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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For those who know about Linux they would notice that these versions are outdated.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

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

Linux Sol #1: Ejecting

Linux Solution #1

Fixing Unmounting/Ejecting Problems

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of posts about how to fix those
annoying little problems you run into but are too afraid to ask how to
fix. I am not entirely sure how I came to discover these useful tools but
now I have I thought I should write it down somewhere in the hope others
may find it useful.

I am using Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper), a distribution of Gnu Linux. These
solutions will most likely work across other distributions of
Gnu Linux. Some commands may work on other POSIX systems but
the command line arguments may differ.

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 using a USB stick you all know to unmount (or Eject) the device
before removing it. But what happens if the OS refuses to do this. I have
seen this happen on both Gnu Linux and Windows OSes. On Gnome you will
be presented with a dialog (shown below) when you attempt to eject the
drive.

Unable to eject media

Even clicking to show more details isn’t much help.

/media/usbdisk: device is busy

This just tells us that the drive could not be ejected because umount
couldn’t unmount it. It couldn’t be unmounted because it was “busy”.

So what do we do now? If we pull the USB stick out we could lose any
data waiting to be written. Read on for the solution.

The Solution

It would appear that the USB Stick is in use. Now we need to find out
precisely what is using it and put a stop to it. We can use the
fuser command to help us but first we must know either the
name of the device file for the USB stick or the location where it is
mounted.

The location it is mounted at will often be a folder in /media . If
you need to find the mount location or device file type mount at
the terminal. Note: You do not need to be root (or use sudo) for
this as you are only listing the mounted filesystems not trying to alter
them. One of those lines will refer to your USB stick.

In my case this line starts with:

      /dev/sde1 on /media/usbdisk type vfat

The mount folder is /media/usbdisk the device file is /dev/sde1.

Now you invoke fuser, with the following options. -v
is used to enable verbose output and -m MOUNTFOLDER is used to
tell fuser which device we are interested in.
In my example I get:

      $ fuser -v -m /media/usbdisk/                           USER        PID ACCESS COMMAND

      /media/usbdisk/:     andy      15354 ..c.. bash

                           andy      15795 ..c.. nano

The PID column indicates the “Process ID” of the program that is using
the device. The ACCESS column indicates the type of access, in this
case the c means that the program is using the directory
(or sub directory) as it’s working directory. This happens if you have a
shell open and have used cd to move to that folder or you have
invoked a program from that location.

If you have several copies of a program running and you can’t work out
which one it is you can get the full command used to open the program by
using the ps command with -fp and the PID listed.
For example:

      $ ps -p 15795 -f

      UID        PID  PPID  C STIME TTY          TIME CMD

      andy     15795 15354  0 19:40 pts/2    00:00:00 nano ftpscript.txt

Remember that some programs reuse a previous copy of themselves. For
instance if you use Gedit to open a file on your USB disk (from the
command line) and then close the file and open another (without closing
Gedit itself) it may still have it’s working directory set to the one on
your USB disk.

Once you have identified the program causing problems you can either
close the program or change it’s working directory. fuser should
no longer list any programs. The drive should now unmount or
Eject without any problems.

There may of course be other things that cause the device to be
considered busy. For example executing a file from the device.
This is indicated by the ACCESS column in the fuser output.
For more information consult the appropriate manual page.

February 5, 2008 Posted by | Linux, Ubuntu | 3 Comments