You always can install things yourself…

With Linux distributions offering you everything on a plate, there is a temptation to stick with what they offer rather than taking things into your own hands. For example, Debian’s infrequent stable releases and the fact that they don’t seem to change software versions throughout the lifetime of such a release means that things such as browser versions are fixed for the purposes of stability; Lenny has stuck with Firefox 3.06 and called it Iceweasel for some unknown reason. However, I soon got to grabbing a tarball for 3.5 and popped its contents into /opt where the self-contained package worked without a hitch. The same modus operandii was used to get in Eclipse PDT and that applied to Ubuntu too until buttons stopped working, forcing a jumping of ship to Netbeans. Of course, you could make a mess when veering away from what is in a distribution but that should be good enough reason not to get carried away with software additions. With the availability of DEB packages for things like Adobe Reader, RealPlayer, VirtualBox, Google Chrome and Opera, keeping things clean isn’t so hard. Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well things work out for you but I have only ever had the occasional problem anyway.

What reminded me of this was a recent irritation with the OpenOffice package included in Ubuntu 9.10 whereby spell checking wasn’t working. While there were thoughts about is situ fixes like additional dictionary installations, I ended up plumping for what could be called the lazy option: grabbing a tarball full of DEB packages from the OpenOffice website and extracting its contents into /tmp and, once the URE package was in place, installing from there using the command:

dpkg -i o*

To get application shortcuts added to the main menu, it was a matter of diving into the appropriate subfolder and installing from the GNOME desktop extension package. Of course, Ubuntu’s OpenOffice variant was removed as part of all this but, if you wanted to live a little more dangerously, the external installation goes into /opt so there shouldn’t be too much of a conflict anyway. In any case, the DIY route got me the spell checking in OpenOffice Writer that I needed so all was well and another Ubuntu rough edge eradicated from my life, for now anyway.

Rough?

Was it because Canonical and friends kept Ubuntu in such a decent state from 8.04 through to 9.04 that things went a little quiet in the blogosphere on the subject of the well-known Linux distribution? If so, 9.10 might be proving more of a talking point and you have to wonder if this is such a good thing with the appearance of Windows 7 on the scene. Looking on the bright side, 10.04 will be an LTS release so there is some chance that any rough edges that are on display now could be resolved by next April. Even so, it might have been better not to see anything so obvious at all.

In truth, Ubuntu always has had its gaps and I have seen a few of their ilk over the last two years. Of these, a few have triggered postings on here. In fact, issues with accessing the BBC iPlayer still bring a goodly number of folk to this website. That may just be a matter of grabbing RealPlayer, now helpfully available as a DEB package, from the requisite place on the web and ensuring that Ubuntu-Restricted-Extras is in place too but you have to know that in the first place. Even so, unexpected behaviours like Palimpsest seeing every partition on a disk as a different drive and SIL Raid mappings being seen for hard drives that used to live on the main home PC that bit the dust earlier this year; it only happens on one of the machines that I have running Ubuntu so it may be hardware thing and newly added hard drive uses none of the SIL mapping either. Perhaps more seriously (is it something that a new user should be encountering?), a misfiring variant of Brasero had me moving to K3b. Then UFRaw was sluggish in batch but that’s nothing that having a Debian VM won’t overcome. Rough edges like these do get you asking if 9.10 was ready for the big time while making you reluctant to recommend it to mainstream users like my brother.

The counterpoint to the above is that 9.10 includes a host of under the bonnet changes like the introduction of Ext4 hard drive formatting, Xsplash to allow the faster system loading to occur unseen and GNOME 2.28. To someone looking in from outside like me, that looks like a lot of work and might explain the ingress of the annoyances that I have seen. Add to that the fact that we are between Debian releases so things like the optimised packaging of ImageMagick or UFRaw may not be so high up the list of the things to do, especially with the more general speed optimisations that were put in place for 9.10. With 10.04 set to be an LTS release so I’d be hoping that consolidation is the order of the day over the next five or six months but it seems to be the inclusion of new features and other such progress that get magazine reviewers giving higher ratings (Linux Format has given it a mark of 9 out of 10). With the mooted inclusion of GNOME 3 and its dramatically different interface in 10.10, they should get their fill of that. However, I’d like to see some restraint for the take of a smooth transition from the familiar GNOME 2.x to the new. If GNOME 3 stays very like its alpha builds, then the question as how users will take to it arises. Of course, there’s some time yet before we see GNOME 3 and, having seen how the Ubuntu developers transformed GNOME 2.28, I wouldn’t be surprised if the impact of any change could be dulled.

In summary, my few weeks with Ubuntu 9.10 as my main OS have thrown up no major roadblocks that would cause me to look at moving elsewhere; Fedora would be tempting if that situation were to arise. The irritations that I have seen are more like signs of a lack of polish and remain peripheral to day-to-day working if you discount CD/DVD burning. To be honest, there always have been roughnesses in Ubuntu but has the lack of sizeable change spoilt us? Whatever about how things feel afterwards, big changes can mean new problems to resolve and inspire blog posts describing any solutions so it’s not all bad. If that’s what Canonical wants to see, they might get it and the year ahead looks as if it is going to be an interesting one after a recent quieter period.

64-bit Firefox plugins?

My laptop has both Windows Vista and Ubuntu on there with WUBI being the facilitator of the peaceful coexistence. However, what I either forgot or never realised was that it was the 64-bit variant of Ubuntu 9.04 that has found its way onto the thing. For the most part, it works well but there is one catch that I recently encountered: not every Firefox plugin or add-on is 64-bit compatible. Google Gears is one such example but other very useful and pervasive helpers have the same affliction. RealPlayer is one and Adobe’s Flash is another. Apparently, you can still download the 32-bit release versions and use nspluginwrapper to get them going. That worked for RealPlayer but seemingly not for Flash; more investigation may be needed on that one. Other remedies like using 32-bit Firefox (if it runs, of course) or alpha versions of what Adobe offers can be tried too. It almost goes without saying that I’d wish that there was more awareness of the 64-bit Linux world but I remain glad to have met this rough edge before taking the plunge with my main system.

Update 2014-01-24: It looks as if this problem has gone away now with the growth in maturity of 64-bit computing. Certainly, it does not rear its head on any 64-bit Linux distro that I have used or even Windows, apart perhaps from ensuring that you are using the right JRE for a browser (32-bit or 64-bit).

Firefox 3, RealPlayer, Ubuntu and BBC’s iPlayer

With the record attempt due today for Firefox 3 downloads, I thought that it would be a good time for me to update my advice for getting BBC’s iPlayer going in Firefox running on Ubuntu. First, you need RealPlayer 11 for Linux. Once downloaded, the file RealPlayer11GOLD.bin needs to be made executable before running it with administrative privileges. The following command do this:

chmod +x RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

sudo ./RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

There is a catch though and it is that while the RealPlayer 11 installation is seamless for Firefox 2, the same cannot be said for Firefox 3 because directory locations have been changed such plugins are now found in /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins. The result that copies of or symbolic links to nphelix.xpt and nphelix.so are needed in that location. The following commands do the trick:

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.xpt /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.xpt

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.so /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.so

To cap all of this, I have seen advice that libtotem-complex-plugin.so needs to be removed from the Firefox plugins directory as well. I am not sure about this but I did that and all is working well for me. Let’s hope that continues to be the case.

Getting BBC iPlayer going on Ubuntu

Following on from my earlier musings of the subject, I finally have got the BBC’s iPlayer going on my Ubuntu set up. To do this, I needed to get my hands on the plug-in files nphelix.so and nphelix.xpt. Once that was done (more on how I did that later), I popped the former into /usr/lib/firefox/plugins, the latter into /usr/lib/firefox/components and restarted Firefox. I think that a system restart might have helped me too, even if it was done another reason. The files themselves were culled from the RealPlayer folder populated by the installer (realplay-10.0.9.809-linux-2.2-libc6-gcc32-i586.bin was what I used) that I had downloaded from the Helix Community website; the plugin files were found in the mozilla subfolder under RealPlayer.

BBC iPlayer

Another thing that I did was to fire Alacarte, Gnome’s menu editor and add Configuration Editor (also known as GConf, I believe) to the System tools submenu on the Applications menu. Once added to the menu, I fired up the said application. Navigating to desktop>gnome>url-handlers>rtsp, I changed the command to realplay "%s". I don’t know if this helps but it certainly was no hindrance and I got the result that I wanted and in high quality audio too.

Gnome Configuration Editor