Installing WiFi Drivers in Debian 7 Wheezy

Debian has set up a Wifi drivers page to help users install drivers for their devices. I have a Realtek WiFi adapter in my laptop and this page helped me install drivers with in minutes. There is a list of different WiFi devices with the name of their manufacturers and model numbers. Identify your device from the list, there is a help page link next to device names with further instructions on how to install drivers. Follow the instructions, it is possible that you will have to restart your system after installing the drivers.

Debian Wheezy Banner

Ubuntu 12.04 vs Debian 7

This weekend I had some extra time so I decided to get back to my old hobby of trying new Linux distributions. I stopped using Linux altogether because on my previous jobs I had to work on Windows. My new job gives me the freedom to use whatever operating system I like. So yesterday, I installed Ubuntu 12.04. The installation was smooth like always, Ubuntu correctly detected all the hardware and installed drivers for them. With in less than an hour I was on the beautiful Ubuntu desktop.

Screenshot of Ubuntu Desktop

I am not a fan of Ubuntu’s unity interface. I didn’t like the dasher as it occupied lots of screen space. I think user interface designers should understand that people read right to left so a menu bar on right is very distracting for people who mostly work on the web. People like me, don’t really need a menu that big. I tried to auto-hide dasher which worked but it was not that sensitive to the pointer. I also hated that in this open source operating system, my desktop search feature is showing me results for paid apps. After trying Ubuntu for a while, I decided that I don’t like it.

I decided to try Debian and instead of stable I went for testing version of Debian Wheezy which is the next Debian release. Debian has recently announced release candidate 1 for Wheezy which means it is pretty stable now. I downloaded the DVD image and burned it. Like always, Debian installer was quick, smooth and ugly. It is very ugly, and if you didn’t know Debian you would feel that you are installing an ancient operating system. It works very nicely and its pretty straight forward but I think they should improve its looks before the final release.

During the installation Debian Installer detected my network and informed me that it does not have drivers for my Realtek wireless adapter but since I was installing from DVD the installation continued without network connection. After the installation when I logged on to Debian desktop my first impression was, wow!

Screenshot of Debian Desktop

Debian Wheezy uses Gnome 3 and it looks very pretty. Prettier than Ubuntu and if you are like me and like simpler interfaces then you would say that it is prettier than Windows 8 too. Debian also has a dasher but it is hidden under Activities button which is like Start button in Windows. Unlike Ubuntu’s dasher, Gnome3 gets out of the way and lets you do whatever you want. There is no link to some cloud based service and there are no unwanted search results in dasher for paid apps. Debian does not want to use your desktop to sell anything. So when you search for an app it shows you the app you are looking for which makes it faster than Ubuntu and Windows 8.

Another great thing about Debian is that it comes with more free apps pre-installed than Ubuntu or Windows8. And since Linux apps are usually smaller in size and less resource incentive, these apps don’t take much space and work out of the box. There is Gimp and Inkscape both preinstalled in Debian Wheezy.

Debian dektop applications menu

The only apps I downloaded were Google Chrome and VLC media player. Google Chrome is based on open source software but it is not free software (free as in freedom). So it can not be included into Debian, same goes for Firefox which imposes trademark restrictions and hence is not included into Debian. Debian comes with IceWeasel web browser which is based on Firefox but compliant with GNU philosophy.

Overall, I would say that Debian outshines Ubuntu by functionality, openness and stability but thats just my opinion. I will be using Windows 8 and Debian for the time being. I will keep an eye on Ubuntu but I highly doubt that Ubuntu will ever get better again. It will keep getting shinier and glossy but it does not feel free to me any more.

Trying Debian Lenny

Debian’s latest stable release Lenny arrived on Valentine’s day. Previously, I installed Debian using the net-install CD. This time Debian has made it easier, now you can download a single CD and install a fully functional Debian GNU linux with Gnome Desktop Environment. This CD or DVD is the first CD or DVD in the set. Debian Lenny is very easy to install in both text mode or a Graphical installer. The disk partition portion of the graphical installer was a little difficult for me to get familiar with but after a little difficulty I finally got it working. After that installation went smooth, it automatically detected all hardware and Internet settings and I logged into the same old Gnome desktop.

But the system you log on after the installation is very basic. It has two web browsers Epiphany and IceWeasel but it does not have Synaptic package manager. I am comfortable using apt but I prefer synaptic because I am lazy. This single CD install method does not install Open Office and Gimp. I decided to download the software I needed. But when I tried to install them from root terminal I got errors. After some troubleshooting I found that Lenny’s graphical installer installs packages not from the latest stable release but from debian-volatile. What is Volatile?

Some packages aim at fast moving targets, such as spam filtering and virus scanning, and even when using updated data patterns, they do not really work for the full time of a stable release. The main goal of volatile is allowing system administrators to update their systems in a nice, consistent way, without getting the drawbacks of using unstable, even without getting the drawbacks for the selected packages. So debian-volatile will only contain changes to stable programs that are necessary to keep them functional.

After changing the sources.list I installed Synaptic package manager and after that I will make a list of software I need to install. I will be downloading VLC media player, Urdu fonts, Pidgin, Gimp and Open Office. I am also thinking about installing Firefox but I am not too sure about it. I feel that Firefox is no more a lightweight web browser. It is heavy, slow and does not match the Desktop environment. I am forcing myself to like Epiphany web browser.

If you are an Ubuntu user trying Lenny, then remember that Debian uses a package called locales for dealing with National or native language support. If you did not add your language during the installation then you can run dpkg-reconfigure locales from root terminal to reconfigure locales.

If you are trying to write in Urdu language on Debian lenny and characters do not join correctly then you should replace the default Urdu keyboard layout ‘pk’ (found in /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/ ) with this one. I have filed a bug report for this error and hope it will get fixed.

I also tried LXDE on Debian and I am very excited about testing it on an old computer.

Bring Me Back To Freedom

Google Chrome arrived and I had to log on MS Windows to see how it works. I am so impressed that I don’t really feel like going back to Ubuntu and use Firefox. I have installed Windows Vista, which has Aero theme. I use Chrome and the world is beautiful again.

Honestly, I don’t like Microsoft Windows much. Previously I had trouble getting it configured for my internet, graphics and audio settings. It is just too much work with windows, I thought. But may be I was a little bit too biased towards freedom. I had this feeling that I am a software freedom fighter, I can not use Windows. But I am starting to think differently now.

If I use Windows I have Aero which looks 10 times better than Gnome with compiz and it has Google Chrome which is faster than Firefox and works like a charm.

These new things make me feel good. The graphics aren’t ugly, I have the same visual effects on Ubuntu too but they don’t look that good. Gnome’s interface that I have loved so much, now looks childish and boring. The simplicity has gone to a point where it feels like an insult to the human intelligence.

The windows are too big they take a lot of screen space. The fonts are ugly. Definitely Ubuntu has better support for Urdu Language but Vista is not that bad either. Using Vista I can use the new VLC media player that uses QT and has good looking interface.

I tried searching the Gnome website to see if they have any plans to give me something thats more beautiful than Mac OS X, Vista and KDE4. But I don’t think they have any plans to bring something modern and new for at least a few more decades. I can go for KDE4, and I did. I tried it with opensuse. But it crashed so often and after a week of trial I gave up. I tried KDE4 on ubuntu and the result was the same.

Developers at Gnome should think about improving their simplicity. Give me an intelligent user interface that is smarter than me. Give me better fonts. Don’t fill my screen with thick windows, fat buttons, and king size Icons. The KDE folks if they read it, please make it available for Ubuntu and make rock solid. Every body hates to see the crash handler poping up now and then. and I want VLC with QT ASAP.

Please bring me back to the free world. Please bring something exciting and modern.
BTW, after finishing this post I am going to try KDE for windows and see how it works. It might be unstable like hell but I want to do try it anyways.

Note: I haven’t completely switched to Windows yet. I am just jealous.

Video Collection Managers

I was looking for something to help me manage my movies collection. Ubuntu comes with many collection manager applications. In this post I will talk about three of them.

GCstar

Predecessor of Gcfilms which is not developed any more. GCstar is not just a movie manager. Basically it is a collection manager to manage your movies, music, games, books, etc. It is a GTK/Perl application and blends well with in Ubuntu. It has many features that you would want from your personal collection manager and then a few more. For example:

  • When you add a new item to your collection you can search and retrieve information about that item from the internet with just one click.
  • You can import your collection data from other catalog or collection managers such as Alexander, DVD Profiler, Ant Video Manager, tellico, etc.
  • GCstar also allows you to export your data in CSV, HTML, LATEX, SQL, .tar.gz, tellico and XML formats. I particularly loved the way it exports the in HTML format. The default templates are quite good and the page generated is good enough to be uploaded to a web server. See my sample list.
  • You can locate the video file on your hard disk and play it.

GCstar Screenshot

Griffith

Griffith is a simple media collection manager. It does not have as many features as GCstar but it is good enough to maintain a list of your collection. Just like GCstar it can fetch information from the internet, retrieve thumbnail posters from the web. Griffith can export the collection in PDF, HTML, iPOD, CSV and XML formats. I didn’t like the PDF it generated which was just a simple list with the title of the movies. I liked the HTML page it generated which had the links to the imdb pages for the movies, poster thumbnails and a few other details. See my sample list

There were a few little things that I didn’t like about Griffith. First of all Griffith does not have a play button. Which means if I have my collection of movies saved on my hard disk there is no way I can play the movie from inside the Griffith. Secondly, I can not understand how to add my own tags to the movies.

Tellico

Tellico is a collection manager for KDE. It has all the features of GCstar and then some more. It can be used to manage your collections of books, games, movies, coins, stamps, wine, files, etc. You can import GCstar and Griffith data into tellico. You can also import and export data in various other formats (See my tellico sample list). Tellico beats GCstar with the “Search and Add” option. Using this option you can search the web for an item, fetch the information, add it, and then keep searching for other items to be added. This makes adding items to tellico faster than GCstar.

Definitely Tellico wins with a clear margin for its intutive approach to manage, display, import, export, search, retrieve and manipulate data. But since I use Ubuntu with Gnome Desktop environment I would stick to GCstar.

Whats New in Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron (Beta)

Today I downloaded and installed Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron Beta version. There are several new things in this upcoming Ubuntu version. First of all it is a long term support version, which means that if you install it you will receive support and updates for up to three years and that will be totally free and no Genuine Advantage icon would ever bother you.

Ubuntu is not just free, it is better too. As I mentioned in my earlier post that Windows XP and Vista fail to detect my hardware during a default installation. Ubuntu detects and configures all my hardware in the default installation. With Ubuntu Feisty I wasn’t able to use amazing visual effects. I had to apply a hack to do that and even then the effects were not at all plea sent. But now, Ubuntu Hardy Heron takes full advantage of my hardware and compiz effects are enabled by default and they work fantastic.

Compiz Visual Effects in Ubuntu

This new version of Ubuntu has Firefox 3 Beta 4 installed as default web browser. This was my first time trying Firefox 3. I didn’t like the way it suggests URI’s as I type something in the address bar and I can not install Google’s browser sync plugin, I hope there is a work around to get it working. But for the first time Firefox looked like a well integrated part of Ubuntu.

There is a new tool called “Hardware Testing” accessible from Applications > System Tools. This little wizard attempts to detect your hardware, prepares a report and you can then send this report with your launchpad email address. I think it is a great way to collect information about user hardware and help them troubleshoot common problems.

Hardy Heron also has a new tool to manage “Passwords and Encryption Keys”. Which helps you create and manage your PGP and SSH keys, cache your pass phrases and encrypt/decrypt your clipboard content.

The Language support for Urdu remains like it was in previous version. I had to go through a well practised procedure to enable my computer for Urdu. It is quite easy for me to do that but for new Ubuntu users it is still difficult. I wish that Ubuntu makes ttf-Nafess (already available in the main repository) installed by default and the Urdu/Pakistan keyboard layout should be replaced by this one. The default Ubuntu Urdu/Pakistan keyboard layout has its keys placed differently and new users find it difficult to use and eventually they replace it with the one I mentioned above.

The release notes mentioned Inkscape, which made me and others believe that it would be installed by default. But it is not installed by default in this beta version. It may be available by default in the final release. The final stable version will be available in April 2008.

Overall I am very pleased with Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron Beta, I used Dapper for a very long time and I loved it. I hope that Hardy will be even better than the Dapper and will help me convert more people to freedom.

More screenshots:

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron Screenshot

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy World Time Applet

Installing Debian from Ubuntu Hard Disk Installation

Installing Debian From Ubuntu or any other GNU/Linux

This post is about how to install Debian GNU Linux from your hard disk, with the help of your Ubuntu GNU Linux operating system and without using CDrom, floppy, or any other removable media.

I learned that when I was trying to install Debian and had no other way to run the installation media. My DVDrom was broke, USB boot didn’t work and I had no other computer to run a network install. My only option was to install Debian from Ubuntu. This installation method is called hard disk install.

Instructions to perform a hard disk install are available on the official Debian Installer Manual (Debian Installer Manual’s instructions are not Ubuntu specific but it does not matter). I would just try to make it a little more simpler. Please note that there are many other ways to do this, it will be a good idea to review other methods before trying this one.

Important: Please backup all your data before trying this method.

In this example we are trying to install Debian 7 aka Wheezy also known as Debian 7 on amd64 architecture. If you want to install a different architecture, like i386 then you need to browse the same debian repository to find these files for i386. Also note, that even though we are installing Debian Wheezy, which is the current stable release, you can install debian testing or even Debian Lenny (previous version of Debian) using the same method.

So for Debian Wheezy on 64bit computers (most modern notebooks and desktop computers are 64bit. If your machine has multi core processor then it is 64bit, if you are unsure then try i386), You need to download:

The first two files will load the debian installer, and the third file is a CD image or installation media which will install rest of the packages during the installation. Place these three files in /boot/newinstall directory.

Preparing Boot Loader – Grub2

If you are installing from Ubuntu 9.10 or later versions, then you have Grub 2 installed as the default boot loader. Edit grub.cfg file located in /boot/grub/. In grub.cfg file you will find a menuentry for your current linux distro. below this entry you will find a line set root=(hd0,msdos1) or something similar. You need to have that line in the menu entry you are going to paste for new install. Lets add a new menu entry to grub to boot Debian installer from it.


menuentry 'New Install' {
insmod part_msdos
insmod ext2
set root='(hd0,msdos1)'
linux /boot/newinstall/vmlinuz
initrd /boot/newinstall/initrd.gz
}

Preparing Boot Loader – Grub1 or Grub Legacy

Now If you have Grub1 installed on your other operating system then open Grub menu.lst located at /boot/grub/menu.lst with your favorite text editor.

Scroll down until you see something like this:


title Ubuntu 7.10, kernel 2.6.22-14-generic
root (hd0,6)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.22-14-generic root=UUID=3599efe8-de32-4c9f-aed1-33c1c61d4bdf ro quiet splash
initrd /boot/initrd.img-2.6.22-14-generic
quiet

Note the root (hd0,6) line this is the partition where your Ubuntu is installed. It could be different for you depending your partition location. And now, we are going to boot Debian Installer from here. Add the following lines to your Grub menu.lst file.

title New Install
kernel (hd0,6)/boot/newinstall/vmlinuz
initrd (hd0,6)/boot/newinstall/initrd.gz

Now save the file and reboot your computer and you will see Grub showing you “New Install” as an option in the menu. Select it to boot Debian Installer and install it.

There is a similar way to install Ubuntu from a GNU/Linux based operating system. You can also Install Ubuntu, Debian and many other Linux distributions from Windows or anyother operating system by using UNetbootin. To be very honest, I am kind of surprised to find out so many ways to install free open source operating systems on my computer.

Ubuntu Linux: Subtitles, Video Editing and DVD Authoring

Translating movie subtitles is my new hobby. I had no previous knowledge of what subtitles are, how they are embedded in a DVD movie, how to rip them off, how to create new subtitles, and then finally how to prepare a DVD with translated subtitles that could be played on most popular software, hardware and standalone DVD players. I found out that it was not an easy job to embed UTF-8 encoded text on DVD as a separate subtitle stream. So I decided to hardsub my movie, which means that users will not have the option to turn off the Urdu subtitles.



First I needed to rip the DVD to my hard disk and there are some very good tools available for Ubuntu Linux that work great. (Warning: As always, check the relevant copyright laws for your country regarding the backup of DVDs). I used dvd::rip which rips and transcodes the files into avi format. It also provides the option to rip the subtitles separately, but since most DVD movies has subtitles embedded in streams with Pictures it was basically useless for me. However there are other tools that rip the subtitles and also help you save them as text using OCR.

There are many tools available for Ubuntu/Linux to create or translate subtitles in many different formats. I needed to figure out a Subtitle format that supports utf-8. Then I needed to find a software that allows me to embed the subtitles on the Video without any significant quality loss. After trying Subtitle Editor, Gnome Subtitles, Gaupol and Ksubtitle; I finally settled on Subtitle Editor. I had lots of trouble to use the preview features but some how I worked my out. I started working on subtitles and was very disappointed to find out that the preview didn’t display Urdu characters perfectly. Even though the subtitle format I was using had formatting and stylizing support too.

I decided to work on my subtitles without previewing them but even then I need to know if I have the tools available that would demux my subtitles on the video. Luckily we have a very nice dvdauthor tool available. It comes with a tool called Spumux. I generated a movie with my sample translated subtitles and the results were very bad. The quality of video was outstanding but Spumux didn’t displayed Urdu Characters correctly. May be, it was all my fault, may be I forgot something. But even after hours of checking through subtitles, xml file (required to use with spumux to tell it about the job) and creating many clips; I wasn’t able to get my text right.

I was disappointed and had to log on to Windows XP to see if there are any open source software for windows that do what I wanted to do. While there, I opened Windows Movie Maker, playing little with it I realized that I can add Subtitles with Windows Movie Maker. Windows Movie Maker not only did the subtitles but it also displayed them beautifully on the screen. I saved the clip and it was brilliant. But then it occured to me that if Windows Movie Maker can do this then there must be some alternate to it for Ubuntu Linux.

So lets see what we got in Linux to do the job. For video editing I tried Kino, Cinelera, and LiVES. To be very honest, it was a really very frustrating experience for me to figure out how these tools work. Kino is probably the most user friendly of all three but still Kino is a difficult thing to learn and you definitely can not work with it if you are working on an entire movie. It is good for movies you capture using your mobile phone, cam corder or other such devices. Even if I saved my movies in several small clips, it was difficult to navigate around my storyboard and add subtitles on a precise location. I wouldn’t spend time telling you about how it went with Cinelera or Lives. They both have horrible user interfaces and they are bundled with features that were completely useless for me.

In short I failed to add subtitles to my videos using Ubuntu Linux. I am now doing it on MS Windows XP, using Aegisub
and some other little open source or free applications. Aegisub is available for Linux but I was not able to install it on my Ubuntu 7.10 due to unmatched dependencies. I feel that the options for video editing are not very good for Ubuntu/Linux users. The tools we have are not user-friendly, advanced and there is not much to choose from.

Even if I failed to do my work with these tools but it does not mean that they are useless for every one else too. In fact some of them are quite sophisticated and as it is with most open source applications, they give you a lot more control than proprietary solutions. What we need to do is to concentrate more on improving them. We need to use these software, file bug reports, submit feature requests and help each other using these tools. We need to appreciate all those who are working on these projects (Guys if you are reading this, your tools didn’t help me. But thank you anyways). May be the community should organize some events where we gather around to focus on these tools and improve them.