Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Linux Migration: The Awe in Awesome

Awe \Awe\ ([add]), n.

2. The emotion inspired by something dreadful and sublime; an undefined sense of the dreadful and the sublime; reverential fear, or solemn wonder; profound reverence. [1913 Webster]

Solemn Wonder. Profound Reverence. That's exactly how I felt after installing and running Beryl desktop manager. It's simply awesome! No wonder Mohammad Nabil likes it so much.

For those who don't know what Beryl is, it's an alternative desktop manager. Basically, it manages how windows get rendered and how they behave. It has a very nice set of features, with lots of focus on stunning visual effects. In simple words, it makes the desktop environment look very awesome and act very cool about it ;-). Here are some screenshots that I took while writing this article:

- Here's one showing off the cubic environment and 3d windows, with the Firefox window being bent between two desktops
- And here's another one showing a window being incinerated by the Fire (aka Burn) effect as it gets closed, while the Beryl configuration manager is open underneath so I can adjust the animation speed to be able to catch it in a screenshot
- And these two show the various spring effects at work

If I tried to list all the features, I'd have to post about a dozen more screenshots and the post would get humongous. I just wanted to share with you the highlight of my Linux experience for this past couple of days. It has turned it to a very catchy experience and I actually got used to it faster than I could imagine. I had to use Windows a couple of days ago to do some filesystem edits, and it felt sooooo boring with its traditional windows and colors...

Bottom line, it's a very fine piece of software that must've had lots of hard work and artful skill to reach where it is right now. I'm humbled, really!

Other than that, it has been a rather uneventful couple of days. I got a bunch more programs installed, and learned a bit more about the inner workings of Linux. My typing speed is gradually increasing, thanks to all the practice typing shell commands, which is still somehow inevitable for some administrative tasks.

The one challenge that I might be faced with soon is trying to move my whole installation to a new hard drive that I'm thinking of getting. I know it can be done and I don't think it's gonna mind being moved to a bigger drive, as long as I can reinstall grub on the new drive's boot. I'm still not sure if this would work at all and what the best way to do it would be, so if someone has any idea; any comments would be highly appreciated :-).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Linux Migration: My New Toy

What do most kids do whenever they get a new toy?

People who have kids in the house will probably know the answer to that. Well, here's what they do: they keep playing with it non-stop until they're too tired and they fall asleep, or until it possibly gets broken! And that's exactly what I did with my new Linux installation :-P.

After my previous post, my dear friend Mohammad Nabil posted a comment about my mp3 problem; for which I would like to thank him :-). Frankly, the solution was even easier than I anticipated. I knew I had to install the codecs; but I thought the process would involve some looking, some cryptic command line instructions, and possibly some form of compiling. I couldn't be more wrong! It gives me a tremendous amount of joy to say that it was even easier than installing Windows components ;-). I just had to open the Synaptic Package Manager, which is very similar to the Add/Remove feature, only more advanced. It's as easy as 1, 2, 3: Enable a couple of repositories in the list, choose the packages to install, and click apply!

I went for the solution with the least amount of download, VLC Media Player. I had mp3 and everything else working again effortlessly. I did notice something, however; my surround sound wasn't working properly! So, I did the first thing to come to my mind; I looked for an updated driver for my sound device. I found one on the manufacturer's website so I downloaded it and tried running it. I supposed it could be trusted; but this is where I went terribly wrong. Apparently, gcc and make weren't installed with the system, so only after deleting the current sound drivers, it failed to build the new driver! I was left without the deleted files, and next time I restarted gnome wouldn't log in.

Thanks to Linux's multiple terminals, I logged in on tty1 and reinstalled the missing files that were stopping gnome from loading. I then logged on to gnome and started trying to recover the sound functionality. After a while and a headache, I decided I'm gonna throw away this installation! I restarted back to Windows and reset the MBR to XP's configuration. I started downloading the latest Ubuntu version, 6.10, and then I was too tired so I went to sleep.

That was Thursday. When the download got finished the next day, I installed the new version, also LiveCD style, and got it re-customized, much faster this time. I was met with a few nice surprises in forms of minor but useful changes. Overall, it was a bit annoying to have my new installation broken at the very first day, but I consider it a useful experience. I did manage to restore access to the system, which was kinda fun. I know I could've restored the sound if I had tried, but it was pretty late at night and installing the 6.10 seemed to have its advantages -- for one, XGL/Beryl had the 6.06 version on their unsupported list!

I installed this system last night, and I haven't used Windows today at all; and you know what: it feels really good!!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Linux Migration: First couple of hours

They say the first couple of hours are always the hardest. I couldn't agree more!

I'm currently going through these first hours; I finally got my Linux installed! It took me a while since the last post, I know; but with going to college every day and having to work on some stuff for the graduation project (which is kinda interesting btw, more on that later ;-)) I kinda haven't had the time. Well, as I said, today I finally did. Believe it or not, here goes my very first Linux-authored blog entry ;-).

The timing delay wasn't the only change too; I actually went for Ubuntu instead of openSUSE. The main reason is rather silly; I actually finished downloading openSUSE and checked the DVD image's hash and everything checked out fine! So I went and wrote the image to DVD and got ready to install it, but then apparently something went wrong during DVD burning cuz the installation didn't go too far. I got some file read error at a very early stage of installation (and thank God it was at an early stage rather than having to sit through an hour of installation and then have it fail near the end!) and the installation failed. So, I went for the first ready alternative; Ubuntu.

The installation experience was remarkably pleasant! I actually give it 10 out of 10 for that; it's even much easier than some standard everyday program setup. Since it's originally a LiveCD, all I had to do was boot up from the CD and have a live preview of how my system is gonna look and react; at which point my primary focus was making sure all my devices work properly. Then I clicked the Install shortcut on the desktop and was presented with a very simple 5-step wizard that actually installed the system while I had access to the live version to browse the internet or do whatever I like! This is a major improvement from having to stare at the screen while the system gets installed, which is what normally happens during a standard Linux installation.

The only possible drawback is that it was too easy; no support for advanced options except for the disk partitioning. For instance, I usually like to modify my boot loader options to adjust default choice, timeout, etc... I also didn't get to choose my root password, and I wasn't sure whether it has defaulted to the same as my password or some other default value so I had to change it manually after logging in. It's not such a pain, but it was kinda ambiguous.

Well, so far so good! There were also a few nice touches that I hadn't seen on my last Linux installation; like the fact that it can read NTFS partitions and it actually auto-mounted them for me and put links to my drives on the desktop. It's still read-only of course, but if I recall correctly that's unavoidable. I was happy to have access to my files, though; so I started by opening my Music folder and trying to play some music, where I was met by the first road bump! Ooops, error message! Something about a missing decoder, and I got the same message with each and every format I have, sound be it or video. I guess it works with uncompressed WAV files, but I don't have any of those to try. I guess I can live without music for a while until I get it fixed, no big deal.

Of course there're other problems and stuff that I have to install. My favorite browser, Firefox, was already installed, but I upgraded it to 2.0 (before actually finding out that it got updated automatically along with 108 other components by Ubuntu's autoupdate feature anyway) and downloaded my favorite plugins. Thanks to Foxmarks, I got all my bookmarks imported in no time either ;-). Chat was available out-of-the-box with Gaim, though some advanced features aren't available and I still haven't gotten the Linux Yahoo Messenger to work yet. But the readily-available functionality - though basic - did feel nice.

Anyway, I guess that's enough boring details for now. I'll try my best to keep up with posting about my daily Linux experience, and I'm also working on some tutorial posts for Linux and OpenSource beginners, in response to a special request from one of my friends :-). Hopefully I'll get those done sometime soon.

As a final thought (and mainly cuz I'm too lazy to try solving that now), I'm sure someone else was faced with the same problem trying to play mp3 files; so I'd be very grateful for any comments about a quick solution. I'm sure it's very straightforward, I just haven't tried looking for it yet...

Over & Out...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Linux Migration: Take 2!

So, I have recently made the decision to try migrating my life to Linux for the millionth time! I'm actually starting to think of Windows as a bad addiction; I've made the decision to quit using it for the 1000th time and it never seems to work. I hope I'll be able to stick to Linux for a bit longer this time though; I'm trying to minimize my dependencies on Windows and Microsoft technologies, especially now that I'm also gonna start taking up Java as a career path.

My distribution of choice is openSuse 10.2, which I'm currently downloading. It was recommended to me by a friend, and since I don't really have any preferences of my own, I decided to give it a try. As soon as it's downloaded, I'm gonna burn it and install it on an unallocated 7GB partition that I've had since the last time I had Fedora Linux installed and only used it 2 or 3 times total... I will make it my default boot option and try to get most of my internet applications or alternatives, as well as the development environments; of course excluding anything by Microsoft.

I am hoping Linux would be the start of a full migration to all things Open Source, and hopefully I would get to learn a couple of useful things in the process. I won't be too fast to get rid of my Windows XP installation though; I know for fact that I still have fatal dependencies on Windows, and I'm not really big on virtual machines.

I know it won't be easy, but I'm hoping it'll be fun. I'll document the whole process every other day with a post here, and who knows; maybe this experiment would encourage other Windows junkies like myself to quit in hopes of a better life!

Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Of PC And Mac: The Anti-Microsoft Movement

Anyone who has been browsing technology websites lately, such as Wired's Computer Technology news page and many others, must have noticed the fierce promotion campaign that Apple has been holding lately. These ads are composed of a set of funny TV ads, starring two guys, Mac and PC, having various conversations that mostly end up showing an advantage that Mac has over PC.

This was also coupled with the very unenthusiastic launch of Microsoft's new platform, Windows Vista, that was mostly met with "a Late-Night Yawn" by many technology-aware users. Many negative reviews and many unwelcoming comments make me wonder if we're witnessing the descent of Windows in favor of exciting new alternatives by Apple, especially after the switch to Intel-based computers that enables Mac users to use any Windows platform if needed; "Not that you’ll want to..." says Apple!

This screen shot below shows a very nice coincidence on Wired's page, showing an ad for Microsoft's new Windows Mobile platform sharing the same page with an Apple ad about peripherals showing off Mac's out-of-the-box peripherals support.

Who knows what the future holds for the anti-Microsoft campaign, and whether Apple's promotion campaign will really result in a shift towards Mac. I'm also wondering (more like hoping actually!) whether this shift will be reflected here in Egypt and around the region, which currently has Microsoft monopolizing most of the market, with Java having a growing share of the development market but no other OS having any significant share of the end-user market...

(P.S.: For those of you who have been following my posts, I'm sorry for the sudden disappearance for a whole week.. Unfortunately, my phone line - and thus ADSL too - has been disconnected for most of this week, so I didn't have any internet access to continue my post. I'll try to write a bit more often this week to make that up ;-))

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

One billion and one. One billion and two. One billion and three ...

This New York Times article entitled "Wireless Internet for All, Without the Towers", talks about wishful plans to extend wireless internet coverage to large residential areas that don't have broadband access. Trying to cover these areas with traditional access points has proven to be rather expensive, which is why Meraki Networks is researching a new, inexpensive way to do just that!

By creating cheap wireless boxes that are deployed inside apartments and that function as signal repeaters, and connecting these in a mesh network; they are hoping to establish cheap wireless connectivity to homes in areas that don't have broadband connectivity or who can't afford its relatively-high costs. Considering the low service and maintenance cost, ISPs can actually provide the service for free by using advertisements, and the users won't have to pay anything, except for the initial $49 unit! No installation, no maintenance; just plug it in and you've got wireless ;-).

Of course, it should come as no surprise that "In short order, Google and then Sequoia Capital, one of Google’s original venture capital backers, invested in Meraki" says the New York Times article. It appears that they might actually succeed in making the internet reach the next billion users.

I can't wait to see what the coming years of evolution have in store for us, with all that's been going on and all the new technologies rapidly evolving every day. I know I will join the writer of that article in counting the next billion internet users, as well as the next billion genius, web-oriented technologies!

One billion and one. One billion and two. One billion and three ...

Monday, February 05, 2007


I got this funny error when I was trying to open Google Reader yesterday...

Of course, as is the usual with Google, refreshing the page fixed the problem. It did, however, remind me of all the funny errors posted everyday on The Daily WTF. But honestly, I totally don't mind such an error, I didn't even laugh that much :-P. Actually, "Oops!" is kinda a Google standard error; it's not the first time I see it. Besides, I think they somehow earned the right for a "This wasn't supposed to happen" error message, after all it's still under development and it's already one more geniusly Googlish idea!

If you don't already know what Google Reader is, and you like RSS and Atom feeds like I do, then I really suggest you give it a try! I find the description/slogan they used quite to-the-point: it's "Your inbox for the web." You can use it to easily manage your favorite feeds, and you can share interesting articles with your friends using your shared page (here's a link to mine). You can also add a viewer to your Google personalized homepage, so that you wouldn't have to browse to the Google Reader page whenever you wanna check your favorite feeds. All of this, of course, works in a very seamless and extremely easy to use interface - also a trend of all things Googlish.

Yet another Googlish service I stumbled upon recently, and one which is actually specifically targeted to blogs and bloggers, is the Google Blog Search. I guess the name says it all, doesn't it? Looking for blogs about a specific topic? Wanna know when someone blogs about your favorite ? It's even got feeds if you'd like to stay updated with new blog posts matching your criteria! The author of this article on the official Google Reader blog uses it to stay up to date with blogs talking about Google Reader.

Seriously, I can't help but try to imagine how much further is Google taking the web experience, and hope that one day I - as a developer - would get to participate to this great technology even if by a tiny bit...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Scope Resolution...

Definition: The scope resolution operator, ::, is used to qualify a namespace member to its namespace (C++ Language).

Geeaky definition out of the way, this is as close to the literal meaning of the name as I intend to get. The only reason I chose this name for my blog is that I actually thought it was cool when I first created this block in May of 2006. I still think it has a certain sound to it, that is why I decided not to change it when I came back here, almost a year later.

As I just said, I first created this blog around a year ago, mostly just exploring the possibility that it might be a fun thing to do. Half-way through writing my first article, I started having second thoughts... Do I really have time to keep up with posting every now and then? What do I have to be writing about in the first place? And who in the world would actually be interested in reading what I have to write? Long story short, I had my moment of doubt and I ended up discarding the idea.

Now that I'm back here and actually writing, the natural question forces itself: so what has changed? I still don't have that much free time on my hands; and I still think I'm not that much of an interesting writer to be attracting that many people. Well, I just thought I should give it a try anyway.

I think that this all comes as part of a new phase that I'm entering - a new gear if I may put it that way. I am turning 21! And very soon I will graduate and enter a whole new realm. Actually, I'm not normally very fond of self-expression; I'm more that vague, mysterious guy that doesn't talk about himself unless extremely necessary. So, I just thought I'd try this self-expression thing for a while.. Who knows, maybe it's not such a bad thing...

Of course I still have no idea who might actually read this blog! But since I'm always interested in making new friends, I will be very glad if you could drop me a comment or an email with anything you might have to say ;). Since I'm not really a relentless self-expressionist, I guess I'll just see how many comments/views I will get, and if they're not so many, I think I'll eventually look for something better to do with my time. I hope not, though...

Over & Out!