If you’re here, it’s because you’re a cheapskate. That’s the words of free software, services and music guru Duncan Geere and if you couldn’t make it to his talk at the Gadget Show Live, then get yourself a cup of tea, a pen and paper and learn how rule the IT world without paying a penny for the privilege.
Last week, the team behind Ubuntu released version 9.04, which has been named Jaunty Jackalope. It’s a great upgrade on 8.10 Intrepid Ibex, and it’s also the first Ubuntu release to come with a netbook remix.
As I’m the proud owner of the Acer Aspire One netbook, I thought I’d whack Jaunty on and see how it behaves. I’m impressed. The UI is clear and clean (although the default Ubuntu brown clashes rather with my machine’s blue chassis) and everything runs zippily. It’s most definitely an upgrade over the modified Linux distro that the netbook came with, with the only issue that I’ve run into being that you can’t hot-plug media cards into the reader, they need a reboot to work.
Just as a quick caveat, I did all the testing on an 8GB SSD Linux version of an Aspire One, with the prep work on a machine running Windows Vista. I’ve mentioned below some options for those with a mechanical hard drive, but the only thing I can guarantee is that everything below works for me. If you use a different netbook, you should be fine, but this guide is for the Aspire One.
Back up any files you want to keep before you start because this process will wipe your drive, and make sure you’ve got a restore disk for if you run into trouble. For info on how to create one, see the documentation that came with your Aspire One. We take no responsibility for any software or hardware problems you run into as a result of following this, or any other, guide.
What you’ll need
- Right, now that’s over with, let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need to hand before you start, both software and hardware:
- An Aspire One, or another compatible netbook
- An empty flash drive with a 1GB or greater capacity. I used this 2GB Toshiba drive.
- The Ubuntu 9.04 netbook remix .IMG file (970MB)
- A disk imager tool, I used Win32 Image Writer.
- Once you’ve got all that together, about 45 minutes to an hour of your time
Preparing the USB disk
First of all, plug your USB drive into whatever computer you’re going to use to copy the install files across with. Probably the one that you’re reading these instructions on. Go into ‘My Computer’ and note what drive letter has been allocated to the USB disk.
Then start up Win32 Disk Imager, and click the “…” button, and navigate to wherever you saved the Ubuntu .IMG file. When you find it, select it and hit okay. Then, under ‘device’, select the drive letter for the USB, and hit ‘write’. Let it do its thing, it should take less than 5 minutes.
Preparing your Aspire One
On your Aspire One, make sure everything that you want to keep is backed up, because part of the process below involves wiping the drive of your netbook. Take off any data you want to keep and store it safely elsewhere.
Then power down the Aspire One and remove anything that’s plugged into it, like SD cards or USB peripherals. Keep the power cable in, though. Plug in the USB drive you’re using for the install, and power on.
Almost immediately, hit F12 when it prompts you to “Select boot order”. From the menu that appears, select the USB drive. It’ll prompt you to pick a language, so select your favourite. Then the USB drive will give you the option to try out Ubuntu without installing. Do that if you like, and when you’re ready to install properly, then reboot and get back to this menu.
The installation process
When you’re ready to take the plunge, hit “Install Ubuntu” on this menu. Give it a minute to load everything into the device’s memory. To start with, the progress bar will move between the left and right sides, but shortly after it’ll start filling up.
Pick a language again. Probably the same one as before, unless you’re feeling a little devil-may-care and you’re in the mood for an install in Suomi. Seriously though, pick English. Then hit ‘forward’ and select a timezone and city. Hit ‘forward’ again.
Pick the right keyboard layout for your machine. Test using the little box at the bottom, and check the ” and @ keys, which are swapped around on American keyboards. If all seems like it’s in order, then hit ‘forward’ again.
Disks and file systems
This is where things get a little tricky. If you finish and it won’t boot, then go back and double-check this section carefully. Now – you have options that depend on what kind of disk you’ve got.
If you have a traditional mechanical hard drive then you can pick between installing Ubuntu alongside your existing operating system or replacing it. If you’d like to do the former, then pick the first option in the list – install alongside an existing operating system, then click forward and skip straight to the next section, ignoring all the stuff about filesystems below.
If you’re using a mechanical drive and you’d like to replace your existing OS entirely, then click the second option – “Use the entire disk”. Make sure that the right disk is selected – not a USB drive or an SD card or anything. Be aware that this option will delete all data on that disk, then hit ‘forward’ and skip straight to the next section.
Lastly, if you have an SSD then you get an even more complex choice. You won’t have room to do anything except installing over the current operating system, so option one is out. However, you have a choice between installing the ext4, ext3 and ext2 filesystems.
Ext4 is known as a ‘journaling’ filesystem. It writes into a ‘journal’ whenever it modifies anything, so it’s much safer if you lose power suddenly and you want your files to be okay. Ext3 is also a ‘journaling’ filesystem but it’s older, so I don’t recommend its use over Ext4.
Ext2 doesn’t do any ‘journaling’ – so it uses far fewer read/writes. As an SSD wears out quicker than a regular hard drive, selecting Ext2 will make things run a smidge faster and increase your drive’s lifetime. As a result, though, files can corrupt if you suddenly lose power on your machine. Even if nothing corrupts, you’ll have to sit through an irritating file check every time you startup if you don’t power down properly.
It’s up to you – select Ext4 for a safer drive that wears out quicker, or Ext2 for a slightly faster drive that’ll last longer, but is more prone to errors if you lose power. If you’d like to read up more on the subject, then head to this forum post, or this wiki entry.
Once you’ve decided, click option three – “specify partitions manually”. Don’t be scared by the word ‘advanced’, if you understood what I just said, then you’ll be fine. You should have two drives in front of you, one big one marked “ext2”, and one smaller one marked “swap”.
Double-click the big “ext2” drive, and an ‘edit partition’ box should pop up. Select from the “Use as:” drop-down either “Ext2 file system” or “Ext4 file system”, depending on which you want (see above). Then tick the box marked ‘Format the partition’ and then select “/” as the mount point. Hit okay, then forward. That wasn’t too bad now, was it?
If you’ve got no idea what drive you’ve got, then just click the middle option – “Use the entire disk”.
Tough bit over. Type in your name, a username (all lowercase, please), a password and name of the computer. Choose whether you want it to prompt you for your password every time you start up or not. Then hit ‘forward’.
It’ll show you a summary screen for what it’s about to do. Scan it quickly and make sure it’s about to do what you’re expecting it to, then take a deep breath and hit ‘forward’.
Progress bars should appear. Go make a cup of tea. It took me about 20 minutes to install to an SSD, or it’ll be slightly longer for a mechanical drive. When it’s complete, choose the restart option, and remove the USB disk when it tells you to. The system will then reset.
Voila! Your installation is complete. You’ll find that Ubuntu boots a tiny bit slower than the default Linux OS, but it’ll be a bit faster than Windows. It’s slower than the default OS because it’s so full of good stuff.
Click around a bit – the left column shows categories of programs. The middle pane shows the programs that are in each category – click one to start it. Lastly, the right-hand pane will show you storage locations. Click one to load it.
Have a little fiddle around in the settings, too. There’s plenty of customisable stuff. Change the colour scheme away from the brown if you like, or turn off ‘tap-to-click’ on the trackpad. If you’d like to edit the menus, you can do that by clicking “Main Menu” in “Preferences”.
Congratulations on your Linux install! No command line shenanigans at all. Wasn’t it easy? Tell us how happy you are on Twitter by messaging @techdigest.
Phones aren’t just for making calls, they’re also for having fun. Modern phones have a wealth of options available for keeping yourself entertained on the go. Buses, waiting rooms, and bored weekends at the in-laws’ house can all be enlivened with the help of a few handy applications.
Lets start with stuff you’ll know from your computer. YouTube has a great little mobile app for most Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones, the iPhone and the G1 that’ll have you Rickrolling your friends in no time. I can safely report that ‘Chocolate Rain’ is just as awesome in mobile form too.
There’s also iPlayer for certain Nokia smartphones, the iPhone, the Samsung Omnia, a couple of Sony Ericsson handsets and the HTC Touch HD. Most only allow streaming and unfortunately that’ll only work in Wi-Fi areas but owners of the Nokia N85 or N96 are able to download content to the handset via their PC for playback later on, even when they’re out of range of Wi-Fi.
If you use Sky+ you’ll be pleased to hear that there are applications available that’ll let you schedule your watching habits or set something to record via a mobile application for the iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, then you can still set stuff to record via text message.
The music fans among you might be aware of a website called Last.fm. It’s a personalized radio service which intelligently recommends you music based on what you listen to. Guess what – it has a mobile client. iPhone owners and G1 owners can listen to their radio stations via a 3G connection on the go by using the free Last.fm application.
Lastly, don’t forget the world of podcasts. Almost every handset that’s capable of MP3 playback has a podcast application available, and the world of podcasts has never been better. I’d recommend you start with the Tech Digest podcast, but most BBC radio shows are available in podcast form too.
Whilst a phone is never going to replace a computer in terms of functionality you want it to be able to cope with the majority of your favourite everyday applications, and the most obvious feature is communications. Apart from voice calls and messages there’s so much more you can do with a mobile.
If you amp the functionality up all the way you get the Inq phone from 3 – an astonishing concept, as it’s so integrated into all your networking that its actually scary. It automatically updates Facebook, twitter, MySpace and your address book depending on what people have done to their pages – and you get all of that for free.
Let start with a popular application and the buzzword of today- Twitter. You want to be able to access your account on the go, update and reply to people’a messages, but with so many clients it’s difficult to know where to start.
A great one for the Android platform is TwitDroid. It’s free to download and allow you to read messages, and reply to them as well as update your status, which not all clients allow. Twibble is a popular tool on the Nokia handsets and then you have Twitberry for BlackBerry and Twitterfon for the iPhone.
Windows Mobile users also get a look-in, as you can choose from a variety of apps, my personal favourite being Twoible for Windows Mobile. You get the picture, huh? All these operators want to make it as easy as possible for you to use their service, meaning you’ll stick with them!
Next we come to a more thorny issue, that of free calls on your phone – clearly something that the operators aren’t going to be enamoured with. There are some VOIP clients which work with mobiles but it can be hit or miss whether they’ll work or not. The three main competitors would be Skype, Fring and Truphone. These are all services that allow you to make calls via your phone’s internet connection, with varying levels of ease.
First we’ll look at the big daddy, Skype. Some handsets, such as 3 phones, come with integrated Skype functions whilst others have apps or let you install them. You can make free Skype to Skype calls, and will have to pay a small fee to make calls to landlines and mobiles- but you’ll save a lot when calling abroad. Not all phones support Skype, however, as the operators fear they’ll lose out on call fees. I see Skype as supporter to the phone rather than replacing it.
You can use Skype easily on all Windows Mobile phones or the iPhone, and Android handsets have a beta version available. We can hope that more phones will open up to it, though they do have an impressive line-up of compatible handsets with everything from Sony Ericsson to LG in the mix. They only run Skype lite though as non-smartphones can’t cope with the full Skype functionality.
Next into the fray we have Truphone which works on a very similar basis to Skype- but on a more comprehensive level. In fact it can be compared to Fring, which I’ll also address below. Truphone allows you to make calls via VoIP or GSM, as well as IM people and has integrated Skype so you can call your contacts using this service. It works on the G1, iPhone and BlackBerry as well as the iPod Touch (via wi-fi) and lets you make cheap calls. The company makes money by pushing adverts at you while you’re using the service.
Fring is another social media aggregator that lets you make calls and chat within all your favourite IM clients, and it also integrates low cost calling from your mobile. Which you choose really depends on how you like their interface and what platform you’re using them on, but there’s something for everyone, whether you’re Android or BlackBerry.
Getting where you want to go – or even just finding out where you are – can be tricky in an unfamiliar city. You could ask someone, but there’s every chance they’ll laugh in your face, spit in your shoes and mock you for being a scummy tourist. Fear not – you never need for that to happen to you again. Instead, you can let your mobile phone sort it all out.
There are a couple of homegrown options that might well be available on your handset already, especially if you’ve got a GPS-equipped BlackBerry or a fairly modern Nokia phone. Both of those companies have developed their own map software. But I don’t like them that much. Far better is Google’s offering – Google Maps. Google Maps works on most mobile phones – BlackBerry, Nokia, Windows Mobile, and PalmOS, and it comes pre-installed on the T-Mobile G1 and on iPhones.
First-up, location. Within a couple of seconds of starting the program up, a blue dot appears marking your location. It’s surrounded by a light blue circle which represents uncertainty. If your phone can get a GPS lock, that circle will be very small, but if it’s working out your location from nearby cell towers then it might not get your location exactly right.
Then you might want to find out what’s nearby. Go to ‘search’, and type something in. I’m hungry, so let’s find a sandwich shop. Type in ‘sandwich’, and you’ll get a list of all the sandwich shops in the area complete with phone numbers, addresses, website links and even user reviews.
There’s the option to get your phone to navigate you to the shop, but most of the time you’ll want to get somewhere further afield. Hit ‘get directions’, and you can choose from car, public transport or walking. At each point on the way, we can see Street View for the route, so you know exactly where you’re going. If you’re driving you can also add traffic information, or get a satellite view.
Lastly, what if one of your friends was eating at a different sandwich shop? You’d want to know, surely, so that you could meet up. Google’s got you covered here too, with a relatively new service called ‘Latitude’. Latitude keeps track of you, and then lets people – only people you specify – see where you are at any given time. You can choose how specific it is – and you can even lie if you like – but it can be quite handy for people who want to increase the odds that they’ll bump into friends.
Fitness and wellbeing
We all want to be fit and in shape but as we’re lazy we’re prone to procrastination and excuses, from “I can’t get to the gym” to “I thought that chocolate cake was low fat!” Well, now there are a wide variety of fitness applications that work on most handsets that’ll prevent you from getting away with that kind of denial.
Let’s start with Samsung’s fitness “Micoach” phone which gives you music tracks for different workouts, as well as letting you hook up your results to their website to monitor progress. It will even give you motivational phrases like “Speed up!” whilst you’re working out, though I think promising you chocolate might work better.
If that’s too much hassle, there are a variety of other phone apps you can try. As long as you have a compatible phone there a fitness tool for you – it’s not all limited to iPhone applications.
Let’s take a look at the Android phone – the T-Mobile G1. This platform has many, many options, and my favourites so far are “Calorie Counter” and “Buddy Trainer”. The former lets you record what you eat every day, update your weight and fitness goals, and even includes a barcode scanner so it can work out the calories of what you’ve eaten. The Buddy Trainer gives you support when you’re working out and has a variety of GPS maps to let you choose outdoor running trails.
BlackBerry handsets have some similar options, such as Sendo Calories which lets you calculate your daily calorie consumption with ease and Nokia’s phones feature the Sports Tracker app which gives you the time and distance of your workout and lets you upload your route and connect to other exercisers online. The iPhone has a zillion applications to choose from, from iFitness and Fitphone which both provide you with detailed exercises to target different muscles in the body.
Lastly, let’s talk about games. Which mobile OS has the best games? Well, ‘best’ is mostly in the eye of the beholder, but I can tell you straight off the bat which platform has the best choice – it’s the iPhone. The user-friendliness of the device, combined with its specs and the success of the app store, has meant that developers have flooded to the platform.
As a result, everything from SimCity to Quake and the wonderful and insane Katamari Damacy is available on the platform. It’s got great quality standards, too, unlike the vast majority of mobile phone games which are crappy clones of old titles that just feature the characters of the latest awful Dreamworks summer blockbuster.
But the iPhone doesn’t have the monopoly on good games. Android’s proving fertile, with some interesting strategy titles like Archipelago cropping up, alongside old favourites like Doom and Breakout. Windows Mobile isn’t bad either, though because it lacks a central app store, it can be hard to track down the games you want.
Symbian is represented by N-Gage which, although ahead of its time when it was released, is now aging poorly. There’s very few big titles, and those that exist are just uninspired continuations of existing games franchises like Need for Speed or FIFA. There’s little innovation.
Which leaves us with BlackBerry. RIM’s devices are built for email, not gaming, and they’re not very appealing to hackers. As a result, the BlackBerry games ecosystem is limited to basic puzzle games and arcade classics, but with the introduction of App world, a bunch of brain-training games have recently started appearing.
So, that’s a run-down of all the applications available on each device. All of them can be found by searching either the application store for the device – in the case of BlackBerry, the iPhone and the G1, or by searching Google in the case of Windows Mobile, Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets.
Teamviewer did a fantastic job this morning when I used to it to help my Dad troubleshoot a network issue. Despite him living in a remote village in eastern France, I was able to quickly and securely view his desktop. If I’d wanted to, I’d have been able to conduct a presentation, transfer a file, or join a VPN.
All he needed to do was install a small program, and give me a userID and password. Seriously – if my Dad could manage it, then it can’t have been tricky. It’s free for non-commercial use, and very functional. I can’t recommend it enough.
Now all you need to know is how to actually fix the damn thing. For that, I recommend this guide from Lifehacker. Good luck, and don’t forget to set their homepage to Tech Digest when you’re done.
If you work in an office, then how does the music work? Is it a tinny radio in the corner blaring out Radio 1? If so, I feel sorry for you, and I suggest you take control.
We moved offices over Christmas, and switched from a benevolent musical dictatorship run by Stuart from My Chemical Toilet to a much more democratic approach using communal playlists in Spotify. It’s very simple, and all you’ll need is some speakers, as well as someone volunteering to take charge. Click through to the post to find out how.
You know those signs that litter the hard shoulder of motorways, warning oncoming motorists about ice, or telling them to slow down? Well, if you fancy some fun early one morning, how about hacking one to display something different?
It’s startlingly easy, as this tutorial from iHacked demonstrates. It even gives a password reset method, if the workers have changed the default configuration. What would you change it to say? Suggestions in the comments.
Inside Programmable Road Signs
As of this Friday – the 9th January, Microsoft is going to release a beta version of its new operating system – Windows 7 – to the first 2.5 million people to download it. The new OS is eagerly anticipated, which Microsoft must be pleased about, given that Vista has been a PR disaster.
Windows 7 promises a tonne of improvements to Windows’ basic functionality. It’s quicker, less bloated and more secure than Windows Vista – which suffered from bloat and compatibility issues on release. Although it’s dramatically improved since, many users are refusing to upgrade from XP, and Microsoft continues to trickle users away to OS X.
Spotify, the steaming service that’s by FAR my favourite piece of software of 2008, is currently invite-only and limited to UK, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Spain and France. However, there’s a sneaky way of getting in anyway, that TechCrunch spotted in a Digg comment.
It’s pretty simple. Visit a proxy site, like DaveProxy, and from there, go to this URL. Sign up with a UK postcode (how about the BBC’s postcode: W12 7RJ), and you’re all set. The best on-demand digital music service out there is yours. Try it out, and share a playlist in the comments below. I’ll start you off with my Best of 2008.
Oh, and if you have problems with accessing the site after 14 days, then FileShareFreak’s got you sorted out. More proxy fun.
Spotify Signup (via TechCrunch)
There’s no official confirmation yet, but it appears that Orange has blocked its customers from accessing the world’s biggest Bittorrent tracker – the Pirate Bay. Orange subscribers first starting reporting problems accessing the site last Friday, and since then Orange has been very vague – not providing any solutions to customers, and not confirming or denying the block.
Orange’s PR company state:
“Our understanding is that Orange doesn’t block access to any sites other than those identified by the Internet Watch Foundation, that relate to illegal child abuse imagery. However, we’re looking into this and will update you again as soon as we can.”
However, French customers are also reporting the same block, so it seems unlikely that this is a technical problem, especially as people can access the site fine when viewed with a proxy. If you’re an Orange customer, click over the jump to find out how to get onto the site in this way.
Google Suggest seems to have been rolled out to the UK now (I’m getting it, anyway) and we had a comment on our post announcing it asking how you turn it off. I did a little bit of digging, and it turns out it’s relatively easy, so I thought I’d share it for those of you who aren’t so keen on being pre-empted on your searches…