An Introduction to Ubuntu’s Personal Package Archives

Ubuntu

UbuntuDo you use Ubuntu? Then you probably know that there really only are a few ways in which you can install software on your computer. Most people use either the Ubuntu Software Center or Synaptic Package Manager. Of course, you can compile the software’s source code or install it with a .deb package, but both those routes have their own issues.

While comprehensive, Ubuntu’s official software repository doesn’t contain every application under the sun. And it can be a while before updates to an application filter through to that repository. So what’s an Ubuntu user who wants to stay on the cutting edge to do?

Turn to a Personal Package Archive, that’s what.

A Personal Package What?

A Personal Package Archive (PPA) is a software repository that enables the developer, whose software may or may not be in the official Ubuntu repository, to bring software and updates to that software to users of Ubuntu. Developers host PPAs on Launchpad, a software collaboration site run and maintained by Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu).

Developers upload the source code to Launchpad, and the Launchpad compiles that code into the software that users can install. If you’re a developer, you can find more information about PPAs here.

Why Use a PPA?

The obvious advantage is that you can install and use software that isn’t in the official Ubuntu repositories. That, in itself, is a huge plus. And unlike installing software either by compiling source code or installing a .deb package, you get updates through Ubuntu’s Update Manager. That saves you a bit of time and effort when it comes to installing a new version of an application.

Of course, there is a danger that someone who runs a PPA might be distributing malicious code. While Canonical tries to ensure that doesn’t happen, you never can tell. You need to make sure that you can trust the source.

PPAs from the User’s Perspective

So, you’re an Ubuntu user and run across a nifty piece of software. You immediately want to download it, but find out that it’s only available through a PPA. So what do you do? Well, that depends on the version of Ubuntu you’re using.

In either case, go to the PPA page for the software — for example, the page for the daily builds of the Chromium Web browser. Find the section Adding this PPA to your system.

Adding a PPA in Ubuntu 9.10 or newer

If you’re using Ubuntu 9.10 or newer, find the name of the PPA. It looks something like this:

 ppa:[software_name]/ppa 

Where [software_name] is the application you want to install, for example chromium-daily.

Then, open a terminal window by selecting Applications > Accessories > Terminal. Type the following command in the terminal window to add the PPA:

 sudo add-apt-repository ppa:[software_name]/ppa 

When you’re prompted, enter the password that you use to log into Ubuntu. The PPA is then added to your list of software repositories. Then, type the following command in the terminal window to get the latest list of software from the PPA:

 sudo sudo apt-get update 

You can now install the software using the Ubuntu Software Center or Synaptic Package Manager.

Adding a PPA in Older Versions of Ubuntu

If you’re using a version of Ubuntu older than 9.10, the process is a bit different. In the section Adding this PPA to your system, click the link labeled Technical details about this PPA. Then click the dropdown list labeled Display sources.list entries for: and select your version of Ubuntu from the list.

Selecting your version of Ubuntu

Notice the two lines of code below the list. They look something like this:

 deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/chromium-daily/ppa/ubuntu hardy main deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/chromium-daily/ppa/ubuntu hardy main 

Copy those lines of code. Open a terminal window and type the following command to open your list of repositories in the text editor:

 sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list 

Paste the two lines of code at the end of the file and save it. Then, exit the text editor.

Keep the terminal window open and go back the PPA’s Web page in your browser. Look for the the entry on the page labeled Signing key (which verifies the software from the PPA). It looks something like this:

 1024R/4E5E17B5 

Copy the portion after the slash — in the example above, that’s 4E5E17B5. Then, go back to your terminal window and type the following command:

 sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys [key] 

Replace key with the portion of the signing key that you copied. Finally, type the following command in the terminal window to get the latest list of software from the PPA:

 sudo sudo apt-get update 

You can now install the software using Synaptic Package Manager.

Final Thoughts

Using a PPA is a great way to not only to try out new software, but also stay on the bleeding edge of an application that you currently use. It can take a bit of work to add a PPA to your list of software repositories, but once you do, it’s smooth sailing from there.

How to Detect Rootkits in Linux with rkhunter

UbuntuAs most are aware, there are very few viruses written for the Linux OS. There are, however, 242 known rootkits that can cause catastrophic damage to a Linux box. This post covers a rootkit detector called rkhunter. It is available from the repositories and is actively maintained at the time of posting.

Don’t know what a rootkit is? For the extended basics, a document titled Linux RootKits for Beginners – From Prevention to Removal is available from the Sans Institute, in pdf format here, or viewable via Google Docs here.

Getting Started

Once you’ve learned about rootkit basics (or already have a working knowledge of them), install and setup rkhunter on a system you know to be clean with these commands:

sudo apt-get install rkhunter
sudo rkhunter --update --propupd –pkgmgr dpkg

The –update switch updates rkhunter’s definitions of known rootkits. When –propupd is used, essentially you’re telling rkhunter that the system files it’s about to index are clean. If system files undergo changes after they are indexed by rkhunter, the next scan will show that in the results. The –pkgmgr dpkg option is Debian-specific.

Be aware that there are risks involved, per the warning from rkhunter’s man page:

WARNING: It is the users responsibility to ensure that the files on the system are genuine and from a reliable source. rkhunter can only report if a file has changed, but not on what has caused the change. Hence, if a file has changed, and the –propupd command option is used, then rkhunter will assume that the file is genuine.

The only way to be perfectly assured (well, as close to perfect as possible) a system is clean is if you have just installed the OS, and haven’t downloaded anything outside the repositories. If your install is clean, then rkhunter will prove mighty useful as an addition to your security protocol.

I choose to start rkhunter with these options:

sudo rkhunter -c --sk

The -c option tells rkhunter to run through three main checks: file property changes, rootkits, and application checks. The –sk option means skip keypress, so each check runs without user intervention. When rkhunter completes its audit, it displays a summary on the screen and writes a log file:

* NOTE * — There are two false positives to be aware of. In the very last check rkhunter performs, this shows up on many machines:

false positive results

These can safely be ignored.

There are many other ways to run rkhunter. The –cronjob option, I assume, sees its fair share of use. It integrates three options into one: –check, –nocolors and –skip-keypress (the same as –sk).

Keep tabs on your Linux installation! There is almost nothing worse than having your box rooted without your knowledge. Sure, the chances of being rooted are slim… unless you download just one file, from just one source you think you can trust, that contains a rootkit.

What other security tools do you find useful in your Linux distribution?

How to use Aliases in Linux to Shorten Long Commands

Tired of typing the same long commands each time you have to use them in Linux? Create aliases! An alias is an abbreviated command, a short word you choose that will do the work of a long command requiring switches or parameters.

Creating Aliases in Linux

First, install the vim text editor:

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends --force-yes vim

Then create the hidden file .bashrc in your home directory, and open it with vim:

touch ~/.bashrc
vim ~/.bashrc

If you have vim installed already, all you need is:

vim ~/.bashrc

The file will likely be empty initially:

Press the Insert key so you can write in vim’s window. Create your own aliases for the commands you use most often.

Alias creation follows the format: alias name=’command‘. For example, if you frequently use the command ls -alr (this lists all files in a directory, including hidden files, sorted in reverse order with long listings), you can use an alias like:

alias ls='ls -alr'

Now whenever you type ls, it will actually issue ls -alr.

When you are done, press the Escape key (ESC) to exit Insert mode, then press the colon key (:) to access the input line, and type wq. The w tells vim to write the file, and q means quit.

Press enter to close vim, then exit and re-open the terminal.  The contents of .bashrc are read when the new terminal opens, and your aliases will now be available for use.

Sample Aliases

Use “up” to check for package updates with apt

alias up='sudo apt-get update'

Use “upg” to apply available updates with apt

alias upg='sudo apt-get upgrade'

Use “upup” to both update and upgrade available packages

alias upup='up && upg'

Use “install” to install packages using apt

alias install='sudo apt-get install'

Use “remove” to remove packages using apt

alias remove='sudo apt-get remove --purge'

Use “autorm” to clean up package dependencies

alias autorm='sudo apt-get autoremove'

Use “mplay” to run mplayer, with colored text, from the command line

alias mplay='mplayer -msgcolor'

Use “rkhunt” to start Rootkit Hunter

alias rkhunt='sudo rkhunter -c --sk'

Conclusion

Aliases are useful for so many commands that they cannot all be listed here. Bottom line: If you use certain commands on a regular basis, create aliases for them and save yourself some time.

Using the Linux Command Line with Nautilus Terminal

Nautilus logo

Nautilus logoOne myth about Linux that just won’t die is that you absolutely need to understand and use the command line to get the most out of it. I know a number of Linux users who’ve never cracked open a terminal window, and they’re quite happy.

That said, I find the command line to be an essential part of my toolkit. And, like much in the Linux world, there are a number of options for getting to the command line. One of my favorites is an add-on for the Nautilus file manager called Nautilus Terminal.

Let’s take a look at it.

A Terminal in Nautilus?

That’s what’s advertised, and that’s what you get. Nautilus Terminal embeds a terminal at the top of the Nautilus window. You can run any command from Nautilus Terminal and no matter what directory you’re in, that’s where the terminal opens.

Nautilus Terminal

And if you move around directories in Nautilus, the terminal follows you. So, if you start in /usr/local/bin and move to the directory /usr/share, Nautilus Terminal changes to /usr/share automatically. No need to use the cd command to move around.

Getting Up and Running

That’s pretty easy. You can download the source code for Nautilus Terminal and compile it yourself. Or, you can get packages for Ubuntu, Fedora, Frugalware, and Gentoo. The Nautilus Terminal download page explains how to get those packages.

Once you’ve installed Nautilus Terminal, fire up Nautilus. The embedded terminal will be open.

Customizing Nautilus Terminal

I don’t know about you, but I find having the terminal open all of the time a bit annoying. It takes up a lot of space and can be distracting. You can either click the Close button to hide the terminal, or you can change the settings by clicking the Preferences icon.

Setting preferences

In the Preferences window, click the Start Nautilus Terminal hidden checkbox.

Notice that you can also change:

  • The number of lines to display in the terminal window
  • Whether or not to show a scrollbar
  • The shape of the cursor in the terminal
  • The colors that you use with Nautilus Terminal
  • The font used in the terminal

Using Nautilus Terminal

Let’s assume you’ve set up Nautilus Terminal to hide until you need it. Whenever you need to use Nautilus Terminal, just click the Show button. From there, type the command(s) that you need to run and then press Enter.

Nautilus Terminal in action

Then, click the Close button and continue with what you’re doing.

While I don’t spend an enormous amount of time in Nautilus, I do quite a bit of work — file management, maintenance, and the like — with it every day. Having an embedded terminal window makes it easier on those frequent occasions when I need to use the command line.

Add Amazing Visual Effects to Ubuntu with Compiz

What Compiz Is

Compiz is a compositing window manager, a program that beautifies the desktop with unique animations and special effects. It can make windows wobble when they are moved, and either explode into pieces or burst into flame and disappear when they are closed. Compiz uses your computer’s video card to manage the behavior of windows and other desktop elements.

Compiz is in the stock Ubuntu repositories and comes pre-installed, so there is no need to download or install it. Rather, it needs only the proper video drivers to run, which we cover in a bit. But first, take a look at some of the great visual effects it can offer.

What Compiz Does

One great feature Compiz adds is the ability to view multiple desktops as a 3D cube. You can even view the cube while playing full-screen video.

compiz cube. fullscreen video
Compiz Cube

You can also add custom images to the tops and bottoms of the Compiz Cube.

Top:

Bottom:

You can also view multiple desktops as a set of 2D slides. The default action to start this is to hold the Ctrl + Alt keys and press the Down arrow key. Then, pressing the left or right arrow keys (while still holding Ctrl + Alt) scrolls among the 4 desktops.

It also has effects like drawing fire on the screen:

compiz draw fire on screen

Raindrops falling on the desktop:

compiz raindrops

How To Configure Compiz

3D hardware acceleration is required for desktop effects, so you need a decent video card with the correct drivers installed. To check, click Menu > Administration > Additional Drivers:

linux video driver options
Menu > Administration > Additional Drivers

If no driver is available, then your PC lacks a suitable video card. You can usually buy an older graphics card that can power Compiz for a low price.

After enabling a driver from the list, the computer must reboot for the changes to take effect.

The next step is to click Menu > Preferences > Compiz Config Settings Manager (CCSM) and play with the options:

Cube Deformation is a property worthy of mention. The cube can transform into a cylinder or sphere, depending on what you want. Click Cube Reflection and Deformation:

compiz deformation main screen
Compiz deformation, main screen

Click the “Deformation” tab and you are presented with 3 options: None, Cylinder, or Sphere:

Cube Reflection and Deformation.
CCSM Deformation Options: None (Cube), Cylinder and Sphere

Cylinder:

compiz deform cylinder

Sphere:

compiz deform sphere

Each option takes effect immediately, so there is no need to restart either the desktop or CCSM. Window events like resizing, opening, closing, minimizing and maximizing each have a selection of fun animations:

compiz animation options

Each animation is configurable to a greater or lesser degree. The animation Fire is a good example. It makes windows go up in flames when opened, closed, minimized or maximized (or all 4), with or without smoke:

compiz fire options

Compiz offers hundreds of options, so take some time to explore and in no time you’ll have a desktop environment tweaked to your liking.

Bring Evernote to Your Linux Desktop with Nevernote

Nevernote

Nevernote When it comes to certain desktop applications, Linux is often the poor cousin of operating systems. Take, for example, Evernote. Evernote is an application that lets you take detailed notes, and more. It’s designed to help you, as its tagline says, remember everything.

There are versions of the software for Windows and Mac OS but, as usual, Linux is out in the cold.

Sure, you can use Evernote’s Web interface but sometimes you may not want to. Or you might have to work without a connection to the Internet. So what’s a neglected Linux user to do? Give Nevernote a shot, that’s what.

Getting started

Obviously, you’ll need an Evernote account. You can get a free one, or pay $5 a month for an account with a few more features. Then, download and install Nevernote.

From there, launch the application. If, like me, you’re using Ubuntu then you’ll find the shortcut by selecting Applications > Internet > Nevernote.

Nevernote main window

Using Nevernote

Let’s assume that this is the first time you’ve run Nevernote, but that you have some notes in the Web-based version of Evernote. You’ll probably want to synchronize your notes. To do that, click the Synchronize button on the toolbar. You’ll be asked for your Evernote user name and password. Once you enter them, Nevernote pulls down your notes. Depending on how many notes you have, that could take a few seconds or longer.

From there, using Nevernote is just like using Evernote on the Web. Click the New icon on toolbar to create a new note. You can give it a title, add the note to an existing notebook, and tag it. You can even add formatting and change the font.

Editing a note

Nevernote also supports stacks. In Evernote, stacks are like folders and subfolders. Or, in this case, categories and subcategories for notes. You can, for example, have a stack called Personal. Underneath it, you can have stacks called Receipts and Home Inventory. Doing that can help you better organize your information. It can be more efficient than using tags.

Stacks in Nevernote

On the Downside

Nevernote is a solid application. But it does have its flaws. It’s written in Java, so it might run slowly on some computers. You can’t add attachments to notes, like you can with the Windows and Mac OS Evernote clients or on the Web. You can, however, view certain attachments that have been synchronized from Evernote. The problem is that the quality isn’t all that great.

Attachments aren't pretty

If you use both Linux and Evernote, though, Nevernote is a must-have piece of software. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than just not bad. It offers you most of the power of Evernote, and it lets you take Evernote offline. That in itself is worth the download.

Take Your To Do List to the Command Line

If you’re serious about your to do list and want to be sure that you can use it in the future, then you should think about embracing your inner geek by 1) going text only, and 2) doing everything at the command line. The best way to do that is with Todo.txt.

Hold On … The Command Line?

You’re probably wondering why you should use the command line instead of popular Web applications like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, Todoist, or Ta-Da Lists. They’re all great, no doubt about it. But you need to be connected to the Internet to use them. And it’s not easy to export or move data between those apps or to other services.

With Todo.txt, you’re using a text file. And let’s be honest, the format of a text file hasn’t changed in … well, a long time.

Getting Going

Todo.txt is a shell script. To use it, you’ll need a bash shell. That’s not a problem if you use Linux or Mac OS — they both come with one built in. Windows users, on the other hand, are out of luck. Unless, of course, they use something called Cygwin (tools that add a Linux-like environment to Windows).

Once you have a bash shell, now all you need to do is download the archive containing the script. When you pop that archive open, you’ll see it contains two files:

  • todo.sh, the shell script
  • todo.cfg, a configuration file

Extract the files to a folder in your path — on my Linux-powered laptops, I put them in /usr/local/bin. Then, edit the file todo.cfg to point the shell script to where you want to store the actual to do list file. Look for the entry EXPORT TODO_DIR= and change the path.

Editing the configuration file

Using Todo.txt

Let’s start by adding a task. Open a terminal window and then type todo.sh add [task] — for example, todo.sh add Edit Chromium FLOSS Manual. Then, press Enter.

Adding a task

Obviously, you’ll want to check your to do list from time to time. Do that by typing todo.sh list in a terminal window.

Listing your tasks

Notice that each item in the list has a number. That number is useful to know when you want to add a priority to a specific task or mark the task as complete.

Why add a priority? Well, some tasks are more important than others. Adding a priority moves them up in the list. Priorities start at A (most important), and move down from there.

To add a priority, type todo.sh p [task number] letter, where letter is a letter of the alphabet. For example, todo.sh p 7 B. That adds a priority of B to task 7 in the list.

Marking a task as done

Finally, when you’ve completed a task you can mark it as done and remove it from the list by typing todo.sh do [task number] — for example, todo.sh do 7.

Todo.txt can do a lot more. To learn about all of the available options, type todo.sh -h to read the help.

Going Graphical

You say you like the idea of Todo.txt, but the command line part is a bit geeky for you. If you have an Android-powered phone or tablet and an account with Dropbox (an online file storage and syncing service), then you can install an app called Todo.txt Touch on your phone from the Android Market.

Todo.txt Touch everything that todo.sh does at the command line, but on a touchscreen. The app saves your to do list to a folder in Dropbox. From there, you can share the list with your computer and/or with any other Android-powered devices you might own.

Todo.txt on your phone

Final Thoughts

Even though using the command line sounds difficult and a tad geeky, Todo.txt is easy to learn and use. Even for the most ardent GUI addict. And by using Todo.txt Touch on your Android device, you can literally have your to do list anywhere and in a format that won’t be obsolete anytime soon.

Image credit: Dean Shareski

Clean up your Linux computer with Bleach Bit

No matter how careful or fastidious you are, over time a lot of cruft builds up on your computer. Things like cached files, cookies, temporary files, packages, log files, and a whole lot more. All of this builds up and takes up a tens or hundreds of megabytes of disk space.

You can remove all of that cruft yourself, but that can take time. And you might not get everything. Or, you can clean up your computer in one sweep with a powerful and flexible, but easy to use, tool called Bleach Bit.

Available for Linux and Windows, Bleach Bit scours your computer — your home directory and your system folders — to find and remove any bits that get left behind. It can not only clean unneeded system files but also the files that come from about 90 applications including Web browsers, chat clients, PDF readers, databases, and more.

Getting started

The first step is, obviously, to install Bleach Bit. If you’re using Linux, check your distro’s package manager. I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10 using Synaptic. If Bleach Bit isn’t there, go to the download page and find the package for your distro.

If you’re using Windows, you can download installers too. But since I don’t do Windows, this post will look at using Bleach Bit under Linux.

As I mentioned, I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10. To run it, go to System > Administration. You’ll see two items in the menu: Bleach Bit and Bleach Bit as Administrator. One cleans your home directory, and the other cleans out system directories. Let’s take a look at both.

Cleaning your home directory

Of the two options, selecting Bleach Bit from the Administration menu is the safer of the two. You’ll only be able to get rid of cruft in your /home directory. And you’ll be amazed at what collects there!

The left side of the Bleach Bit window contains a list of cleaners (the types of applications and files that Bleach Bit works with). Click a check box beside a cleaner to activate it. When you do that, a little more information about what the cleaner does appears in the right side of the application’s window.

Bleach Bit main screen

After you’ve chosen the cleaners that you want to use, click the Preview button on the toolbar. This will create a list of files that Bleach Bit will delete. It will also tell you how much disk space will be freed up.

Bleach Bit preview screen

As you can see, I haven’t done a cleanup in a while …

When you’re ready, click the Delete button on the toolbar. Depending on the number of cleaners you’ve selected, and the number of files there are, it can take Bleach Bit anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes to do its work.

Go admin or stay at home

Running Bleach Bit as Administrator is a slightly different ball game. In Linux, you need to run it as root. And when you do, the application scans everything outside of your /home folder. Like what? Like the /usr directory and its subdirectories, the /tmp folder, and more.

Other than that, running Bleach Bit as Administrator works in the same way as running it in your /home directory. A few click, a preview, and you’re ready to clean up!

One cleaner that you should approach with caution, though, is Free disk space. This cleaner will overwrite any free disk space to hide hidden files. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, but the process is slow. It can take upwards of an hour to do the job. During that time, your system will bog down noticeably.

Final thoughts

Bleach Bit is a powerful and useful tool. It gives you a fast and easy way to get rid of everything you don’t need on your computer, while at the same time freeing up disk space and improving performance.

Photo credit: solrac_gi_2nd

Chrome OS: Even your mom will like it

Last week after work, I came home to find a package slip from UPS stuck to my door.  This was a bit odd because I wasn’t expecting any deliveries. Always one to take advantage of a misdelivered box of goodies, I headed to the UPS shipping center to check things out.

The serviceman came out of the back room with a box with my name on it. So far so good. It was pretty heavy, but what was in this mysterious package from Kentucky?

Fully accepting the possibility of anthrax, I ripped into the package and I’m sure the moments after were something straight out of a movie: camera on me as a golden light emits from the box as I sit there spellbound, a crazy smile curling onto my face.

Holy guacamole. I was selected for Google Chrome OS pilot program.

I do want to emphasize the surprise factor here. I had applied for its program very early into the registration period and heard absolutely nothing from Google since. Fast forward several weeks, and this nearly no-strings-attached netbook lands at my front door.

At any rate, thanks, Google. I’ll disperse my initial impressions….now.

First Contact: Hardware and Appearance

Ok, I know the whole point of the Pilot Program isn’t to analyze the computer itself, but I have to acknowledge that the hardware and OS combine into one fancy little unit. For starters, the netbook features a sharp and bright 12.1” display and embedded microphone and web-cam. Under the hood, you have a 1.66 GHz Intel Atom processor (which I’ve heard will be upgraded in later models). The unit also features standard wi-fi and not-so-standard 3G built in.

Before even turning this thing on, I was impressed by the general layout and understated look of this device. All black and relatively featureless, this netbook is chic enough to get some puzzled looks. I’ve been asked by complete strangers on three separate occasions, “What kind of netbook is that?” by people who could see no discerning logos or decals. Two people thought it was a tiny MacBook because of the keyboard layout and large touch-pad (that’s right, it’s one giant button).

I was getting a good vibe from the Cr-48 before I even turned it on.

Chrome OS: Features and Usability

Before I say anything else, I should point out that I’ve been using Chrome OS for a week now and it is very hard to tell that it is part of a pilot program. It’s a very polished, simple OS that appears to operate just as Google intended. The operating system is a very direct interpretation of the Chrome browser, and because I’ve been using Chrome for my web activity for several months already, there was zero learning curve from the moment I opened the lid on this baby.

Login and Setup

User log-in is streamlined in that all of your Chrome OS activity is through your existing Google Account. I logged in without a problem, and bam, I was presented with a blank tab of a fresh browser and positively nothing else. My bookmarks and extensions synced automatically and I was impressed by the turn-key mechanism of it all.

Wi-fi vs. Verizon 3G

After my login, my connection to the Internet through my wi-fi router was a little wonky. There were brief connectivity interruptions, and then my University’s authentication system seemed to be incompatible at times with Chrome OS — the authentication web page would spit out a bunch of garbage rather than its usual log-in screen. This sort of problem seems to be isolated only to users that are forced to log-in through SafeConnect (as my University requires) because I experienced no wireless connectivity problems at my local coffee shop.

Until I received this netbook, I had never dealt with a 3G device that wasn’t a smart-phone. I didn’t pay much attention to the 3G card inside until a few days ago when I was stuck in a medical school late at night with a malfunctioning wireless network. I decided to check out the details for the Verizon Wireless connection and was surprised to find a FREE option. This option allows you 100 MB per month of data, which is nothing amazing (I used mine in a few days), but certainly a good safety net in the event you’re stranded in the woods and need to tell people on Facebook that “Forests are lame [sadface]”.

User Experience

My first week with Chrome OS has been free of both headaches and frills. Google has polished this OS to be a spittin’ image of the browser, and that’s a good thing if you just want to surf the internet, do some simple business tricks, and get on with your life. For those that like to delve into customizing and optimizing their configuration, this may be a bit frustrating. Your configuration options are limited to touch-pad sensitivity, language, privacy, and a few other odds and ends.

Very, very basic configurable system settings.

All of the basics of web surfing operate exactly as you’d expect with Chrome OS. Tabs function just as they do in the Chrome browser, and there are very few surprises when it comes to e-application functionality. There are a few hiccups with Adobe Flash, as some websites utilizing the web-cam don’t function correctly (Facebook and Cameroid).

Perhaps the biggest adjustment I had to make in using this netbook was with the file system. Google is de-emphasizing local storage, so it isn’t surprising that the file space is as simple as a single folder. This isn’t a bad thing for most people, as many Windows configurations can confuse casual users when they can’t effectively navigate through the folder arrangement of their PC.

That tiny window is the entire file manager.

Another perk I’ve noticed with Chrome OS is how snappy things are. When you turn it on, a few seconds later you’re at the login page. You close the lid, it’s instantly asleep, and just as quickly it wakes. You plug in a USB mouse and there is no dialog about drivers — it just works! That seems to be the major theme with this OS.

The keyboard possesses some different features that make for a more user-friendly experience. There is no caps-lock; instead, there is a “search” button that when pressed brings up a fresh tab for your query. In addition, the keyboard has a “full screen” button to quickly rid yourself of distracting tabs at the top of the screen and increase your viewing area. Finally, there is a “change window” button that lets you quickly change between different sets of tabs. For example, if you open a boat load of tabs, many will be loaded outside of the viewable screen. Simply press the “change window” button to view them.

See the magnifying glass? Press it for a new search window.

Conclusion

After using Chrome OS, I can honestly say I’m surprised by how well everything works. I expected to be reporting bugs to the Google team every day, and I’ve only reported two so far (a flickering screen at login and problems that are probably the fault of my University). I enjoy the streamlined experience that Chrome OS offers for mobile computing. There isn’t much to fiddle around with, so I find myself much more efficient with my time on this netbook. Heck, I’ve even started using Google Docs with great success despite not being much of a fan until now.

If I had to state my biggest problem with Chrome OS, I would say that it is not yet capable of streaming movies from Netflix. I suspect this has something to do with Silverlight, a Microsoft technology similar to Adobe Flash, but Netflix is ensuring all Chrome OS users that the problem will be short-lived by saying:

We’re working with Google to ensure that Chrome Notebook users can instantly watch TV shows and movies from Netflix.”

Yeah, Netflix…but what do I do in the meantime? I don’t think you’ve heard yet that we, as a generation, have come to expect certain things.

WHAT?! *cries* Netflix does not work with Chrome notebooks....yet.

Overall, the Chrome OS has been a joy to use. The operating system of a computer should provide a platform for your software without intrusion, and that is just what Google has accomplished. The transition for Windows-based Chrome browsing to Chrome OS has been easy as pie, and I’ve seriously considered giving this netbook to my completely computer illiterate mother when I’ve finished thoroughly testing it. There simply isn’t anything here that can confuse her or any other infrequent computer user.

Time will tell, but I think Google will burst onto the scene with great reviews when Chrome OS is released later this year. It’s not for heavy computing, but that really isn’t the point. People that use Chrome OS for the lightweight internet platform that it is intended to be will be impressed.

How to Close Pidgin Chat Windows with the Escape Key

Pidgin (formerly known as Gaim) is a free, multi-protocol instant messaging application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  Pidgin is highly customizable and supports popular instant messaging networks like Google Talk, MSN/Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo! Chat, and can connect to services like Facebook Chat through plugins (or directly through the XMPP messaging protocol).

In recent versions of Pidgin, the developers changed the default “close chat window” hotkey from the Escape key to the combination CTRL + W.  While I understand their reasons for doing this (many desktop applications have standardized CTRL + W as the ubiquitous “Close Window” hotkey), I simply can’t break the habit of closing IM windows with Escape.

Here’s how to change Pidgin’s configuration so Escape closes the IM window instead of CTRL + W.

Update: Reader Miguel submitted a much easier way to use the Escape key to close IM windows. Thanks!

Step 1: In Pidgin, go to Tools –> Preferences.

Step 2: In the Interface tab, enable the checkbox for “Close conversations with the escape key”.

That’s it! This change will make Pidgin recognize Escape as the hotkey to close IM windows. Commence celebration.

The other (more difficult) way to use the Escape key to close IM window

Step 1: Close Pidgin.

Step 2: Windows XP: Navigate to the following directory on your computer (where username is the user you’re logged in as):

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\.purple\

Windows Vista or Windows 7: Navigate to the following directory on your computer (where username is the user you’re logged in as):

C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\.purple\

Linux/UNIX: Navigate to the following directory:

~/.purple/

Step 3: Locate the file called accels and open it with Notepad (or a similar text editor, I prefer Notepad++).

image

Step 4: Find the line that contains the following code:

; (gtk_accel_path “

/Conversation/Close” “w”)

image

Delete the semicolon (;) and change the line to the following code:

(gtk_accel_path “

/Conversation/Close” “Escape”)

image