Saturday, November 23, 2013

Customizing Xubuntu with Remastersys

As I did with the base Ubuntu 12.04, I wanted to create a customized version of Xubuntu 12.04. The first step was similar to my Ubuntu customization with a removal of unwanted default software and installation of my custom set.

While Xubuntu by default comes with some lighter weight programs such as Abiword and Gnumeric, I am more interested in the more feature rich LibreOffice Suite. Along with Abiword and Gnumeric: Pidgin, Transmission, Xchat, Gmusicbrowser and Parole get the ax for my application set.

The new applications include the aforementioned LibreOffice as well as Quadrapassel,  GIMP 2.8 (From PPA), Hugin, Darktable (From PPA), Openshot Video Editor (From PPA), Banshee, RipperX, DVD Styler, gLabels, Audacity, Lucky Backup, WinFF and Shotwell. This rounds out the same software set installed on the Ubuntu Photo customization.

After customizing the XFCE environment, I had run the Remastersys program (as detailed in previous posts on Customizing Ubuntu) and when I went to test the ISO none of my customizations stuck - the default Xubuntu desktop and panel structure was back. After some research and trial and error I did the following to get my configurations to stick:

I copied my user configuration files located at ~./config/xfce4/ to /etc/xdg/xfce4/ & /etc/xdg/xdg-xubuntu/xfce4.  After a reboot of the VM I created everything, I lost some the color theme and icon set settings. Changed those back and all was good. Next I copied  ~./config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce4-panel.xml to /etc/xdg/xdg-xubuntu/xfce4/panel/default.xml (overwriting the existing default.xml file). Lastly I copied the contents of ~./config/ to /etc/skel and the final ISO tested and booted as expected with all customizations in place. Below is a screen shot of my customized setup.

Customized Xubuntu 12.04
Customized Xubuntu 12.04 LTS
I have uploaded my custom Xubuntu ISO to my Sourceforge project page (link)  to go with my Ubuntu customizations. This version includes all Ubuntu system updates as of 11/22/13 and is 64Bit only.

Next steps for my photography geared Ubuntu/Xubuntu customizations include custom wallpapers, splash screens and maybe even a few icons. Don't know when that will be a reality at this point though, but that is what I would like to do next.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Transferring a Virtual Machine From Xenserver to Hyper-V

Exporting a Virtual Machine from Xenserver and then importing it into Hyper-V is not officially supported from any documentation I can find on-line. If you have need for this conversion, and your Virtual Disks are in VHD format, this is really quite simple. The below tutorial will walk you through the steps I took to move a VM from Xenserver to Hyper-V. I have not tested this with virtual disk formats other than the VHD format, so other scenarios are untested and unknown to work or not.

First step: In XenCenter, export the target VM (VM must be shutdown to export) with the OVF/OVA option and be sure to not choose the option to create a single OVA file. Importing to Hyper-V will not work with the single OVA file export. All the remaining default options are fine, choose to verify the export if you desire.

Second step: On the Hyper-V host, create a folder on the hard drive where you will want your VM's files to live. Once the folder is created, copy the VHD and OVF file from the first step to this folder (The VHD file will be named with a large string of letters and numbers).

Third step: In your Hyper-V manager, create a new Virtual Machine and name it as desired. For the VM destination, select the folder created in the second step that contains the VHD and OVF files. Assign the memory and network options and for the virtual disk, select the exported VHD from the above step.

Fourth step: Adjust and fine tune the remaining settings (virtual processors etc...) and then power it up, your all done!

I have tested this by exporting VM's from Xenserver 6.0.2 and 6.1 and importing them to Hyper-V 2012 running in full Server 2012 hosts.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Customized Ubuntu Listed on Softpedia

My Photography geared customization of Ubuntu, which I so creatively called Ubuntu Photo, has been listed on Softpedia.  A bit of an unexpected, albeit pleasant surprise! You can find the link here and see their brief write up.

I originally had a base system geared toward general users, but have since decided to scrap that and focus solely on my photography geared version. Long term I would like to further my customization beyond the default fall-back mode and extra set of applications.

I would also like to do a customized Xubuntu version, but it will take a bit more research on the customizations with XFCE as Remastersys does not keep all the user customizations and the desktop stays the same as the default Xubuntu (that I am not wild about).



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

64 Bit Version of My Custom Ubuntu Available

I now have a 64bit version of my customized Ubuntu completed and uploaded to SourceForge. This is only the photography geared version and I am done with my 'base' version and will only be maintaining the Photo version.

In this version, Skype is out and Audacity is in (for editing audio to possibly use with a DVD).  It also has Shotwell .14.1 and the 3.5 Kernel from Ubuntu 12.10 as opposed to the 3.2 series originally released with 12.04.

You can check out the download link here, enjoy!



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 4: Fine Tuning & Final ISO

After going through the customization process and thinking over some of the applications I originally included, I decided to trim them down and go about the final product in a different way. The final ends up being two different customized versions. The first being a slim (though with Remastersys, the ISO is still 1GB) version that has the classic GNOME environment by default and some additional programs. I won't re-list the applications I removed, as they were not reconsidered and you can read about them in part one of this series.

The additional software that made it to the base system follows:

  • Quadrapassel - Tetris clone, just one more little game to add for fun.
  • Lucky Backup - Graphical rsync front end that is great for backups and can be scheduled to automatically run.
  • Skype - For free video calls, not in the repositories and available pre installed in this image.
  • Pinta - Basic imaging program, great for cropping, resizing and other basic imaging needs.
  • gLabels label designer - For designing and printing on any number of different labels. From mailing labels to CD labels. Comes with a large number of pre-loaded popular label templates.
  • Banshee -Music player of choice right now.
  • Ripper X - For copying CDs to MP3 format on your local hard drive (so as to add them to an MP3 player, or just listen on the computer)
  • Synaptic  Package Manager - For software management.
  • OpenShot Video Editor - Great video editor for Linux, can be used to create photo slide shows and other home videos.

In addition to the base packages available in the stock Ubuntu system (LibreOffice, Firefox, Shotwell etc...) I picked the above programs to form what I would consider a more complete package (less some unnecessary applications, and of course the classic GNOME look) for more everyday, general use. And while some of these may not be needed, I think they make a good base install for many users. Going back, if I were to start over, I would likely not include Skype as it might not be desired for all users - but it can be easily removed. This base setup also still has PPA's in place for the GIMP, Pithos (Pandora Client) and Darktable if those applications are desired. The OpenShot stable PPA is also in place to ensure the most current version is available when the program is updated beyond the installed version when I created the ISO files. 

The next custom ISO is a version with software geared toward digital photography, which is one of my main uses for my laptop.  For this  ISO I have removed Pinta from the system and added the following additional programs:

  • GIMP 2.8, along with the resynthesizer plug-in, python layer effects plug-in and the G'MIC plug-ins.
  • Darktable - A digital darkroom program for developing photographs. Darktable supports RAW image formats.
  • Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher - For stitching panoramic photographs and other composite images.

  • DVD Styler - For creating DVDs that will play in standard DVD players.
  • WinFF - To convert video files between formats. DVD Styler typically needs MPEG format for video files.
As a quick side note, I am in the process of writing an introduction article/blog post on my photography blog regarding digital photography for Linux. Now back to the ISO files and related information.

Currently both ISO files are 32Bit. With Ubuntu's stock kernel being a PAE kernel, this shouldn't be much of an issue as PAE enables 32Bit systems to get past the 4GB memory limit. However, if there is interest in my project and a 64Bit version I would be willing to create 64Bit ISO files. I originally could not boot a 64Bit ISO in Virtualbox, but have since fixed that issue by enabling the virtualization technology in my system's BIOS.

Next step for this project is a customized version of Xubuntu. The XFCE powered version of Ubuntu has come a long way since I first looked at it in version10.04, but again, I am not a big fan of the default configuration. XFCE has the added bonus of being more customizable, much like the classic GNOME environment was before the introduction of GNOME 3. Even though many users man not want or need the flexibility to configure a desktop environment extensively, many still do though.

Eventually I would like to go further with customized Linux distributions, with Remastersys you have additional options for custom boot splash images and some other customizations for starters. And at some point I would be interested in working through the directions from the Linux From Scratch project for a completely custom, ground up build. I will be sure to document here any additional explorations I dive into.

But for now, the customizations I have done so far are available for download on Sourceforge at:



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 3: Testing the ISO

Now that we have created the ISO with Remastersys, it is time to test it out to see how it worked. But before we can test the ISO, we will have to get it off of the VirtualBox VM and onto the main host computer (which will then be installed in VirtualBox for testing). First, we will install the VirtualBox guest additions on our host machine. I installed the virtualbox-guest-utils from Synaptic (and the associated ones it will install with it). After that, we will created a share in the VirtualBox VM settings, which for this exercise I named public (and also use the public folder location as the shared folder).

Now in the guest, we will have to install the virtualbox-guest-utils package before we will be able to mount the vboxsf share that points to our host system. Once installed we will then create a directory to be the mount point of our share. From the terminal run "sudo mkdir /mnt/share" to create the share folder. This directory is where we will be copying the ISO file to from our guest VM. From with in the guest I ran the following command from the terminal to mount the vbox share: "sudo mount -t vboxsf public /mnt/share" where public is the name I gave the share created in the VM settings on the host system and /mnt/share is the mount location we created on the guest. From inside the /home/remastersys/remastersys directory I copied the ISO and MD5 file via the command line with the command "sudo cp custom-dist.iso /mnt/share" (again with .md5 custom-dist.iso.md5) and now the customized ISO is on the host machine and ready to test.You can use your graphical file manager to do this, but will need to load the file manager with root permissions to be able to copy the file over - I found it easier to just type in the commands on the terminal.

Now for the moment of truth - testing the Live CD in VirtualBox. First thing I noticed upon boot is that you are not greeted with the pretty graphics you see in the regular Ubuntu CD, just a text menu. No worries though, booting into the Live environment worked great even though it didn't auto login but all you had to do was type "liveuser" (the user name I had used for this experiment) at the LightDM screen and hit enter on the password field (for no password). The user name is also shown in the upper left of the login screen for reference. Default session was GNOME Classic and logging in I was greeted with the different wallpaper I had chosen and an install Ubuntu 12.04 LTS icon on the desktop.

Live session works great, now its time to reboot and run the installer directly and see how everything installs. The installer runs just like you would expect from Ubuntu and worked with out a hitch, I created my new test user and set auto login to yes and away it went. Once completed, reboot and we are in business. Everything worked the way I had hoped and I even created a test user in the VM environment, logged out and logged in with the new test user. As expected and hoped, new users are set to GNOME Classic by default.

A very successful experiment that leads to an up to date customized Ubuntu install - one that I think represents a more sane desktop and one that would be easier for the average user to learn. This setup is one I would be more than happy to distribute to friends or family wanting to see what a Linux experience would be like. After a little more fine tuning of the ISO, I will be uploading my customized version on-line for download if anyone is interested. Any changes should be pretty easy from here on out as I can install the original base customization in a Virtual Machine and then update from there and recreate the ISO.



Monday, February 25, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 2: Remastersys

Now that we have our customized Ubuntu system set up and up to date its time to install and begin the Remastersys setup. Before we tackle that though we are going to take care of the last little bit of house cleaning from the initial setup. First we will run (from terminal) "sudo apt-get autoremove" to clear out any old packages that are no longer needed and then we will disable auto login (as is default on the install) for our originally created user as the instructions on the Remastersys page are very clear to not use auto-login. After that we will remove old kernel files with Synaptic Package manger to free up space. Once we have Remastersys installed we'll clear out the Firefox cache just for good measure.

Installing was simple, I just followed the Synaptic Version of their install instructions on their Ubuntu page. The only difference was the packages didn't show up after just doing a reload in Synaptic, so I opened a terminal and ran "sudo apt-get update" and then found and installed Remastersys and Remastersys-gui from Synaptic.

Now that we have Remastersys installed, its time to open up the GUI version and start our ISO creation. You will find the program under the System Tools - Administration menu and will be asked for you password upon load. Once loaded, we will first choose the configure button to set up some basic options such as live user name and live CD name. After that we will choose the User settings option to copy all settings so as to be default for all users in our new customized ISO.

Next we will go back to the main Remastersys menu and Choose Distribution to start the creation of our ISO. Once you start this process, you will need to be patient and let the system be while Remastersys does its work. All told I think it may have taken about half hour or so to create my ISO that ended up at 1.1GB total.

Next step (and next blog entry) will be getting the ISO off the Virtual Machine and onto my main system for testing. Stay tuned.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Customizing Ubuntu Part 1: System Install and Software Configuration

As I mentioned in a previous post, I always wanted to try and make a customized version of Ubuntu with my favorite applications and customized settings. This appears to be made simple using the Remastersys tool and I am setting out to give it a go. The first step in my customized system will be getting the base system in place and getting everything modified to the desired look and feel. For this install I am starting with an Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 32bit install in Virtual Box (Virtual Box did not boot the 64bit version). Once the base system is installed we'll go through the software list and start removing what we don't want and/or need and installing the programs we do want. Once we have the updated system with custom settings and software set, it will be time to start creating the new installation media.

Before getting started why Ubuntu? I was first introduced to the Ubuntu Linux distribution while working at a middle school after several years of a bit of a Linux hiatus. I was impressed from day one with how well it was done. The installer was a one CD simplified setup, a breath of fresh air compared to the four CD not so friendly install procedure of the last Linux distributions I had used. And for all the things people may find to criticize Ubuntu's direction, it is still a very well done distribution that has great hardware support and works great.

And now lets get to business, first we are going to install two packages: Synaptic Package Manager & Classic Gnome (gnome-session-fallback). Classic GNOME because I really don't like Unity (wanted to, and tried - but just don't) or GNOME 3 - The classic look and feel is what I want in my system. Synaptic Package Manger because it is a very useful and fast way to manage your software, which will come in handy as we remove default applications we won't be using and add additional applications we do want.

After installing the Classic GNOME session we want it to be the global default, so we will edit the lightdm.conf file located in the /etc/lightdm directory. All we will do is change the line that reads "user-session=ubuntu" to "user-session=gnome-classic" which will hopefully make it the default for all users once we have our customized ISO. We will also log out and log back in with the default user created during install so as to work in the classic mode. We will also disable the overlay scroll bars with the following command entered in the terminal: "gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface ubuntu-overlay-scrollbars false" and then we will be off.

With Synaptic in place we can remove a laundry list of applications quickly and in one batch instead of typing up a long list in the terminal or going through the Software Center (which can be a bit slow going). Gone are the following programs: Remmina Desktop Sharing & Vino as a remote desktop application is not really needed for home use. Empathy, Gwibber & Transmission BitTorent are gone as I don't user or care for any of the social networking nonsense and don't need a BitTorent client either. And lastly, RhythmBox which will be replaced by Banshee - this is a personal preference that began when I couldn't get RhythmBox to manage my wife's iPod shuffle and was able to do so just fine with Banshee. It is what I am used to and like now, so Banshee gets the nod.

After our mass removal of extra and unwanted applications its time to add the ones we do want for this customized Ubuntu System. For games, we are just going to add Quadrapassel (a Tetris clone) to add one more classic to the few already available in the regular install. We will also add LuckyBackup, Hugin Panorama Creator, FileZilla, Skype (Internet download, not in the repositories), gLabels Label Designer, Banshee, DVD Styler, RipperX, WinFF, Ubuntu-restricted-extras & Libdvdcss2 (from the Medibuntu repository for DVD Playback). gLabels is a great little program to create CD Label designs to be printed on CD labels available at most office supply stores. Luckybackup is an rsync front end that I use to backup my hard drive to an external USB drive. Hugin is great software for creating photographic panoramas, FileZilla for FTP access, Skype is self explanitory, DVD Styler for creating custom DVDs, RipperX to copy CDs to your local computer and WinFF in case you may need to convert video files (probably will for DVD Styler).

In addition to the programs above, four will be installed through separate PPAs to ensure we have the most up to date versions. One of the downsides to the LTS model and Ubuntu's rapid release philosophy is that some programs have older versions in the repositories that don't get updated, or don't get updated for a long time. From PPA we will be installing GIMP 2.8, OpenShot, Darktable & Pithos. Gimp 2.8 really improved and made GIMP more palatable for general users and is not available in the 12.04 repositories. Pithos is a native Pandora radio client for Linux that is very handy to have.

In addition to the software included in my custom design, I also have the following installed on my system that many might find worth installing: Pingus (Lemmings style game with Penguins), Blender, Dia, KeePass2, Audacity, ISO Master & PuddleTag.

After our software install binge, its time to run system updates and customize the look of the applications menu. Once that is done, it will be time to install and begin using the Remastersys program to create our distributable installation ISO.

Next step, Remastersys - stay tuned!



Monday, February 4, 2013

Using Clonezilla to Clone From a Larger Hard Drive to a Smaller Drive

Officially, Clonezilla does not support cloning from a larger hard drive to a smaller one. While this may seem counter-intuitive there are some situations where you may want or need to do this. Such as with my job when images have been created from systems with 500GB drives and the new systems come with 250GB drives, or when going from a large traditional drive to a smaller SSD.If you are in this situation, I have found a way to get this done. We will have to do some prep work on the image (and re-create it) and then some additional prep on the destination drive before final imaging.

To prep what will be the new image we will be creating a new one (if its an already created image) and we will need to shrink the main partition first. You may need to restore your original image on the larger, original disk first and go from there. I use Parted Magic (which also has Clonezilla built into it) to boot the system and shrink the partition using GParted, making sure to give myself a good amount of flex room - we can always grow the partition on the new disk later. In my test I shrunk the main partition of a two partition Windows 7 drive down to about 100GB (160GB total drive capacity) to be able to fit it on a 120GB SSD. You will also want to note sizes of all partitions on the drive, in this case there was the 100MB system/boot partition and the larger main partition. After the partition has been shrunk and everything is smaller than the new destination drive, reboot the system and let the  operating system boot and run its file system/drive check - if you skip this test CloneZilla will fail when we get to making an image from the newly shrunk drive. Once the checks are finished, reboot the system again and boot into the Clonezilla environment. Once we start up Clonezilla, set the options desired after choosing to work with the device-image option. When asked what mode to use, we will be choosing "saveparts - Save_local_partitions_as_an_image" and then go through the rest of the option sets, making sure to check all the partitions on the disk.

Once the new image is saved and after installing the new, smaller disk we will again boot into Parted Magic (or GParted Live, or a similar tool), load up gParted and edit the partitions on the new drive. First (if it is a new drive) we will need to create a partition table (I did an msdos table for this restoration) and re-create the partition theme from the old drive. To create an aligned partition (critical for an SSD) create a new partition with 2MiB of space preceding it (in my case I created the 100MB system/boot partition for the Windows 7 dive I was moving over to a smaller drive) apply the change then resize/move the partition and change the 2MiB preceding space to 1mb. After that, create the next partition - again starting with 2MiB preceding space and then resizing/moving with 0 preceding space (always choose align to MiB). Repeat these steps for each additional partition. You may have to mark the appropriate partition with a boot flag either in this step or after running Clonezilla.

Now that the new drive is prepared, we will again boot Clonezilla and this time we will be restoring the recently created image. When we are offed the mode option, we will be choosing "restoreparts - Restore_an_image_to_local_partitions." Set our options of source/destination when prompted and away we go. Once finished reboot and you should now be all good to go. Your operating system may run through its file system checks again and you will want to expand the partition to fill any empty space.

There you have it, a tested procedure to clone a larger drive to a smaller drive using Clonezilla.



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The "Perfect" Linux Desktop?

I have seen many posts detailing the "perfect Linux desktop." These are usual semi detailed posts on installing and setting up a newly released distribution and the software set added to the base packages.

There is one thing about open source Linux distributions that seems to attract many of the love it or hate it crowd: choice. To some, the fact that there are hundreds of different distributions all built around multiple configurations of a common universe of packages wrapped in a decent list of available desktop environments, makes for an environment where there is something for everyones taste and if you don't like it - there is another distribution to fit your needs. To others, this fact is one of the loudest criticisms sung to the tune of a drum labeled fragmentation.

So of all the readily availably and well done distributions is there a "perfect" Linux desktop? This is one of the yes and no answers that centers around personal preference. The team at Canonical made waves with the introduction of their in house GNOME skin dubbed Unity that shipped as default in Ubuntu 11.04. GNOME changed the much beloved look and feel of the 2.x series with the introduction of GNOME 3. Many users love these new UI experiences and many loath them. KDE and XFCE also have crowds of loyal users.

When it comes to distributions with a default, untouched install - my personal favorite, and what I would consider the best looking or close to perfect as you can get - was Ubuntu 10.04. Version 10.10 looked pretty nice as well, but I stayed away from it due to the limited support life. For me no of the current releases fit what I want untouched, but Ubuntu 12.04 (with its 5 years of support) configured with GNOME Classic (gnome-session-fallback would be the packed to install) gets my vote and is what I use currently. A close second would be a slightly customized XFCE environment in Xubuntu 12.04.

Software set is another area where someones perfect would be vastly different that another users. With my system I have mainly added additional multimedia programs, such as Gimp (2.8 from PPA), OpenShot and DVD Styler.

I have had an interest in created a customized installation CD for some time, and will begin an experiment in creating one using the Remastersys tool - based on my version of the perfect Linux desktop with Ubuntu 12.04 as the base. I will be documenting my experience, the steps taken and the software set used here on my blog. I will also try and get the final ISO uploaded for anyone interested in downloading my customized version of Ubuntu.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip 4GB MP3 Player

I had been debating getting an MP3 player for sometime off and on and recently with some birthday money from my in-laws I finally purchased one. After some research and looking around on-line for something that would fit what I was looking for, I ended up purchasing a SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip 4GB model.

When I set out to look for an MP3 player I initially was thinking I wanted something with 16GB of storage to accommodate my approximately 8GB music collection and leave room for new music to be acquired without having to upgrade the device down the road. Well, the cheapest 16GB player I could find was around $90 and out of my budget as well as much more than I wanted to spend. Then I got to thinking there has to be a model out there with an memory card slot for expansion and I could get a budget model and slap in an inexpensive 16GB memory card and be good to go.

A quick stop at Best Buy on the way home from church and happy birthday I have a new 4GB MP3 player complete with micro SD expansion and included ear bud headphones, not bad at all for $39.99. Besides the memory card expansion, the Zip has an FM radio tuner, voice recorder and a stop watch feature. I will be testing the stop watch out when I start jogging again and find I use the FM radio quite a bit at work. You can also play audio books and podcasts with the Zip, provided they are in a supported format. The formats supported are the usual suspects of MP3, WMA, AAC and OGG Vorbis - and for all you audiophiles out there it even supports FLAC.

SanDisk advertises up to 15 hours of battery life and I have not been disappointed with the battery performance yet. I have had it playing for nearly a full work day and was at half battery. If you do happen to run out of juice during the day, even 5 minutes on the charger and you will have charged up enough to at least finish an entire album worth of music. I ran out of battery one day at work (and thankfully the USB connection to the Zip is the same as my work Android phone) and was able to finish the day out listening to music after just about 5 minutes charging time.

Compared to the nearest iPod in price (the 2GB iPod shuffle), you get double the storage (plus SD card capability), a color display screen, stop watch and FM tuner for less money.

The only drawback I have found so far is the way it utilizes M3U play lists. With M3U play lists all the music must be in one folder, anything in sub folders will not show up on the device when trying to play the play list. All in all I am very happy with the Sansa Clip Zip and would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone looking for a decent MP3 player at a good price. Throw in a 16GB memory card and you have a 20GB MP3 player for about $65 or less.