Category Archives: Linux

Join Me – Should WebEx be worried?

Anyone who knows me will be aware of my passion for high-quality free software – and today I have a real cracker!

This week I was training a friend who lives on the other side of the country on how to use his new software.  I’m too cheap to pay for a WebEx account and so the search was on for a suitable alternative.  Fortunately I quickly stumbled across Join Mea screen sharing tool that promised “ridiculously simple” screen sharing and, for once, they were not kidding!

Installation was a snap.  Download a tiny 4mb file, click install and that’s it!

Sharing the screen was simple too.  Start the software, send an email with the link provided and wait for the software to tell you that people have joined.  No complicated setup, no ads, and nothing for the viewer to install as everything runs in their browser.  During sharing you can see how many people are watching, chat with people, start an internet conference call, share control of your desktop with someone and even pause things if you need to get offline for a minute.  If your viewers are on an iPad that’s no problem either!  They have an app and it works beautifully.

During my session I had some problems with my wireless network and it even handled that with aplomb, providing a nice helpful message on the screen to let me know that no-one could see what I was doing.

So what’s the down side?  Honestly…not much.

The “Basic” (read free) version has a few limitations.  You can only share your entire screen so you had better shut down your email, instant messenger and any browsers connected to ‘interesting‘ websites before you start sharing.  The Pro version provides the option to limit screen areas,  schedule sessions instead of sending out the invitation just before the session and present to more than 250 people.  None of that was a problem for me.

For me the system worked flawlessly with almost no lag and, compared to the complicated and confusing LiveMeeting and WebEx sessions I have used before this was beautifully simple.  It has therefore earned a well deserved spot on my famous Free Software page.

If I were the WebEx CEO I would buy this company out before companies start deserting them on a large-scale.  But if you are looking for a screen sharing tool that is free and “ridiculously easy” then your search is over.

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Filed under Education, Free Software, Linux, Technology, Windows

My Favorite Free Software!

I love the Open Source/Free software movement.  It has provided me with some incredibly powerful tools to solve problems, not to mention hours of fun tracking down and playing with this stuff.

The following is a list of some of my favorite open source or free software tools.  It’s a mixed bag of things that can help improve productivity, solve PC problems, aid with development or just have fun.  

I’m always looking for more so please post your own favorites as comments and, assuming it makes my Geek-o-meter twitch, I will update the list as time goes on.

toondoo

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Filed under Free Software, Linux, PC Problems?, Technology

Microsoft Office for FREE!

Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Install LibreOffice as a fully functional office suite that is Microsoft Office compatible.   5 – 20 minutes.
OK…that headline isn’t 100% true.  But I hate seeing people spend money on software they don’t need.
– 
Lately I have run into several people with Macs (or older versions of Office) who find themselves unable to open files from the School / PTO / Local Charity, etc.  because the files were created in Word or Excel.
Like it or not MS-Office is a standard today that cannot be ignored even if you do “think different“.
But before you blow over a hundred bucks on the latest version of  MS-Office I’m going to ask that you give LibreOffice a shot.

LibreOffice is a complete Office suite that is fully compatible with all versions of Microsoft Office.  And since it is open source it is also 100% free.

It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux PCs, updated often, and is the only office suite that works almost identically regardless of machine.

To be fair LibreOffice can’t do everything that MS Office 2010 does.  But it does a lot more than offerings such as Google Docs, and has more power than most users need. It is an obvious choice for any user, company, or organization that wants to stop paying for Office.

It comes with a:

  • Word processor (Writer)
  • Spreadsheet (Calc)
  • Presentation system (Impress)
  • Drawing package (Draw)
  • Database (Base)
  • Math equation editor (Math).
More details on the features are found here.

One very cool  feature is the ability to create PDF files right out of the box.  No need to mess around with additional software or creating fake printers.

Installation couldn’t be simpler – just download, run and…that’s it!  Depending on your Internet speed you could literally be up and running with it in a few minutes.  And if MS Office is your mainstay then I’d suggest taking a few moments to set the default file save format to Word/PowerPoint/Excel before you start.

The one thing it doesn’t come with is an alternative to Microsoft Outlook.  However, if you really need an email client, then Mozilla’s Thunderbird comes highly recommended.

But if you are looking for an office suite that is Microsoft Office compatible then you have nothing to lose – so  give it a shot!   Unless you actually enjoy spending money on software you don’t need.

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Filed under Free Software, Linux, PC Problems?, Windows

Protect your PC with Linux (Dual-boot)


Summary

Difficulty Rating

Time to complete

Install Linux alongside Windows to provide additional virus protection  and access your data if Windows becomes inoperable

 

Less than 1 Hour


Installing Linux alongside Windows provides a number of benefits, even to novice users. Benefits to installing Linux alongside Windows (a practice known as dual-boot) include:

  1. The ability to run virus scanning software from outside of Windows – more on that later.
  2. Should the Windows system become unusable for any reason you can still boot into Linux to access and backup your files before any drastic action is taken with the Windows partition.
  3. If all you are doing is browsing the web then Linux will boot faster and be significantly more secure that Windows.

Note: The instructions below enable you to set up your machine as a dual boot device.  However if the unthinkable has already happened and your Windows PC is already infected with a virus then a simpler option is to create a bootable Linux virus scanner.  Both AVG and Kaspersky kindly provides the necessary disk image which can be found here and here will allow you to create either a bootable CD or USB drive.  As with the dual-boot option below, this runs in a Linux environment and should therefore be immune to whatever nasty things have infected your Windows environment.

My preferred version of Linux is Ubuntu, mostly because it has a great graphical interface, so that is the one that we will focus on here.

Official Ubuntu circle with wordmark. Replace ...

Image via Wikipedia

For those not familiar with it, Ubuntu is the most popular version of Linux available today.  It comes in several varieties (desktop, notebook, and server being the primary ones).  Ubuntu has a very ‘windows like’ interface (except server), comes pre-packaged with software such as open office (which is Microsoft office compatible even up to Office 2010) and is, of course, completely free.

Part 1 – Installing Ubuntu

There are several ways to install Ubuntu but here we are going to assume that most people have Windows and would like to install it alongside – providing a choice of operating system to run appearing at boot time.  I have personally installed it alongside Windows 7 and windows Vista, and I’m told it will happily work with Windows XP.

Important note:  Before you start, please take a backup of your system and make sure that you have Windows boot disk available.  I have not seen it wreck anything yet, but I would hate someone to send me an email describing how they lost everything.

There are detailed instructions on the Ubuntu web site for installing Ubuntu alongside Windows, including the necessary download links to Wubi (the windows Ubuntu installer).  These can be found here : http://www.ubuntu.com/desktop/get-ubuntu/windows-installer.  Since they will keep that up to date there is no reason for me to rewrite that here.

At the time of writing there is a bug in the current version  Wubi of where it sometimes tells you that a disk is missing and give you the option to Try Again, Cancel or Continue.  Apparently this is something to do with extra disks (e.g. USB drives) being attached and is very annoying because it won’t go away.  However the solution is very simple – just hit continue many, many times (about 30 or so) and the program will continue and work fine (sic).

If presented with the option to do a Demo and full installation or Install inside Windows, select the Install inside Windows option.

You should then be asked which drive to install to (assuming C:) how much disk space to allocate (you should select at least 5gb), and you will need to select a user id and a password.  Passwords are used a lot in Ubuntu for admin functions, so make sure it is something you can easily remember and do not leave it blank.

The install will start and, after a while, you will be asked to reboot.  Once you reboot you should be given the option to boot into Windows (which will occur automatically if you do nothing) or Ubuntu.  Select Ubuntu and the installation of Ubuntu will continue.  Once complete you will be able to boot into either operating system on system startup.

Extra notes:

– If you are using a laptop and Ubuntu doesn’t have a driver for your wi-fi card then try connecting to a wired LAN and running a system update (System –> Administration –> Update Manager).  That sometimes solves the issue.  If not then you will have to install a program called ndiswrapper and use that to install your driver (quite easy to do).

– I always run the update mentioned above anyway to make sure that I have the most up to date software.

Part 2 – Using Ubuntu as a Windows virus scanner.

Some viruses are smart and act protect themselves.  One common way to do this is to  start multiple versions that watch each other constantly. Should an instance be stopped by your anti-virus software, the other instances immediately reinstate it.  But if you don’t start Windows then the virus never runs in the first place.  As such running a scan from a Linux partition can be particularly useful with stubborn viruses.

To run a full virus scan from Ubuntu you will need to boot into Ubuntu and install two programs.  By default Ubuntu does not come with any Virus scanning software installed (which I think personally smacks of hubris).
To do this do the following.

From the menu bar at the top select – System –> Administration –> Synaptic Package Manager

– Search for ClamAV and mark that for installation by checking the box.  It will automatically add any other software needed to support that.  ClamAV is the virus scanning software.

– Search for ClamTK and mark that for installation by checking the box.  It will automatically add other software needed to support that.  ClamTK is the Graphical User Interface for the scanning software.

– Click on the Apply button and wait for the software to install.

Part 3 – Running the scan.

From the menu bar at the top select – Applications –> Virus Scanner

The first time you run it, it will probably tell you that the virus definitions are out of date.  Let it sit for a while, close the program and then open it again and you should find they are OK now (it updates when you run it).

Scan –> Recursive scan

Select the File System disk from the options available and click OK.  If you are not sure which disk needs to be scanned then select the largest drive available – that is usually your main PC drive.

The scan will start but it will take several minutes for any information to be displayed in the scanner software.  Don’t Panic!

The full scan can take a long time depending on the size of your disk.  If any viruses are found they will be displayed at the end as a list and you can right-click on each file to choose an action.

That’s it!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here.

4 Comments

Filed under Free Software, Linux, PC Problems?, Viruses, Windows