Ubuntu for Android: could you use your smartphone as a PC?

Posted in Computers, Gadgets, Tech, Ubuntu on March 7th, 2012 by Andy

“In every dual core phone there’s a PC trying to get out”

Or so reckons Canonical, who have been showing off their Ubuntu for Android system at Mobile World Congress. In a nutshell, a phone with Ubuntu for Android turns into a desktop PC when docked to a monitor and keyboard, and a mini media centre when docked to a TV.

It’s a pretty cool idea. There’s already starting to be quite a crossover between phones and tablets, and the latter have been eating into some of the laptop market too. The proliferation of desktop-type Android apps in the market suggest getting access to a full desktop environment when you dock your tablet would be pretty popular. I’m a bit more sceptical that even fast new quad core phones and tablets would be able to produce smooth HD video for a TV, so I think it’s best to take the media centre idea with a pinch of salt. I’ll believe it when I have an Ubuntu for Android machine in my hand and see it working.

You can’t buy a phone with Ubuntu for Android on it yet, you can’t install it like other Android apps and nobody has announced any dates. I think it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for.  This could well be the next big step in the rise of the smartphone and tablet.

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The Natty Narwhal now nears!

Posted in Computers, Linux, Ubuntu on April 10th, 2011 by Andy

The next version of Ubuntu is coming soon
The unicorn of the seas approacheth! Ubuntu’s 14th version of their free operating system for PCs is due out 28th April.

Named after the somewhat improbable Narwhal, this release sees the rollout of the new Unity interface, which is a major overhaul of the traditional Gnome look that Ubuntu has been wearing since it was first released back in 2004.

Unity is a completely new interface, written from scratch over the last few months at a breakneck pace. It’s probably going to have more bugs in it than it really should, but if you don’t like it the standard Gnome desktop is still installed, just log out and switch to “Gnome classic” at the login screen.

Apart from Unity, there’s the usual grab-bag of updated packages, and a few other changes:

  • The default music player is now Banshee
  • Libre Office has replaced Open Office (it’s pretty much exactly the same)
  • Firefox 4.0

Loads more info here:


Jump in and help squash the last few bugs if you’re game, otherwise grab the final version when it’s released later this month.


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How to create searchable PDFs for your ebook reader using Ubuntu

Posted in Computers, Howto, Ubuntu on December 12th, 2010 by Andy

As the format-wars in the ebook world rage on, us users are left with one format that is universally useful: PDF. The trouble with PDFs is that you generally can’t search the text. I’ve got a whole heap of textbooks i’d like to shove onto my Kindle, and i’d like to be able to search the text.

Luckily for Ubuntu users, there’s a solution. The command-line tool pdfocr uses Optical Character Recognition to scrape the text from the PDF, then add it as a searchable layer over the top.

You’ll need to add the PPA containing the packages:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gezakovacs/pdfocr

On Maverick or later you’ll need to download and install a package from the Lucid repos first. Pick the i386 download for 32-bit or the amd64 one for 64-bit. If you’re on Lucid or earlier, ignore this step:


Update your repos:

sudo apt-get update

Install pdfocr:

sudo apt-get install pdfocr


pdfocr -i input.pdf -o output.pdf

On large documents like textbooks this will take a while, and can gobble a fair amount of RAM. Works pretty well though, give it a try.

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Maverick Meerkat pops up its head

Posted in Computers, Linux, Ubuntu on September 21st, 2010 by Andy


Has it been six months already? Must be time for another Ubuntu release…

Hitting the wide world at 10:10 on 10/10/10 will be Ubuntu 10.10, known to its friends as Maverick Meerkat. There’s not a whole lot of changes coming in this version, it’s mostly little tweaks:

  • New installer, which i’m told is really nice
  • The F-Spot photo managing software is out, its replacement is called Shotwell
  • The Netbook Edition has a brand new interface called Unity
  • The Ubuntu Software Centre has been upgraded (and you can now buy software through it)
  • Kubuntu now uses the Rekonq browser, and Pulseaudio for sound.
  • Xubuntu now has a custom lightweight media player called Parole instead of Totem, and a CD burning app called  Xfburn instead of Brasero
  • Experimental support for btrfs

There’s also some good updates for apps in the repositories. I like the Gnome Nanny parental control software, and the new version of the Arista video transcoder.

You can download the beta now and help with squishing the last few bugs, or grab it when it’s released on October 10th.

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A simple video re-encoder for Linux

Posted in Computers, Linux, Ubuntu on July 30th, 2010 by Andy

Arista ripping an episode of Futurama from DVDRe-encoding video can be a bit baffling. I’ve tried a whole slew of different apps (Handbrake, Avidemux, PiTiVi) but they all seem to be far too complicated for the simple job of re-encoding a video file for a specific device. There are some older apps that are nice and simple (like Iriverter), but they’re old and getting left behind by the fast pace of change in gadgets.

That’s why I’ve really grown to  like Arista Transcoder. Instead of fiddling about with codecs, aspect ratios, and a million other obscure settings, Arista simply asks what device you want to view the video on. Some of the presets also allow you to tweak the quality, but that’s it. And when you think about it, 99% of the time that’s all you actually need.

Some of the highlights:

  • It seems to be multithreaded (or use multithreaded codecs where possible) so it’s fast
  • Integrates nicely with Gnome, including notification bubbles on Ubuntu
  • Includes presets for most common devices, with more available on the website
  • Can rip straight from DVDs
  • Queues jobs

You can get it from the Ubuntu Universe repository, Arch AUR, or you can grab the pythony tarball off their site.

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How to enable VDPAU for smooth HD playback in XBMC

Posted in Computers, Howto, Ubuntu on July 23rd, 2010 by Andy

If you have an Nvidia 8XXX card or better, you can now use VDPAU

I’ve been using XBMC on my media centre for a while, and I’m very happy with it. One of the many cool things it can do is use the graphics card to do all the heavy lifting during video playback. That’s essential if you’re playing video at 720p or higher resolution.

The technology is called VDPAU, but it’s not switched on by default.

On Ubuntu, you’ll need to install an extra package: libvdpau1 (you need to be running Lucid or later), you’ll also need a 8XXX or later Nvidia card, and the restricted drivers for it. The Nouveau driver is no good.

Once you’ve installed that, fire up XBMC and go to Settings > Video > Player and change the render method from “auto” to “VDPAU”. You should immediately go from horrible jerky playback to nice silky smooth!

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Google Chrome goes stable for Linux and Mac

Posted in Computers, Linux, Mac, Ubuntu on May 27th, 2010 by Andy
Google Chrome icon

Chrome has been doing well, gaining new users faster than any other browser

Google’s rising star Chrome is now officially out of beta on the Mac and Linux.

They’ve bundled a couple of new features in with the release, such as expanded syncing (it now syncs other personal settings in addition to bookmarks). Otherwise it’s the same polished browser that you’ve come to expect.

Ubuntu users who’ve already plugged into the Google repo can upgrade by hitting the following apturl: Chrome for Linux. Macbois and folks with a non-Debian flavoured Linux can download a standalone version (you’ll have to keep it up-to-date yourself if you do).

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A helpful script for installing Ubuntu minimal

Posted in Computers, Howto, Linux, Ubuntu on April 22nd, 2010 by Andy
Yin Yang symbol

Wishing you a harmonious minimalist experience

I’ve blogged before about how cool Ubuntu minimal is.

The one problem is that you have to know exactly what packages to install to get your system set up. So i’ve written a script that should take some of the guess work out of it and make installing a useful Ubuntu desktop from the minimal ISO as simple as answering a series of yes/no questions.

You can go from a command-line system, to a fully up-to-date and usable Ubuntu desktop in one step. Or you could use it to install a bare-bones system with a variety of desktop environments such as Gnome, KDE, XFCE, or LXDE. You can also install Myth TV. All of this from a single 13MB disk image!

How to use the script

  1. Install a command line-only system using the Minimal ISO
  2. Download the script:

    wget www.andyduffell.com/perfectminimal

  3. Make it executable:

    sudo chmod +x perfectminimal

  4. Run it:


  5. Profit!

Ubuntu Minimal project page, comments and suggestions welcome.

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Seamlessly integrated web apps for Ubuntu

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu on April 18th, 2010 by Andy
Blue sky and clouds

Why lug around a massive fat office suite when you can pull one down from the sky when you need it?

The soon to be released new version of Ubuntu contains some nifty new features that have been quietly snuck in. One of these is the ability to seamlessly use web-based  mail and office apps as if they were locally installed.

Simply install the packages desktop-webmail and webservice-office-zoho to get your machine all clouded up. For webmail you can choose to use Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or Zoho. Once installed, all mailto links will open in your webmail instead of Evolution.

For office apps it will use the Zoho online office suite. Zoho was chosen over Google Docs because it doesn’t require you to log in. The integration is pretty good. Any local file will open in Zoho when clicked, and you can save new files locally or online in a range of formats.

This really shines on netbooks with small drives, where ditching 300MB of Open Office lard can make a big difference.

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The Lucid Lynx is sneaking up on you

Posted in Ubuntu on April 5th, 2010 by Andy

Gosh, is it that time already? Ubuntu 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” is due out 29 April, and it’s looking good!

Lucid Lynx countdown

I’ve been testing Lucid a little bit, and it’s looking to be a great release. Some highlights:

  • Integration of instant messaging, Twitter, and Facebook chat into the desktop. Say goodbye to having tons of apps open just to stay in touch. Gwibber and Empathy are both in the default install.
  • Ubuntu One can now sync any folder to your online storage, and has an mp3 download store built right into Rhythmbox. Nice!
  • Boot speed is even better. Great news for laptops and netbooks, you can power down to save battery life instead of using suspend or hibernating.
  • New minimaltastic splash screens.
  • New default themes, no more brown! (but, er, quite a lot of purple…)
  • GIMP photo editor is out, PiTiVi video editor is in! GIMP is of course still available in the repos.
  • The open source Nouveau driver for Nvidia cards, which sucks less than nv. But at least you can now have a composited desktop while you’re waiting for the proprietary drivers to download.

If you can’t wait until the 29th and are feeling game, grab the beta and help with squashing the last few bugs.

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