HelpOSS Help You

angeltuxBryan Lunduke of JupiterBroadcasting recently gave a talk where he laid down some tough love onto desktop Linux’s backside. One part in particular, really caught my attention. He claimed that Linux lacks some key programs (like video/audio editing tools) because such programs require a full time commitment from a small group of developers. A true full time commitment clearly requires monetary compensation: enough money coming in to support yourself, a family and at least one ridiculously big TV. While I can think of many counter examples, lots of key applications for Linux are indeed already supported by full time developers at corporations like Red Hat, IBM, Sun, Novell, Canonical. But, despite the contributions from such companies, other important applications for the Linux desktop are lacking because developers can’t find a means to support themselves on those projects. It seems clear, that we as desktop Linux users need to step up to support our developers.

Why should we donate to software that is freely given away? There is a difference between between free as in open-source and free as in money. Linux and open-source software (OSS) is (and should be) about the former and not necessarily the latter. If we all take the money we have saved by not buying Windows, Office, Photoshop etc and donate just 10% of that sum to the open-source projects we care about most, we would be able fully fund a lot of great open-source developers.

Why haven’t I already given these projects money, if I feel this way? It’s true; I have never in my life paid for OSS (until recently), but I have paid for a lot of closed source software on Linux: VMWare, Mathematica, World of Goo. The main reason that I have given money to these closed projects and not to OSS, is that they make it easy to take your money. I.e, I don’t really even know how to give OSS money. What is needed is a clear way to give and organize contributions to developers of OSS projects. That is what I am proposing below.

But first an example: a couple weeks ago, I suggested to Chris at Jupiter Broadcasting that he add a donation button to the JB page. I now give a few bucks a month to JB, and in total, after just a few weeks, they currently receive over $200 a month. And, damn, they are just a podcast! I would give much more than that to, MythTV, Canonical, Compiz etc… and I think many others would, too.

I propose we develop the following: a single central website devoted to funding OSS. I imagine it as place where developers can register their projects and a means to contribute (something like a paypal button), and users will come and donate to their favorite of those projects. It would awesome to integrate a sort of social networking site where you could get karma for contributing and projects could be ranked on popularity etc. This also creates a direct feedback between users and developers. If you don’t like the way development is going, you can stop contributing. If a new project pops up that you love, you can move your money to that project. If it were this easy and fun, I think we would see a lot of contributions from the Linux/OSS community.

So, I purchased the domain (mainly because I think the phrase ‘Help OSS Help You’ is witty). However, I have to admit that I don’t really know how to make a social networking site – my webpage/hosting experience is mainly in html and canned programs like WordPress or Joomla. Currently the site just has a bunch of links to projects I know of who take donations… So, I am hoping I can recruit some people here to help make this a reality. Who is with me??

Graphics from Tux Factory. Artist Symbiote.

Where to Buy a Preinstalled Linux Desktop / Laptop

The hardest part of using Linux is often installing it.  Over the last couple of years, Linux has come a long way in terms of hardware support, and these days it is relatively rare that an installation of ubuntu/fedora will be lacking any drivers for your machine. However, installing any OS can still sometimes be a tedious task and one that scares the wits out of the average computer user. And, for the expert users out there, it’s just more fun to buy a computer with Linux already on it and not have to pay the Microsoft tax – even, if you are going to put your favorite distro on it anyway.  You can find Linux servers sold all sort of places, but where can you find Linux desktops for sale? Here is a list of places I have had good experiences with or have had heard good things about directly:



I bought a laptop (1420) from dell with ubuntu preinstalled.  It showed up and all of the hardware immediately worked flawlessly: webcam, wifi, suspend/resume, audio, compiz etc…  The good thing about buying a dellbuntu, as opposed to a computer from Best Buy, is you can be absolutely sure that everything will be supported.  Beyond piece of mind, buying an ubuntu machine from Dell sends a message to the big manufactures that there is a demand for Linux and Linux support on their computers.



ZaReason is a local Berkeley company that sells preinstalled Ubuntu desktops and laptops all over the world.  They also sell Ubuntu swag such as case badges to replace any “powered by windows” stickers on your old computers (of which I have bought to give away at our meetings).  The prices start low and the computers are available with many customizations.  Whenever you buy a machine from ZaReason, they include a screwdriver in your package, letting you know that you are free to tinker with your computer.  If you want a preinstalled Ubuntu computer with great Linux support and would rather promote a small Linux only dealer than a big corporation like Dell, consider ZaReason.  I intend to buy my next computer from them.



Like ZaReason, System76, sells preinstalled Ubuntu Laptops / Desktops (and now they have their very own netbook).  They were one of the first companies to sell their own Linux systems and have a large user and support community (including their own forum at ubuntuforums).  Hardware support is flawless and they have a wide array of machines designed for everyday users, to business laptops to servers.  I have never had experience with a System76 machine, but have heard nothing but good things.



Unlike System76 and ZaReason, EmperorLinux does not create their own computers.  They get high-end computers from Dell/Lenovo (including several tablet options) and install Linux on them for you.  These are great for power users who want a high end (or business) machine with Linux on it.   But, it does not have the advantage of being a true Linux computer from start to finish.


Linux certified also sells some preinstalled Linux laptops/desktops. I know very little about these machines, but they are worth looking into before you decide on a purchase.



Since the EeePC, a lot of netbooks have flooded the market, most with a Linux option.  I own and love the EeePC 901.  It originally came with a somewhat lame Linux distro based on Xandros.  However, I have installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on it, and it is a great little Linux laptop.  Here are EeePC Linux options available at Amazon.Com:

HP SUSE Probook

Finally, it looks like HP  is getting back into the game…

Additions from the Comments:

Puget Systems – Looks like they sell both Linux and Windows custom PCs.

Pioneer Computers (Australia) – Live in Australia?  Try this.

Los Alamos Linux – One of the oldest Linux sellers.  Looks like they are similar to EmperorLinux in that they mod Lenovo’s for example.

Affordy – Looks like another company similar to System76 and ZaReason.  Nice to have options – good review below in comments.



IndaMixx Recommended in email.  Looks like a nice portable multimedia system.


Diverse Technologies


Also, as one of the commenters kindly pointed out, has a list of some vendors (though, since they are missing most of my original suggestions, it is certainly no master list):

How to reconfigure your display the easy way!

Believe it or not, sometimes the display will die on your Linux operating system. You probably have no control over this…..Time to move on and fix the issue without spending hours on Google searching for a half-baked how-to.

If you are in the process of implementing this article on a broken system, chances are that you see a black screen with text. Please follow these steps so that you can get the pretty colors back!

Step 1: Login.

Step 2: Ensure the graphical daemons are not running.

service gdm stop

service kdm stop

Step 3: Run this command:   X -configure

(This will create the following file in your directory:

Step 4: Copy the configuration file to the right place.

mv /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Step 5: Restart the display.

service gdm start (for GNOME users.)


service kdm start (for KDE users)


startx (for everyone else, the elite)

Step 6: If you are still having problems……

Repeat Steps 1 – 4.

We will change the driver to vesa. Vesa is a generic display driver that will work on any video card. I usually use this driver on all my machines because it is stable and never fails.

Use your favorite text editor and open /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Look for a line that says  something like the following :

Driver      “nv”

Driver      “ati”

Driver      “nvidia”

Driver      “intel”
Change the name from what is in quotes to “vesa”.

Example of how it should be after the change:  Driver      “vea”

Save and exit the file and follow step 5.

Tips for using solid state drives on Linux.

I have a webserver with a 4GB CF card in a very very small computer. I was trying to come up with ways to reduce writes on this device and I remembered UnionFS. UnionFS can take 1 folder and make it read-only and have all the changes written to another folder. To the user, everything will look the same. This is very good when adding a disk to a computer and your not using LVM.

What I want to do? I want  /tmp,  /var/log, /var/home, and /root to have the changes written to my USB device that is mounted as  /mnt. These directories receive a lot of writes to them.

I copied the following commands to /etc/rc.local so that they are executed when the machine boots:


mount -t unionfs -o dirs=/mnt/logs=rw:/var/log=ro unionfs /var/log
mount -t unionfs -o dirs=/mnt/filesystem/root=rw:/root=ro unionfs /root
mount -t unionfs -o dirs=/mnt/filesystem/home=rw:/home=ro unionfs /home
mount -t unionfs -o dirs=/mnt/filesystem/tmp=rw:/tmp=ro unionfs /tmp


Lets make sure everything worked by doing `df -h`:


/dev/sda1             3.8G  1.6G  2.1G  44% /
unionfs               7.5G  3.3G  3.8G  47% /var/log
unionfs               7.5G  3.3G  3.8G  47% /root
unionfs               7.5G  3.3G  3.8G  47% /home
unionfs               7.5G  3.3G  3.8G  47% /tmp
If you want this to be mounted at boot time without
using /etc/rc.local, simply add the following to /etc/fstab:
unionfs /tmp unionfs dirs=/mnt/filesystem/tmp=rw:/tmp=ro 0 0
unionfs /home unionfs dirs=/mnt/filesystem/home=rw:/tmp=ro 0 0
unionfs /var/log unionfs dirs=/mnt/logs=rw:/var/log=ro 0 0
unionfs /root unionfs dirs=/mnt/filesystem/root=rw:/tmp=ro 0 0
Now all the changes will be written to my USB device and my main CF
cards will not be written to a lot.

The best Linux disk cloning software – Mephisto Backup v1.5

What is Mephisto Backup?

This program can do simple backups and syncs over a network or locally.It uses tar and rsync in the background. Mephisto Backup was made with the Java programming language. The key feature of this program is the ability to backup your system to an image and copy it to a Linux Live DVD for future restoration. The user can then take that cd and move his or her system to any PC.


1. Backup your operating system to a Live CD.

2. Restore your OS from the Mephisto Live CD. The live CD is used by Mephisto Backup to Restore your system only.

3. Displays the size of your backup ISO and TAR file after each backup job is ran.

4. Blank DVD-RW’s.

5. Sync between locations and save backup configurations.

6. Burn the backup image to the live cd within the program.

7. Backup Schedules.

Additional things to mention:

1. This program is great to use in virtual machines because you can easily generate your virtual machine to a restore disc and deploy the image to any computer!

2. A single source for everything that you have to do: Backup -> Create a disc -> Burn. All in a single application!



Main website.

Google Code.


Contact: Phillip Tribble //

How bad do you want Netflix on Linux?

path3191How bad do you want Netflix on Linux? Lots. Do you want it enough to beg Microsoft for it?  Whoa now… :/

Miguel de Icaza recently revealed in his blog,, that Netflix won’t be coming with Moonlight 2.0 (as was largely anticipated) unless Microsoft actively intervenes and ports its DRM stack to Linux.

Miguel suggested that we put some pressure on Netflix and Microsoft directly, asking that they do this. There was a thread created on the Silverlight forum pleading with Microsoft to port its DRM stack over. So far, the responses on the thread vary between desperate sob stories and cookie cutter anti-MS attacks.

What is the solution to this mess? Clearly, Netflix shouldn’t have chosen an engine that doesn’t have cross-platform support for its streaming video service. But, what can Linux Netflix users do now? Well, you could cancel your account, as many are suggesting.  But, I like the Netflix regular disc service too much for that.  You can run an XP virtual machine in VirtualBox. This works quite well.  However, firstly, it isn’t really linux, and secondly, it doesn’t really help people running Boxee or MythTV (i.e. me). netflix_logo1

Is it better to compromise our principles a bit to get a service we want? Should we boycott Netflix until they change services? Perhaps we should just spin around in circles and cry because we are so confused…

First Meeting

Our first meeting will be Sunday, May 17 at Bobby G’s Pizzeria in Berkeley from 12:00 to 3:00 pm.  And, there will be prizes!


Ongoing: Trivia Contest. Automated demos of Jack’s Favorite Desktop Apps.

12:00-12:30: Meet and Greet. First three people get a prize (see below).

12:30 – 1:30: Introduce goals of Organization:

  • Promote and spread desktop linux in East Bay area.
  • Tables at events like Solano Stroll or Sproul Plaza.
  • Development of desktop Linux. How can we as a group contribute?
  • Perform Modern Installfests
  • Create locally produced Desktop Linux News Blog and Podcast?
  • Future talks: ZaReason? High Performance Computing? Killer Apps? Desktop Mangers? Etc…
  • Organization of BerkeleyLUG discussion

1:30 – 2:00 – Create web accounts for contributors. Anyone with something cool related to desktop Linux to share, feel free.


First 3 people to show up: 10 Ubuntu Case Badges (Everyone else gets 1 case badge).

Linux Trivia Contest: 1stt Place – Ubuntu T-Shirt Medium.


Please send and email to if you plan on attending and register for an account at to get future emails.

How to Follow Linux Developments

Get your RSS feed readers ready because here is my list of the best sites/feeds to stay in touch with the latest developments in the linux community.  This is the short list — there are many personal/professional blogs/sites that should be included in  a full list.  But, most of them are aggregated in the following sites.



I list this site first because it is my new favorite Linux news site.  Actually, it is much more than just a news site; they produce a Linux benchmarking suite called PTS (Phoronix Test Suite) that tests the performance of every aspect of the Linux system including cpus/compilers, graphics cards/drivers and kernel/distro releases.  This benchmarking alone is instrumental in helping Linux progess, but they also provide a news feed of generally well thought out articles on important releases  and software and hardware developments in the Linux ecosystem.  If you have limited time and can only follow important hapennings in the Linux world, I suggest you subscribe to Phoronix’s RSS feed.

LXER is a comprehensive Linux news agregation site for Linux stories.  You can think of it like slashdot for only Linux.  Articles are posted from a range of sources including personal blogs and professional journals such as CNET, ArsTechnia.  LXER combined with Linux Today (see the following) cover all your basis as far as linux news goes.

Linux Today

Very similar to LXER but with  a separate submission process.  Linux Today also has its own set of original articles.  The site tends tends to promote a range of articles from the extremely important to trivial, but is a good browse for any Linux enthusiast.

This used to be a Linux news aggregation site similar to Linux Today and LXer, but it was recently purchased by the Linux Foundation.  They have released a beta version of the new site including social networking features, a comprehensive forum and the ability to create your own Linux articles.  When it goes live, it should be a very nice Linux portal.

Digg Linux

Of course, who can forget’s linux’s section (and the linux upcoming section)? While it has a lot of overlap with LinuxToday and LXer, it is a good interactive supplement to your daily Linux news dose.

And we shouldn’t forget about the great Linux forums.  Here are the ones I actively particpate in:

Another great way to follow developments in the Linux community is through linux podcasts.  A few come to mind (jupiter broadcasting and linux outlaws), but this is really a subject for another post.

EDIT: Here are some user conributed sites from varous comments: