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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Show you care about the success of Linux- Send out FREE Lucid Lynx CD

The Lucid Lynx is finally out. And we are all very much excited right? Well not everyone is. There are more people that cannot get their hands on it than those that can. What are YOU doing about that? Canonical's shipit program cannot accommodate all the requests it receives. We those in the Ubuntu community will have to step in to do the rest.

If you really want to show your support for the Lynx and thus Linux, what Lucid way than to help others get their hands on it? All you need to do is is fill out the form below. You will then be contacted with the name and mailing address of people that have requested an Ubuntu CD though the OMG Africa! Project for onward shipping to them.
Help in your own small way to spread Linux across Africa and at the same time help the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx become a great success story. What are you waiting for? Just do it! Give Linux to human beings.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Get the Official Ubuntu Manual for Lucid Lynx

In just about a few hours's time (depending on where you are anyway), Canonical will be releasing the LTS of Ubuntu code named Lucid Lynx. If you are a beginner or introducing it to a beginner, a great way to help them help themselves around the OS is give them a copy of the Official Ubuntu Manual.

It is a community developed, step by step how to on using Ubuntu Linux released under the CC license that will help you become familiar with everyday tasks such as surfing the web, listening to music and scanning documents. With an emphasis on easy to follow instructions, it is suitable for all levels of experience.

It is a handy guide that I believe will go a long way to help Ubuntu establish itself in the OS market. So go ahead and get a copy of the guide. It will come in handy sometime later.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Show your love for Ubuntu Lucid Lynx- Donate a FREE CD today!

Come tomorrow the 29th of April, the Lucid Lynx will be officially released. To most of you, downloading the ISO will be just a matter of minutes. However, have you ever thought of the less fortunate people in other parts of the world who do not enjoy the internet the same way you do? 

Yes there are people that downloading the 700MB ISO is a great challenge. Now did you also know that you can help such people enjoy the latest and almost greatest piece of software the Open Source world has to offer? Yes you can by simply pledging to send out a FREE Ubuntu Lucid Lynx ISO to someone in Africa who for one reason or the other cannot get their hands on tomorrows talk of the day. 

This is how it works. You pledge voluntarily to send out a FREE Lucid CD to anyone on the African continent who cannot download. All you have to do is head over to the CD donation forum to add yourself to our esteemed donors. When someone makes a request for a CD, we will get in touch with you personally to find out if shipping one to that person will be convenient to you taking lots of factors into consideration. 

Should you agree to send one out, we will then furnish you with the name and mailing address of the person for onward shipping of the CD. You can also mail the CDs directly to us for giving out. Simple as that. In case you are wondering what happened to Canonical's Shipit program, please be aware that for every CD request that we receive, we will ascertain from the one requesting whether they have tried to get one directly from Canonical itself before looking up to us. Since that program does not and cannot ship to everyone, why not have the Ubuntu community itself step in?

So please spend no more time. Head over to OMG Africa! and start sending out a CD today. For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to address your queries. Go on and show some love to the Lynx in a Lucid way. Go on.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

OMG Africa!- African Writers wanted for hiring

As part of our drive to help improve the lives of Africans through the use of Free and Open Source Software, I am happy to announce that the OMG Africa! Project is seeking highly motivated writers from all over the continent to act as ambassadors for the project in their respective countries.

You will be a contributing author on this blog and will be responsible for providing unique insights into how people use technology in their day to day lives in your country and how FOSS can be introduced to such people. You will be expected to write at least 3 posts in a week and also be willing to record/shoot videos for our upcoming podcasts. Having your own tech related blog will be a great advantage though not required.

It is a very exciting time for me personally as we try to help ourselves on this continent through the power of information and communication technology. I look forward to having reps from all 52 countries that make up this continent. For more details about available compensation plans and how to get started, please get in touch with us via email at omgafricaproject at gmail dot com.

Alternatively, you can contact us through Twitter or Facebook. This offer is opened for a short period only so please hurry up and make a move to join what will be Africa's biggest online tech community. Join us today and make a difference.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

How do you dispose off your old computer hardware?

The general fall in the prices of new computers relative to some years ago means a rise in demand and consequently, an increase in the number of used ones too. I am wondering how you dispose off your old computer hardware. 

After spending your hard earned bucks to acquire that shiny new box, what normally happens to your old one? Where do you dispose off it? Do you think it can be used again? Would you mind donating your old hardware to somebody you do not know?

Have you ever thought of where your disposed off computer hardware ends up? Do you believe even your old hardware can make a difference in the lives of people you may never know? I'd really love to hear your views and experiences which will go a long way to help us at the OMG Africa! Project finalize our strategic plans.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Linux-Vendor Factors- Part of the FOSS adoption problems in Africa

Yesterday we took quite a detailed look at a first hand account of some environmental factors that stand in the way of Linux adoption in Africa. Today, I'd like us to take a look at the second group of obstacles which we called the Linux-vendor factors.

Unlike Windows, Linux is a heavily networked OS where one needs internet connection to do things like application installation. This very factor is one of the greatest deterrents to the use of Linux here. How do you get people to use it when they have no reliable and affordable internet connection?

With Windows, when I need an application, all I have to do is get its .exe file from a friend and I'm good to go. No network fuss whatsoever. The heavy dependence of Linux on network connectivity may not seem that much of a problem, but in reality, it could be a crucial factor in its acceptance here.

Then there is the issue of vendor inactivity. What I mean here is that I am of the view that vendors behind the popular Linux distros, ala Canonical, RedHat amongst others are not doing enough to help bring Linux to Africa. It would go a long way to help if we should see the likes of the above companies having people on the ground here who will be lending support to small scale businesses who choose to go the Linux way.

I know running a business in Europe or the US is more easy and comfortable as compared to 'that' continent called Africa. If only these vendors know the vastness of the untapped market we have here, they would not think twice about getting on the ground here.

Bringing Linux to Africa is no small task giving the almost insurmountable obstacles that one is bound to face. However, there is still a great potential for Open Source Software in general and Linux in particular to add tremendous value to the lives of people here. It is to this end that we should all focus upon irrespective of the bottlenecks we face.

And it is also for this reason that I strongly encourage all of you to support the OMG Africa! Linux Project in whatever way you can. If you cannot be here to spread FOSS, then the least you can do is to support those of us living here who are trying to do it.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Monday, April 26, 2010

The adoption and use of Linux in Africa- A detailed African perspective

My last article about spreading Linux here in Africa and other developing places seemed to have sparked off some interesting debate about what really hinders the spreading of FOSS in general and Linux in particular on this continent. FOSS blogging giants like Mr Glyn Moody are among those that added their voices to the debate.

For the sake of clarity, I would like us to take a detailed look (from the perspective of an African living in Africa) at what I strongly and sincerely believe are obstacles to the adoption and use of Free and Open Source Software. For ease of reading, I would be dividing this article into 2 parts - the environmental factors and the software/vendor factors. For the sake of simplicity, I would also be using my country Ghana as a microcosm for the African continent.

The Environmental Factors
These are factors that are mostly out of the control of everyday people. They are factors that militate against the general development of information and communication technology. They can be broken down as follows

The infrastructure on which a vibrant ICT network can be built is itself virtually nonexistent or are out of date. Talk of telephone lines, and I mean fixed lines. Those are slowly but surely being obliterated by the popularity of mobile networks. However, it must be noted that at the end of the day, no serious communication technology can thrive on mobile networks because they are hugely expensive as compared to fixed lines (at least over here). Then too we can talk of electricity supply which is more erratic than an epileptic seizure. It will be a big grace to you should you succeed in having power supply for one whole month without some nonsensical, unannounced interruption. And to date there still are places that do not even have power supply at all. 

Directly flowing from the fist point is the issue of bandwidth. Today, mobile internet is the largest source of internet connectivity for majority of the people. However, using such a means as a primary source of internet connectivity can be very expensive. If you have a 1GB bandwidth quota per month, how much of that will you be willing to dedicate to installing updates or software packages or even to download a 700MB ISO image?

Cost of hardware
Over the last decade, the cost of computers have drastically reduced. But, it is important to put cost here into proper context. The computers I am talking about are the mostly discarded ones from the advanced countries which are more of electronic waste than usable items to me. As an example, about 7 years ago, the cost of an Intel Pentium 2 machine with 128MB Ram and 20GB HDD was roughly 400-500 US Dollars. Today, the same machine can be bought for about a $100. But in all sincerity, how many of you will be happy to use such a machine in the context of todays increasingly powerful computers?

Now even such 'cheap' prices are beyond the means of a greater number of people. The laptop which I use was bought for $910 in 2008 and guess the specs, a 2Ghz Intel Celeron Processor with 512MB of Ram and 80GB of HDD. Funny right? Yea. The simple point worth noting here is that in todays context, the prices of computers are still very expensive and are out of the reach of a majority of the people. 

If the majority of the population is unlettered, how do you expect them to use computers in the first place. Sure I know even in the US, most educated people don't know much about ICT. But teaching such people is easier than unlettered ones. Then there is the almost total lack of knowledge outside the Microsoft-Windows-MSCE-MS Office world of computing. Let me site an example. Last week I walked into an internet cafe and the following ensued between me and an attendant there

Me: Hi, do you have a wired connection where I can use on my lappy to download the wireless driver?
Attendant: What OS do you use?
Me: Oh its Ubuntu. I am running the beta release aka Lucid Lynx. 
Attendant: {Grins broadly} Come on man, those are old and out of date OSs. The trend now is Vista [shudder] and 7. Why are you running a server on your lappy or what?
Me: {Stunned, don't know what to say} Ah. No. Ok Don't worry. I will come back. Let me check at the other place. Thanks anyway.

Can you actually believe that? This is an attendant who is supposed to shepherd people that come to the cafe. Then too I have seen only one Linux certification course being offered by a computer training school here. On their poster I saw SUSE Linux Admin and called to find out more. I was told they had put that course on hold for now because they were not having enough people register for it. Hm. Now ask about Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and see the response. Of course I have not been to all the computer training schools here, but this one is a major player and the biggest. How can you expect something that is virtually unknown to a people to gain any significant traction with them?

The four factors above are what I call the broad environmental factors that impede or are likely to impede the use and adoption of FOSS in general and Linux in particular here on the African continent. Some of these factors as I said in the beginning are beyond the control of any individual, some too are not. In the next article, I would entreat you to join me in discussing what I call the software/vendor obstacles to the success of FOSS in Africa. If you are an African, please join the discussion by sharing your personal opinion of what you think are the obstacles.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 4 comments

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What is a browser? Shocking!!!

For the first 30 seconds of the video, I thought I was watching some farmers from a remote district in the remote Northern Region of Ghana. I actually had to look hard to see the really shiny buildings behind them to know this was the US. The video below was a random sampling of people by a Googler to find out what browsers they use. The answers were stunning.

Watching the video, questions began to creep in my mind as well as some fog getting cleared. I now know why Apple's iPad was a hit on the day it went on sale. I also know why proprietary software is dominant across the technological spectrum. Then the question of how Open Source Software developers view their end users jumps to the fore of my imagination.

Generally speaking, the people in the video are those in the majority of end users of all applications, whether proprietary or otherwise. This then begs the question of how to imagine/view your end users. Should you view them as those in the video or assume they are people who are interested in the nitty-gritty of what you are developing? Do these people actually vindicate Ubuntu's strategy of making Linux usable for such people even if it involves the use of some proprietary elements?

Alas, this short video raises more questions in my mind than answers. Questions that have no clear cut answers but would still need answering at some point in time in the Open Source community. For the time being, please do check out the video and have a hearty laugh. The video deserves it.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 1 comment

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good Security Pratices On Linux

Some time ago, the open source world was caught by surprise by the announcement of a malware for Linux, hidden in a screensaver for Gnome in gnome.look.org.

There was an uproar, and the Microsoft fanboys  rushed to point the finger to Linux and say that Linux is as vulnerable as windows. Easy down folks, lets do not confuse things here. Just because the Porsche and the VW beetle share the same designer, Ferdinand Porsche, it doesn't mean they can be equally called cars. One (the Porsche) is a car, the other (VW Beetle) is a mean of transportation.

But to help the folks who are migrating to Linux, and innocently have the naive hope that nothing will happen to their Linux machines, unfortunately we have to say: Curb your enthusiasm. But do keep excited, as Linux is not windows. And, in the security department, it will never be (thank God, Linus and all the folks: Programmers, testers and users)

Security in Linux (as with any operating system) is a matter of habit, then we will list some tips that will facilitate good security habits on Linux.

Of course, these tips here apply to desktop systems (home or office). For servers, we would have other much more restrictive rules.

  • Never work as root. Working with the root account is very risky. Use root only for maintenance tasks, with SU (or kdesu or Gksu), and never log into the system with this account. Browse the internet as root ? No way.
  • Do not enable auto login if your computer can be used by others. Auto login is a very interesting feature, but if you have information you want to keep private, it is not a good policy to enable auto login.
  • Be careful with Grub. It can easily be circumvented to allow privileged access to your machine. If you are afraid that someone access your machine in your absence, it is necessary to "shield" Grub (although, if there is physical access to the machine, it is 70 to 99% compromised).
     What happens? You can change the boot options in Grub boot easily.
     See how this occurs:
     "Press ESC to enter the menu ..."
     Press the ESC and a list of boot options will appear. Then do the following:
     Select the line for Linux and press "e";
     Next, the boot  command lines of the distro appear. Select the line that starts with kernel ... and press the "e" button again;
     The line appears editable now;
     Delete the options “ro quiet splash locale=EN_US” and type “root=/dev/hda0 rw init=/bin/bash” over.  (without the quotes marks and assuming your hard drive is/hda0);
     Press enter to get back to the menu and press "b” to boot the system.
     And, voilá, you got root, and can do whatever you want on this system.
     How to prevent it ? Putting a password on Grub.
     Edit the file /boot/grub/menu.lst
     Uncomment the line "password " where" password" is the password you want to place.
     But a so simple password would be seen easily. Let's make things harder for the attacker. Open a terminal and type “grub-md5-crypt” (without quote marks) and  ENTER.
     then enter twice the password you want and write down the answer (which is quite strange)
    Now, edit the file /boot/grub/menu.lst and insert the line“password –md5 (the password)”, where password is the weird sequence of characters the previous command produced.
    Ex.: password –md5 $1$3/9xL/$Uv7mG37A77UBUnh/GkogN/
  • Update your system regularly, better, daily. While the flaws in the windows are slow to be resolved, in Linux, sometimes are resolved within hours. So, be with your system up to date is a good security policy.
  • Do not let sshd (SSH daemon) turned on in your machine. It will be always listening, and with this "backdoor" open to the outside world, it's a lure for attackers (professional crackers or sunday crackers) to get to tinker with your system. Disable SSH instead. On servers, SSH has its reason to be. At home desktop PCs, not that much.
  • Do not allow the execution of scripts on the / tmp and / home . Yes, let's say an attacker was able to access your machine and compromise the security, getting access to an user account. The next step is to upload a script that exploits a fault, or kernel hole, buffer overflow, etc ... to gain root privileges. What to do??
    Two things:

    1. Limit the number of users on your machine. If it's just you using, have only your account and root.
    2. Disable the execution of scripts in / home and / tmp. How?? In the Fstab.
      First, make a backup of your current fstab. Then, with a text editor of your choice (emacs, mcedit, joe) make the following changes:
      Find the line that references your /home partition Ex.: # /dev/sda7 UUID=413eee0c-61ff-4cb7-a299-89d12b075093  /home  ext3  nodev,nosuid,relatime  0  2
      And change it to # /dev/sda7 UUID=413eee0c-61ff-4cb7-a299-89d12b075093  /home  ext3 noexec,nodev,nosuid,relatime  0  2
      If /tmp is on a separate partition, the procedure is the same, noting that the 3 options should be added after the declaration of the  type of the file system (in the case above, would atfer ext3.)
      Exempla: LABEL=/tmp /tmp ext3 noexec,nosuid,nodev 0 0
  • Do not install packages from sites you do not know. Note that even a popular and "reliable" site  as Gnome.look.org was the target of malware infected software, so double your attention.
  • The following tip has to do with above: Never download anything in torrent (OTHER THAN ISOS OF DISTROS YOU WANT TO INSTALL) for your operating system. Today it is becoming  popular piracy of paid programs for Linux being distributed on torrent sites. As there is no way to verify the origin of those packages, they are potentially dangerous.
  • Disable the execution of compilers for any user in your machine. By doing this you will ensure that the compiler will not be used to install exploits on your machine.
    Ex: #chmod 000 /usr/bin/*cc*
          To reset: #chmod 700 /usr/bin/*cc*
  • Be Very careful about p2p sharing programs  (Frostwire and others). If you do not configure properly the location of the shared files, you could jeopardize all the files in your /home. The ideal is to set a specific partition to share, with no connection with your /home, to preserve your data.
  • Do not install Addons for Firefox from other sites than the site of the Mozilla Foundation. Here goes the same advice to do not download packages from unknown sites.
  • Use a firewall. Even if you have nothing "listening" to the external network, a firewall is very important, as your machine can be used to trigger a denial of service Smurf type attack  (The attacker sends a rapid sequence of requests of pings one address broadcast, but spoofs the return address, causing thousands of computers respond to the ping the address that the attacker wants to bring down.) With a firewall, requests for Ping (and various other TCP and UDP requests ) are easily blocked and controlled. Good Firewalls for beginners are  Guarddog and  Firestarter.

    So, with  simple security tips, your machine will be shielded against outside attacks. But, the most important part, it's still the user. This one must learn what happens, and very important, learning is an useful advantage for the user to make a better internet, since we're all now connected. And, what affects some, will affect others, by a cascading effect. So, protect your machine, and the internet, as a whole, will be improved.

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By Alessandro Ebersol with No comments

Monday, April 19, 2010

[HUMOR] Steve Ballmer Reviews the Apple iPad.

This video of Steve Ballmer reviewing the iPad has made some waves on Youtube and I thought it interesting to reproduce it here in case you have not seen it yet. Really funny. Enjoy

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By Seraaj Muneer with 2 comments

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where is Ubuntu going to ?

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx ???
Many voices have risen up against Ubuntu, and as it was stated before, it seems that "bashing" Ubuntu becomes almost a sport. But my intention with this article, is to make a balanced critique, without the weight of a "harsh" critique, just  emotionless remarks about Ubuntu.

Actually, what we all wonder, and fear, is: Where is Ubuntu going to ? What is the direction of one of the most loved (and hated) distributions around , the most popular, the most known Linux distro, and, what direction will it take from here.

Ubuntu, undeniably, is in a great moment, one can say that it has achieved enough traction to  trail its own way. When I first had contact with Ubuntu, and it was in the times of 6.06 and 6.10, Ubuntu seemed a better Knoppix  than Knoppix . The Distro was very promising, showing signs that it would bring Linux, until then, an arcane magic of geeks and nerds,  for the average user.

Ubuntu did not have much impact in Brazil, my home country,  as we had two national distros, Conectiva Linux, more geared towards enterprise computing, and our beloved Kurumin, a remaster of Knoppix, which, thanks to Mr. Carlos Morimoto, became a unique Linux distro,  with its magical scripts, even winmodems would work on Linux.

So, Ubuntu was not received here with the surprise and astonishment that it was greeted in other countries, mainly the United States. As I was not an Ubuntu user, I haven't followed its trajectory, until the latest versions, 9.04 and the latest 9.10, Karmic Koala.

Since the adoption of newer kernels and the hardware recognition was very good on these versions, I started to suggest it to my clients. And... What's my surprise when I needed to tinker with the latest Ubuntu.

First, it does not log on  the command line easily. The inittab does not exist. So there is no point trying to set the runlevel = 3 to log into the CLI . Hmmm ... Well, it is interesting (Is it?) to hide the CLI from new users. But, what about when you need to do maintenance on it? It is not easy to get to the command line.

So ... I installed a client's notebook with a SiS video card on it. And of course, the video configuration was the standard 800 x 600. Ahhh, easy ... Just tinker with xorg.conf and it's done... And... Where is xorg.conf ? It was abolished as well ...

So we are faced with technological decisions about Ubuntu, which are motivated by political issues and marketing.

We've seen it before, that political motives generate technological decisions. One of the largest proprietary software companies always guided their technological decisions for political reasons. Or putting  Internet Explorer inside Windows 98 guts was just to give users a better experience in usability??

So, decisions about  Ubuntu, influenced by internal politics and marketing guidelines , are leading it on tortuous path in technological means. And the tensions, between what is wanted by the Ubuntu community of users and what Canonical allows itself  to do with Ubuntu, creates friction like the episode of the position of the buttons on Ubuntu 10.04.

And then comes  Mr. Mark Shuttleworth himself and says that Ubuntu is not a democracy.

Hmmm ... The question that doesn't go away is: To get highly specialized work, Ubuntu is a community. When this community wants to be heard, Ubuntu is not a democracy ???

I think the matter of "friction" that was because of the design of the new Ubuntu,  was less caused by the design itself, and more for an outcry from the community to be heard in its desires.

Ubuntu in its new version(10.04) no longer comes with Gimp, one of the cornerstones of the Open Source movement. In its place, the F-Spot software, which has very few features, uses a library to "translate" the API it was written in(. NET) to run on Linux, and because of that, it occupies a substantial space on the disk. To be noted here that in several surveys online, most of Ubuntu users  voted against withdrawing the Gimp.

Politics are involved in shaping the direction of Ubuntu, and these politics seem to be aimed at attracting the largest possible number of users, making concessions that let older users and fans  surprised. I was hoping that Ubuntu,attracting  non tech savvy public for Linux, could show that there is something beyond the window$, that information technology is much more than pushing buttons and being a hotbed of digital viruses and pests, that a different world is possible.

But the decisions of Canonical are just repeating a familiar scenario, and to attract more users, is dumbing down Linux, perpetuating bad practices and thereby tarnishing the good name of Linux.

Canonical is not an Open Source company. Not like Red Hat, which, since its inception, followed the principles of Open Source and the four freedoms of the GPL. No, Canonical is more like  Apple. And with the direction that it is giving to Ubuntu, it will not take long for Ubuntu to be GNU  no more.(as some wanted, not so long ago, the Gnome Foundation, to let go its GNU aspect).

So if you're looking for a distro that is  community geared , with broad participation and respect for the voices of its community, look elsewhere. A disto like Debian, which is backed by the Debian foundation, or the Fedora distro, which is the free branch of the  the Red Hat distro. These distros are more faithful to the spirit of the GPL and actually hear their community. Not just the white collar executives...

Of course there are other options to Ubuntu, derived distros from it, so they do not follow strictly the designs of the parent distro: They are Kubuntu and Linux Mint. These are not so tied to the designs of the parent distro.

But after all these lines, do not get me wrong. I do not want Ubuntu to fail. No way, I want Ubuntu to succeed. But the decisions of its executives are undermining their own chances, so, Ubuntu will not stand out of the crowd, not as piece of FLOSS and neither as a proprietary system (Mac/OSXish)

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By Alessandro Ebersol with 2 comments

The Ubuntu Software Center- An under utilized asset?

Sometime back I had talked about another use to which the Ubuntu Software Center can be used to help fund app developers. I probably did not articulate my thoughts well so maybe reechoing it here will do some good.

The USC as it is in Lucid is really great. Well polished, nicely categorized and above all easy to navigate. However, don't you think there is still one thing missing? Look up an application and it comes up with brief descriptions of what it does. Then you have a place there that tells you the price (in all cases that I have seen, FREE). 

One thing that baffles me is, when you go to the official sites of virtually all the applications, you have small Paypal icons there that entreat you to donate to support the continued development of the application. Now since most of the end users are not likely to go the sites to download these applications, why not follow them with these appeals?

If there is a price tag in the USC that states that application X is free, then I strongly suggest right next to the FREE price, there should be a way for users to be able to donate to support the developers. Price free, but you can donate right from the comfort of the USC. Developers get supported, end users are are also given a of way of contributing to the applications they enjoy using. Win-win situation.  

Open Source I believe goes both ways. As we enjoy the great and freely available applications that are the labor of thousands of individuals who also have bills to pay, we should also be more than eager to contribute to their support in our own small ways. In this regard, the Ubuntu Software Center could be used for more than it is now. What do you think?

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Friday, April 16, 2010

A critique of some Ubuntu Critics

There is no doubt that critiquing Ubuntu is a great thing, for it is by rubbing it that it can be polished. Over the last few days however, I have read some articles that purport to be critiquing Ubuntu while in reality, the authors only display their glaring biased opinions.One of these articles was just full of contradictions such that I could not believe it was allowed to be published on the platform on which it did. Just today, my attention was drawn by a good friend to another one that categorically puts the blame for the unpopularity of Linux to the doorstep of Ubuntu.

The theme of most of the baseless criticisms is that Ubuntu is unstable for everyday use. Why you ask? Because either the author plugged in a peripheral that Ubuntu did not recognize right away or because there are some bugs that have not been fixed for period of time. This has even caused some to label Ubuntu as 'garbage salad.' I have no problem with people expressing their views, but then certain basic facts should never be misconstrued to the unsuspecting person out there.

First of all Ubuntu is not perfect. In fact, I am yet to read any claim anywhere whatsoever that touts Ubuntu as the be all OS. It is great, but far from perfect. Then also it has a six month release cycle that it strictly adheres to. That is what the developers and sponsors think is best for the project. And so six month it is. Under no circumstance is anybody obligated to upgrade or change their OS every six months.

There are two types of releases: the LTS and the normal releases. The LTS aims at being more stable and thus you have lots of conservative judgments going into their developments. Then you have the normal releases which are more bleeding edge and are mostly for those who are comfortable locating, reporting or helping troubleshoot bugs. The logic here is simple- if you want serious stability and reliability, you stick with the LTS which is supported for 36 months, else you go for the normal releases which are supported for 18 months. How hard is it to figure that out?

Then there is the argument of Linux not making any progress because Ubuntu casts a bad image of it. This is another hogwash. You see, there are two OSs for the majority of people walking this Earth. There is Windows and there is Linux. Forget Mac OSX. Now Windows is popular because Microsoft has succeeded in locking in most businesses and machine vendors with their market dominance. 

Secondly, it has deliberately turned a blind eye to all the massive piracy that take place in most parts of the world (mind you, Africa, Asia and Latin America combined are bigger than North America and Western Europe). Should Microsoft start clamping down on piracy in these parts of the world as it does in developed parts, Linux will make huge gains overnight. It must also be noted that Microsoft does not make money from the 90%  market share it is touted to be enjoying. If my friend runs a pirated version of Windows and visits a site, it registers as Windows alright, but did MS make any money from his copy?

The almost eternal unpopularity of Linux is due to a plethora of issues that cannot just be summed up and blamed on one distro. It is just unprofessional to make such analysis. Mark Shuttleworth has been singing the cadence anthem for sometime now and I am yet to see any reference to this in any of the posts that are critical of Ubuntu's 'instability.' Ubuntu has contributed a lot to preventing people from suffering epileptic fits whenever the name Linux is mentioned as an alternative to Windows. Think back 10 years ago and imagine telling your dad you think the house computers should be changed to Linux. 

Global powers like Dell and IBM are shipping Ubuntu preloaded computers, that should go a long way to attest to the reasonable reliability of the OS. Besides, those companies have more resources at their disposal to conduct even more rigorous testing on the OS than Canonical itself can. So on what basis can someone claim that Ubuntu is so unreliable that the project needs to be scrapped? Sure Ubuntu has problems, heck everything made by man has problems, but we must learn to be fair and give praise where it is due.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 1 comment

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Linux Alphabet

We've already been talking about the number of Linux distributions, and the cost, in terms of confusion that so much freedom can bring. Today I'd like to see the distributions number with a little of humor: I often wondered if the Linux distributions names could cover the whole alphabet and be used as sort of “spelling alphabet”. The answer is ... “Yes we can!” here is my personal list compiled after a little research on DistroWatch.com site.


Arch Linux












Gentoo Linux


















Puppy Linux


Qimo 4 Kids


Red Hat




Tiny Core Linux










Yellow Dog Linux


Zenwalk Linux

As I said it's just a way to make a little of humor on our favorite operating system (and also a mean to know some less famous distribution) so do not take it too seriously and if your favorite distribution is missing feel free to change it.


Mandriva - Arch - Xubuntu - Xubuntu.

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By Massimo Musante with No comments

[Press Release] An Introduction to the OMG Africa! Linux Project

Though a great concept and model, the use and adoption of Free and Open Source Software in Africa is very negligible. This is not because Windows and other proprietary software are better, but because not much is being done by those of us in the FOSS world to bring it to Africa.

There is a vast untapped market available here where Linux in particular and Open Source Software in general have a lot of gains to make. But these gains will not come without efforts on the part of all FOSS proponents.  It is in this light that we would like to present to you and seek your involvement in the OMG Africa! Linux Project.

Essentially, the Project has 3 main objectives

1. To increase the use and adoption of Linux in Africa: We hope to achieve this by educating people and small businesses about the massive advantages Linux has over other systems. To increase accessibility to Linux ISOs, we would seek volunteers who would be willing to mail FREE copies of pre-burned CDs containing Linux distros to those who have no internet connection to download.

2. Help curb the e-waste menace that is engulfing most parts of the continent: Given that Linux is free and runs on not so new hardware, the scourge of e-waste -which is mostly outdated computers that are dumped on us by advanced countries- can be reduced to the barest minimum by giving second lives to computers that would have ended as scrap because they are too old to run Windows. A look at this video titled from Anwerp to Ghana (my country) is ample evidence of the severity of the e-waste menace.

3. Find ways in which Linux in particular and Open Source Software in general can be used to enhance the quality of education here in Africa.

The goals and objectives of this humble but ambitious project cannot be realized without the active involvement of every single one of you wonderful FOSS  proponents.  If there is one thing that sets Linux apart from Windows, it is the strong community that surrounds it. Now we humbly  implore the power of this community of which we all belong, to help bring Linux and Open Source Software to Africa and help improve lives.

You can contribute in a diverse number of ways to this project, two of which are volunteering to send out a FREE Linux CD and joining or starting discussions on how to achieve the set objectives of the project. If you ever wondered if there was any way Linux could be of use in any way other than on the PC, then you definitely have a role to play in the OMG Africa! Linux Project.

You can join the project Facebook page , follow on Twitter or subscribe to the official blog of the project to keep in touch with it at all times. We also are open to your ideas, feedback, suggestions, constructive criticisms and general advice and opinions on how we can improve the project.  

Once again, the noble goals of this project cannot be realized without your active involvement. Every single member we have counts towards achieving these goals. Why not join us right now and start a discussion? Can you help us reach a hundred members on day 1?

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By Seraaj Muneer with 1 comment

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

OSDD Network- Open Source as it applies to the field of medicine

Though generally associated with software, the concept of Open Source stretches beyond that. The Open Source Drug Discovery Network is "CSIR Team India Consortium with Global Partnership with a vision to provide affordable healthcare to the developing world by providing a global platform where the best minds can collaborate & collectively endeavor to solve the complex problems associated with discovering novel therapies for neglected tropical diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis, Leshmaniasis, etc.

"The success of Open Source models in Information Technology (For e.g., Web Technology, The Linux Operating System) and Biotechnology (For e.g., Human Genome Sequencing) sectors highlights the urgent need to initiate a similar model in healthcare, i.e., an Open Source model for Drug Discovery."

For a long time, I have been very much convinced that the Open Source development model has a very, very big role to play in the development of Africa and other undeveloped parts of the world. To me, Open Source is more than just an ideology or dogma, it is a means via which the lives of people, and I mean real humans can be positively affected.

This OSDD project, will be a great welcome news to thousands of people who needlessly die or suffer from diseases that have been eradicated from the developed parts of the world. Most of the drugs that are used to treat some of the above mentioned diseases are no longer effective. The OSDD, via the power or Open Source will seek to find new ones to help save lives.

There are several ways to get involved with this project and contribute. Should you ever need to explain the concept of Open Source to someone again, do not forget to use the OSDD network as an example.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tux Games - Your online store for Linux games

Gaming can sometimes be a make or break affair for most people that would like to give Linux a try. There are lots of free, world class games that run natively and via WINE on Linux. However, there are times when you just cannot get the game you want, even though you are willing to pay for it. 

Well if you are such person, then Tux Games should be of interest to you. Tux Games is an online store that features a wide assortment of games for the Linux platform. Some of the games available are X3: Reunion, Majesty Gold, Prey, Creatures- Internet Edition among others. They have all the gaming genres covered: action, strategy, role playing, FPS, arcade, sports, puzzle and more (some of the genres are yet to be filled with games though).

What caught my interest about Tux Games is how they seek to promote game developers who want to sell their wares. The terms under which they would list your game looks fair to me and thus I recommend it to any developer who has an interest in selling their game.

All in all, Tux Games is a nice idea and concept in my opinion that is worth considering. Developers (ie those who want to sell their games) get to make some money while you also get to play the games that are not otherwise available for free out there. Looks like a win- win situation to me. What do you think?

Edit: In case you are wondering, this is not an affiliate promotion. I am not an affiliate whatsoever of Tux Games. This post is based solely on the premise that you may find some games there useful for your playing pleasure. One caveat though, the site does not look nice, honestly speaking. The developers could do with some refinements of the color scheme and overall design.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 1 comment

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Steve Jobs of 1983 against the Apple Inc. of 2010

I have never used a single Apple product in my life before, and never dream to. With the way Apple is increasingly blazing the way to turning people into mere consumers, where you in reality do not *own* what you buy, I feel very sad for what the future holds should Jobs get his way.

I also find it very sad the way people, some from very reputed so called research firms are rushing head over heels to tell us how useful the iPad is, even though it is manifestly clear that the device is at best, a solution looking for a problem. And to those that are touting it as revolutionary device, I can only sympathize with their extreme love and fanboyism for everything Apple.

I really respect companies that make genuinely useful products for people to buy and in return make profits. I also understand it when a company seeks to protect what rightly belongs to them in terms of trade competitiveness and IP. However, I can never understand, agree with, support or buy from a company that actually looks at people that buy their products as nothing more than consumers who can only be dictated to.

The video below of Steve Jobs ushering in the 1984 Mac 2 add really makes him a very interesting figure. I find it very funny that he is doing today what he in the video was accusing IBM of doing. Just take a look and tell me what you think.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Friday, April 9, 2010

How To Use Photoshop Plugins On Linux

One of the complaints of Photoshop users  is not being able to work with its plugins in Linux. Photoshop has plugins for effects and filters that enhance its functionality, expanding the capacity of the program. On Linux, the Gimp has its own collection of plugins and scripts, but to satisfy the folks who look down upon Linux and Gimp, I will present not one but two ways to do the work of Photoshop plugins in Linux.

The Most Effective Way

Everyone who has had contact with windows should know a little program called Irfanview image viewer. This little program is a true Swiss army knife for viewing images, and one of its most remarkable features is to be able to make small edits on the images. Within these features, you can use 8bf effect filters  , the format of Adobe Photoshop filters. And, this feature is what we'll use to run Photoshop plugins in Linux. To be able to run Irfanview on Linux, we will need to install Wine.

So, let's get to work
  1. Install the latest version of Wine in the repositories of your distribution. Since Wine is present in almost all repositories of almost all the distros, there should be no problem about that.
  2. Search for the version 3.98 of Irfanview , which is a version that works exceptionally well with Wine, and therefore with Linux.
  3. Irfanview 3.98 can be downloaded  from the site http://www.oldversion.com/download_IrfanView_3.98.html, which is a specialized site  in storing old versions of programs from the Windows platform..
  4. Install Irfanview is very easy. Just run the installer, irfanview398.exe, with Wine and  go answering the questions of the installer.
  5. Once installed, in the fake drive c: \, which is inside the folder. / Wine, it will create several subdirectories in the directory of Irfanview. What interests us is Program Files /IrfanView/Plugins/Adobe 8bf.
  6. Inside this folder you should put the plugins you want to use. Websites like http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/graphicsblog/2007/10/1000s-of-free-photoshop-plugins-filters-megalist/ provide all possible links from where to download  8bf plugins compatible with Photoshop.
  7. Then go to menu Image, Effects, Adobe 8bf filters

  8. Something like this will appear :

  9. Click "Add 8bf filters"

  1. Indicate where the filters are

  2. Click "Ok"
  3. And you will have at your disposal all the Photoshop filters for use in Linux.

    Recalling that the images processed by the filters, through Irfanview, can be pasted / copied in Gimp, since the Wine provides smooth integration with the Linux environment. Thus, you can edit an image with Gimp and run all the Photoshop effect plugins, running in a sandbox on your Linux with Wine.

The Most Seamless Way

There is a more integrated way into  Gimp, which still requires Wine to run, but do not need an external program like Irfanview. It is a plugin for the Gimp that allows you to run the Adobe 8bf plugins  internally. This plugin is called PSPI, and was made for the windows version of Gimp to work with the 8bf plugins . Because Gimp is open source, it was a matter of time for it to be ported to Linux.

The PSPI plugin was created by Tor Lillqvist, and can be downloaded from the following link:
http://tml.pp.fi/gimp/pspi.html, with compatible  packages for many distros.

How to Use
Following the instructions of the author, the PSPI plugin consists of 3 files:

  • README.linux
  • PSPI, a small shell script
  • Pspi.exe.so, the binary that runs on Wine.
    Copy pspi and pspi.exe.so  to the  plug-ins folder of  the GIMP, usually in ~ / .gimp-2.6/plug-ins.
When you run GIMP it will issue a warning "wire_read(): error" as pspi.exe.so can't be started directly. (The pspi script can, though, and is from GIMP's point of view a GIMP plug-in.) This warning is harmless (GIMP just ignores that file then), but if you want to avoid it, move pspi.exe.so somewhere else and modify the pspi script to point to its new location instead.
After starting GIMP, go to the Xtns:Photoshop Plug-in Settings and enter the folder where you are going to keep the 3rd-party Photoshop plug-ins (.8bf files) that you want to use in GIMP.
  Preferably you should use an initially empty folder for this, and then install (copy) Photoshop plug-ins there one by one, verifying that each works. It isn't really useful to rush and install a shitload of Photoshop plug-ins at once and assume they all will work under pspi.

Once installed, the plugins behave as if they were natives plugins of Gimp,  in the filters menu. In the example below, the plugin PTlens. is installed.

What should be noted on the PSPI plugin is that it is not 100% guaranteed to work with all Photoshop plugins (8bf), and can occasionally freeze or crash the Gimp.

But as we saw, we have options to use the plugins 8bf on Linux.

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By Alessandro Ebersol with No comments

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Yoono- Spice up and organize your social media life

Among the dozens of desktop applications available to manage our very 'busy' and sometimes chaotic social media lives, Yoono really stands out tall in my life. It is a cross platform, resource efficient desktop application that has everything you may need to get stuff done right.

With this application, staying connected and sharing stuff with friends on the various social media networks is a breeze. It supports Gtalk, AIM, Yahoo, Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr and MySpace. Some of those networks also support multiple accounts. 

With Yoono, you can have updates to all your social media accounts arranged in a columnar form for easy viewing and organizing. You can also choose to have all your updates from all your social media accounts in one tab (my killer feature of the app). Post your updates to all your networks or just choose those you want, it's up to you. Sharing stuff like links, pictures and videos with friends across all the networks is also a blinking act.

Do IMing with friends from different networks in one tab or window, a feature they call unified instant messaging. For Twitter lovers, it supports all the usual features like RT, @replies among others. It also provides you with real time updates and search to make sure you are always up to speed with the latest in your social world. It also has a range of extensive options for each account to make sure things are laid out exactly the way you want.

There best way to actually get a feel of this Yoono is to give it a try. It's just 12MB and available for all three platforms. In case you are not the desktop type, Yoono also has Firefox addon (which we took a brief look at yesterday) that plays the role of the desktop right in your browser. So if you are like me and had been searching for an app to manage your social media life, Yoono is what I'll strongly recommend to you.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Top 5 Firefox addons that enhance your web experience

With the massive amounts of data that we have at our disposal online, there are times when you just don't know where to start from. Thanks to some really cool Firefox addons, you can get more out of the web in less time and sweat. The following 5 addons should be of interest to you if you want to enhance your web experience.

As the name goes, this addon shows sites similar to the one you are currently viewing. It opens up either in a sidebar or toolbar and shows as tumbnails similar sites, similar articles to the one you are reading and recent comments or buzz about the subject. I strongly recommend this addon especially to students or anyone doing a serious research work.

With the term social media being the buzzword of the day, we all are on one or the other of the lot: Facebook, Twitter, Myspace among others. With Yoono, "you [can] simplify your online social life by connecting you to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Friendfeed, AIM, Yahoo IM and more...all in one place. Yoono is also the easiest way to share stuff with all your social networks - share links, images and video from the page you're viewing across all your networks simultaneously."  There is  also a cross platform desktop app to make life even more easier. Need I say more to  convince you.

For TV lovers, this addon helps  you to "watch thousands of  TV channels freely available on the internet. powered by the biggest and most up to date database (Google – Wikipedia – YouTube – Torrent – eBay & Amazon Search engines included)."

Yea. The web is filled with loads of people that are just waiting for you to fall into their neatly laid traps for them to make use of your online everything. With this Web of Trust addon, you get to know "site ratings [that] are powered by a global community of millions of trustworthy users who have rated millions of websites based on their experiences. The free add-on works with Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer and is a free download.

The Firefox Environment Backup Extension is simply a class of its own and the only one in the backup category that I know of so far. What it does is it "allows you to quickly and easily backup your Firefox extensions. In fact, it goes beyond just backing up: it will actually rebuild your extensions individually into installable .xpi files. Now you can easily synchronize your office and home browsers." 

That is just super cool don't you think? As if that is not enough, you can actually schedule automatic backups on a daily, weekly or monthly intervals. This addon boasts of quite a number of features that are just impressive. I without a doubt, recommend you install this addon to make your life very easy and hassle free when it comes to Firefox backups.

These five addons, I believe, should help make life online a little easy for all of us. Of course I know there are thousands of others out there that you can choose to install and I'd be more than happy to hear which are your picks. Yes I have been hard on Firefox of late, something you probably know if you are a regular reader here. But, when it comes to addons, it is still king.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments

Sunday, April 4, 2010

5 reasons why you must support the spread of Open Source Software

Different people ascribe different interpretations to the term Open Source depending on which side of the divide they stand. However, one thing that remains certain is that everybody stands to benefit from Open Source and thus must necessarily support its spread. These are my reasons for believing firmly so

Open Source Software guarantees quality closed source software
It is very ironic but true. Without enormous pressure from mostly freely available and quality OSS, most closed source software would have just been junk. For instance, without pressure and competition from Linux, Windows 7 would not have been such a polished and nice software. OSS keeps closed source software developers on their toes in the knowledge that there is always some alternative available to users should they get it wrong.

Open Source Software reduces cost
Imagine your company in need of a particular software that is not available in the form it wants but there are others out there it can tweak to suit its needs. In this case, your company has two options, either build from scratch (which can be very expensive and time consuming) or grab the source code of an existing software and tweak it to their taste. Which would you prefer if you were the CFO?

Open Source Software fosters innovation
I actually find it very ironic that Bill Gates stood on the shoulders of giants to start Microsoft. With OSS, standing on the shoulders of giants to innovate is common place and encouraged. Take Ubuntu as an example. Shuttleworth has actually built on Debian what is indisputably the most popular alternative to Windows. Rather than spend an eternity starting from scratch, you can legally build on the works of others to add even more value than the original work. Society, at the end of the day, becomes the beneficiary of all innovations.

Open Source Software creates employment
Contrary to the arguments being advanced by firms like Microsoft, OS does not cause unemployment but rather helps to create employment. The job cuts that such companies have made were not as a result of OSS but rather a plethora of factors. If you are a programmer, which scenario would you probably like
a)A situation where you can actually grab the code of some software, add your own stuff and sell it as long as you respect the license you inherited from the original software
b)You do not have the right to do anything with any software whatsoever. Only the original company can tamper with their stuff. Which scenario will in the long run create more employment? 

Open Source Software guarantees continuity 
Imagine waking up tomorrow to the news that your corporate CRM software is no longer going to be continued. The firm behind it has decided to discontinue due to lack of demand and is also not going to give out the source code. What then happens to the massive investment your company has made in the deployment of the software? 

Your only option would be to start from scratch with another one. This I doubt, will ever happen with Open Source Software. One developer stops a project, and another can freely and happily take over. Saving people the hassle of starting from scratch. Firefox is a great example of this point. Netscape died, but was reincarnated as Firefox. Today, it is the second most user browser out there. How is that for continuity?

There are more reasons why you now more than ever need to support and respect Open Source Software. You may choose not to use it for the sake of personal preference, but I think it deserves some respect and support from all and sundry if the future of the software industry is to be guaranteed.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 12 comments

Saturday, April 3, 2010

[IMAGE] Why people prefer to pirate stuff

Pirating is no good thing, no matter from which angle you look at it. However, I also think it is very important to actually try to understand what makes people prefer to pirate stuff especially movies. From nonsensical and unreasonably restrictive schemes like Digital Rights Restriction to needless commercials, I think the image below does a great job of summarizing why people would rather to pirate than buy. The image is by kind courtesy of FunnyJunk

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By Seraaj Muneer with 2 comments

5 cool Linux audio editors worth knowing

One good thing about using Linux is the amount of choices one has when it comes to the use of any application. If you are a music lover, the following 5 music/audio editors are worthy of note

"LMMS is a free cross-platform alternative to commercial programs like FL Studio, which allow you to produce music with your computer. This includes the creation of melodies and beats, the synthesis and mixing of sounds, and arranging of samples. You can have fun with your MIDI-keyboard and much more; all in a user-friendly and modern interface."

Talking of features, it boasts of

  • Song-Editor for composing songs
  • A Beat+Bassline-Editor for creating beats and basslines
  • An easy-to-use Piano-Roll for editing patterns and melodies
  • An FX mixer with 64 FX channels and arbitrary number of effects allow  unlimited mixing possibilities
  • Many powerful instrument and effect-plugins out of the box
  • Full user-defined track-based automation and computer-controlled automation sources
  • Compatible with many standards such as SoundFont2, VST(i), LADSPA, GUS Patches, and MIDI
  • Import of MIDI and FLP (Fruityloops Project) files


Available for all three popular platforms, Traverso DAW is "a GPL licensed, cross platform multitrack audio recording and editing suite, with an innovative and easy to master User Interface. It's suited for both the professional and home user, who needs a robust and solid DAW." 

The developers call it a complete suite because it "is a complete solution from recording to CD Mastering. By supplying many common tools in one package, you don't have to learn how to use lots of applications with different user interfaces. This considerably lowers the learning curve, letting you get your audio processing work done faster." Worth Checking out.
Rosegarden, the development of which is sponsored by Typo 3, "is an easy-to-learn, attractive application that runs on Linux, ideal for composers, musicians, music students, and small studio or home recording environments. It is a well-rounded audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor, and general-purpose music" composition and editing environment."

Released under the GPL, Ardour is a hard disk recorder and digital audio workstation application that runs on Linux, FreeBSD and Mac OSX. The application aims to provide a digital audio workstation suitable for professional use with features such as recording, mixing, editing and mastering. Ardour relies heavily on plugins ot get some features to work.


Hydrogen is an advanced drum machine for GNU/Linux. It's main goal is to bring professional yet simple and intuitive pattern-based drum programming with features such as

  •     Up to 64 ticks per pattern with individual level per event and variable pattern length.
  •     32 instrument tracks with volume, mute, solo, pan capabilities.
  •     Multi layer support for instruments (up to 16 samples for each instrument).
  •     Ability to import/export song files.
  •     Unique human velocity, human time, pitch and swing functions.
  •     Multiple patterns playing at once. 

There are dozens of others out there that easily get the job done no matter its complexity. If there is any one reason why Linux is such a force to reckon with, it's about how hard it is to choose from lots of solutions to any given problem. Give any of the above apps a try and tell me what you think of them. If you prefer others not mentioned here, please share them with us in the comments.

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By Seraaj Muneer with No comments
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