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Digital Economy Bill

Just a quick post to let you know the Digital Economy Bill has had it’s second reading in the house of lords. This is the first oppotunity for discussion of the bill by the lords. This bill is the one that plans to introduce new measures to fight copyright infringement (amongst other things).

The debate can be watched on Parliament TV, the debate starts at 33:45 (roughly). The default option for watching the debates is Microsoft Silverlight, if you don’t have that you can use Windows Media Player (If you have the correct plugins installed this *should* work on Linux). Unfortunately there is no option for Ogg video which is natively supported in a number of browsers.

A quick word of warning, the debate is very long, several hours in fact.

You can also read the text transcript of the debate.

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December 9, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Software | 1 Comment

BBC Redifines “Neutral”

Back when the BBC first created iPlayer the BBC where ordered to make it platform neutral.

In response the BBC has released a new version of iPlayer using Adobe AIR. According to Adobe’s website this runs on Linux, provided your version is “Fedora Core 8, Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3″[2].

For those who know about Linux they would notice that these versions are outdated. Ubuntu is now at 8.10[3], Fedora is at Core 10[4] and OpenSuse is up to 11.1[5]. Ubuntu 7.10 also ceases support in April 09[6]. The BBC intends to release it’s new iPlayer publicly in February, so it will only work on Ubuntu for 2 months before 7.10’s support is pulled.

According to the BBC’s Mr Rose

The cross-platform nature of Adobe AIR means the iPlayer will work with Open Source and Apple Mac computers “out of the box” on 18 December, said Mr Rose. It fulfilled the Trust’s demand that the iPlayer be “platform neutral”, he said.[1]

Princeton’s wordnet defines neutral as:

not supporting or favoring either side in a war, dispute, or contest

However the BBC’s version of iPlayer favours a few specific platforms. It will not run on Debian on ARM nether is there a version of for the SPARCS platform. Quite clearly providing versions for one platform and not for another platform is not being entirely neutral.

In the computing world we do have many platform neutral technologies. For instance HTTP is considered platform neutral as the IETF holds a public specification for it’s operation, which they provide to anyone who wants a copy and therefore any platform can chose to implement HTTP.

This is not true of the BBC’s iPlayer. The BBC has chosen to withhold the details of iPlayers operation so that no platform can implement it on their own. They then provide iPlayer to certain platforms. This is not neutral.

It would appear the BBC have a different definition of neutral to the rest of the world.

At the time of writing the BBC Trust have not confirmed whether they consider the BBC to have complied with the platform neutral obligation however they have provided the following statement:

The BBC Trust welcomes BBC management’s announcement today that Linux and Mac users will be able to download programmes from the iPlayer. We will continue to assess progress on the Trust’s requirements for platform neutrality at six monthly intervals.

References used in this article:

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7787335.stm

[2] http://www.adobe.com/products/air/systemreqs/

[3] http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download

[4] http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora

[5] http://software.opensuse.org/

[6] https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Releases

[7] http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=neutral

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Linux, Software, Ubuntu | Leave a comment

Linux Sol #2: MPlayer AF_INET6 Error

Linux Solution #2

Fixing MPlayer AF_INET6 Error

Due to the success of my previous post about fixing unmount problems I have decided another solution to a common problem is in order.

This information is supplied with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.

Please be careful when entering commands. Particularly ones you find on the Internet. Remember that anyone can post commands on the web so you should only run something if you know what it does. If in doubt use the manual. This is a good idea anyway as it can help improve your knowledge.

For more information about the commands listed use the Linux manual pages (accessed via the man command)

The Problem

When listening to remote streams using MPlayer an error message is displayed that reads: Couldn't resolve name for AF_INET6: example.com (shown below).

The cause of this error message is simple. There is a protocol called the Internet Protocol (IP) which is used to communicate on the Internet. It has two main versions IPv4 and IPv6. When MPlayer tries to turn a name (such as example.com) into an IP address it looks to see if it has an IPv6 address. If it can’t find one it switches to IPv4. However it issues an error message.

The Solution

As many sites do no use IPv6 you can instruct MPlayer not to try IPv6 unless it can’t use IPv4. To do this you can add the following line in MPlayer’s configuration file:
prefer-ipv4=yes

If you only want to make the change for the current user you can use the configuration file ~/.mplayer/config (where ~ is your home directory).

If you want to make this change for all users you can use the global configuration file /etc/mplayer/mplayer.conf or /usr/local/etc/mplayer/mplayer.conf. Which file you use depends on your Linux distribution.

Now MPlayer should not display an error message if it finds an IPv4 address but no IPv6 address.

You may have to close and reopen MPlayer for these changes to take effect.

April 6, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Linux, Software, Ubuntu | 1 Comment

A little knowledge really is a dangerous thing

I made a slight mistake yesterday. I managed to remove myself from the admin group. Which of course means I can no longer run ‘sudo’, which means I can’t put my self back in the group.

What happened was I wanted to add myself to a new group. For this I typed: usermod -G newgroup myuser what I didn’t realise was this replaced my list of groups instead of adding to them. Luckily I typed groups myuser to check what groups I was in. On discovering that I was not in all the groups I should be I used groups to save a copy of all the groups I was supposed to be in (this was my previous groups because I hadn’t logged out).

Unfortunately I could not replace my groups because that would require me to be root and sudo was checking I was an admin (which I no longer was).

Don’t worry though, I rebooted and selected recovery mode and restored the groups I should have had. But it just goes to show a little knowledge can be dangerous. (In hindsight it would have been wiser to have used the “Users and Groups” GUI program. Of course it could have been done using the CLI with adduser myuser newgroup).

Maybe I should create a backup admin account in case I mess something up again?

At least I have learnt something, and isn’t that what matters?

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dell Inspiron 1525

The Dell Inspiron 1525 is available in both Linux and Windows versions. I thought I would take this opportunity to examine the differences. Note that the Ubuntu builds still don’t seem to be accessible from the main Dell site so you need to go to http://www.dell.co.uk/ubuntu , so unless you are specifically looking for Linux pre-installed and already knew about Dells offerings it is hard to find.

Skip to the final prices.

Skip to the conclusion.

The starting prices for the units were:

  • Linux £298.99
  • Windows £329.00

Linux is £30.01 cheaper right? WRONG. Dell’s offerings have different specifications be default so we are not comparing like for like.

My methodology is to alter the machines specifications so they are both identical (apart from the OS of course) as far as is possible. So here goes.

Processor

The default processors were the same. However the choice of upgrades varied. The Windows machine offered a 2GHz CPU which the Ubuntu version didn’t. Prices for identical upgrades were roughly the same (one of the CPUs costed a penny more on the Ubuntu version, but what’s a penny between friends?)

Operating System

The Ubuntu machine came with Ubuntu 7.10 pre-installed. The Windows machine had Windows Vista Home Basic (although upgrade options were available).

Hardware Support

Now you would expect this to be identical for both versions right? WRONG. The Windows version came with a special offer on support upgrades but that’s not the interesting part, even with these discounts the Ubuntu machine had cheaper hardware support.

Support Package Ubuntu Windows (discounted) Windows
1 Year Included Included Included
2 Year £47.40 £67.15 £79.00
3 Year £65.40 £87.20 £109.00
4 Year £83.40 £104.25 £139.00

Webcam and Colour

Same on both with the same upgrades available.

LCD

The Windows machine has a 15.4″ 12800×800 display as standard, with an upgrade to “True Life”. The Ubuntu machine came with the “True Life” version as default, but with no option to downgrade. However the Ubuntu version did offer an increased resolution upgrade (1440×900).

The Windows machine was upgrade to match the Ubuntu machine at a cost of £20.00

Memory

The Windows machine came with a 1024MB where as the Ubuntu only 512MB, this was upgraded to match the Windows machine at a cost of £20.00.

Hard Drive and Graphics Card

The same by default, upgrades identically priced.

Mouse

Neither of the machines came with a mouse but one could be added. Oddly the Ubuntu machine had only one choice of mouse where as the Windows machine had 7. It is unclear whether this is due to incompatibility with Linux or not.

Optical Drive and Battery

The same on both models.

Printers

The Windows machine came with a nice selection of printers however this option was entirely missing for the Ubuntu machine. Of course a printer could be purchased separately but it is less convenient.

Cases

Now this is an interesting one. The physical machines are the same size so the cases should be the same. Oddly they are not. The Ubuntu machine has a choice of 2 the Windows machine a choice of 12. I find this really confusing as the Operating System clearly has no effect on what cases the machine fits in. Neither does the case require driver compatibility in the OS.

Mobile Broadband

Available on Windows, not on Ubuntu.

Accessories, Keyboards and Media Centre Equipment

Available on Windows, not on Ubuntu. Some of the equipment has no effect on the OS such as locks for the laptop. It is strange these are not offered on Ubuntu.

Bluetooth

Again more choice on the Windows machine but still available on both.

Wireless

Only one option for Ubuntu (an Intel WiFi card), the Windows machine featured a Dell Own Brand WiFi card (presumably not compatible with Linux), this was swapped to match the Intel card on the Ubuntu machine for a cost of £10

Wireless Routers and Memory Sticks

A range of these available for the Windows Laptop, none for the Ubuntu Laptop. It is unlikely that this is due to compatibility.

Software

None for Ubuntu, apart from all the software that comes with the OS. The Windows machine came with Works 8.0 (and couldn’t be deselected) and also had the option of Photoshop.

Internet Access

Available from BT or Tiscali for the Windows machine, not offered for the Ubuntu machine.

Accidental Damage Support

The same for both machines.

Software Service

For the Windows machine these included Telephone support and getting started packages. Nothing offered for Ubuntu.

Online Backup and Antivirus

Available for the Windows machine, but not for the Ubuntu machine.

FINAL PRICE

After modifying each machine to the same specification the final costs were:

  • Linux £318.99
  • Windows £359.00

That’s a difference of £40.01

Conclusion

It’s nice to see that Pre-installed Linux is actually cheaper than Windows. However I did upgrade things that made little functional difference apart from the price (namely the Dell to Intel WiFi and the True Life Screen whatever that is) but even if those items weren’t upgraded the Ubuntu machine would still have been £10 cheaper.

I was rather surprised to see the cost of hardware support was lower for the Linux machines even after the Windows prices had been discounted. Maybe Linux puts less stress on the hardware, or Linux users are less likely to phone the hardware support line with non hardware related things. Who knows, but if you are looking for longer hardware support there’s a saving to be had with Ubuntu.

On the downside I was rather disappointed by the lack choices offered. I understand why the WiFi options were limited. But why was there less options for the case? It would be nice if Dell offered all the extras they did for Windows (provided they were compatible). They really should have offered things like the security lock and WiFi routers on the Ubuntu model as well, they don’t depend on the OS either.

It would be nicer if they made the Ubuntu machines easier to find. For example it should ask you which machine you want when you select the laptop name. Maybe even have a check box to switch between Windows and Linux, however that would require the system to disable the options not compatible with Ubuntu. Maybe a “Did you know you could get this laptop with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed plus a wide range of additional software included cheaper?”.

I think they also missed a trick when it comes to the software options. They could have given the user the choice of selecting extra software to be installed for a modest fee, it’s free software so Dell don’t need to get it licensed specially.

All in all Dell are doing a good job here, but there are still a few minor improvements that could be made.

Prices may not be accurate and are subject to change. No responsibility for errors or omissions is accepted. This article is provided AS-IS with no warrant of any kind.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Linux, Ubuntu | 7 Comments