Linux Format Newsletter -- #49, May 2009

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #49, May 2009

Postby M-Saunders » Thu Jun 25, 2009 2:15 pm





1. Welcome

2. LXF 120 on sale

3. In the news...

4. This month on the forum

5. Special Newsletter feature

6. Coming up next issue

7. Receiving this Newsletter

8. Contact details

1. Welcome

There's a fascinating (and typically passionate) debate going on at
OSNews right now - - about the structure of the
Linux filesystem. Specifically, why do we hang on to the Filesystem
Hierarchy Standard (FHS), wherein programs are scattered all over
the disk rather than kept in one neat place? Historical inertia no
doubt comes into play, but a design grounded in the 1970s may not be
so appropriate today. I don't know if it'll lead to any drastic
changes in Linux, but it's good to have these discussions.

Meanwhile, read on for a look at the latest issue of Linux Format
(120), roundups of the hottest news stories and forum threads, plus
a special feature on the magic behind /etc/alternatives. Enjoy!

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. LXF 120 on sale

Unless you've been living in a cave on one of Jupiter's moons for
the last few weeks, you won't have missed the release of Ubuntu 9.04
(aka the Jaunty Jackalope). Whether you love or hate Ubuntu - or
just feel mild apathy towards it - there's no question that a new
release of the distro is a huge event in the Linux world. We look
back and forwards at Ubuntu's 10th release, review it and speak to
Mark Shuttleworth.

On the LXFDVD we have an exclusive, enhanced version of Ubuntu with
extra packages (Xfce, KDE, apps, coding tools etc.) galore - and if
you don't want KDE, you can remove it with a simple script. Plus,
the DVD dual-boots with newbie's favourite Mandriva 2009 Spring, and
we also have 200 pages of guides from Apress along with TuxRadar
podcasts and stacks of software.

Also in this issue: the muscle inside Intel's Nehalem chips, version
control systems on test, how to organise your music with Picard and
tutorials on Basket, automation, app serving, Python
and Asterisk. Here's one of the tasty open source treats from our
HotPicks section:

# DiscWrapper 1.2.0 --

Mix tapes may seem like a distant memory, but their spirit lives
on in today's playlists. Creating a custom CD of those playlists
can also be useful, although that comes with the inherent
confusion of scribbling track listings onto your CD. Wouldn't it
be great if we could bypass that by creating neat jewel case
labels to list our tracks on, as well as something we could print
on the surface of the DVD itself?

DiscWrapper aims to be the soothing balm to this very itch,
enabling you to design and print jewel case inserts for both CD
and DVD cases. Once you get into the program, the interface is
very simple: all you have is a blank canvas with a number of tabs
at the bottom, some buttons along the left-hand side and a few
along the top. Underwhelming isn't the word we'd use here, but
it's certainly streamlined. The tabs represent the different areas
of the case you can work on; you may see entries here for the
front, inside, back and disc, depending on the template you choose
to work with.

Meanwhile, those buttons along the left hand side are the
formatting icons, and the palette changes to reflect what you're
working on. For instance, should you insert a graphic, you'll get
options to change the size of the graphic, or change its order
within the canvas. A basic clipart-a-like library is also
included, or there's the option to insert one-off graphics.

When you get the CD label itself, DiscWrapper cleverly curves the
text so that it bends around the CD rather than in a straight
line, but you can toggle this off if you prefer. DiscWrapper also
uses metatags to keep your title and date fields consistent across
your project - as you update the title on one tab, it
automatically updates all other Title tags in your project.
Although the interface is pretty basic, DiscWrapper is focused
well on what it's designed to be: a simple applications to help
you solve one of life's little niggles.

Head over to the LXF website and click on the right-hand issue cover
picture for more information on Linux Format 120.

3. In the news

The biggest developments around the net...

# KOffice 2.0 is here, sort of

It's been a long time coming, but KOffice 2.0 has finally arrived.
But before you rush off to grab the brand-spanking-new KDE office
suite, heed these words from the developers: "This release is mainly
aimed at developers, testers and early adopters. It is not aimed at
end users, and we do not recommend Linux distributions to package it
as the default office suite yet." It looks like the KOffice team
have learned some lessons from the KDE 4.0 release - don't make a
big deal of a major version number bump if there's still a lot of
functionality to be implemented.

# Linux Mint 7 gloriously released ... y-released

If you like your Ubuntu green and with loads of extra add-ons,
you'll be chuffed to bits with Linux Mint 7, codenamed Gloria.
Highlights include a new 'suggestions' feature in the mintMenu panel
that tries to guess what you want to do. There's also a "featured
applications" panel in mintInstall that lists useful apps that you
might not have heard of, while mintUpdate can now show changelogs
from Mint-specific packages, and not just Ubuntu.

# Canonical working on Android app compatibility

Google Android is set to be one of the dominant mobile operating
systems in the near future, and the busy coders at Canonical are
working on a way to run Android apps in normal Linux environments.

4. This month on the forum

'mm2ps' had a question about Linux performance, wondering why many
desktop Linux distros require 256MB or more just to install. We
certainly remember how much was possible on an Amiga 1200 with 2MB
of RAM, so it's not surprising that users wonder where all the
memory goes. AndyBaxman noted that he could still run Ubuntu on
his relatively ancient 2001 Dell box, while nordle suggested
switching to LXDE to free up extra RAM. [1]

Are you a regular Starbucks visitor? ggreaves noted that his Linux
box wouldn't work when accessing the Starbucks website for a special
offer, yet Windows (using Firefox) did work. heiowge contacted the
company looking for an explanation, and received a reply stating
that the company was experiencing "access problems for Mac users and
those not using Internet Explorer, Firefox or Netscape". Brings us
back to the dark days of the early 2000s when loads of sites would
require Windows to use fully... [2]

[1] ... ic&t=10207

[2] ... ic&t=10068

5. Special Newsletter feature

THE MAGIC BEHIND /etc/alternatives

In some distros you'll find a folder called /etc/alternatives that
appears to be chock-full of commands. Look a little closer, though,
and you'll see that these are all symbolic links rather than actual
files -- in other words, they point to programs elsewhere in the

Open up a terminal and enter:

cd /etc/alternatives

If you see an error message it means that your particular distro
doesn't support this system. Ubuntu and Debian derivatives should
always have it though. If the command works, enter 'ls' to show the
files inside. You should see a wealth of light blue filenames,
indicating that they're links (pointers to other files) rather than
actual program binaries.

So, what do they all mean? Well, we all know that Linux is about
freedom, especially the freedom to choose which software you run.
You never want the operating system to make assumptions as to which
program you want to start in a particular situation.

For instance, there are various different incarnations of the Vi
text editor. There's ViM, the most well-known flavour, there's Nvi,
a version usually supplied with BSD variants of Unix, and there are
many others as well. When you enter plain old 'vi' at a command
prompt, how does the operating system know which version of the
editor you want to use?

Well, enter:

ls /usr/bin/vi

You'll see that /usr/bin/vi is a link to another file,
/etc/alternatives/vi. So enter:

ls /etc/alternatives/vi

On our Ubuntu test system, that points to /usr/bin/vi.tiny, although
it may vary on yours. But you can see how the OS provides a flexible
means to allow a variety of programs with the same purpose on your

What if you want to change it, though? Here's how you can find out
which alternatives are available for a command:

update-alternatives --display vi

This shows you the possible executable files you can link to
/etc/alternatives/vi -- in other words, what should be run when you
enter 'vi', Ignore the 'slave' bits; focus on the other lines with
'priority' in them. Say you want 'nvi' to be run when you enter
'vi'; you'd enter:

update-alternatives --set vi /usr/bin/nvi

So that's how the system works. There are many other files in
/etc/alternatives to explore -- and see the manual page ('man

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 121, on sale Thursday 25 June...

# Pick the perfect netbook -- We pit eight mini Linux
laptops head-to-head and find the ideal one for you

# Probe your security -- Our hands-on guide to finding
and fixing the most common Linux security holes

# Ulteo: the online desktop -- It's been a long time coming,
but Gael Duval's work is finally ready for the masses

Contents are subject to change, and may settle in transit.

7. Receiving this Newsletter

If you've been forwarded this Newsletter from someone else, and want
to sign up for future issues, just follow the steps below. Each
month you'll receive a sparkling new LXF Newsletter straight in your
Inbox, and the 30-second sign-up process is even easier than
getting on TV:

1. Go to the website forums and log in (or sign up first):
2. At the top of the main forum page, click on 'Usergroups'
3. Join the 'Newsletter' group, and you're done!

If for some reason you no longer wish to receive this newsletter
(which'll make the internet sad) you can opt-out like this:

1. Log into the LXF site and go to the forums
2. Click Usergroups at the top of the page
3. Select Newsletter and then View information
4. Click Unsubscribe next to 'You are a member...'

8. Contact details

If you have any questions or suggestions, please send them to the
Newsletter Editor at the address below:

Newsletter Editor: Mike Saunders --

Letters for the magazine:

LXF website:

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