A Few Xubuntu or XFCE or Linux Key Commands

These may or may not be common knowledge, but my top and bottom panels in Xubuntu disappeared on me and my contextual menu for the desktop didn’t work either. All of the open applications ran fine. I figured I would have to restart, since logging out wasn’t an option. However, I started poking around with some Control-Alt combinations and was delighted to find a few really important commands:

  • Control-Alt-Delete: Locks the screen, maybe turns on screen saver. (mine’s set to ‘blank’)
  • Control-Alt-Backspace: Log out of current user.
  • Control-Alt-Escape: Force Quit via your cursor turning into ‘Skull and Crossbones’. Left-Click on a window to force quit any application. Right-Click to cancel.

P.S. I didn’t have to restart after all.

An ‘Eject iPod’ Button for Xubuntu (XFCE)

iPod Mini Silver

Using an iPod with Xubuntu is not as slick as using an iPod with Ubuntu. It will mount automatically just fine, but the right-click-unmount action doesn’t quite do the job. I had been using this routine for attaching/unattaching my iPod. Everything seemed to work fine, but I guess unmounting isn’t all that can be done. The ‘No Access’ flashing sign did not go away and change to the regular directory list on the iPod’s screen. The command to ‘Eject’ the iPod actually causes the screen of the iPod to go back to the list screen like it would after being unmounted in Ubuntu 6.06, OSX or Windows. This post is a brief description of how to make a button on the top panel of Xubuntu to avoid using the Terminal every time you want to thoroughly eject your iPod.

Xubuntu Program Launcher Setup Screen

  1. Right-click on the top panel (or whatever panel you’d like) and select ‘Add New Item’ and then select ‘Program Launcher’. You will get a screen like the one shown above.
  2. In the ‘Name’ box give the function a name like ‘Eject iPod’. Give a description if you like. In the ‘Command’ box type this:
    eject /dev/sda
  3. Make sure ‘Startup Notification’ and ‘Run in Terminal’ boxes are unchecked. Leave the generic icon for now. Hit ‘Close’.
  4. Now, simply hit that button when you are ready to disconnect your iPod and wait for the ‘No Access’ symbol to change to the iPod’s normal user interface before disconnecting.

If you really want to get fancy you can create your own icon for the mounted iPod and the new ‘Eject iPod’ button. (Actually, since I drew them I guess it’s my artwork, so I am making two iPod icons available for download. They are the Silver Mini shown above and a Black Nano. Help yourself. They were made with Inkscape and are SVG files.) This will make the purpose of the button unmistakable. To do this you must replace the file ‘multimedia-player.svg’ (you have to name your new icon that in order to work) in
/usr/share/icons/(name of icon theme)/scalable/devices/

Be sure to backup the original system icon before doing this. In order to move your custom icon to that folder you will need root privileges via the ‘sudo’ command and that means using the Terminal. First, save your custom icon onto the desktop as a plain .svg file with the name ‘multimedia-player.svg’.

Open the Terminal application and type the following:

sudo mv /home/(your user name)/Desktop/multimedia-player.svg(enter a space here)/usr/share/icons/(name of icon theme)/scalable/devices/

hit enter

Again, you will need to enter your password. ‘Sudo’ gives you short-term root priveledges, ‘mv’ stands for ‘move’ and the first directory is your new file, the second directory is the destination. Now right-click on the iPod Eject button, select ‘Properties’ and add “/usr/share/icons/(name of icon theme)/scalable/devices/multimedia-player.svg” to the icon input field to update it with your new icon.

Changing The Default Browser in Ubuntu (Debian-based) Linux

To get to the straight poop skip to the red text below.

I’m a web designer of sorts and I like to have a good variety of web browsers on whatever machine I’m using. At work I have a most excellent setup with OSX having Firefox, IE 5, Safari and Opera. Then I use Remote Desktop to run an XP box with IE 6 and Firefox. Between IE 6, Firefox (OSX and Windows) and Safari the bases are covered for a web designer who is trying to reach as broad a customer base as possible.

At home I mostly use my old Gateway Solo running Xubuntu 6.06. I have Firefox by default. Once upon a time this old laptop with an 8GB hard drive was dual bootable with Ubuntu and Windows 2000, but rebooting sucked. Maybe when I get the cash together to get a more powerful laptop I can use Qemu to run a virtual Windows machine to test IE. Anyway, for now I just wanted an additional browser that might show things a little differently. So I installed the Dillo browser that I had been introduced to with Damn Small Linux and Feather Linux. It will at least show me what happens when my style sheets don’t work. Dillo is really small and aside from resolving DNS addresses is very fast compared to our more graphically inclined browsers. So it works great. However this brings us to the title of this post.

After installing Dillo I soon noticed that any hyperlink that showed up in my e-mails in Thunderbird would now open in Dillo upon clicking them rather than Firefox. I didn’t really want to use Dillo that much. I went to Xubuntu’s ‘Preferred Applications’ and it insisted that Firefox was my ‘Preferred’ web browser. So I went to the internet to learn more. I found an excellent blog post on this very subject here: The Gnuru. You can read that blog post (and it looks like there are many more gems there as well) or you can continue with my attempt to simplify what you need to do. I will try to make it clear for those that might need a little more help.

So you need to switch your debian-based (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc.) Linux back to Firefox for default web browsing?

  1. Open the Terminal application (Applications/Terminal or Applications/Accessories/Terminal).
  2. After the ‘$’ sign in the terminal, type the following green text:
    sudo update-alternatives –(two dashes precede ‘config’ here. I just couldn’t get two dashes to display as two separate dashes for some reason.)-config x-www-browser

    Hit ‘Enter’. ‘sudo’ means that you are asking to do the following action with the root user’s priveledges. You will be asked for your password. The cursor will not move while you type the password. When done hit ‘Enter’ or ‘Return’.
  3. There will be some semi-legible text generated. Focus on the text similar to the picture shown below.
  4. terminal screen for x-browser default change

  5. At this point enter the number next to the browser that you want to be your default web browser and hit ‘Enter’ or ‘Return’. You will then most likely see the following output correlating with the browser you specified, not necessarily Firefox.
    Using `/usr/bin/firefox’ to provide `x-www-browser’.
    Just close the Terminal window when you’re done.

That’s all there is to it. Please let me know if my instructions were helpful.

Xubuntu 6.06 loses wireless device after install

Xubuntu 6.06 desktop
Last week the sluggishness of Ubuntu 5.1 on my Pentium II laptop aligned with the new release of Xubuntu 6.06 (and the rest of the Ubuntu family) lead me to wipe my hard drive clean and start over with a fresh install. Xubuntu 6.06 is a big improvement. I now have support for my sound card on this old laptop and Xubuntu is a very small install that’s relatively snappy and startup and shut down are faster as well. Exactly what I wanted.

The weird thing is that the LiveCD booted and my wireless card was up and running just fine. After the install my pcmcia card stopped working. Why it worked while booting from the cd but not from the fresh install seemed very odd. The ‘Network’ application only showed a modem device. eth0 was nowhere to be found. The problem, after a few hours worth of piddling around, reading and trying a reinstall (hoping that it was just an install glitch) turns out to be some sort of ‘clean up’ program that runs after the installation is complete. This clean up application removes files that were not needed for the installation or are biproducts of it. I can’t remember the name of it. Anyway, the issue is a ‘pcmcia-cs’ file that needs to be reinstalled. If the laptop you are using also has an ethernet plug, simply plug it in for internet, run Synaptic and search for ‘pcmcia-cs’. Install that file and your problems are solved. If, like me, you have an old, crappy laptop that DOESN’T have an ethernet port on it, find a computer with internet and download this file:
pcmcia-cs file

One of the cool features of the Ubuntu 6.06 family is the ability to double-click on .deb files and get the option to install it via Synaptic. Do that to the above file once you have it downloaded. You may have to restart to get your pcmcia support working. Of course, I have to say that I in no way guarantee that this action will correct your problem or that it will not have a negative effect on your system. That said, let me know if this solved your problem. It certainly solved mine.

Apart from that the new Xubuntu is a wonderful experience. Mounting my iPod Mini isn’t a problem, though it isn’t as cool as how it automounts and has a new iPod Nano icon in Ubuntu 6.06. Ubuntu has also improved how the iPod is unmounted to the point that the iPod screen actually returns from the ‘no access’ blinking screen to the iPod interface screen once it’s unmounted. In that regard Xubuntu is a little bit of a step back (but I fixed that issue), but the performance difference is entirely worth it. I was hoping to use Damn Small Linux or Feather Linux as my new system, but installing them to a hard drive turned out to have some problems that I certainly cannot resolve. Xubuntu is easy to install and customizing it with Synaptic is a breeze. Again, let me know if this helped repair your pcmcia functionality in Xubuntu 6.06.

Reconsidering OSX’s Text/Edit

Text/Edit preference pane

NOTE: The first paragraph is a rant about using commercial html editors. Continue to the second paragraph for the meat and potatoes.

As a web designer I prefer to work with a text editor that usually can assist me with the markup (Quanta Plus, BBEdit and the text editor side of Dreamweaver) but I also use plain vanilla text editors as well. I resist becoming dependent on an application like Dreamweaver. In the past I’ve made the mistake of becoming an expert in a specific application rather than understanding the details of what that application was doing. I think web design is a common victim of that evil. Dreamweaver is very powerful, makes complex things easy and from what I can tell is writing pretty good html these days. However, it is proprietary software and you must pay for it. Right now a full version of Dreamweaver is $399. That’s perfectly fine, but if I had $400 to spend, I’d probably buy a ‘newer’ laptop ๐Ÿ˜‰ More importantly, html is available for our uses for free. I like to think of it like a spoken language: It’s a part of our culture, there are different levels of knowledge about it and if you know it well it can be a very powerful tool of communication. No need for a liaison.

Whew, that was a long introduction! Let’s get down to brass tacks:
A lot of people don’t even know what Text/Edit is even though its name is self explanatory. A lot of other people complain about its default rich-text mode and how it saves ‘.rtf’ files. A few others hate that when you open html files it tries to read the html markup and show the appearance of the web page rather than the source (and very poorly at that). Well, this is all true. However it is also true that on the menu bar, under its name, is a link to Text/Edit’s preferences pane (hey, it took me two years to get around to going there). Go there now and apply the following changes:

  • New Document Attributes
    • Check ‘Plain text’
    • For editing html I recommend turning off ‘Wrap to Page’. You can always turn back on via the ‘Format’ menu.
  • Saving
    • Uncheck ‘Append “.txt” extension to plain text files

These changes turn Text/Edit back to a simple text editor that doesn’t interfere with what you are trying to do. Anybody remember SimpleText in OS9? Exactly. Aside from not having html markup assistance capabilities, or even the ability to apply color codes to html markup, Text/Edit works great. Remember that Text/Edit will no longer automatically add an extension to your files. Happy text editing!

Burning ISO files as boot disks with OSX

DiskUtility.app

So you’re interested in GNU/Linux as either an operating system to install or a ‘live CD’ to use for formatting and retrieving files from hard drives. Either way you will need to be able to download ‘.iso’ files and burn them to a cd in order to get anywhere. It doesn’t take many cd-coasters to realize that whatever method of disc burning you are using isn’t doing the trick.

I’ve yet to have a Linux-box that is recent enough to have a cd-burner and the PowerPC version of Ubuntu 5.1 that I have, although it works fine on the old iMac G3, doesn’t appear to work on the perhaps more sophisticated G5. So, the only experience I have at the moment is using OSX 10.3.9 to burn ISOs to disc. I sure couldn’t find a lot of information about doing this in OSX when I needed to know how.

  1. Download the .iso file that you are interested in. My first was actually a set of four or five Fedora Core 4 discs.
  2. Then in OSX go to ‘/Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility’ and open that application.
  3. In the menu go to ‘Images’ and click ‘Burn’.
  4. Browse to the .iso file that you wish to burn to disc and double-click.
  5. Insert blank CD-R disc and hit the ‘Burn’ button. I usually don’t bother with ‘Verify’ since you’ll know soon enough if it doesn’t work and generally there are few problems unless you have a janky internet connection that causes problems with your download. I take it that if you are downloading something like Fedora Core that you are on broadband and that you won’t have any problems.
  6. Insert the disk into the computer on which you’d like to install (You’ll have to set up your PC to boot from the CD drive via the BIOS settings. If your PC is too old to boot directly from a CD you will have a whole other beast on your hands.) and boot or reboot that machine to see the fruits of all of this labor.

That’s all there is to it. If you poke around a bit you will see that the Disk Utility application is a very powerful tool for creating iso files as well. However, I don’t have much use for all of those features. You are now on your way to the world of creating boot discs. No doubt you will have the envy of all of your friends.