Category Archives: Blog

Making KDE look a little more like Gnome

There is a dilemma with linux which I think is partially why it has never truly made it to the desktop.  There are two major interfaces – KDE and Gnome.  These two have been battling it out for as long as I can remember – some people prefer the ‘Gnome look’, others prefer KDE.

I’ll admit, I started out enjoying KDE as it had a more finished feel to it and nice icons (outlines were the theme at the time).  Here’s KDE in the year 2000 (The lets-immitate-windows days).

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Gnome always felt a step behind.  Here’s how Gnome looked.  Notice the window borders are harsher, the ‘unfinished’ look to the icons, and unnecessary buttons behind the icons at the bottom.

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Then things got different.  OS X was coming out and had glossy buttons, and Windows was adding extreme colourful window borders everywhere.  KDE didn’t know what to do so it copied both, while adding more options to customise how everything worked.

Kde-3.2.3-es-es

Gnome instead decided to clean up and get a more fuzzy basic look to it.  This is when I switched to Gnome.

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Gnome had the right amount of settings to change it to the windows start bar style, and had a warm fuzzy look to it that made you want to use it.  This to me is the golden age of Gnome.

Then everyone became fascinated with the OS X Dock, Tablets were the future, Ubuntu grew to the top of the Linux ladder overtaking Fedora, and ‘flat’ design happened.   So now we have huge fragmentation and 4 interface players.   KDE decided to do a complete rewrite called Plasma, and added every option possible.  Here’s what it looks like now:

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Gnome decided to go to a mix of OS X and Tablet, removing many settings, giving a really nice warm and fuzzy clean appearance at the extreme expense of usability.

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Ubuntu came along and introduced ‘Unity’, which has the Gnome ‘feel’ and is admittedly slightly more usable than Gnome – but not much better – and the theme just doesn’t look clean after a while.

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Edit: They have apparently added the ability to move the dock to the bottom of the screen so this should make it MUCH better – hopefully they can eventually change it back to a proper taskbar looking arrangement.  To do this, install dconf-editor and navigate to com > canonical > unity > launcher > launcher-position.

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Then there’s Linux Mint with Cinnamon.  This has the old Gnome / Windows taskbar style which is extremely useable – however it’s almost exclusively on Linux Mint (which is Ubuntu based anyway so all good), and has a horrible grey theme.

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So at the moment – until Cinnamon gets a new theme and becomes one of the big players, I feel the best option is to use KDE but give it a Gnome ‘feel’.  This can be achieved by changing the font to Cantarell:

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Changing the font smoothing to make it a little friendlier:

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Changing the icon theme to Adwaita:

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Fixing up the GTK Icon themes:

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And adjusting openoffice’s icon settings:

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This gives KDE a more friendly feel.  It’s like Gnome and KDE had a baby.  Hopefully we can get away from this overly simplified tablet theme and make something more like where we were before Tablets and Docks but still useable, like Windows 10 has.

I am now a Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS)

logo_lftcert_sysadminI have been using Linux since Slackware arrived on a bunch of floppy disks, and while Linux changes constantly many of those techniques are the same.  So I figured it would be nice to get some sort of recognition to show what I know.  This certification seemed to fit that need nicely.

I highly recommend taking this exam to everyone who wants to validate their Linux skills.

Update:  I am now working on the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) which is a little more towards the technical side rather than BAU tasks.

Cheap Bluetooth car headunit JSD-20158

I have recently purchased a JSD-20158 and installed it in to my car.  I had trouble finding any reviews to answer the questions / reservations I had in buying this so I will endeavour to provide all the answers I can here.

Why did I buy a cheap car stereo headunit?

My goal was to add bluetooth handsfree to my car due to the odd call I get on my daily commute which resulted in me dangerously fumbling for my phone often at the worst time.  The choices were to buy a dedicated hands-free which I would only use once in a blue moon, or spend the same amount and bring the whole stereo up to scratch.

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My (ageing) car had its original stereo, which was a tapedeck and am/fm radio, with two 4 inch front speakers.

How did I end up choosing the JSD-20158?

I couldn’t justify the $100+ pricetag for a namebrand unit, so off to ebay I went.  When searching for bluetooth car stereo you get a vast amount of results however they all have a very similar look – like they were made in the same factory but little details have been changed to rebrand them.

ebay

As they were all around the same $45 mark it seemed like these were the standard radios for this price.  This was confirmed on a visit to Aldi, who had their own version of the same radio under their brand for a very similar price.  With the large number of ‘sold’ numbers next to each listing, and Aldi’s own take on the same product, how bad could it be?  So off to youtube I went to find out the quality of these.

That is where my plan to purchase the common models fell through – the knob seemed very flimsy, the silver buttons seemed a little wobbly – all to be expected from such a low price.  So I ended up finding alibaba, and a different model radio – the JSD-20158 – which could possibly be a more recent refresh of the same innards.  Not the most flashy (in car stereo terms) but the one youtube video I managed to find confirmed the knobs were far more solid, and had what looked to be a much more quality feel to it.

Decision made.  One of the main things that grabbed me was that the left knob had a notched-type movement to it which showed they put in the effort rather than having it freely rotate.  I found an Australian seller on ebay, bought it, and waited by the letterbox.

First impressions?

Not packed very well for shipping however it arrived in one piece.  Very light, and initial playing with buttons and knobs confirmed I had made the right decision by purchasing this model over the others – has a fairly solid feel to it.

How was the installation?

Wiring was fairly straight forward with the use of a Wiring Harness ($20 – purchased separately) which mimics the sockets on the back of the original radio.  This is plugged in to the original wiring in the vehicle, and soldered colour-for-colour to the (included) Wiring Harness for the new stereo, and plugged in to the original plugs in the vehicles wiring.  This could be installed using common terminal strips where a screwdriver would be all that is needed.

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Installing the physical stereo was a little tricky due to my car (Toyota Starlet) not having a standard DIN mount.  The sizing seemed correct, but there’s a cover over the top which got in the way.  A lot of wrestling with the frame, some guesswork, and Roofing Screws and I finally got it mounted and in-place.

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Did it work?

Yes!  Peeled all the protective plastic off and powered up first go on ACC.  Tuned a few radio stations, played with the EQ presets, tested receiving a phone call – works just as intended and looks great lit up!

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The good bits:

  • Cheap – $65 total when including the wiring harness.
  • Looks great even during the day.
  • Good sound quality.
  • Bluetooth hands-free.  When a call comes in the music mutes and the callers phone number scrolls across the display.  Inbuilt microphone works well.
  • Fairly easy to navigate.
  • Supports USB keys, Memory Cards, Audio in via headphone cable, Bluetooth streaming.
  • Knobs have a smooth solid feel to them.
  • Comes with a Remote Control!

The bad bits:

  • Date is stored in backwards format (Year-Month-Day), common to programmers.
  • Very limited selection of EQs.
  • Buttons aren’t as solid as they could be, but still pretty good.
  • Storing a radio station preset doesn’t give the common reassuring beep after holding a number down.
  • Radio receiver appears a little weaker than the original unit – great with most stations but will get the odd static on others.
  • The flat front reflects a lot of glare – mainly an issue in the morning when the passenger seat is in the sun.
  • I find the volume knob works backwards to how I would expect.  It’s clearly marked, but I find I operate it wrong sometimes without looking.

Definitely worth the money!

 

pfSense Firewall on an intel NUC

An Intel NUC is a perfect device to use as a pfSense firewall.  Here’s why.

Pros:

  • Low power
  • Quiet
  • Reliable
  • Very small – smaller than most modems / routers!
  • Upgradeable
  • Fast!

Cons:

  • Can be expensive
  • Cheaper models come with Realtek ethernet chipsets, the i3 model comes with Intel chipsets which will work.
  • Only one Ethernet port

To work around the single ethernet port you can use a USB to ethernet adapter.  Apple’s official adapter does work but these are expensive.  However I purchased one off ebay for $9.89 delivered containing the AX88772A (ax88179_178A) chipset – said to be the same that is used in the Apple adapter (and admittedly the adapter does look very similar) which does work.

Update: It might also be possible to purchase the cheapest Intel NUC (currently $195) with DDR3L Ram (~$30) and 2 of the USB ethernet adapters ($20) which will give you a fully featured powerful router for $250.  The only downside being the potentially limited rate of the USB ethernet adapters, but for ADSL connections this should be fine.

Update 2: pfSense have now released a tiny firewall appliance with dual NICs which is a much better solution than any of the above, if you are just a small office.  https://netgate.com/products/sg-1000.html

 

Removing Suggested Apps from your Windows 10 Start Menu

The Windows 10 November update has come with a new setting that (by default) shows suggested apps within your start menu, to encourage you to visit the Microsoft Store.  If this is not to your liking it is possible to disable this feature by following these steps.

  1. Go to your settings app by selecting settings in your start menu, or by typing settings in your search bar.

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  2. Select “Personalisation”

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  3. Select “Start” to find the start menu settings

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  4. Here you will find a toggle for “Occasionally show suggestions in Start”.  Turn this off.

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Congratulations!  Your start menu should now be free of suggested apps.

Installing Windows Mobile 10 (wm10) on your Windows Phone

This has worked for me on my Nokia Lumia 720.

  1. Back up all the data and pictures on the phone
  2. Hard reset the phone (For a beta OS its better to start from a clean phone)
  3. After hard reset, DO NOT restore from backup. Set up as new phone.
  4. Download Windows Insider App
  5. Select fast ring and complete all steps until the phone reboots
  6. Check for updates in Settings>Phone Updates
  7. Download and install update for Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2
  8. Again check for updates in Settings>Phone Updates
  9. Download and install Windows phone 10 Technical Preview
  10. Very important : Hard reset the phone
  11. Now install all the apps that you need, from the store.

http://forums.windowscentral.com/windows-10-mobile-insider-preview/351062-guide-how-install-windows-10-mobile-insider-preview.html

 

Hard Reset your Windows Phone

If your phone is unresponsive and you can’t reach Settings Settings icon, you may be able to reset your phone using the hardware buttons. On Nokia Lumia phones (and some others), do the following to reset your phone:

  1. Press and hold the Volume down Volume down button and PowerPower button buttons at the same time until you feel a vibration (about 10-15 seconds).

  2. When you feel the vibration, immediately press and hold the Volume down Volume down button button until you see a large exclamation mark.

  3. Once the exclamation mark appears, press the following four buttons in this order:Volume up Volume up button, Volume down Volume down button, Power Power button, Volume down Volume down button. Your phone should now reset and restart itself. (It might take a while for the reset to finish.)

http://www.windowsphone.com/en-au/how-to/wp8/settings-and-personalization/reset-my-phone

Making Windows boot first in grub

Copy your original /boot/grub/grub.cfg to /boot/grub/grub.orig as a backup

Find your grub include files – usually /etc/grub.d

Move 30_os-prober to 09_os-prober so that it is now located before 10_linux

Run grub-mkconfig and check that things are in the right order

Run grub-mkconfig > /boot/grub/grub/cfg (you will need to sudo su for this)

Then reboot.

If it breaks, boot using a usb stuck and move your grub.orig back to grub.cfg and try again.

Microsoft Edge Malware Popup

Just today I managed to get this annoying popup happening:

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Something I didn’t think possible in Windows 10’s new browser.  The popup incorrectly identifies the browser as “chrome” and warns that I have been infected with “TRJ.DealWare.Stealth”, with the only answer to call 1-800-037-636.

  • Windows defender (installed by default) picked up nothing.
  • I installed spybot search and destroy and with all updates it found nothing.
  • I looked in to the mentioned virus and found no traces of any files or applications from it on my system.
  • There were no traces of it in the registry.

In the end it was a fairly easy fix by following these steps:

  1. If you continually hit the enter key and click on the new tab button at the top of the browser, eventually you will end up with a new tab popup free.

    Edit: Edge has been updated, and now allows you to tick a box to prevent further popups from being created.  So now all you need to do is close the popup once, then tick the box in the following popup, and you will then get access to the menu at the top.

  2. This will then allow you to bring up the menu, and choose inPrivate mode.
  3. Once in your private browser, you can then bring up options again and choose settings.
  4. Click ‘choose what to clear’ under ‘clear browsing data’
  5. Tick all boxes and click clear.
  6. Then you will need to bring up task manager & end the edge task.
    Edit: Edge has been updated, and can now be closed normally.
  7. When you re-open, it should be gone!

Just in case I would recommend running a full scan with windows defender just to make sure.

 

 

 

Microsoft Volume Licensing Tips

After having spent significant time trying to find answers, and constantly hitting brick walls with vague or non-existant terms, hopefully this list of hints regarding Microsofts Volume Licensing will help someone.

User CALs / Device CALs

You need 1 User/Device CAL for each user/device that uses any of the services of your windows server, including DHCP and DNS.  This means if you have a mac or linux desktop that fetches its IP from the windows server, you need 1 CAL to cover them.

The exception to this is where a user is accessing a web server being hosted on the windows server.

Microsoft licenses are NOT concurrent.

If you have 20 usernames added to your windows server, and only 5 of them log in at any one time, you still need 20 user CALs.

Same story for everything else.  If you have 20 desktops but only 5 are used at any one time, you need 20 windows licenses.

You need a license even if you only use the application once.

If you use Excel to do an end of year report, and don’t use it at any other time during the year, you need an Excel license.  Whether you use it once for 5 seconds or every day you still need one.

Terms can be vague.

The following is within the terms and conditions that you have to agree to in order to use your volume licenses:

f.      Qualifying system Licenses.  All operating system Licenses provided under this program are upgrade Licenses only.  If Customer selects the Windows Desktop Operating System Upgrade, all qualified desktops on which Customer will run the Windows Desktop Operating System Upgrade must be licensed to run one of the qualifying operating systems identified in the Product List at http://www.microsoft.com/licensing.

This sounds like ALL operating system licenses are upgrade licenses only.  This however only applies to desktop operating systems, not servers.

Remote Desktop Users (or RDS CALs)

You need 1 RDS CAL AND 1 User CAL for each user who will be remoting in to your server (other than two built in administrator licenses).

Office via Remote Desktop

You need to license the server to have a copy of office, and you need to license your desktop to have the IDENTICAL copy of office.  So if you want to run outlook 2013 on a remote desktop, you need 2 licenses – one for the server and one for your desktop.

If you have a mac or linux desktop or are unable to get a version that matches what will run on the server it gets a little tricky.  The only way to go is to purchase a volume license for office for each desktop, and add Software Assurance to those licenses to allow for running office on a different machine to which it is licensed.

You are licensing the hardware, not the software.

When you purchase a license for windows, you are giving a particular machine permission to run that software.  You are not licensing the software itself.

So when it comes to virtualisation and windows server, you can run any VM host you like – linux, vmware, virtualbox – and run windows within those.  But in order to shift the virtual machine to another physical host you need to shift the license across too.  You can’t just move the virtual machine around thinking its covered by the key you entered on install.

 

If I have any of this incorrect, please contact me and I will amend.