Saturday, March 7, 2009

How to install Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR v1.0.1) in VirtualBox

Read This First

Read through this entire post before attempting to use it as reference for your trial as I went through many steps that can be avoided as they do not work. Some things included in this guide:
  • Download the Ubuntu Netbook Remix .iso
  • Create a VirtualBox Guest Install for UNR deployment
  • Boot said VirtualBox machine from the mounted UNR v1.0.1 image and complete the automated installation process (which fails on reboot)
  • Install Ubuntu Hardy Herring 8.10 on modified Virtual machine
  • Add UNR packages to Hardy Herring Install and troubleshoot process

This is as much a tale of my attempt to install Ubuntu Netbook Remix on my Windows XP Hosted VirtualBox installation as much as a guide one how to do it. Note that, once installed, UNR doesn't run well in VirtualBox as suggested in some of the documentation. The cause, as far as I can tell, is caused by how VirtualBox handles OpenGL. This should only be used to test the software at this point, and not implemented as a usable interface.

About Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Ubuntu Netbook Remix is an Ubuntu variant/adaptation designed to work effectively and efficiently with netbook computers. Detailed information and standard installation instructions are available here:


VirtualBox is installed <-- tested with 2.1.4 on a Windows XP host
Ubuntu 8.10 is installed in as a guest machine in VirtualBox

Step by Step recount of my attempts, failures, and results

  1. Download image (to mount or burn) from here:
  2. Create a new Virtual Machine in Virtual Box (Linux OS, Ubuntu Type). The usual settings should be fine...I used the following settings:
    • 512 mb ram
    • 128mb video memory with hardware acceleration
    • Dynamic sized hard disk
  3. Mount the .iso (or boot from CD if you burned it) and start the Virtual Machine.

    The installation seems to be pretty much automated. There were no options to repartition the drive or preserve any existing data
  4. This step took a little longer than i was the same splash screen as is usually displayed when ubuntu is loaded, so i may have just expected it to go faster.
  5. After the first restart of the installation process, I encountered an error message:
    FATAL:  No bootable medium found!  System halted

    The following are steps I took to troubleshoot the installation:
    1. restart
    2. check VirtualBox settings, decrease video memory to 32mb with no hardware access
    3. read some information about UNR and VirtualBox from the following:

    None of my troubleshooting procedures corrected the problem, but based on the reading, I decided to try installing 8.10 or 8.04 and using the instructions from
    to try to install ubuntu 8.xx and perform the necessary alterations to that install so that the final result is basically the UNR release

Second Attempt -- by altering a Ubuntu 8.10 (Hardy Herring) Installation

  1. I began by attempting to install a copy of 8.10 (beta) i had laying around but it was 64 bit edition...and that doesn't work for my VirtualBox/XP host. I then began downloading the x86, non beta, version. For the record, a torrent search lists quite a few heavily seeded torrents which should get you the image faster than you can get it elsewhere. I think it took me 10 mins.
  2. I then mounted it and began installation on the previous machine.
    note: I left the standard 2GB hd size...I was warned that this may not be large enough, but though I'd give Ubuntu a chance to impress me with it's error handling capabilities. After was just a warning, right?
  3. I then encountered an error -- failure to install due to insufficient hard drive space -- they warned me. Ubuntu did fail gracefully into the live session screen, only wasting about 5 minutes of my time.

  4. I shut down and modified the hard disk to start with 4 GB of space and expand if necessary -- had to delete the existing HD and create a new one. I still made it dynamic, bu started it with 8GB to be safe.
  5. Next, I installed Ubuntu easily using default options -- once installed, I agreed to recommended updates (250 mb worth). Some screenshots of the install follow for you screenshot lovers.

  6. After the installation had completed, I did the system updates (System >> Administration >> Update Manager) and installed guest additions...explained in a previous tutorial, here:

  7. Modifying the Ubuntu Hardy Herring (8.10) Installation by adding the Ubuntu Netbook Remix Packages

    note: For the next few lines, instructions came directly from the following web page:
  8. As the instructions indicated, I did the following:
    go to system >> administration >> software sources
    • ensure under the Ubuntu tab that Community Maintained... box is checked
    • go to the third party tab and click add and enter the following:
      deb intrepid main
    • click 'add source' and then 'close'
  9. ERROR: I got an error stating no public key was available to validate a signature here.

    After a google search for the error statement, a forum provided the following command line fix with some explanation that was a little beyond me, but here's how to avoid it:
    in a terminal, type the following >>
    sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver 3F2A5EE4B796B6FE
  10. To resume, open a terminal and type the following:
    sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install go-home-applet human-netbook-theme maximus netbook-launcher window-picker-applet and hit enter
  11. (This section wasn't necessary for me, as maximus and netbook-launcher were already check to run when I went to the Gnome Session Manager) The remaining instructions say to chck the gnome-session-manager and to add maximus and the netbook-launcher, which aren't supposed to auto-start. Install them / set them to auto-start. Restart!

  12. It started up correctly...and operated as it was supposed to (forgiving the ridiculously slow performance). There are further instrctions (brief) saying to...
    setup the gnome-panel to mimic the standard UNR set-up. The applet order is as follows:
    go-home-applet | window-picker-applet | notifcation-area-applet | mixer-applet | clock

    ...but i'm not sure how necessary this is.

    Here's Ubuntu 8.10 -- Hardy Herring -- with the UNR packages added, running successfully.


If I would have listened to the recommendations my sources gave and installed onto an existing Intrepid (8.10) install, the whole process would have been easier and much faster. Still, it wasn't hard. That said, even with hardware acceleration enabled (or disabled), it runs unacceptably slow on my system. I saw warnings about Intrepid and about VirtualBox, but my guess is this has more to do with VirtualBox and its ability to render OpenGL graphics. It is running and looks nice...I look forward to trying this on a real laptop!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Free Software Guide

A comprehensive guide to successfully making use of free software


This guide is designed to be a general guide to inform readers about the benefits and drawbacks of free software, to inform them of different types of free software and teach them to differentiate between the two, and set their expectations appropriately.

Free Software Types

The word free is a little more ambiguous than it may seem. When used to describe software, it can usually mean one of two things: (1) free as in free beer [crude, but this description has practically been standardized when describing free software -- think of it as free potato chips or gummy bears if you want] or (2) free as in free speech. in beer

Software of this type is usually available at no direct* monetary cost. This software is still not owned by the end user. That is, you can't view the source code and modify it to better suit your needs. This software is more appropriately described as being rented from the creator/owner. in speech

Free (speech) software is entirely different, but seems very similar and has strong similarities with other free software. As stated before, however, the most fundamental difference is that this type of software provides its source code for the end user to take and modify to better suit his needs. While much free (speech) software has no direct* monetary cost, that is not always the case. Review the list below to see how free (beer) and free (speech) software makers can make a living with their code.

*The following list annotates how software makers can and often do make a living by distributing their software without charging end (personal use) users -- many of these overlap:
  • [beer] alternate versions (such as a pro version -- with enhanced or more robust features) are available for paying customers [AVG, WinAMP]
  • [beer] the software is free for for personal use, but not commercial use [Ad-Aware,
  • [beer | speech] the software is free in both respects, but you can purchase an 'enterprise' upgrade to pay for technical support from professionals who can do anything from help with the inner workings of the code to do customized modifications for your use[ubuntu SE]
  • [beer | speech] the creators may accept donations as a 'thank you' for the hard work they've done and time they've saved the users who have enjoyed the benefits of the software [FileZilla, SpyBot S&D]
  • some benefit from the user statistics they aggregate from your daily use. others do it, but google does it best. their products are free (beer) to you but they are paid by your computer habits and subtle browsing nuances[chrome, picasa]

Installing Software

Sometimes free (beer) software is one of the biggest distributors of what I consider mal-ware. You want to play on-line poker but you don't want to pay anything...this website says its free...just install the software and enter your email address and you are playing in an instant. you have three toolbars, an adult friend finder program running when windows starts, and you are getting 100 spam emails a smart and don't let this be you!

I'd apply this to all software installations, not just free ones. Don't be afraid of performing an 'advanced' install. You usually designate all your install 'preferences' before the install begins, so if you get scared and want to back out, you can safely do so by using the 'back' button or 'exit setup/installation'. That said, usually the recommended install options are set as the defaults during the advanced installation, it just gives you the option of changing them when that option doesn't exist in a standard installation. Most things won't need to be changed, but if you read the fine print (not the EULA, those are ridiculous!) you can opt out of all those annoying 'toolbar' installations and in some cases some other 'opt in' programs that will either give out your email address or install additional software that you likely have no need of.

You don't have to be a geek to save yourself some time and hassle by paying attention during installation.

Finding Free Software

Finding free software is a little tricky. I won't go over the basics of internet I already covered that in my How to perform an effective Internet search [external link] tutorial. Some key words to attempt are open-source, or open source along with free and games.

The problem with searching for free games is that lots of people search for that...and people who do marketing know that lots of people search for that. A standard google search for free games turns up a list of questionable sources. There are probably some free games available...but from a basic look, they seem to be very concerned with advertising. People who make free games often can't pay for advertising because they are broke. They make free games! With few exceptions, free software will not be advertised as heavily as non free software. With that said, a standard google search for free games open source returns much more believable results. The top results include a wikipedia article (while not a definitive source, they are peer moderated which is helpful in many scenarios) a sourceforge hosted page (good), and some other pages that seem much more legitimate than the first return.

This does hinge on the games being (or people thinking they are) open source, though. We should be able to find games that aren't open source and are still free and safe to download. It often comes down to intentions. Many bloggers like to compile lists to build traffic so they can make a few bucks from google ads (or other ads) they display on their pages. There's no harm in that...they want to provide quality content (maybe using a ridiculously overstated title) in order to get traffic to their site. Seems fair. Thus, some of the content from blog type compilations can be very useful. I just did a basic google search for best free games and the results weren't all that disappointing. Some things can't be taught and are hard to explain, but the results come across as relatively objective and not overly 'in your face' -- no one likes to have software pushed on them.

Good Luck

Be smart...and hesitant. If it looks too good to be true, it may be. It may not...but if you are careful during installations and watch out for obnoxious looking sites, you may find some quality free software to make use of.