If you have recently tried to mount a filesystem in Ubuntu Lucid or Ubuntu Maverick from the command line in a Gnome friendly way you have probably run into some trouble.  The pre-Lucid methods involved the use of gnome-mount or pmount, but both of these utilities rely on HAL (the Hardware Abstraction Layer) which has been deprecated in favor of new functionality in udev, the Linux kernel, and gvfs.

You might ask why someone wouldn’t just want to use plain old mount and fstab to handle mounting.  Mount and fstab work great for behind the scenes filesystems you never need to unplug (such as external hard drives for automatic backups), but if you like to eject/safely remove/unmount your devices from the graphical interface in Ubuntu you will be out of luck.  Also, the mount command requires superuser privileges while the graphical methods in Ubuntu do not.

The solution is apparently the new gvfs-mount command, available through the gvfs-bin package.  While documentation on this utility is scant (no manpage!), devices can be mounted by executing:

gvfs-mount -d /dev/<devicename>

Note:  When I execute this command from a terminal, I am greeted by 4 “Critical” warnings about various failures.  Surprisingly, this does not mean the command didn’t work.  Check your Desktop or /mount for your device.

This command can be executed by non-root users, and the mounting appears to be handled in exactly the same manner as the graphical method (desktop shortcut, mounting as /mount/<disk label or UUID>).  Filesystems mounted with this command can be unmounted with a right-click from the Desktop or though the side pane in Nautilus.

Unmounting from the command line can be accomplished with this command:

gvfs-mount -u /media/<disk label or UUID>

For some reason, the -d switch with the /dev/<devicename> path does not appear to work.

Hopefully you have found this helpful.  If you found this useful, or if you have some tips on using gvfs-mount, or if you have a better way of doing this, please leave me a comment!

Abiword

A while back, I wrote about how Abiword was my favorite word processor, due to it’s simplicity and low system requirements and some killer features other word processors lack.  Not to mention it costs $0 and works on Windows, Mac and Linux.  As I am now back in school, I naturally decided to put Abiword to the test by using it as my primary word processor for completing assignments.

For some background on my environment, I am currently attending Howard Community College which uses Microsoft Windows XP exclusively in all of it’s classrooms and computer labs, and provides MS Word 2007 on all of it’s computers for word processing.  I complete almost all of my schoolwork on my Dell Mini 9, currently running a pre-release version of Ubuntu Linux 9.10.  I do frequently need to use the college’s Windows XP systems for purposes of printing documents and completing online classwork in rooms without Wifi.

For the most part, I have found Abiword to meet my needs satisfactorily.  Abiword starts extremely fast on my computer, and provides sufficient tools for doing almost everything I need to do.  While Abiword does support MS Word document format (.doc) and OpenDocument Format (.odt), I have chosen to stick with the default .abw format so I don’t need to worry about any formating incompatibilities when I go to print my completed work.  I initially intended to save all of my finished documents to PDF for final printing (saved to a USB flash drive), but I discovered that while my PDFs are perfect in Ubuntu, they were all blank documents in Windows.  (I attempted this with 3 documents using Abiword’s built in save as PDF feature.  Exporting to PDF in Ubuntu using OpenOffice.org works fine).  Luckily, I had the installer for Abiword on my USB flash drive, and installation of the word processor only takes about 15 seconds.  Once Abiword was installed in Windows, printing my .abw documents were simple.  Another option I could try is installing and running Abiword directly from my USB flash drive.  This is reported to work very well, and very simple instructions are available here.

My greatest challenge in using Abiword came when I was required to use MLA formating for the first of many essays I’ll be writing.  First, Abiword doesn’t have a typical outline generation option, but this honestly made it easier for me to crank out the outline according to the required format (I., A., 1., a).  To be clear, Abiword can be used to generate outline numbering, but it doesn’t automatically handle the hierarchy part.  To add an indented section you just tab in (after adjusting the tab stops), and start a new numbered list.  Abiword also supports the feature of continuing a numbered list from a previous part of the outline, which makes the task easier.  The one thing Abiword could not handle, was the seemingly simple task of changing the format of the page numbering.  I was required to use lowercase Roman Numerals for the outline, and Abiword doesn’t support changing the formating of the page numbers at all.

OpenOffice.org (which also costs $0 and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux) came to the rescue.  I tried saving my Abiword document in OpenOffice.org Writer’s format (.odt), but I lost all of the outline formatting I had worked so hard on (Abiword does support saving to .odt document format, but it’s not 100%).  In contrast to Abiword, re-formatting the outline in OOo Writer was a major pain.  OOo Writer does have a traditional style word processor outline tool (where it tries to guess what you want to do with the outline, Clippy style) but it only managed to make the job more complicated and more difficult.  OOo Writer also generates the numbering/lettering of the outline hierarchy for you, but none of the options available matched the specific formatting I was required to use, so I had to do some tricky tabbing in the end anyway.   Writer gave me no problems changing the page numbering to lowercase Roman numerals which was fantastic.

In the end, I still think Abiword is Awesome, but I don’t think I’ll be using it for any formal papers anytime soon.  For that task, I’ll stick with OpenOffice.org Writer.  Another advantage of using OpenOffice.org for my schoolwork is that OOo Writer’s default document format .odt is supported by MS Word 2007, and I’ve noticed no formatting issues opening .odt files in Word ’07 for printing (thanks Microsoft).

In conclusion, Abiword is a fast, easy to use word processor, but it doesn’t provide me with all of the tools I need for writing essays in college.  If anyone knows how to get Abiword to change the formatting of page numbers, or if you’d like to share your experiences using Abiword, OpenOffice.org Writer, or another alternative word processor in an educational environment, please leave a comment!

I just read an interesting, albeit admittedly unscientific, post by Starry Hope on the popularity of Ubuntu.  Here are the two graphs from the post which I found to be the most interesting.

Google Search volume of Ubuntu compared to Debian, Fedora/Red Hat, and openSUSE:

Ubuntu compared to the top ten other Linux distributions combined:

If you think Google search volume is a fair indicator of popularity, than it’s pretty clear that Ubuntu is more popular than all the rest of the Linux distributions put together.

While I think there is good reason for Ubuntu to be so far out in front, I hope that we in the Ubuntu Community don’t let that reality go to our heads, but continue to be good citizens in the greater Linux Community.  While Ubuntu may be the most popular distrubution, Canonical (Ubuntu’s source of paid development) isn’t very profitable (yet?) and depends on the development efforts paid for by the makers of competing distrubutions like Red Hat and Novell to produce much of the software which makes Ubuntu complete.

The long anticipated KOffice 2.0 release is now available for Linux, Windows and Mac users!  Be advised that the KOffice folks say that this release isn’t actually considered stable, and is intended for developers and early adopters only, similar to how KDE 4.0 wasn’t a stable release.  KOffice 2 is a port to the new QT 4 and KDE 4 libraries, and has a couple cool new features such as better KOffice component integration and the switch to using ODF as the default document formats.  (In contrast, AbiWord only supports ODT and will not use it as the default format.)

KOffice 2 feels much faster than OpenOffice.org, and has more features than Abiword.  I also really appreciate that ODF is the default format for KOffice as this means that compatibility with OpenOffice.org documents should be perfect.  My only problem with using KOffice is that the list of required dependencies is considerably longer than it would be were I using KDE in place of Gnome, as KOffice is designed to use the KDE libraries.  The installation size for KWord on my Dell Mini 9 running Ubuntu 9.04 system (with a 4GB SSD) is 160MB compared to 26.3MB for Abiword or 186MB for OpenOffice.org Writer.  Note: the installation size of KWord would be much smaller were I running KDE, and the installation size of Abiword would be much larger were I not already running Gnome.

The KOffice 2.1 release is currently expected to be out later this year, which should be more stable and more appropriate for everyday use.

Click here for the official KOffice 2.0 release announcement.

Abiword is Awesome

April 21, 2009

Abiword has just become my new favorite word processor.  It’s always been nice for being so quick and low on resources (installing Abiword requires 26.3 MB in Ubuntu 9.04 compared to 186 MB for OpenOffice.org Writer), but the 2.6 release of Abiword has added two new features which have pushed it over the top for me.

First, Abiword now has .odt (OpenDocument Text) support, so making the switch from OpenOffice.org is a lot less painful.  This is a feature I’ve also been waiting for in KOffice 2 which has finally released it’s first Release Candidate.

My favorite new feature is the Abiword Collaboration Plugin, which adds Google Docs like collaboration functionality to Abiword.  So now I can collaborate on a document without the requirement of using an online service like Google to host our work.  Abiword supports direct connections over TCP, or you can connect over Jabber.  It’s very easy to set up.  After establishing the connection, one person checks the “Share” checkbox in their Abiword, publishing the document to the “Shared Documents” of the other collaborators, enabling them to open and edit the same document.  Everyone gets their own color coded cursor, just like in Google Docs.  The Abiword developers are also working on an online service called AbiCollab.net, which is currently in beta.  This will be an additional ttransport layer for Abiword collaboration, which adds the ability to view the changes a colleague has made to a document before it has been saved to disk.

While it’s true that Abiword doesn’t have all the features of MS Word or OpenOffice.org Writer, it does have all the features I have ever wanted in a word processor, and the small footprint works out really well for my new Dell Mini 9.  For an interesting interview with the developers of Abiword, including more on the Collaboration Plugin and ODT support, and more on AbiCollab.net, check out this article from Red Hat Magazine.  And if you didn’t know, Abiword is Free Software and it can be downloaded at no cost here.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been of the opinion that Dvorak didn’t give Linux enough of a chance. Even so, I was shocked by his glowing review of Ubuntu 8.10.

Ubuntu made such a good impression on him that Dvorak went from this:

Though the Linux community does not want to admit this, Linux has become a pale imitation of the evil OS it intends to replace. On some levels, Linux is better, but from most perspectives it is summarized as “not quite as good but a lot cheaper.”

To this:

…I seriously like the Ubuntu 8.10 implementation and will now install it permanently on my latest machines. It’s a winner…It’s so good that I’m a little annoyed with myself for not getting to it sooner.

I cannot wean myself off Windows altogether because, well, I write about Windows. But for ancillary machines that I put together where I need reliability and low price, I’m always going to see whether Ubuntu works. And if it does, that’s what gets installed.

If I had a small or mid-size company, I’d probably use only Linux and open-source software…

It’s about time.

For the full text of Dvorak’s post about switching to Ubuntu, just click here.  If you are considering trying Ubuntu but still need a little more convincing, here are the reasons I think you should be running Ubuntu:  A few good reasons to switch to Ubuntu.

Sherri Davidoff of philosecurity.org posted an enlightening interview with Matt Knox who was previously employed writing adware for Direct Revenue.

A few highlights:

The good distributors would say, ‘This is ad-supported software.” Not-so-good distributors actually did distribute through Windows exploits. Also, some adware distributors would sell access. In their licensing terms, the EULA people agree to, they would say “in addition, we get to install any other software we feel like putting
on.” Of course, nobody reads EULAs, so a lot of people agreed to that. If they had, say, 4 million machines, which was a pretty good sized adware network, they would just go up to every other adware distributor and say “Hey! I’ve got 4 million machines. Do you want to pay 20 cents a machine? I’ll put you on all of them.” At the time there was basically no law around this. EULAs were recognized as contracts and all, so that’s pretty much how distribution happened.

Most adware targets Internet Explorer (IE) users because obviously they’re the biggest share of the market. In addition, they tend to be the less-savvy chunk of the market. If you’re using IE, then either you don’t care or you don’t know about all the vulnerabilities that IE has.

Sherri: In your professional opinion, how can people avoid adware?
Matt: Um, run UNIX.
Sherri: [laughs]
Matt: We did actually get the ad client working under Wine on Linux.
Sherri: That seems like a bit of a stretch!
Matt: That was a pretty limited market, I’d say.

Matt also goes into a lot of detail describing the different methods he employed to ensure that it was close to impossible to deactivate the adware once it was running.  Read all about it in the original article.  Thanks to Aaron Toponce and Bruce Schneier for pointing out this great interview.

The bottom line:  If you want to stay free of adware, don’t use Internet Explorer.  I’d recommend running Firefox in Ubuntu.