Thursday, January 20, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
Whilst writing my recent article about XBMC, I came across a few quality Linux distributions aimed solely at providing media center capabilities.
Many people have used Microsoft's Windows Media Center at some point, either on their PC or Xbox 360. Personally I found it a frustrating experience, with my Xbox 360 not recognising my Windows 7 laptop, not to mention limited streaming and playback options.
If you really want a powerful media center and are fed up doing it Microsoft-style then one of these Linux solutions might just do the job.
I've already mentioned it once – and for good reason. If you read my XBMC article then you'll know that I personally think it's the bees knees. Once a hacked media solution for the first generation Xbox console, XBMC now packs a punch and comes with its own stripped-down Linux distro.
You can use a blank CD or USB stick to create a Live version of XBMC which boots straight into its media interface. Once you're satisfied you've got no hardware incompatibilities you can install it straight to the hard drive (or even keep it on the USB stick for a truly portable solution).
XBMC is responsible for a number of other media products including the highly praised Boxee.
Based on Ubuntu (clue's in the name), Mythbuntu is a dedicated MythTV distribution with full recording support (use your box as a PVR). The team of volunteers closely monitor the main Ubuntu project and release updates for their media distro every 6 months.
Mythbuntu uses the XFCE desktop (found in Xubuntu) for its fast and simple nature. All the usual Ubuntu software extras have been stripped out, and your system is administered from the Mythbuntu Control Center.
The distribution provides you with a highly configurable system on which to build upon. What's really nice about it is you retain compatibility with Ubuntu which makes customizing your box a cinch.
A fantastic all-in-one solution which brings the power of several services to your living room. Included in Element is the aforementioned XBMC, Boxee, YouTube XL, Hulu and more. You also have access to a web browser (that'll be Firefox) with Cooliris support and as many extras and add-ons you can download.
Thanks to pre-installed Boxee and the fantastic XBMC you'll be able to stream the best live TV and make the most of your local media too. Element is based on Ubuntu, and thus binary compatible with available software.
Much like XBMC, GeeXboX aims to be a ready-to-go media solution ideal for streaming local, networked and online media. The project has spawned numerous side-projects including networking protocol uShare.
GeeXboX uses an integrated media center frontend called Enna (which you can also download separately). The latest version (2.X) has improved on the visual style and aesthetics to bring this dedicated media OS in line with similar projects.
The distro can be run from a Live CD or USB stick, or you can install it on your media PC's hard drive. The goal of the project is to embed all media applications into a single interface for the perfect media hub.
Do It Yourself
It might sound like a bit of a long shot, but there's every opportunity for you to custom build your own particular set-up to use as a media center. There's a myriad of lightweight Linux installs, many of which are binary compatible with big distributions such as Ubuntu.
What this gives you is the barebones of a media center PC and the option to install what you want, be it Boxee, XBMC, MythTV and even set up games and emulators to enjoy from your living room. You can then use a fancy launcher to sew it all together.
Time consuming but rewarding!
You're not exactly spoiled for choice, but considering these offerings are completely free and have been developed by volunteers they pack a considerable punch. Luckily it's easy to download and test out any of these distros using just a CD or USB stick.
If you've not tried these before then prepare to be impressed at what the developers have been working on in their spare time.
Have you wanted to check out Linux, but were too intimidated by all of the choices available? Now is a good time to get your feet wet with a distribution that is geared towards new Linux users.
Much like Mint Linux which we have covered previously, PinguyOS has the latest base 10.10 Ubuntu Linux distribution and customizes it with an eye towards ease of use. Continue reading for an overview of this operating system and whether it is worth your time to check it out.
PinguyOS is an Ubuntu-minimal base installation with customized packages, sources and other tweaks to make it a "zero effort" install. What I mean by this is when you install the regular Ubuntu operating system, there are a number of problems you face out of the box due to technical and other legal restrictions which can make it a several-hour or day-long endeavor to get it optimized and running the way you most likely want it. The creators of PinguyOS have taken the viewpoint of a new user and has tweaked, remixed and otherwise customized the operating system so that it is ready to go as soon as you install it.
After you download the ISO file (32 or 64-bit, depending on what your computer supports) you then burn it to a disk. Place it in your CD drive and boot off of it – you will be given several choices much like the original Ubuntu install. You can either "try before you buy" and run it as a LiveCD or jump straight to the installer if you want to wipe out your current system and dive in head first. If you are installing it to your system follow the prompts as they are very straightforward.
Getting Accustomed To The Desktop
If you are coming from either Mac or Windows you will feel at home in PinguyOS. The main difference is that the "Start" menu is at the top along with the clock and other system shortcuts. On the right side is a system status menu – if I had one complaint about the OS it is that this is information that would be mostly irrelevant to a "new" Linux user and seems extraneous from this viewpoint. As a big Linux user myself I thought it was cool that this was included in the default install.
There is a dock at the bottom and left named Docky, this works much the same as the Mac OSX dock and will be familiar if you are coming from Apple. The start menu is the same one that Mint uses – it has been optimized to look much the same as the Windows 7 start menu with a search bar and frequently used programs.
You have many programs available to you right out of the box. VLC and many multimedia codecs (including h.264) are installed and I had no problems playing the movies I have saved on my shared drive. Speaking of file sharing, Samba – the Linux folder sharing program – is installed and ready to be activated on any folder so PinguyOS plays nicely with any other Windows or Mac computers on the network.
What Makes PinguyOS Different From Mint Linux?
First of all PinguyOS borrows from some of the packages that Mint Linux has developed to make things easier for end users. But it also adds in frequently used programs so that you do not have to search around for them, some examples are Docky, Virtualbox, VLC and media codecs. In this respect it is not a "bare bones" Linux install like Mint Linux, it is more rounded out with programs many Ubuntu enthusiasts use.
Although PinguyOS started with an minimal Ubuntu distribution it has added many of the programs most power users will install right away after an install. In this way it literally saves someone hours of time of research and installation of these packages. The creator, Antoni, listened to friends and family while deciding which packages to install in this distribution in a way that many power users of Linux simply forget. The way that Linux is infinitely customizable is also its downfall for many new Linux OS users as it is easy to get drowned in the sea of choices.PinguyOS makes it simple to get up and running in minutes instead of hours.
If you are looking to get into Linux, PinguyOS is a must-try distribution. Download it today and you can literally be running Linux like a pro in minutes. If you have always wondered what all of the geeks that are running Ubuntu rave about, this is it! Let us know how you make out, we would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.
Are you setting up your computer to dual-boot between two operating systems (or more)? If so, you must be familiar with the boot loader. This tool enables users to choose which operating system he/she wants to log into. The boot loader that comes with the Ubuntu installation is called GRUB.
As useful as it is, the GRUB boot loader is not the prettiest girl in town. The interface is only as beautiful as a text-based interface can be. Even though some people can live with it just fine, some others wish they could beautify the look a little bit.
If you don't mind meddling with command lines, you can apply some eye candy (and more functionalities) to GRUB with the help of BURG.
Playing Between The Lines
According to the explanation in the Community Ubuntu Documentation:
BURG stands for Brand-new Universal loadeR from GRUB. It's based on GRUB and adds features like new object format and configurable menu system.
To add BURG from within your Ubuntu installation, you have to use command lines. But worry not, young Jedi! It's not as scary as it sounds. As long as you follow everything to the letter – no pun intended – you should be just fine.
But before we begin, let's look at the original boot loader text-based interface that we are trying to change.
The first step you should do is to log into your Ubuntu installation. Then open "Terminal" to execute all the command lines needed to download, install, and configure BURG. You can find Terminal inside "Applications – Accessories", or you can also use the search function to find it.
By default, BURG is not included in Ubuntu's standard repository. So you should add the server that hosts BURG files to the repository by executing this command line:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bean123ch/burg
To avoid mistyping, it's easier to copy and paste that line to Terminal, and press Enter to execute it.
Then you should download and install BURG (loader, themes and emulator). Use this command to do that:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install burg
The process could take a while, depending on the speed of your internet connection. It's essential that you use a stable connection to get the best result. From my experiments, I found out that an unstable connection will cause download problems: some of the components might not download completely, and the installation process will fail.
After we finish the download and installation process, the next step is to configure BURG. The Terminal will display something like this:
Press Enter to go to the next screen, and another Enter to skip again.
You will arrive at this "Configuring burg-pc" screen. This one is a little tricky because hitting Enter will not bring you anywhere. After several trial and errors, I found out that you have to select the "OK" option by using the right arrow key on the keyboard or by pressing tab, then after the "OK" is selected, you can press Enter to continue.
The following screen will ask you to choose which device is the "GRUB install device". If your computer has only one hard drive, you will only see one device. The problem is, how to select it? To avoid accidentally skipping this configuration, press Space to select the device before pressing Enter.
The configuration is now done. You can restart your system and the GRUB boot loader menu will be replaced by BURG.
Navigating within BURG is easy: use the arrow keys on the keyboard to choose the operating system and Enter to load it.
You can also switch between themes easily by pressing F2 to bring up the list of available themes, move between the items with arrow keys, and hit Enter to choose one. Here are some examples of available themes.
Other Function keys that you can use are F1 for Help and F3 to change screen resolution.
Installing BURG From Windows
BURG also comes with a Windows installer. You can get the installer from BURG's download page. Using it is also very easy: install it,
And click "Add Boot Entry" under "Programs – Burg" menu.
However, I found this method to be working only if you installed Ubuntu from within Windows. So for those who installed Ubuntu alongside Windows, you have to stick with the command lines.
To be honest, I'm a total newbie when it comes to Ubuntu (Linux) and command lines. I had to repeat the experiment several times just to get it (almost) right, and I'm still trying to grasp everything that I've done and described here. So, if you Linux experts out there have found things that I missed here, please do not hesitate to share your input in the comments below.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Well, I’m here to walk you through a few steps you can take to troubleshoot your computer whenever you experience this blue screen error. Sometimes, the problem isn’t quite as serious or complicated as people think. It could be as simple as the fact that some hardware you installed created a conflict. Maybe a virus messed up the registry. Or maybe a driver file is corrupt. I’m going to show you how you can check for the most common issues that cause this error.
Boot In Safe Mode
The first thing to do when you get the blue screen is to power down the computer. When you boot it back up, press the F8 key before the Windows screen appears. This will boot the computer into the Advanced Options screen where you can choose advanced boot options. Press the down arrow until “Safe Mode with Networking” is enabled and press enter. If you believe that you’re dealing with a virus that instantly connects to the Internet when you boot your computer, then go with just “Safe Mode” instead.
Keep a close eye on the screen after you press enter. The screen will scroll through each driver as it loads each one individually into memory. Many times, you’ll see the screen pause for a very long time at one of the .sys files before the boot fails and returns an error. Make note of the last file it was trying to load before it failed. Do a Google search (on another computer obviously) to determine what driver is failing and try reinstalling that driver.
If there are no driver problems, then determine whether there are any hardware conflicts by going into the Control Panel, clicking on System, and then Device Manager. Go through each device category and scan all of the devices for the telltale yellow accent icon that indicates there’s a device conflict.
If you do see that icon, open up the driver and you’ll see a message box that reveals where the conflict is taking place. If you can’t find any device conflicts, move on to the next step – scanning your entire system.
Run Spyware, Adware, Virus & Registry Scans
While you’re in safe mode, perform all of your spyware, adware and virus scans. This is the best time to run these apps because any viruses that try to disable them in normal mode will likely be disabled at this point. I love Malwarebytes, which Jimmy reviewed here at MUO before. Also run your virus scan software. If you don’t have one, you really should get one. Check out Justin’s list of the top 10 free anti-virus software apps available. Install one and do a full scan.
Another very useful scan to run is to check for any odd Registry entries or problems. A great open source app that can check your registry for any known problems is the Little Registry Cleaner which comes highly recommended by most users.
If you’ve tried everything up to this point and can’t seem to find any problems, don’t despair. We’ve got a couple more tricks up our sleeve.
Things To Try As A Last Resort
Go ahead and reboot your computer and press the F8 key again. This time, instead of booting into safe mode, select “Last Known Good Configuration“. This will revert to booting Windows using the last configuration where a successful boot took place. Many times this will resolve the issue without any further troubleshooting.
If that doesn’t work, reboot again into F8 mode and try selecting “Enable Boot Logging“. This boots Windows and logs every little detail of the boot-up into a file called “ntbtlog.txt” in the root directory, usually c:/Windows.
Open up the text file and scan through it to see exactly what’s loading and when it’s loading. It’s quite possible that something obvious will jump right out at you. If you identify anything loading that you didn’t want to load, try uninstalling and see if it fixes the problem.
Last but not least, you always have the option to do a system restore. Just go to the Control Panel, System and Security, Backup and Restore, and select “Recover System Settings for your Computer“.
Choose a valid restore point from the list and follow the instructions. Usually doing a system restore back to a date where your computer was running fine will resolve the blue screen error.
Finally, if even a restore doesn’t seem to resolve the issue, you could be looking at a bad hard disk. If that’s the case, follow Guy’s instructions to do a Check Disk. The solution may be to buy a new hard drive.
Have you ever had the blue screen of death? Were you able to figure your way out of it? Share your own experiences in the comments section below.