex (8.10), released just yesterday. I followed the officially recommended procedure. Currently I only have a wi-fi connection, which is not ideal, but I reckoned it might work. Before upgrading, I applied all available updates to the existing 8.04 installation.

The update manager started off confidently enough, though it sat for a long time on ldconfig deferred processing. Then it asked for a restart, and things started going wrong. Ubuntu could only boot to a terminal prompt, since it was missing packages needed for X, the graphical server, to start. I tried to fix this with apt-get; but I had another problem: the wifi connection was down. I managed to get this working with ifconfig and iwconfig, and repaired my system with apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade. This downloaded and installed some 340MB of packages, after which I could boot to the desktop.

I was not done yet. On startup, Ubuntu was pausing when configuring the network. When the desktop appeared, I had the problem usually expressed as nm-applet not appearing in the panel. This actually meant that the network manager had crashed. If I tried to restart it, it said “no connections defined” and hung with some other errors. Once again, I could only restore wifi by fidding with console commands. I discovered I was not alone with the nm-applet problem. The fix that worked for me was to remove all references to network devices other than loopback in /etc/network/interfaces, as described here. Restarted, the network applet returned, and I could finally connect conveniently.

I got a surprise when I tried to browse the web. The upgrade had removed most of my applications, including FireFox and OpenOffice. I had to reinstall these using Add/Remove applications. I did find that FireFox had remembered my settings, once reinstalled, for which I was grateful.

Now that Intrepid Ibex is up and running, it will probably be as stable, fast and capable as Hardy Heron before it – really, it was. Linux is great, honest.

What to say about Ubuntu Hardy Heron?

I installed Ubuntu Hardy Heron, a “long term support” release which went final yesterday.

It’s a tricky thing to assess. There are in general two things to say about Linux. First, you can take the line that it is a wonderful thing: free, fast, responsive and capable. You can do your work on this, even run a business on it. You can write applications in Java, C# or any number of other languages. You can have fun with it too – it’s great for multimedia, just a shame that few games support it. Finally, it is nice to know that most of the world’s malware is targetting someone else’s operating system.

Alternatively, you can argue that Linux is fiddly, perplexing, over-complicated, inconsistent, and still not ready for the general public.

It is tempting to give Ubuntu an easy ride because it is free and because we so much want it to succeed; we need an alternative to the Microsoft tax or the Apple tax. Unfortunately you never have to look far to find little problems or things that should be easy but end up consuming considerable effort.

Here’s one thing I noticed today. Close FireFox. Open  the Help Centre, and click a web link. The Help Centre opens FireFox with the link you requested, but then cannot be used until you close the FireFox instance. Trying to close it brings up a “Not responding” message. If FireFox was already running when you clicked the link, it is fine.

Here is another. Open Help Centre, click Playing Music, then Listen to online audio streams. It says I can install Real Player 10 and that it is available from the “commercial respository”. What is the “commercial” repository? This page describes four Ubuntu repositories: main, restricted, universe and multiverse. Real Player is not in any of them. Further, if you try and install it using apt get, the following message appears:

Package realplayer is not available, but is referred to by another package. This may mean that the package is missing, has been obsoleted, or is only available from another source
E: Package realplayer has no installation candidate

Hey, it’s Linux. Just Google and you’ll find a way. Who needs Real Player anyway? But that’s not the point … the point is that these little issues crop up and make running Linux less fun for non-geeks.

Here’s another one: I tried GNU Chess. I poked around in Preferences and chose the 3D view. It said:

You are unable to play in 3D mode due to the following problems:
No Python OpenGL support
No Python GTKGLExt support

Please contact your system administrator to resolve these problems, until then you will be able to play chess in 2D mode.

Fair enough; it is a clear, accurate and informative message – aside from the bit about “contacting your system administrator” which sounds like it was borrowed from Windows. You can just about forgive it in business software, but this is a game.

I still love Ubuntu. This one installed easily and updates nicely; the fancy graphics effects work smoothly; and most important, the same machine which felt slow with Vista now seems more like a high-performance workstation.

In other words, it it easy to support either line of argument. Personally I veer towards the favourable view; but I doubt fear of Ubuntu is keeping anyone in Redmond awake at nights.