Linux Format Newsletter -- #28, August 2007

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #28, August 2007

Postby M-Saunders » Mon Sep 24, 2007 1:59 pm





1. Welcome!

2. LXF 97 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!

A couple of days ago I was travelling on a Virgin Voyager train.
Now, those who've read the LXF Team Blog will know that I'm no fan
of the current rail system in the UK, but on this particular journey
I saw something laughably bad. At the on-train shop, the till had
broken down, and the guy working there was writing everything down
on napkins. Being of the geeky inquisitive type, I had to ask what
was wrong, and he showed me:

The till was running Windows 98. Not even XP Embedded, but 98! The
Virgin Voyager Shop till system was a program running on an old and
notoriously buggy version of Windows. And this was a complete 98: it
had Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and loads of other stuff
that's completely pointless for an electronic till system.

How does this happen? The till should be a small and extremely
simple ARM-based 50MHz chip type thing. Not a full, resource-hungry
PC running a complex home desktop operating system! This is an area
where Linux would shine -- a stripped-down embedded distro with a
framebuffer and till app, running on a super low-power machine. But
even though Linux is making good inroads into the embedded market,
it seems that some people can only see Windows as the solution to
any problem.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this month's newsletter. We have our usual
roundup of news and forum threads, plus a look at the new LXF issue
and a mini guide to using the Nano text editor.

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. LXF 97 on sale

Linux Format issue 97 is on the newsstands now, and this month we've
been focusing our attention on the upcoming Ubuntu 7.10 release.
Codenamed The Gutsy Gibbon, this version promises to bring about
bagfuls of new goodies -- but how does the development team make
sure it's a high-quality release? We delve into the design, coding
and QA procedures that underpin Ubuntu, with exclusive information
from key figures in the community.

Meanwhile, if your web servers are struggling under heavy loads, we
show you how to give them a welcome boost with our
'Slashdot-proofing' feature. Here at LXF Towers we've had our poor
website server Slashdotted several times, so we know the tips and
tricks required to make it landle the load spike better.

On our 4GB DVD we have Slackware 12.0, the longest-running Linux
distro that's still a favourite of developers and those wanting to
toy around under the hood. We also have the latest release of
Zenwalk, a zippy Xfce-based distro, and a snapshot of the upcoming
Ubuntu 7.10 release. Plus there's 60 pages of LXF Roundups in PDF
format, the best new open source games and many more apps to

Our regular HotPicks section gathers together the most interesting
new developments in open sourceland, and a very promising project
this month is Zero Install, which aims to make software installation
under Linux an absolute doddle:

# Zero Install 0.29 --

Package managers are really clever most of the time, but there's
always some software around you can't get for your distro. You
could compile from source, but it's painful because of the need to
track down lots of dependencies by hand. And so Autopackage was
invented: precompiled, easy to install software that works on any
Linux distro.

But it's not without problems of its own, and that's where Zero
Install Injector (ZII) comes in. For example, Autopackage has the
great ability to let non-root users install their own software (it
just places it in their home directory), but what happens if two,
three or more users try to install software without root
privileges? Answer: the same software is copied to multiple
locations on the hard drive, which is a waste of space.

ZII tackles this problem by turning programs into URLs: each time
you run a program, your computer is actually snagging an XML file
from the web and checking it against what you have installed. If
software is installed by yourself or another user, it starts
normally, as you would expect from a program that was installed
through your package manager. But if the software isn't installed,
or if an updated version is available, ZII automatically downloads
the pre-built package and installs it for you, then runs it as if
the software was installed all along. If you don't have an
internet connection, ZII just runs the program without trying to
make a connection.

You may think Linux already has enough package managers, but ZII
improves on them all by cherry-picking the best features and
combining them into one feature. APT forces you to use
sources.list files, Autopackage doesn't let you have multiple
versions of an app on one computer, Klik doesn't support digital
signatures to authenticate software, and so ZII does them all. It
does feel strange "running" a URL, but it is so incredibly easy to
do that you'll wonder how we lived without it. As ZII's creator
puts it, "Autopackage is mainly concerned about producing
cross-distro, relocatable binaries, with tools such as apbuild,
binreloc and relaytool. Zero Install doesn't cover that at all (we
just tell people to use the Autopackage tools), but assumes you
already have a suitable binary archive produced and ready for

Snag a copy of LXF 97 for more goodies from the open source world!

3. In the news...

At long last, we can see the light at the end of the SCO tunnel...

# Bad news for SCO ... le&sid=581

Judge Dale Kimball, presiding over the SCO vs Novell court case, has
ruled that Novell owns the copyrights to UNIX and UnixWare. Now SCO
will have to pay Novell a heap of money from the licenses that
Microsoft and Sun bought. While this isn't the end of the story,
it's a massive blow for SCO.

# Microsoft launches open source website ... le&sid=580

Or "web property" as Platform Strategy Manager Bill Hilf calls it.
Microsoft is aiming to "embrace diverse application development
approaches", but is not phasing out its own Shared Source
Initiative. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has repeatedly blasted open
source for its supposed lack of innovation and accountability, so is
this a change in direction for the company, or merely another case
of embrace and extend?

# Ubuntu servers cracked? ... le&sid=583

Slashdot is reporting that the Ubuntu project has had to shut down
some servers due to possible cracking activity. The servers,
sponsored by Canonical but run by the community, were poorly
maintained. Some machines could not be updated, because newer
kernels did not support all the hardware.

4. This month on the forum

In which strange places have you seen Linux running? wyliecoyoteuk
spotted a Cornish pub's jukebox powered by Ubuntu, while
1slipperyfish spied SUSE at an apartment complex in Majorca.
Although he couldn't be sure, M0PHP thought he'd seen Linux powering
a bowling alley -- and ggsinclair stumbled upon a Planet Penguin
Racer arcade machine at Glasgow Airport! Have you come across Linux
in any weird or wacky places? Join in the thread... [1]

ggsinclair had an "I wish you'd told me that before" moment when, on
a recent Saturday, he headed round to his parents's house to fix
their scanner. Why wasn't it working? Well, the fact that the USB
cable wasn't plugged in came into play. Other forum regulars chipped
in with their anecdotes of incompetence, including MartyBartfast's
mysterious broken monitor (with the brightness turned down), and
Diagmato's painful fight against a seemingly undetected hard drive.
With no power cable attached. [2]

[1] ... pic&t=6122

[2] ... pic&t=6249

5. Special newsletter feature


In last month's newsletter we looked at the basics of Vi, one of the
oldest and best-known text editors for Unix-like systems. Now we'll
turn to Nano, which is considerably easier to use than Vi but still
packs in plenty of useful features. Nano is a clone of Pico, an
editor supplied with the venerable Pine email client, but with some
tempting goodies on top such as syntax highlighting.

Starting Nano is standard fare from the command-line:

nano filename.txt

You'll see a bar at the top with the version number and filename.
Along the bottom is a list of keyboard commands to save files and
earch for text etc. Where you see the ^ symbol, it means Ctrl on the
keyboard. So, for instance, in the bottom panel you can see
'^O WriteOut', which means: press Ctrl+O (the letter oh) to write
the file out to disk (save it). After you've saved, you can press
Ctrl+X to exit the editor.

By default, Nano doesn't display the line number of the file you're
editing, but by pressing Ctrl+C you can display the 'Cur Pos' status
line, which shows the line number currently being edited along with
your position in the document in percentage terms. To delete lines
of text from the file, press Ctrl+K. If you press it several times
in a row to remove, say, 10 lines of text, you can then move the
cursor and press Ctrl+U to re-insert the previously deleted lines.
This is how Nano handles cut-and-paste: cut lines to the clipboard
with Ctrl+K, and paste them back in with Ctrl+U.

To search through a file, press Ctrl+W which opens up a search box
at the bottom. You can then type in a string to search for, or, if
you want to replace text, press Ctrl+R while you're in search mode.
Nano will then prompt you for a replacement string, and step through
the document each time you press enter, performing the replacements.
At this stage you can press A to replace every occurrence of your
original search string.

One particularly handy feature is justification (Ctrl+J). This
reflows a paragraph of text to the width of the Nano screen. I use
this feature all the time -- for example, I'm using it in this
newsletter to make sure the paragraphs are never more than 68
characters wide (and therefore suitable for every mail client).
Sometimes you may want to change the width at which the paragraphs
wrap, and you can do that as you're starting Nano:

nano -r50 filename.txt

With the '-r50' command-line option, Nano will now wrap at 50
characters, regardless of the width of your editor terminal. Once
you're familiar with Nano's keybindings, you can disable the bottom
help pane with the '-x' flag. You can also enable smooth scrolling
(ie scrolling a line at a time, rather than in screen-sized chunks,
when moving around in a file) with '-S':

nano -xSr68 filename.txt

That starts Nano without the help pane at the bottom, enables smooth
scrolling and sets the justification width (line wrap) to 68
characters -- the command I entered to write this newsletter! Nano
has plenty of other valuable features, and you can learn more about
the editor at its website:

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 98, on sale Thursday 20 September

# Linux annoyances -- and how to fix them! For all of Linux's
strengths, there are always a few things that get on our
nerves. We show you how to get rid of them for good!

# KDE 4: from dream to reality. The hottest free software
project around is finally nearing release -- we look at how
much has made it past the drawing board...

# Roundup: firewall GUIs. You don't need to fiddle around at
the shell prompt to secure your OS -- use these handy apps
to keep intruders at bay

(Exact contents of future issues are subject to change.)

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 going
all-in with a pair of Aces:

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 confused) you can opt-out by removing
yourself from the Newsletter group as above.

8. Contact details

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:

Subscriptions: 0870 837 4722 (overseas +44 1858 438794)
Website subs page:

(C) 2007 Future Publishing Limited
LXF regular
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