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As the winter draws in, it’s time for wrap up warm with some open source goodness, as the October 29th release date of Ubuntu‘s latest version, Karmic Koala, draws near. So, let’s take a look at what’s new!
Running the installer from the Live CD is the same user-friendly set up that Ubuntu always has. Although in addition to drive encryption that came in with the last version, there is now an added option to format your hard drive with the new Ext4 file system, a new version of Linux’s native file format.
Once the installer gets running, you get to watch a presentation of screens telling you all the key features of the operating system. This something Windows has had for years, and is a great idea to educate new users on just what they can do with Ubuntu.
Ubuntu's new informative installer
Once you’re into the Ubuntu desktop, everything will be familiar if you’ve used previous versions. Although, you can see straight away a fresh set of icons have been used, and the default wallpaper is much brighter than previous versions.
Browsing the applications and system menus gives you a view of the key new features to Karmic.
The default IM application has been switched from the long-standing Pidgin, to a new but very similar application called Empathy. I expect few users will really notice the difference here.
Ubuntu's new IM client, Empathy
In the applications menu, you will find the “Ubuntu Software Center”. Desktop Linux distributions have long had software to deliver applications to you. Ubuntu’s has been the “Synaptic Package Manager”. Although Software Centre gives you a far more user friendly interface. The distinction of having a single section named “Free software” hints at Cannonical’s long term goals of being able to deliver commercial software to the Ubuntu desktop. This is a boon for developers. Until now, Linux’s repository method of delivering software has been a mixed blessing for them. The aspiration of new developers is to get their work into as many repositories as possible. However, commercial developers have shied away from this because Linux repositories have offered little opportunity for generating an income.
The Ubuntu Software Center
Confusingly, there is another existing application called “Add/Remove Applications” alongside the Synaptic Package Manager in the System/Administration menu. This appears to offer the same software set as Synatpic does, although again with a better user interface, including popularity ratings.
Ubuntu's Add/Remove Applications window
Finally, we have the addition of “Ubuntu One”, Cannonical’s other embryonic software as a service. Ubuntu One is a Dropbox like service (utilising Amazon S3), available to all Ubuntu users. For free, everyone gets 2GB of storage, but this can be expanded to 50GB for $10 (US) a month, although I couldn’t find where you are meant to authenticate your account. You can also access your files via the web and share specific files and folders with specific individuals. The eventual aim is that you will be able to synchronise all of your application settings across multiple Ubuntu computers. This is a promising service, but from my own research I have yet to find any information about privacy and encryption, which are essential to me for any on-line storage service. On the other hand, the Cannonical deserve kudos for finding innovative ways to generate more income from their desktop operating system.
Ubuntu's "Ubuntu One" cloud storage running.
You can find more screen shots at my Ubuntu 9.10 Flickr gallery.
If all of this has caught your interest, then go Get Ubuntu!
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S60 & Linux
I have had another article published on AllAboutSymbian.com. This time I wrote about how to maintain connectivity between your phone and computer after switching from Windows to Linux.
This is based on my own experience after switching exclusively to Ubuntu Linux, and having spent time working out how to still support my mobile phone.
Topics covered include: how to back up files, transfer photos, synchronise your music and connect to the internet via your phone.
If you’d like to read it, here’s the link:
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If you were following the tech news last week, hopefully you’ll have heard about the surge in leaked and phished passwords from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo. CNET UK covered it twice.
This brings up the thorny issue of how to effectively manage all of your passwords. Some people have one strong password they use everywhere, others will do this but append something for each site. Other people, who frankly scare me, use simple things like “password”, “12345″, “67890″, etc.
What exactly is a strong password? The more random and unpredictable a password is, the stronger it is. In other words, predictable passwords are easy to remember, and easy to crack.
Randomly flaying your fingers at the keyboard will generate a random block of text. Although, you need to recall this random text sometimes, but how? You could keep them all in a file, but this is no good, because if someone gets that file, you’re sunk (same goes for paper records). Even if you use a password manager which keeps your passwords in an encrypted file, they’re still there in a file, which if obtained, could be decrypted by brute force.
The Password Maker Firefox add-on.
A while ago, I listened to Floss Weekly interviewing Eric Jung from the Foxy Proxy project. During the interview, his involvement with a free and open source project called Password Maker was mentioned. Password Maker works by generating a cryptographic hash of both the domain of the website you’re logging into and a master password of your choosing. Thus creating a different piece of pseudo-random text for every website you use. There are lots more settings so that you can finely tune what goes into the password, but don’t worry about those just now.
To put it simply, you never have to find or recover your passwords, because they’re never stored, they’re just generated for you when you need access to them.
The best way to use Password Maker is in the form of a Firefox add-on. However, if you’re away from home, or whatever, there is an on-line version and a mobile browser version, which you can even install on your own website, if you have one. This best security aspect of this is that your master password isn’t stored, and the hashing algorithm is already open, so there’s nothing to hack.
If any one of your site passwords are compromised, it is easy to create a new one by using a new master password. Furthermore, so that you’re not having to remember different master passwords for different sites, I would take one compromised password as an excuse to change ALL of your passwords. Changing your passwords is inconvenient when you have a lot of accounts on the web, but Password Maker makes it easier to get into the habit, especially with the Firefox add-on.
The recent news pushed me into finally doing this, although I had been putting it off due to the fear of trying to make it work with my mobile browser. Although thanks to Opera Mini 5 now supporting text selection and tabbed browsing, the mobile browser version is a viable method for advanced password management on your phone.
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