O: planner -- project management application

While looking at outstanding bugs against my Debian packages, I noticed that an RC bug had crept in against Planner. The bug itself isn't new. In fact, Ubuntu had experienced it already and simply decided to build their package without SQL support to resolve the issue.

Planner is a fairly well-matured piece of software, with very few bugs remaining. It remains quite usable in everyday use. However, it has fallen behind in terms of keeping its code up-to-date against the latest versions of some optional dependencies.

Tonight, I was just sitting here pondering what to do and it occurred to me that I'm simply no longer interested in maintaining the package. I have done a fairly good job of overhauling the build scripts and of upgrading them for the Python transition but, at this stage, I feel that I've accomplished as much as I could do. Besides, I no longer have the time to maintain so many packages, so I have decided to focus on maintaining those I actually care for and Planner isn't one of them.

The package already is assigned to Debian's GNOME team, so no need to actually orphan it, since anyone from the team can pick it up. If you're a member of the GNOME team and feel like taking over, perhaps even submitting patches to upstream to close a few more bugs, go right ahead and jump in.


Valga - Valka : 1 linn, 2 riiki - 1 pilsēta, 2 valstis

Thursday evening, I joined the inhabitants of the twin town of Valga-Valka, sitting smack on the Estonian-Latvian border, to celebrate their entry into the Schengen treaty. Ever since I first crossed the border there on a roadtrip from Tallinn to Fallingbostel, in year 2001, I knew I would have to return and, sure enough, I briefly passed through during last summer with an Estonian friend, on our way to an acquaintance's birthday party.

Still, that told me nothing of the town's life and left me wanting for more.

Upon hearing that year 2004 EU accession countries would join Schengen in December 2007, I immediately promised myself to show up and join the crowd. As it turns out, I missed Aleks Tapinš of the All About Latvia blog by very little, having I caught his last-minute e-mail the next afternoon. Aleks blogged a great article depicting the Latvian side of life and providing some background info on the town, if you're curious.

I arrived late-evening on Thursday via the Tallinn-Viljandi-Valga bus and checked into my hotel, then proceeded to checkpoint Valga II around 23:30, with the intention of grabbing a drink on the Latvian side and returning just before midnight for the celebrations. Hardly anyone was in sight, except for Latvian officer Čabana who was completing the inspection of a Russian car with three noisy passengers. Upon presenting her with my passport, officer Čabana cheerfully lead me to the office and slid my passport through a slot to officer Bukss, who was visibly surprised to have any tourist show up on the last day of his job to get their passport stamped. Upon explaining to him the reasons for my presence, he pointed me to a nearby bar where I could have a drink, visibly amused by the situation.

I spent the next few minutes in a local casino in the company of three hilarious Latvian truck drivers, Zintars and Aivars, two Latvians with limited English language skills and Yuri, an ethnic Russian living in Ireland who was born stateless on the Latvian side of the town and who later acquired Estonian citizenship by claiming ancestral land on the Estonian side.

Upon returning to the border, just minutes before midnight, I found myself in the middle of a huge crowd of villagers, police officers, border guards and politicians from both countries - barely getting noticed by anyone. I handed my passport to an Estonian border guard who emotionally commented to a civilian friend of his nearby that, "Wow! That was the last one!", handing me my passport back just as the midnight bells rang and the mayor of the Estonian side started his speech amidst pyrotechnics lining the road.

I then had a chance to chat with the Estonian mayor, who promptly handed me a bilingual certificate, signed by the mayors of both towns, attesting that I was the first to cross the open border, while introducing me to his two young daughters with whom he was about to take a stroll on the Latvian side.

The next morning, an even bigger and more symbolic event took place: the demolition of the fence that had been cutting the Sõprus/Raiņa street in half. You can see a picture of what the street looked like before on Aleks' blog article [edit: or on Jens-Olaf's blog article]. After the fence was removed, it instead looked like this:

The crowd then proceeded to checkpoint Valga III, where a stage had been setup for the politicians to make their speeches. An interesting fact is that, because of the way the border was drawn, along a creek leading to Pedeli river, an Estonian main road was technically on the Latvian border and thus aptly named "Raja" (border) street. The Estonian mayor commented in his speech that the the brand new supermarket standing behind us was also technically on borderland and could not have possibly been built earlier, weren't it for the Schengen treaty matter-of-factedly eliminating borders between participating EU countries. The speeches were closed by a youth group whose choreography featured six break-dancing boys, dressed as Estonian and Latvian border guards and as border posts. The choreography ended with the teenage border guards carrying away the human posts on their shoulders, just as a choir of young girls replaced them with songs in either languages.

Before catching my bus back to Tallinn, I dropped by the Valga tourist info, only to face a nervous-looking Kapo officer in plain clothes. Upon mumbling something about the tourist info and wanting to grab maps, I noticed that a press conference was taking place behind. As he finally let me pass to the tourist info side of the building, a familiar voice said to me, "Hey! Weren't you at our place last summer with Martin Ranna?" Yup, the wife of the acquaintance whose birthday party I had attended last summer is working there and greeted with me refreshments and munchies she had cooked in prevision for the presidential visit! As was my luck, she had one of the commemorative plaques that had been given to the politicians at Valga III on hand:

I was glad to see the town becoming one again, even though it is ethnically divided. There are already signs of people on both sides learning one another's languages and shopping on either side of town, not to mention plans of merging the municipal bus operations of the Estonian and Latvian halves of the town, so I'm sure that they'll get there in due course.

For me, Schengen brought a much more practical and quite welcome change: the end of messy border crossing stamps that were rapidly filling my almost new passport, every time I visited the head office of our company in Tallinn. While Estonian border guards mostly stamp passports in an orderly fashion, being careful to fit exactly 8 stamps in a single page and to put entry and exit stamps side-by-side, Finnish border guards apparently are incapable of doing so, instead systematically wasting pages by either stamping sloppily in a way that makes it impossible for more than 4 stamps to appear on a given page or by flipping to a brand new page, every time I had to cross the border.

In case anyone ever wondered why I'm currently representing Estonian interests abroad, despite living in Finland, this example is one of the many reasons: Finnish authorities routinely display arrogant carelessness towards the population and doubly so towards immigrants. It amounts to an accumulation of idiocy that has costly consequences on people's lives. For some, it's about being denied the public institutions' support when they need it the most and their life forever going downhill thereafter. For me, it has been about countless missed opportunities (jobs, love affairs, travel plans), plus very costly passport and residence permit renewals. Given this, I simply don't see myself ever representing Finnish interests ever again. Faith no more. Besides, the Estonians are fun and easy-going people. Siski ma mõtlen, kas ma peaksen nüüd Eestisse kolima või?


Ubuntu on an LG E200 laptop?

As my aging ThinkPad is starting to show signs of an impeding retirement, I recently began looking for a newer laptop to replace it. My current choice would be for an LG Electronics model E200-A.CPPPV laptop. However, when trying an Ubuntu Feisty live CD on it, X failed to find any usable screen resolution and aborted. Thus I was wondering if anybody had better results using a Gutsy CD? In principle, the hardware should be supported, since it's all Intel and ATI components but, these days, you never know, especially with graphic and wireless chipsets. Comments?



Things have been rather hectic lately, so I haven't found much time to blog. Here's why:


The Gigabit Ethernet version of our thin client took more time to produce than I expected, for a number of reasons mostly related to a few improvements we decided to squeeze into the design at the last minute.

However, today, we finally reached a point where LinuxBIOS runs as well as it did on our previous DBE61 model and where we no longer need any DOS tool to flash the MAC address into the VIA velocity Gigabit chip we selected. Hurray!

Production will only commence in one month, but I'm already excited by the new model's potential, both as a thin client and as an embedded platform.

Another good thing is that, thanks to Ubuntu developer Scott Balneaves, we managed to get all the necessary tools to support thin clients based on LinuxBIOS into LTSP, so our Etherboot model works out of the box on Ubuntu, since Gutsy. Hurray!

There is one remaining issue related to recent changes in X.org core functionalities that make the AMD driver we need unstable but, again, various AMD, Debian and Ubuntu developers are looking into fixing this, so we should soon have spotless Geode support into Debian and Ubuntu again.


I visited Turkey twice over the last few months, because I'm putting together a pilot project to better promote the Estonian high-tech sector abroad, in collaboration with the Estonian government.

I have to say that the more I visit Turkey, the more I like the place and the more understand why these people see themselves as Europeans because, you know what? They are: practically every significant civilization and religion that is at the core of European culture had major events taking place in in Anatolia or Thrace and, also, a devastatingly huge percentage of the consumer goods sold in Europe are designed and manufactured in Turkey.

Learning the rudiments of Turkish has also proven to be a lot of fun. While I'm nowhere near as fluent in Turkish as in Finnish or even in Estonian, the learning curve isn't as steep as I initially expected: Altaic and Ugric languages share a surprising amount of grammatical concepts, while Turkish itself borrowed a lot of vocabulary from French, because the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk, was very fond of the language. I'll venture that proximity with nearby Middle-Eastern countries that were formerly under French influence has something to do with it too.

Identity crisis

To me, the most challenging part of these business missions abroad is to represent a whole economic sector from a country of which I'm not a citizen or even a resident. Case in point:

Being invited to dinner by a Turkish investor, I noticed the waiter asking my host where his foreign guest might be from. A few minutes later, as the waiter put down a gigantic pita bread with the word "Estonia" spelled in roasted sesame seeds, my host asked, reading my business card:

  • Actually, your name doesn't sound Estonian. France?
  • Québec.
  • And your mobile number ... 358 ... is that Finland?
  • Yup. I've been living there for the past 10 years.
  • Ah! So you don't live in Tallinn?
  • Nope. Helsinki.

Looking at the waiter and pointing at the gigantic pita, he continues:

  • Actually, make that Canada ... no, Finland ... Ah, sorry, never mind. Just keep it as Estonia.

Honestly, trying to keep a straight face while saying "We" about a country of which I'm not a citizen and where I don't even reside becomes unbearable. At some point, some European bureaucrats will have to admit that I need a new citizenship, to reduce the confusion and to let me find myself a proper national identity again; the sooner, the better.

Besides, the absurdity of the situation keeps on jumping at everyone's face: during the second mission to Turkey, I kept on bumping into Finnish diplomats who took personal offense at me for living in their country and yet representing the interests of a competing, neighboring country. If you ask me, I cannot entirely blame them for it.

However, as far as I'm concerned, I've done my homeworks: I've been here 10 years, I speak the language and I don't have a criminal record. Given this, you'd think that acquiring citizenship would be a mere formality, but the Ulkomaalaisvirasto doesn't see it that way.

If you ask me, this country's very first Minister of Immigration, Mrs.Astrid Thors, ought to unilaterally grant citizenship to anyone who's lived here for at least 5 years, just for the asking, regardless of what circumstances brought them here or of what absurd decisions the Ulkomaalaisvirasto might have previously made on their residence permit status. Doing this would go a long way towards undoing the mess of her predecessors at the Ministry of Interior and it would speak volumes about how much Finnish society has evolved from the days when any foreigner was a commie they had to push over the Eastern border.


Sound editors that work with Gstreamer or PulseAudio?

Today, I wanted to edit a few MP3 files into suitable ring tones for my phone. The idea seemed simple at first: load up a song, chop off a few bars and loop that as a ring tone.

Nice in theory, except that sound editing software on a free desktop is challenging, at best: most of it was designed back in the days of OSS and GTK 1.2, some wants to use JACK for playback, while the most recent crop indeed supports ALSA but insists upon having exclusive access to the ALSA device.

Dammit! My understanding was that, with Gstreamer and PulseAudio, the free desktop had finally acquired a comprehensive, standardized sound framework, but not many applications seem to support it — or is there something I have missed?


Fresh out of NEW university: mkelfimage

I maintain the Debian package of mkelfimage, a tool to produce Etherboot images for use with thin client environments such as LTSP, which recently entered the Debian archive.

The key difference between mkelfimage and the aging mknbi is that mkelfimage does not reply upon any traditional BIOS call to produce the bootable code in the ELF image, which makes it possible to boot thin clients with LinuxBIOS as their firmware, such as the Linuterm and several other products designed by Artec.

mkelfimage accomplishes its BIOS-less operation using a simplified kexec implementation. However, this also means that explicit support for each architecture must be implemented with Assembler code. As it currently stands, the upstream tarball only includes support for i386 and ia64. Since amd64 boots in 32-bit mode, it should also work there, but this is untested.

This leaves support for several architectures completely uncovered for. LinuxBIOS developers have taken over the upstream code and they welcome patches towards improving support for other architectures and towards cleaning up the autoconf implementation currently in use.

GR: Debian Maintainer

Rumor has it that the General Resolution on acknowledging the concept of Debian Maintainers (mere participant who are granted limited upload rights, just enough to freely work on their own packages) has passed. I'm wondering what sort of timeframe we're looking at for deploying the infrastructure needed to manage this and then start accepting requests to be added to the separate GPG keyring. Would anyone know?

Telling Network Manager to prefer home AP?

I'm running Network Manager on my Ubuntu laptop. It's a really neat tool when it comes to selecting an open wireless network when traveling, but it has one major flaw: you cannot tell it to prefer some "homebase" among a swarm of available Access Points; it insists upon using the first AP it finds, regardless. Has anyone figured out a solution to this common situation?

Meanwhile, the OpenVPN front-end that Network Manager offers only covers a fraction of available parameters, which means that I cannot use it to connect to my dayjob's LAN from outside the company, because the few Windows clients we have connecting to it expect a VPN to work in a specific way and cannot adapt to non-Microsoft approaches to VPN concept, which means that we Ubuntu users are the ones who have to adapt. Thus, the OpenVPN front-end would need to be able to configure MTU, MSS and other arbitrary parameters supported by OpenVPN. Looking at various BTS, I notice that I'm not the only one who needs this. Are Network Manager developers listening? :-)


Localisation beyond language packs

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned my K750i Sony-Ericsson mobile phone. I received it as a birthday gift this year, to replace my aging but trustworthy Nokia 3210 and, as with any multifunctional digital device, there was a learning curve during the adoption period. While some features were gladly and swiftly taken into use, some of the handset's usability issues became my pet peeve and, among them, the localization pack wins the jackpot.

First, let's make one thing clear: I fully understand that memory constraints prevent manufacturers from including support for every language known to man, so a handset can only be loaded with a limited set of languages for the User Interface and for T9 predictive text input dictionaries. My issue is with the concept of grouping languages by linguistic families or continental areas, when compiling the localization packs for those handsets.

In this particular case, I had a choice between the Baltic or Nordic packs. The former has UI language support for Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, while the later has support for Finnish and the Scandinavian languages; English is also included in both cases. T9 support is a strangely mixed bag: the Baltic pack only includes predictive input for the Slavic languages, while the Nordic pack supports all the languages of its UI.

What's my problem with the above language combinations? For starters, I'm in Finland. We don't interact with Danes or Icelanders outside very occasional pan-Nordic meetings and that mostly concerns politicians. Meanwhile, average Finns travel for work and play to Estonia and Russia on a fairly regular basis, which makes sense, since they are neighboring countries. However, available language packs don't take this into account.

How should this be resolved?

Either language packs are produced with specific countries in mind, rather than generic geographic areas, or the users should be allowed to freely mix and match among all available languages and get the result flashed into their handset at purchase time.

The K750i language pack for Finland should therefore include: Finnish, Swedish, Estonian, Russian, English and Norwegian (essentially the current Nordic language pack, but with Danish and Icelandic replaced with Estonian and Russian). Then again, this only covers official state languages. Samé dialects, anyone? I guess not, because we'd soon be exceeding the handset's capacity. Hmm...

Thus, the only real solution is to allow people to freely mix and match UI and T9 languages of their choice at purchase time.

As a bonus, this would allow me to drop Norwegian and replace it with Joual... ööö... cålisse, French and finally have a language pack that I can truly find useful. I can easily picture a Transylvanian engineer working in Finland wanting to get Romanian support or a Kurdish immigrant preferring Turkish support instead.

Sony-Ericsson, how about it?

Dear lazy Fluendo

Surely there must be a way of using gstreamer0.10-fluendo-mp3 to produce MP3 files using Sound-Juicer, so that I can listen to my favorite albums on my Sony-Ericsson phone while commuting to work via the Helsinki-Tallinn ferry, but how?


Crazy idea: shipit.debian.org

Over the last few days, I have had to perform a number of clean installations, some using Debian, some using Ubuntu. Whenever handing over freshly OEM'ed hardware, I like to include a copy of the CD media to the customer, as a courtesy.

This works extremely well for Ubuntu, from whom it is possible to order official release CD. Customers always get a nice buzz out of that.

For Debian, though, I always get embarrassed looks over the home-burnt CD, because it projects a lack of professionalism. Enterprise customers want a commercially pressed CD and they want it to be the official one published by Debian; explaining to them that Debian doesn't publish pressed CD media produces an instant lack of trust in Debian. What can I say? It's their perception and, as the old saying goes, the customer is always right.

This got me thinking, why doesn't Debian have its own ShipIt like Ubuntu? Granted, Debian is a non-profit organization, but surely that would not prevent selling official CD media to help cover at least some of its operational expenses, now, would it?

One way to implement this would be to hire the exact same CD pressing plant that Canonical employs to handle their CD ordering and shipping logistics. They already have the procedure and tools in place to handle this; they just need to add a branded version of that ordering site for Debian's needs and to receive official ISO files from Debian's Release Manager every year or so. How about it?


Economics explained with cows

Economics explained with cows is probably one of the best-written example of economic models explained in simple terms. A must-read!

Recommended Listening: Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music

Today feels something like the ideal to spend a Sunday afternoon: sorting though my Deviation Watch inbox and ... listening to Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music. All I can say is WOW! This has got to be the single best compendium of electronic music I've seen in a long time. The explanatory texts are quite spot-on too. Well done, Ishkur!

Thanks to Elver for brightening my day with the URL to this guide!


Dear Skype morons

Dear morons of the Linux development team at Skype:

In case this wasn't obvious to you, beta releases are not to be uploaded to a Stable package repository; they instead go to an Unstable or Experimental repository.

This detail is of critical importance, given how your current 1.4 Beta has totally crappy audio ( was at least usable, while definitely ain't) and it also misses features that were present in 1.3 Gold.

So, would you have the courtesy of putting back into the Stable repository and of creating a separate Unstable repository for your beta, instead of pushing unpolished crap where people expect rock-solid software?

PS: please be honest and remove that claim about Skype having superior audio quality from the package description. As far as audio quality goes, Ekiga beats you flat out and it already has video support too.


How about a Gaim of talking Pigeon?

Today, getting increasingly tired of the incoherent User Interface in Gaim 2.0 release candidates, I fetched the recently uploaded release 2.0.1 of Pidgin (same software, different name; the result of a trademark dispute) from Debian/unstable and built it against Stable dependencies.

First impressions: excellent harmonization of the behavior between supported protocols, thanks to a new user status handling that is common to all protocols, coupled with unified a icon theme. Overall, this feels much more consistent in everyday use and it serves to blur the distinction between protocols to maintain the focus on the conversation taking place.

However, two major annoyances:

  1. The old behavior of stealing focus, every time a tab pops open, is still there. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGH!
  2. Extremely tiny fonts in the conversation window and trying to make them inherit the default system font size via Pidgin's built-in GTK plug-in simply fails.

Conclusion: libpurple may be technically amazing, but Pidgin really is in desperate need of a complete UI overhaul.


Almost there: granny-friendly PDF writing

One aspect of Ubuntu that I really enjoy is the sheer amount of constructive feedback a maintainer gets about the usability of their packages. In my case, CUPS-PDF [1] [2] has been a landmark example of how beneficial this feedback can be:

See, one long-standing goal at Ubuntu has been to include the capability to generate PDF documents "out of the box" and regardless of which Desktop Environment is used. Many people considered that CUPS-PDF would be an excellent tool, but various technical issues prevented this from working in a security-conscious way. Once that issue was taken care of, someone pondered how the PDF queue could be automatically created at installation time?

It turns out that we're almost there: with the upload of version 2.4.6 into Debian today (which should propagate into Ubuntu within a few days), only one configuration step remains: the selection of a PPD driver. Everything else is automatically detected and configured by CUPS itself. Kudos to our friendly upstream, Volker, for implementing this driver magic in his back-end code! Enjoy!


Bidding farewell to 32-bit computing

A number of recent events reminded me of how much time has passed since I started using Linux. Among these, the retirement of several 32-bit CPU architectures from the list of supported platforms on Debian and Ubuntu.

The first architecture to fall was m68k. Release Managers at Debian proposed to drop support for m68k after Sarge, which indeed happened: Etch was released earlier this month and, for the very first time in Debian history, without m68k support. Granted, a number of dedicated developers are working on porting the GNU toolchain to Coldfire (an embedded platform that supports about 80% of the m68k instruction set) and good chances are that they will succeed but, let's not fool ourselves: m68k is gone.

Around the same time, Ubuntu dropped support for PowerPC, just before releasing Feisty. Granted, there is still some PPC64 hardware being manufactured, but this is on the server side and thus getting farther away from the desktop market that constitutes Ubuntu's core business. Of course, given the plethora of 32-bit PPC hardware in circulation, in the form of second-hand Power Macs, the platform still has some lifespan left but, again, let's not fool ourselves: PowerPC is gone too.

And now, a message sent to Debian mailing lists suggested that, as of Linux kernel 2.6.21, support for 32-bit SPARC was broken and, due to an insufficient developer interest for maintaining the GNU toolchain, 32-bit SPARC was likely to be dropped for the Lenny release. Yup, we really cannot fool ourselves: support for 32-bit architectures really is gone.

Not surprisingly, my own computer collection has followed a similar trend: this morning, my beloved PA-RISC host left for the home of a happy computer hobbyist who had won the online auction on it. My Atari TT030 is likely to follow a similar route fairly soon. Ditto for the exotic Atari Stacy sitting besides it ...and let's not mention the huge stack of Pentium II and K6 desktop hardware sitting in the corner.

Looking back, I'm glad to have shared so many brilliant years with 32-bit hardware. The variety of CPU architectures and hardware designs was quite a learning experience. This being said, life goes on and my current needs are fully covered by my Linutop and by my aging ThinkPad.

Thank you for all those years, 32-bit computers. Enjoy a well-deserved rest in bit heaven.


Adventures in Business Setting

One funny thing about being a foreigner is the linguistic choices people make when communicating with me. Case in point: my new job at Artec.

This being Estonia, there's a plethora of languages to choose from: Estonian, obviously, but also Russian, English and Finnish. Russian is possible because 30% of Estonians are ethnic Russians (or related Belorussians and Ukrainians) whose ancestors were relocated during Soviet times. Russian also remains strong as a language of trade, especially among the older generation, while English tends to replace it for the younger generation. Then, Finnish is widely spoken in Northern Estonia, because of Tallinn's proximity to Helsinki and despite Southern Estonian being linguistically closer to Finnish.

People's choice, whenever discussing work-related matters with me, varies accordingly: some prefer to use English while, for others, Finnish comes naturally. Then there's a handful of older collegues who feel uneasy speaking either English or Finnish, so they address me in Estonian, placing special care on clearly articulating every word and on speaking at a slower pace than normal (to Finnish ears, Estonian essentially sounds like Finnish on fast-forward and with unusual choices of vocabulary).

I have yet to see anyone try Russian with me, although a few people have noticed that I get the overall idea, just as long as they articulate clearly and speak slower than normal. Then again, our ethnic Russians are so well integrated that they speak Estonian all day long, even among themselves, and I have been able to observe the same pattern everywhere I've been in Estonia. From that perspective, I think that Russia's claims about "oppression of ethnic Russians in Estonia" are greatly exaggerated.



I guess one could summarize Easter as a certain prophet's big reboot?

Now, make it funky!

Yup, this Easter, I completely rebooted as well: after briefly visiting my relatives in some distant country that some morons insist I should call "homeland", I got back to my real homeland in the HELish land of singing demons for a full reboot: new job, new home, new girlfriend.

Then, my computing resources rebooted too.

Shake it to the Left! Shake it to the Right!

Reboot your life.


I'm Thin, therefore I Can

Life sometimes goes in a funny direction, like a full circle déjà vu: 20 years ago, I was studying Technology of Computerized Systems (a combination of electronics and programming). Now, 20 years later, I'm starting a dream job as the Business Development Manager of Artec Group and their core business is — you guessed it — exactly that. The really cool thing about Artec, from a Free Software advocate's point of view, is that they contribute firmware and drivers for their products to LinuxBIOS and the Linux kernel.

At this point, my initial tasks will focus on marketing and selling Artec's flagship OEM product, the ThinCan. What is the ThinCan? Actually, you're already familiar with one iteration of the product: the Linutop is a branded ThinCan, delivered with a custom hardware configuration, plus custom casing artwork designed by Frédéric Baille of Linutop SARL and loaded with Fred's favorite Xubuntu configuration. In the Linutop's case, their business model is to fill the market niche for a simple Internet surfing platform that fits 80% of average people's daily computing needs, so the hardware configuration they ordered reflects that.

Still, as several readers of this blog noticed, the "Linutop" could make a fantastic thin client and, sure enough, that was the main purpose behind the ThinCan's original design; it sells well in the Fortune-500 market as an RDP client running under Windows CE. However, until recently, there simply wasn't much demand for a contemporary X11 terminal solution based on the ThinCan. That is, until LTSP took off, thanks to the contributions of Edubuntu and similar educational Linux distributions. Sure enough, someone spotted the opportunity and contacted Artec to order a branded ThinCan iteration with Etherboot and PXE support, which they call the Linuterm.

By the way, for those who need a really cheap OEM thin client, I've got a great spring clearance offer for you:

Artec has about 500 pieces left of their older DBE60 ThinCan model, based on the AMD Geode SC2200, and we're selling them at 100 euro / piece, plus VAT and shipping.

The DBE60 is configured with three USB 1.1 ports, one parallel printer port, one 100baseT Ethernet port, one VGA port (up to 1024x768 @ 16bpp 60-85Hz or 1280x1024 @ 8bpp 60-75Hz) and one 1/8" stereo audio output jack. Its BIOS provides Etherboot support and its motherboard is populated with 64MB of RAM and 32MB of Stratoflash. It comes delivered with a European AC adapter. The Geode SC2200 is fully supported by the Linux kernel — with the sole exception of a missing ALSA snd-scx200, but this could easily be ported from AMD's deprecated OSS driver — and X.org support is provided by the "nsc" driver.

Minimum order size is 10 pieces. Contact me via my full name (unaccented, with one hyphen and one dot) at artecgroup.com quoting this special offer.

PS: someone was asking if that DBE60 special is also available in the aforementioned Fortune-500 configuration. It indeed is: add 16 euro / piece for the Windows CE 4.1 license with an RDP client.


Linutop: Order Yours Today!

Fred informs me that we now have our ordering system up and running so, for those of you who had been longing for their very own Linutop, do visit us and fill out the order form.

Please note that, at this stage, we are only able to ship within Europe. However, if anyone is interested in distributing the Linutop on other continents, we definitely want to hear from you.


Linutop: Use the source, Luke!

I recently blogged about putting together the Linutop source code ISO. The resulting image has now been uploaded to our wiki. The ISO's content is divided in two sections:

  • Debian source packages for all the software used on our reference platform.
  • Linux kernel source with our custom kernel configuration and kernel patches.

Developers who are interested in producing customized OS images should download this ISO and consult the wiki for details on developing for the Linutop.


Free Software annoyance: Gaim

Dear Lazy Web:

I am developing a severe hatred of Gaim 2.0, because some of its dumb features hamper my productivity. Are there any simple configuration tricks that could fix the following issues:

  • How can I make Gaim stop auto-hiding its conversation windows?
  • How can I make Gaim stop auto-toping its dialogs and windows?
  • How can I make Gaim stop stealing the focus all the time?

Would you happen to know the answer to any of the above?

Best Regards,



Tip of the day: fetching all Debian source packages

A few weeks ago, the Linutop team received a request for its source code. We had already anticipated the GPL source offer clause in our development plan, so it was just a matter of myself getting around producing a source code ISO image. Piece of cake, right?

Almost. You see, Linutop includes a custom kernel package and several separate wireless module packages, so the the following command would not work as expected:

apt-get --download-only --ignore-missing source $(dpkg --get-selections | cut -f 1)

Why is that? Because APT ignores the --ignore-missing option whenever executing the source command. Instead, Roland Mas suggested that I used this simple Bourne loop:

for p in $(dpkg --get-selections | cut -f 1) ; do apt-get --download-only source $p ; done

Done this way, the source code of each package is fetched individually and, if any package's source is not available, APT exits but the Bourne loop moves on to the next package in the list. Nifty, isn't it?


Linutop à Solutions Linux, Paris, La Défense, 30 janvier au 1er février 2007

Linutop will makes its first public appearance tomorrow at Solutions Linux in Paris. French developers who are interested in getting their hands on one of our 50 development units should call up Fred at 0685868576 and schedule an appointment. Others who just wanna see the Linutop in action are welcome to drop by booth D 16 during the exhibition.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that someone else might be dropping by Montréal for the February meeting of FACIL with a mysterious Free Software -powered aluminum box...


UTF-8 Migration Tool now in Debian unstable

I previously blogged about UTF-8 Migration Tool, a GTK2 wizard that helps users upgrade their legacy locale and recode text files to their UTF-8 equivalent. After merging a number of patches from Nicolas François to fix various parsing issues, I am now happy to report that the package has entered Debian's unstable distribution.

Plenty of migration cases remain untested, though, and the Debian i18n team particularly welcomes testing for locales that utilize a non-default legacy encoding or that contain an @modifier part.

If no major issue is found, the goal would be to release this package with Etch to help users migrate their system to UTF-8.

Do you want to take over CUPS maintenance in Debian?

Kenshi sent the following GPG-signed message to the Debian CUPS mailing list today:

Hi folks,

As you know, there are many bugs about CUPS including Release-critical and I haven't an enough time to fix them.

My primary motivation was to internationalize/localize it. Now it is already implemented by upstream.

Unfortunately CUPS is too complex for me to maintain. I haven't a time to track bugs, I haven't an enough knowledge about Postscript or printer specific codes, and I haven't any testbed of user's printers.

If you'd like to become primary CUPS maintainer instead of me, I pass a baton happily :) Of course I'll support you such as uploading.


Interested parties should contact kmuto directly to manifest their intention.


Copywrong: Media Moguls versus Artists

One recurrent theme in discussions about Copyrights and Digital Rights Management is that the Media Industry allegedly represents the interests of the Artists. Yet, recent actions in Canada and elsewhere prove that Artists who benefited from the wider exposure of their creations via the Internet in fact oppose laws that would preserve and further entrench the monopoly of the Industry.

Finland's case is no different: as reported by Jaakko Kuivalainen in the Tekijänoikeuslaki blog [in Finnish], a number of Finnish Artist Coalitions are currently opposing the transfer of copyright issues from the Ministry of Education (who also handles cultural affairs) to the Ministry of Commerce, because they fear that the interests of the Media Industry would suddenly have precedence over those of the Artists and small Independent Cultural Producers.

Yet another proof that, no, Media Moguls do not speak on behalf of the Artists.