Verical Scrolling on (K)Ubuntu touchpads updated to 8.10

8 11 2008

Not so many days ago my good friend Carlo posted a column on his blog court of misanthropy with the instructions to enable the Mac flavored vertical finger scrolling on Ubuntu and Kubuntu laptops. You can find my plug of his article here.

Anyway since the updated Xorg 7.4 running onto the freshly delivered 8.10 Intrepid Ibex version of the Ubuntu and Kubuntu distros those “old” instructions aren’t valid anymore.

But Carlo’s a smart guy and has already provided a new procedure which he tested and should therefore run smoothly on your laptops.

As far as Carlo’s concerned it seems that the problem is the enabling of SHMConfing within an untrusted environment which is share among different users. It follows that the safest way to enable the two-fingers scrolling is use an XML file for the Hardware Abstraction Layer with the setting for this function.

The file must contain the following code:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<deviceinfo version="0.2">
    <match key="input.x11_driver" contains="synaptics">
    <merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">On</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton2" type="string">3</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton3" type="string">2</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.VertTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.HorizTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>

And it must be saved as:


If you’re no Linux overlord just follow these plug ‘n’play instructions:

1- Download this file already cooked by Carlo and save it in your home folder (i.e. /home/TheOneElectronic)

2- Open up the console, check you’re in your /home and type:

sudo cp 11-synaptics-options.fdi /etc/hal/fdi/policy/

3- Restart the computer (it’s not enough to restart X)

The two-finger scrolling should now be working

Further option: how to enable (Q)GSynaptics e SHMConfig

If you happen to be the only user of your pc you could anyway enabling GSynaptics (QSynaptics for KDE) you must create the file /etc/hal/fdi/policy/shmconfig.fdi containing the following code:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
 <deviceinfo version="0.2">
 <match key="input.x11_driver" string="synaptics">
 <merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">True</merge>

And here’s the simplified version:

1- download this file already prepared for you and put it in your /home

2- Open up the console, check you’re in your /home and type:

sudo cp shmconfig.fdi /etc/hal/fdi/policy/

3- Restart the computer

4- search and install (Q)GSynaptics with Synaptic or Adept

That’s all folks!

The Linux road to heaven

23 10 2008

One article by Ed Bott on Zdnet made me think of how Linux enthusiast often underestimate the complexity of the scenario regarding Linux based systems market share and penetration.
Bott reported MSI concerns about their Linux based machines which, they state, suffer from a higher return rate (up to 4 times) from end users than windows based machines. They say they will stick to their effort to manufacture and sell Linux laptops but disclose the problems they must face in offering such machines to the desktop public (e.g. higher costs for software development and support, especially when we speak of low price sub notebooks like those of their Wind line). I can accept this complaint as a general one but in the specific I wonder why the huge success of similar products (Asus EEE PC for one) occurred despite the problems MSI disclosed.
Bott admits he writes about Windows for a living and though we can judge his opinion as biased and MSI example as poorly relevant one, but this is not the point and not certainly the object of my thought.
Up to today there’s no competition in the OS market shares, except for an ongoing insurrection from the part of OSX. With OSX we’d better speak of system ascent, but I bet the share of Linux distros altogether is nothing more than a tiny biodiversity in the personal computers world ecosystem. I say this without a solid statistic base given that I haven’t really found any statistics I’m comfortable with on the web.
Focusing on the desktop environment and considering the most spread distros I am more than conscious that Linux is a valuable alternative to Microsoft Windows. From the day I migrated to Ubuntu I’ve always done my best to convert friends and colleagues to a Linux distro. Sometimes I even got close to it. I never succeeded though.

I share Bott’s opinion when he talks about habits. Men stick to their habits and they’re not prone to invest time end energy in trying different things, especially when these things aren’t always full interchangeable. From the many problems which prevent Linux to penetrate the mainstream market I think this is the most relevant one. Microsoft is a colossus and despite all the attacks it suffers from geeks it has indeed been able to create and promote a system in such a massive way that nowadays the mass of people just consider Windows as a standard. More of that, they believe it’s a standard! For those people it’s just inconceivable to have a PC running an operating system different to the one they’re used to see and use. Sometimes when I enthusiastically speak of all the wonders and advantages (which are far from few and irrelevant) of a Linux system to people, they just listen to me with that attitude which says “yes, they also say you can receive broadcast tv with your screw driver”… That’s enervating but it’s just a normal reaction.
So, how could Linux improve its market share?

Well, I’m no business guru but I have some points about this issue. There are three marketing tricks which I think might give the market a little shake.

First: Focus the target.
Many distros have made (and are constantly making) giant leaps as desktop environment solutions. This is precisely why I took the decision to wipe out XP from my laptop and install Ubuntu. Despite these improvements Linux needs to strike those places where people are obliged to use a system which had been already chosen for them. With this I mean the work places. Let’s take Canonical as reference for our example. Say that Canonical propels LUGS or member of LUGS to start an activity to promote Ubuntu distro. Activities could be scheduled to propose small, medium sized and even large companies (in particular those belonging to the public administration) to consider the Linux distro when the desktop stations renewal is scheduled.

Second: Strike carefully
When carefully proposed, with a rational set of elements -an assertive mood and a clear presentation- there are strong reasons for such target companies to switch partially or fully to one Linux based distro. A partially switch is especially advisable as target because it permits to focus on a specific business sector more prone to be converted to Linux. Thinking of the company where I work, I found it difficult to imagine a sudden switch to say Ubuntu in the engineering department where there are mass investments on software running under XP. On the contrary it could be more convenient to convert the machines running in other departments such as administration, planning, warehouse, production, quality, to Linux. In my company the main problem would certainly be the management tool which is commonly used by all these departments and run under XP. Nevertheless a long time schedule conversion to Linux to such kind of departments can indeed offer strong advantages which are so much relevant for an organization to result in money saving and work flow improvement. Let aside the money aspect, two of the basic problems affecting the average company computer network are instability issues and system damages caused by viruses. Many people are illiterate when concerning even the basic aspects of information technology. I personally assisted to a warehouse man who wrongly typed DHL URL and when a nice gurl showed up with the sentence “click me” on her boobs, guess what he did?

Third: Development and development
Big things come out of small things. How can we seriously expect a big company involved in big projects requiring huge investments spread on a pipeline of hundreds of people to release a version of their best seller software for a platform which is to their eyes sterile? In this I strongly agree with those who say that commercial software isn’t necessarily evil. Some forms of exploitation of commercial software or some commercial practices are. For this reason the promotion to those small workshops which can produce and release innovative and quality software for Linux is much important. Take games for example. I’m motivated to think that a strongly engaged and highly skilled team of independent people can realise games that are at least for some aspect comparable to the million dollars productions that bust the market nowadays. Don’t forget that such a small team would work under completely different organisational and money constraints, especially when the team represent a start up entity for the members. Linux game scenario is today rich of high quality and completely free and open source games being developed by communities of enthusiasts whose main aim is no other than to see their game to grow and flourish. Free tools are also there to help this process. We have Blender which is a 3D modelling tool comparable to the professional ones used in “serious” game productions. Blender is also equipped with an integrated game engine, and we even have more powerful engines like Ogre3D, Crystal Space, and Panda3D which is maintained and used in Disney’s commercial game products.

Linux is a great operating system with big capabilities and a vast community of supporters. I do believe that Linux in general is really one tool that can help improve the world we are living in. We just need to be more focused and less dispersive. I know that dispersion is one of the main characteristics of Linux, as highlighted by the multitude of distros, but I’m truly convinced that the success of our cause will pass through unity.

Ubuntu success in achieving a vast public knowledge is there just to witness this concept.

Pictures by:

phauly licensed under this creative commons license

tripu licensed under this creative commons license

….Tim licensed under this creative commons license

Mac-flavored two-fingers scroll for any Linux touchpad

20 10 2008

I’m speaking to you, proud possessor of a Ubuntu based laptop. Have you ever been mocked by your Mac pal ‘cause she/he could scroll web pages with an elegant and trendy two-fingered movement on the touchpad? Well, I have just discovered that the same advanced Mac feature is present on the vast majority of the Synaptics touchpads.

My good friend Carlo, of the Italian technology podcast Tecnica Arcana, posted a quick tutorial, in Italian, on his blog Court of Misanthropy. By reading it I’ve noticed that it’s pretty simple to apply the modification needed to activate the two fingers scroll feature. I’ve followed the tutorial which worked perfectly. I must admit that now when I scroll pages with two fingers my touchpad behaves quite weirdly. Often the page leaps forward of a big amount of lines. Then when the scroll reaches the end of the page it’s impossible to scroll up with the two finger gesture because when doing so the page keeps bouncing backwards. By the way this issue is likely to be related to my own touchpad model or to some other configuration. My friend Carlo and other people who followed his tutorial have found no problem with this feature.

Let’s start the quick guide. You basically need to add a few lines to your xorg.conf file and install a controller from the repositories. I’ve done this tutorial on my Packard Bell laptop with distro Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron.

1- let’s backup xorg.conf

sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.copy

2- open xorg.conf

sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

3- go to the section “input synaptics” and add the following three lines at the end of the section (just before “end section”)

Option “SHMConfig” “on”
Option “VertTwoFingerScroll” “true”
Option “HorizTwoFingerScroll” “true”

The section will resemble something like this

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver “synaptics”
Option “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “HorizEdgeScroll” “0”
Option “SHMConfig” “on”
Option “VertTwoFingerScroll” “true”
Option “HorizTwoFingerScroll” “true”

4- install gsynaptics from the repositories (you will then found it under system/preferences).

gsynaptics is an application which allow you to adjust the setting for your touchpad. You can also enable the single finger and two fingers tapping which respectively recreate the left mouse button and the press of the mouse scroll wheel (it opens a new tab in firefox)

5- reload X with ctrl+alt+backspace (or restart the system)

If you are an Italian speaker you can watch a youtube video tutorial on Carlo’s blog. More than this I strongly recommend you to listen to Tecnica Arcana podcast which is a simply outstanding podcast rich of interesting technological discussion.

Let me know if you found this guide useful!

A roller coaster improvement for Linux

18 09 2008

Well, I leave the author presentation stuff to the about part.

Let’s just summarise that this very article is what above all pushed me opening a blog. This article takes also inspiration by some posts Bryan wrote on his blog

I’m a fresh new Linux -well.. Ubuntu- user. I switched from XP to gutsy after a long career as microsoft user; I started with DOS (before with a Philips MSX) and ended with XP.

Since the moment I cleared my laptop from the OEM XP OS and installed gutsy, a sorta love between me and the penguin distro began. I say love exactly because this kind of relation is getting more and more complex as I dive into this new OS world. By complex I mean that the feelings are often mixed up just like sensations poured into a melting pot. I just love Ubuntu but sometimes I hate it as well. This is why I decided to write down what I, as an unexperienced Linux user, would like to see changed in the next releases of Ubuntu.

First of all I need to clarify one point. The criticisms I move are related to the desktop concept of the distro. I know well, by reading articles and forums discussions focused somewhat to the same subject of this post, that many hardcore Linux users don’t share the same urgency many other feel about one Linux distro becoming enough sharp to penetrate and get a significant slice of the desktop usage market. On the contrary I do think and refer exactly to that. That is to say a desktop oriented distro of Linux dragging out from cellars, lofts and server rooms, to compete with comparable success with the other two main products of desktop environment.

My reduced but day-to-day based experience made me think that despite the clearly visible advantage Linux/Ubuntu has on the other two systems, there are equally important drawbacks.  Here below I summarise them.

1- lack of commercial software.

open source is a great thing, maybe one of the greatest in IT history, but alone it’s not sufficient. People want to play Call of Duty IV, Assassin Creed, Spore, they want to design with Photoshop and so on. This is where politics becomes an important factor. I’m more than sure Canonical’s doing its best to push companies to release Linux versions of their commercial softwares but this aspect has, in my opinion, the greatest priority. One drawback related to this point is that there are several desktop distro somewhat competing one against the other. This is understandable given the nature of Linux, but it’s clearly drawing resources to the whole (above mentioned) cause.


In this concern I share the same opinion Bryan’s extensively expressed in his posts and during some episodes of his (and Chris’) show (The Linux Action Show). Every marketing, advertising, p.r., (and common sense) book states that the general appeal is the first information upon what a third party builds his/her opinion on an object. Taking the same example mentioned by Brian, I happened to be at work when they released Firefox 3. I installed it on my XP desktop and got really pleased about the new look. When I got home the first thing I did was upgrading Firefox on my Ubuntu laptop. What a shock to see the uglier look of the same application on my favourite OS! Like Brian, I don’t ask for earthshaking effects but Jeez, what about an elegant, polished and glamorous design? There is plenty of capable artists and designers out there!

3- Application installation

This is perhaps the most annoying thing an user coming from a MS OS faces using Lnux/Ubuntu. I know that my beloved OS has glorious advantages with respect to say XP (synaptic, add/remove app, repositories, package management, etc..) but there are also irritating drawbacks. I just want to download the program, install, double click, next, next and that’s it. I don’t want to stand things like:

– the program it’s not present in synaptic so let’s try and find it somewhere else

– the version of the program present in synaptic is older than that on the web site (i.e. check blender)

– I download the package from the web site (i.e. google earth) I run it and it’s fine. Then I discover I can add the same app to synaptic through medibuntu. I install it and now I have two google earth. Well, I think, let’s me remove the first one.. yes but how..??

– there’s no binary for the program so you have to build it from source.. ehm.. this is not something the average user want to cope or lose time with…

These 3 are those points I think need urgently to be improved because, from my experience, are also those (especially the first two) which hold people to leap from their OS, which maybe they don’t particularly like but are used to, to Linux. I know at least 5 people who addressed me one of, or both, the two issues when I tried to push them to switch to Ubuntu.

Which is your opinion on this subject?