Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ubuntu 6.06 LTS and Automatix - Making Linux Work

Ubuntu is an enigma. How can an upstart Linux project go directly to the top in little over 2 years? In a recent survey (that we linked to on our site here as well) on Desktop Linux News, they found that nearly 30% of respondents showed they were on board with this South African (they claim world wide, but behind them is Canonical Ltd, which according to Wikipedia is a private company owned and funded by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. The name itself is an Zulu word for "humanity towards others", and there is a lot of graphics on the boot up screens with smiling people holding hands and the colors reflect a more earthy feel. Even the logo itself is three people hugging in a circle.

So what really makes this distro stand out from other community projects like openSuse, Freespire, Debian? Well, I think what pulls many is the simplicity to the tool, how they kept true to Linux ideals by making a software that wasn't like windows in every aspect, yet was easiest enough to function for newbies. It was also technically capable enough to keep the enthusiasts happy, free of most proprietary aspects to keep the FSF happy, and just plain fun. I can say that for nearly a year, this was the only Linux distro on my laptop and I was extremely pleased with its function and performance. Plus, since it took nearly a month to get the distro up and running completely (I am a persistent man if anything) I wasn't about to just bail for something else.

What took me so long was researching every little nook and cranny for how to get my MP3's to play, movies, wireless, Wine to work, and pretty much all the goodies I have come to know and love about my laptop. Well, after I had gotten my system pretty much up to par with my needs, a product called Automatix comes along and takes all that knowledge and flushes it. As stated on their website, Automatix is a graphical interface for automating the installation of the most commonly requested applications in Debian based Linux operating systems. It currently supports Ubuntu and Mepis, which since Mepis is really Kubuntu done proprietary style it just makes sense that it is supported as well, and although takes a bit to install, really makes Ubuntu a rock solid platform.


Download Here
Kernel - Kernel 2.6.15 in many flavors
Desktop - Ubuntu Gnome, but there are the Kubuntu(KDE) & Xubuntu(XFce) projects as well
FAQs -
Cost - FREE!!!
Special Features - Live installer, excellent icons/graphics, clean distro with excellent hardware support

Nitty Gritty:
Installation ( )

As is my favorite install method, Ubuntu came out with its Dapper Drake version a nice little live installer. Before this was possibly the nastiest text based install ever. I mean it would take up to 10 attempts to get the older version, oddly named Breezy Badger (all the names are odd and now seem to be following an alphabetical pattern, with Edgy Eft following Dapper Drake, yet the first was Warty Warthog) to get a system that actually would run when you were finished. Now, well let's just see how she flys....

This simple grub screen launcher from the Live CD gives you several clear options to either enter the Live mode, check your CD for errors, or try in Graphical safe mode, which is cyber speak for old crappy computer. There are plenty of options that come along with this for language, VGA settings an others, so you are not as restricted in Live mode as with some distros which make all the decisions for you. This is a very good start for our Ubuntu friends.

In the Live CD, you can either take off, add some programs with Synaptic to the Live running OS, or Install. Note if you are on a laptop, Ubuntu has really tried to make some strides in getting more functionality by including several key drivers in the kernel, but honestly in trying to keep proprietary drivers out of the package most are only half way in there, so it may light up and show a wireless card, but she isn't going to work. More on that little snafu later.

Once you decide you want to install, simply double click the Install icon on the desktop, which is an excellent little guide on getting Ubuntu onto your hard drive. The first step is to choose a language you wish for your permanent install and the rest of the guide. Since English in my only option, we clicked on Forward. Please note that there are always Back and Forward keys and in the bottom left a nice little Step counter to let you know where you are in the process. Always happy to see those options.

Once you figure out your language, next you get to set your timezone. And in the comical fashion of the person who set up this little program, Seattle isn't there (guess they didn't realize that Seattle is not Redmond), so I must select Vancouver. I don't mind being Canadian, as long as I don't have to pay their taxes.

Now the tool needs to determine for me my keyboard layout. English again.

Now here is a nice packaged screen. I get to setup my user name and my password for Root all in one. You see, there really is no Root account in Ubuntu, as they rely on Sudo to really isolate the capabilities of the user. They don't tell you that here, in fact when I first used Ubuntu I was extremely upset when I couldn't SU over to root in order to run things. However, if you simply run a 'sudo su' followed by this password, one is in Root mode until they close that terminal screen. I feel that this approach is excellent for newbies as then they can't just log in as root and keep their system open and vulnerable to attacks and take overs. Since Ubuntu worked this is, or maybe it was just coincidince, more and more distros are doing the same thing (so get used to it).

Next the installer sets up a partitioner, which will get us a hard drive capable to install this OS on. Now, I have seen this require 2 GB, and other places say 3-4 GB, but that honestly depends on what you intend on adding. Say if you want KDE as well (and you didn't want to start with Kubuntu), you can actually add that to Ubuntu by running synaptic and installing the Kubuntu Desktop (which then in turn adds all the basics of Kubuntu package. This does require a lot of hard drive, so if you intend to really put all productivity and desktop options in, I would suggest something north of 6 GB to be happy. Since this is my VMWare machine, I get to choose all the Hard Drive, then the installer takes us to the actual paritioner.

Now, here is a place where I am not crazy about the fact that the installer decided I needed to use Ext3 file system, so if you don't like Ext3, you need to go back and select the Manual edit partition table option, which then allows you to select one of many, such as ResierFS, XFS, etc...why Ext3, well people generally think of this as the rock solid option that simply works, just not as well as some of the newer versions which are just a bit unstable. I don't ever have any issues using Reiser or even XFS, but since we are going as a newbie might, lets keep on the automated path and go with Ext3 for now. Please note that there is no way to change this after, so make sure you know which one you want or just go with the basic one.

Once you select Forward on Step 6, then there is no turning back. I compiled a few view snapshots of the status windows, which break down the time to copy the information to the hard drive with a timer, but then that timer ends when it starts actually configuring the system and performing the hardware detection. All in all, the system took about 12 minutes to install, which is no land speed record but is so much cleaner than packages such as openSuse (5 CDs) or Mandriva (7 CDs).

Finally, you option is to continue with the Live CD or to reboot, which will bring us to the conclusion of our little step by step. I can honestly say that this is pretty simple, one of the easiest I have seen, but in realistic terms the system that gets installed is pretty weak by itself so we are by no means done. So far so good, I just wish they would have put more functionality (MP3, DVD and video) inside the base system instead of requiring people to then add on to a system. This reminds me too much of Windows, which once you install, you can barely surf the internet. It isn't that bad, but in today's linux world, this one is definitely lacking. Hence the need for Automatix. Let's see what this new tool can do for a good system?

Starting ( )

Once you have Ubuntu, you have a pretty good start into the world of Linux. But as one person quoted to Automatix website, "The truth is, Ubuntu "out of the box" is a little lacking, but with the use of an installer script called Automatix, I now have a free, highly functional, and stable OS." I agree with them completely. But Automatix comes to the rescue of newbies and Linux enthusiasts alike, in that it is a great little package that can save you hours, if not days, in getting Ubuntu to where it really should have been in the first place.

Once you hit the Automatix website you basically get the feel of professionalism even though what they are doing is pretty basic. However, due to the demand of the community for something like this, I am sure they are doing well and will probably even expand this to other Debian projects (I truly hope) in the near future.

From the website, it also tells you what package are supported for install for each distro that the tools currently supports. This didn't fit in my snapshot, so if that tells you something, because the list is extremely complete. Once you do get to the point where you are selecting packages, just follow the rule, if you don't know what it does, just don't install it.

From the website you learn that you have two options to install Automatix, one through wget (web download similar to FTP) and installing a file via Synaptic after adding a repository. In my opinion, I would stick to the wget method simply because I prefer not adding too many repositories so I know where my updates are coming from.

Method with Depositories

Method with Wget and manual install in terminal

So the wget method tells to run a simple command of 'wget' with the link to the file on their website. Then you change the permissions of the file to make it executible with a 'chmod 755' command in the directory that the file is located. Now, personnally I don't like the 755 method, as that is changing the modes for the various users, with the 7 being for the owner of the file adding all functions and permissions, the first 5 for the group members assoicated with the file providing read and execute functions, and the same for the last 5 for any guest. Now, since 99% of people don't have groups to contend with nor guests, this really doesn't make much sense. This is what I would call the 'old school' method. Instead I usually use the command of 'chmod a+x' which simply adds the executable function to the file.

So now that our Linux command class is over, basically once you make the file executible, you run the file with './'before the file name. This is the run command and will kick off the install process, which zips all the other data that one would do with the other method into the proper files.

Once it is complete, you get a new drop down from the application button in the top left, that now has system tools, and walla, Automatix.

When you first run Automatix, you get a little here is about us message and you simply acknowledge past.

Then, oh yes, the lawyers got in there. Here you are warned in no unspecific terms to not install this software if you intend to play music or movies. Why is this do you ask? Well, there are licensing fees associated with the rights to play these files. People want to get paid. Some companies will pay this fee for you in the purchase of the software, so if you install these you are on your own. They warned you and now I warned you.

Next you are warned about Wine, which is software that allows Windows software like IE, Office, iTunes and others to run in Linux. This is simply stating that if you install this software you need to run the command of 'winecfg' after in order to set up the drives for the tool. This doesn't affect the install, just the post install work. Put up a post it to keep that in mind for later.

Finally, the last step is to enter your root password, which provides Automatix the proper permissions in order to do what it has to do. Once you enter that, it takes off and runs what it needs until you get the dialog GUI functionality. This takes a bit of time and really does similar things that Synaptic does, by providing you the idea that you are clicking and installing when in all actually this tool is going out to specific locations and downloading and installing the software you need. Pretty slick and in all honesty probably should come with Ubuntu to begin with.

Installing software now for Ubuntu is just a click away. Simple scroll through and select the packages you wish for your system. Most of the time the packages you will needs include Media Codecs, Adobe, Mplayer, NDISwrapper, Wine, and anything else you may want. Please keep in mind the legality of the codecs again, your call but we don't recommend stealing from anyone.

You can sit and watch the files go by if you attention because you will need to intervene every once and a while to say yes, add the password back if it has timed out, etc...

Now your post it note tells you to run 'winecfg', but don't do this as Root, you need to 'su' back to your regular login name, so that the files are associated with your home folder and proper permissions.

That is about it. You now have the system you always dreamed about. If you have wireless, you need to add your wireless drivers, which you can read about in my other reviews, especially Mepis, which again is just Kubuntu with most of these packages already included and running KDE.

Bonus Stuff ( )

Ubuntu as software doesn't offer anything special. What really sets Ubuntu apart from anyone else is its community. There is no other distro that has the involvement of so many impassioned people. If you have an issue, simple start at the Wiki, work over to the Documentation page, or go to the community and get involved. If you can't find the answer then you can simply google the Ubuntu question and I bet you can get more than you bargained for. The amount of data out there is staggering, almost too much. But with a package as solid as this, there isn't too much that you might need, especially with Automatix.

This is truly a package that together lives up to the hype, but alone Ubuntu is just a nice open source distro with a great community. Together it is the real deal. I would recommend this to either newbies or enthusiasts alike, so give it a shot and hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did.

As always, good luck in your personal Linux knowledge search and best wishes!!!!


KnoLinuxGuy (Kevin)

No comments: