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Archive for the ‘Regarding Ubuntu’ Category

You know, it really sucks being gullible. I like to think of myself as over-optimistic, but when I really should know better, yet persist in dreaming loftily, only one word comes to mind: sucker.

For years the free open source software (FOSS) community has called upon the Evil Empire Microsoft to work with it in making the world of computing better for all of us. Developers of free programs (who obviously don’t do this for the money) have continually had to beg Microsoft for access to details of their file formats, and have even had to fight them in court as the monopolistic giant drove to crush any opposition. And all this when Microsoft laughed at the idea that FOSS and Linux could ever be serious threats.

Now, all of a sudden, Microsoft is extending hands in welcome to FOSS developers, claiming to want to work with them for the benefit of all, and most people people are greeting this with “Yes! About time!”, rather than “Hmmm… OK… what the hell is going on here? Back away… slowly.”

While it is no longer any secret that Ubuntu has finally forced them to turn their heads towards Linux, the majority of people still see OpenOffice.org (OOo) – the free office suite – as not much of a threat to MS Office. But Microsoft are taking note of the increasing number of Windows-based PCs running OOo and are obviously alarmed, because they’ve set up a strike force and are recruiting heavily.

Previously, Linux was a minor pain to Microsoft, less so than Mac, and businesses using it for their servers still usually had Windows machines connected to them. But now, not only are more “home” users switching to Linux distros like Ubuntu, and using the FOSS that comes on them, but more Windows users are opting to try out free alternatives rather than keep paying to upgrade their Microsoft programs.

Even more frightening for Microsoft is the decline in those lucrative contracts from businesses and government departments around the world. Not only are they seeing their expensive products like Office replaced by OOo (as well as free products like Internet Explorer and Outlook Express being replaced by Mozilla‘s Firefox and Thunderbird), but schools, corporations, institutions and government agencies are now turning their Windows-based workstations into Linux boxes.

While Ubuntu’s success has certainly had something to do with this (since many people hadn’t even heard to word “Linux” until they came across Ubuntu), it’s also due to the fact that great programs from the FOSS world, like OOo, are gaining popularity in the Windows world. When people see that these programs are as good as (if not better than) Microsoft’s, then get exposed to user-friendly distros like Ubuntu (which usually come with heaps of programs installed, including the full OOo suite), the step away from dependence on Microsoft suddenly seems not so scary.

And now that this is happening at a rate that is causing palpitations at Redmond, all of a sudden Microsoft is ready for dialogue and a working partnership with the FOSS world. And while most should be worried about this, it seems the prospect of this unprecedented opportunity is dazzling the caution out of many. It really isn’t that strange though, just human nature: even an avid anti-monarchist would feel at least a small thrill meeting the Queen (though probably wouldn’t admit it). But the trouble with this is that Microsoft isn’t human; while it has the legal rights of one, its obligation is to increasing profits for its shareholders, not worry about moral or legal issues, so is in fact a monster (or perhaps psychopath is more apt – watch the documentary “The Corporation” and be enlightened!).

So, while smiling and shaking hands with FOSS developers, Microsoft’s henchmen aren’t there to help usher in a glorious new era, they’re there to infiltrate. The plan to get as much inside knowledge as possible, with only one purpose in mind: to use it against the FOSS world. Microsoft have finally realised two things – that the FOSS/Linux threat is real, and that they need a new approach to dealing with it – so have sued for peace while quietly readying for war.

Rather than just undermine open source (quite loudly) at conferences, or send out misinformation to the media, Microsoft HQ has gotten clever and sent out its wolves in sheep’s clothing. Under the guise of mutually-beneficial co-operation, Microsoft’s henchmen will be gathering as much inside info as possible, in order to help defeat the enemies they pretend to embrace.

If you’re thinking this is just a paranoid conspiracy theory, then you’ve obviously forgotten all the previous ones that ended up being true, landing Microsoft in court on numerous occasions. But go to Google and choose a few choice words to search for (like “Linux and Open Office Compete”), and you’ll see more and more on this. Or why not just check out Microsoft’s recruitment department, perhaps searching for “Linux Compete”? It won’t take long before you see Microsoft is very serious about this silent but deadly war of theirs; they’re so serious, they don’t even seem to care about hiding the fact!

Here is a copy of Microsoft’s recruitment ad for a “Linux and Open Office Compete Lead, US Subsidiary” position (note the position is no longer available, but the link for it is currently right at the top of a Google search for “Linux and Open Office Compete”).

Job Category: Marketing
Location: United States, WA, Bellevue
Job ID: 700901 9914
Division: Marketing
Linux and Open Office Compete Lead, US Subsidiary (CSI Lead)

If you’re looking for a new role where you’ll focus on one of the biggest issues that is top of mind for KT and Steve B in “Compete”, build a complete left to right understanding of the subsidiary, have a large amount of executive exposure, build and manage the activities of a v-team of 13 district Linux & Open Office Compete Leads, and develop a broad set of marketing skills and report to a management team committed to development and recognized for high WHI this is the position for you!
The Commercial Software Initiative (CSI) Lead plays a pivotal role for the Subsidiary GM, the BG leads and the BMO by building a discipline within the US that is focused on competing against. The core mission of CSI is to win share against Linux and OpenOffice.org by designing and driving marketing programs, changing perceptions, engaging with Open Source communities and organizations, and drive internal readiness on how to compete with Commercial Linux and participate with Open Source Communities.

While any emphasis above was my doing, to highlight certain points, the words are all theirs, including mention of how worried CEO Steve Ballmer is about open source software and operating systems!

If you want to read more about this, you can also check out this summary of the impending war with OOo, as well this search page for “Linux” at Microsoft’s recruitment page.

And if you’re still a loyal Microsoft customer but feel like having some fun throwing rocks at a giant, download OpenOffice.org now and give it a go! And when you finally get sick of Windows, then it’s time to give a Linux distro like Ubuntu a try!

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I’ve yet to upgrade my 64-bit Quad-Core system (it’s a 1.7 Gb download since I have Gnome, KDE and Xfce, not to mention heaps of programs), but doing a fresh i386 install on my brother’s Pentium 4 with 2 Gb of RAM was quick and painless. The result is a smooth and stable system with really fast boot-up, and lightning-fast shutdown.

They’ve of course stuck with the trademark “Human” theme of tan shades and simplistic interface and icons, but each time it looks even better. I shake my head when I see people whining about that (ie: the use of brown), when it is so simple to customise Ubuntu to look how you want it.

Most of the extra software I had to install had “Karmic” versions already in the repos, with just a handful I had to hunt up via their sites (come to think of it, some were never in the repos anyway). So by pasting one command in a terminal I installed nearly everything he could ever need, with the rest found easily and installed via downloaded .deb files.

Desktop effects worked out-of-the-box, with no need to download drivers, which surprised me as ATI generally used to have poor Linux support. With all the pimping I’m doing to this P4 system, it’s still running way faster than if it were XP (let’s not even dream of Vista or 7). I haven’t even managed to crash anything, though I promise I’ve been trying! Hats off to Canonical for another great version of the best operating system around.

Staunch Windows and Mac users have no idea what they’re missing!

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When you’re booting to a “live desktop” running straight off the Ubuntu “Live CD” and utilising only your RAM, you sort of expect it to take a bit longer than an installed system starting up. But last night when running it on my brother’s P4 with 2Gb of RAM, it loaded quicker than my install of Windows XP on my Quad-Core with 4Gb of RAM!

OK, I’m well and truly used to my Ubuntu system booting much faster than my little-used Windows system, but the Live CD – on a P4 no less – beating it surprised me (though just a little).

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Ubuntu "Linux for Human Beings"The version numbers of each Ubuntu release simply reflect the year and month it was released, in that order. So, for “Saucy Salamander” the 13.10 reflects that it was released in 2013 in October. And since 6.10 “Edgy Eft”, upgrades come out every 6 months – ie: every April and October – so the upcoming versions are easy to guess (eg: next one will be in April, 2014, so will be 14.04).

Similarly, the code names for each release have gone up alphabetically, so since 6.10 we’ve had “Feisty Fawn”, “Gutsy Gibbon”, “Hardy Heron”, etc, through to “Saucy Salamander”. So when you see users in forums talking about them still running “Precise“, you’ll know they are referring to their particular version (in this case “Precise Pangolin12.04).

Just remember not to discount the zero at the end, so the current version is 13.10, not 13.1. Similarly, don’t leave out the zero from an April (x.04) release, meaning the previous release is 13.04, not 13.4. As you might imagine, it could get confusing otherwise, as 13.4 would have to come after 13.1, whereas the reality is that 13.04 comes before 13.10.

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Did this information make your day? Did it rescue you from hours of headache? Then please consider making a donation via PayPal, to buy me a donut, beer, or some fish’n’chips for my time and effort! Many thanks!

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When people see the word “Ubuntu“, they either try and figure out how it is pronounced in African, or try to impose their own pronunciation on it. I’ve seen in blogs people say everyone they knows calls it “You-bun-too” – to which I would ask should “umbrella” be pronounced “yoom-brel-la“? While English can be weird in the least when it comes to vowels repeated in words sounding different, most nationalities – be they European or African – have a single sound per vowel. In this case, the “oo” sound would be the same as in the word “room” (or “roo“, the Aussie colloquial for kangaroo).

The u in “Ubuntu” is the same no matter what part of the word it is in, so the word is pronounced “oo-boon-too“. Similarly, “Kubuntu” is “koo-boon-too“, and “Xubuntu” is “zoo-boon-too” (and notex-oo-boon-too” as I have heard it referred to).

Note: There is a slightly alternative way to pronounce this, and one would have to assume it’s accepted, since Ubuntu‘s creator Mark Shuttleworth himself pronounces it this way, as you’ll find if you ever watch a YouTube video of him talking about the OS. His way is to pronounce the centre syllable (“boon”) in a heavier (Germanic?) tone – so more like the vowel sound in “book” than “room”.

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Did this information make your day? Did it rescue you from hours of headache? Then please consider making a donation via PayPal, to buy me a donut, beer, or some fish’n’chips for my time and effort! Many thanks!

Buy Ubuntu Genius a Beer to say Thanks!

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I’ve been into computers since the early 1990’s, and while things have come and gone in that time (like the doomed “NetPC“), one thing that has remained is the war between the Windows and Apple Macintosh worlds. OK, so it’s never really been a war, but more like a friendly feud, but it still goes on to this day. Each side has had its valid arguments, but those of old that are still oft repeated make less and less sense as technologies evolve.

For example, there was a time you could get away with stating as fact that Macs were better for heavy-duty tasks like video editing, since the RISC-based processor was optimised for multimedia. Even as Intel‘s processors (and those of other IBM-Compatible manufacturers) evolved throughout the ’90s, Windows users had to admit their systems were business (or “home office“) computers while Macs were multimedia computers. And let’s not forget the graphic design and publishing worlds, where legions of Mac users created the bulk of the world’s magazines using expensive industry applications like PageMaker, PhotoShop, and QuarkXPress. Desktop publishing was invented for the Mac in 1985 (the first program was PageMaker), and even into the mid-’90s IBM-Compatibles trailed behind. But before long, every app previously only available for serious users (ie: Mac owners) made it onto the Windows platform.

By the beginning of this millennium, IBM-Compatibles (now being referred to as Wintel machines, even if based on processors made by Intel’s rivals like AMD) were not only seriously being used for desktop publishing, but also for audio editing. As Wintel technology progressed, video editing became another task Windows users could successfully achieve, meaning even less reason to fork out for the much more expensive Macs. Especially as the bulk of the world’s software was now only available for Windows.

If you’re starting suspect that I am a Windows fan-boy, I’m just stating the facts. And I’m not for a second suggesting that while the Windows world caught up with the multimedia capabilities of the Mac, that the latter was no longer superior – I’m sure for many processor-hungry tasks it was. But what about now that Macs have moved away from their PowerPC architecture and embraced Intel technologies? Would you dare try and convince me Macs are still better for multimedia now that they have the same guts as their Wintel counterparts?

You could get away with saying Macs come in some pretty classy packages these days – there is no denying that since the iMac, Apple’s machines have continually progressed in aesthetic design. You might get away with saying Mac OS X gives a much more stable environment than Windows for heavy-duty multimedia tasks. I can’t really comment, as I don’t use a Mac (call me whacky, but I’d rather build my own PC for a grand rather than pay three for the same specs in a Mac).

One thing I can tell you is that while over the last few years I’ve done some pretty demanding tasks in Windows, like video editing, sometimes it’s been less than perfect, and – yes – there have been stability issues as well. And let’s not even get started with all the security issues plaguing the Windows world! So while I’ve never seen the need to fork out for a Mac (especially since I’ve always actually preferred the Windows interface to that of Mac OS), I’ve become increasing disappointed with anything made by Microsoft, and at time much of what runs on its OS.

So while I was happy building my own PCs, it became apparent that I needed to go the next step, and build my own operating system! Now, installing a Linux distribution (or “distro“) might not be like building your own OS, strictly speaking, but considering you can generally remove any part of that system and truly customise it to your needs (in a way you could only dream of in Windows!), it’s pretty damned close. I mean, just try uninstalling Internet Explorer from your system (at least from Vista or XP backwards, as I hear you may be able to do so in Windows 7). Or make another file manager the default instead of Windows Explorer. Or perhaps see how long you can surf the web with your internet security suite switched off before you break into a cold sweat and re-initiate it!

Now, a while back, you could get away with saying Linux was only for technically-minded geeks,  but these days many distros are actually easier to use than their commercial counterparts. Most distros are totally free, get regular free updates, and have available thousands of free open source programs. In the Windows and Mac world, you pay for your software (or break the law if using pirated versions), or put up with crappy freeware created by bored students (OK, so some of it is OK, but most is rubbish). In the open source world, you have everything from tiny little programs made for a single basic task through to powerful programs like the OpenOffice.org office suite. Yeah, OK, so some of the open source apps out there are also made by bored students and, hence, either useless or unstable, but the majority is pretty impressive. And it continues to evolve at an equally impressive rate.

If you’re wondering how it could be that open source software – created basically by volunteers – could be evolving faster than commercial ones – which are made by people doing it for money – all I can say is this is how the open source world is. I mean, if you’ve ever prayed for features to be added or fixed in your paid-for programs, and have even tried contacting the companies involved and expressed your wishes, all to no avail, then you would probably be pleasantly surprised with how the open source world works. For example, I thought of a cool feature that could be added to an app I use that deals with ISO disc images, and a week later a new version came out with that feature added! I had a bug with Wine (Windows emulator) that suddenly prevented DVD Shrink from running as smoothly as it had in Ubuntu, and within 2 days of reporting this, a new version of Wine came out that addressed this! OK, so some of your requests and bug reports might fall on deaf ears, but probably a lot less than from commercial companies from whom you bought their software. And no, you won’t get charged for anything other than installation problems, hehe!

So, if you want to take the plunge into the open source world, I’d thoroughly recommend my main OS, UBUNTU (“Linux for Human Beings“). The vast majority of users out there these days just need their computers for tasks like web browsing, email, chat/networking, and multimedia (ie: playing audio and video clips, not so much editing). However, as a fairly advanced computer user, I can tell you Ubuntu not only compares with Windows for more demanding tasks, but actually surpasses it in some! Now, I’m not even talking about some of the basic differences that make Linux distros like Ubuntu shine in comparison to Windows, but we’ll cover a few of them first.

Besides the fact that Ubuntu is free, installs in less than half the time it takes Windows to do so (and installs on Macs!), and has no viruses or spyware/adware, there is the sheer glory of Package Management! In the Windows world, you are used to programs, many of which install things like libraries (.DLL files etc) throughout your system. In Linux, everything is a package, so a program could actually be comprised of one or more core packages plus a few dependencies. Yes, this means a program will not work unless all dependencies have been satisfied, but don’t run to the corner and cower in fear – this is all actually easier than what you’ve been used to!

In Windows, you would go search online for an app for your needs, perhaps eventually find, download and install some piece of freeware, or you’d find the website of a commercial program, purchase it (usually after having to go through an annoying registration process before you could even do so!), download it, and install it. In Ubuntu, you just fire up your favourite package manager (the default is Synaptic Package Manager), either look through the categories on the left hand side and pick apps for installation, or simply type the name of the app (if you know it, of course) or a phrase (like “DVD burner“) and choose from the results displayed! Any dependencies will be presented to you before you can proceed, and simply clicking OK to the message will install all of those as well! And you can sit there for hours adding games and apps, and when you’re ready, hit Apply and it’s all done for you! What’s more, many of those dependencies are libraries already on your system, so unlike in Windows where exactly the same DLL has been installed 10 times in different places by different programs, each app will use the same library when it needs it. And the icing on the cake is that package management and updates are tied in together, meaning that since everything is in effect a package, not only do parts of your system receive automatic updates as they are released, so do all your programs! Yes, that means free upgrades to all your software!

Ubuntu comes with a whole bunch of cool apps for many tasks, including a full office suite, but as you’ve seen, you can easily and quickly install a whole lot more. And I can tell you they will take up a lot less space on your hard drive than you’ve been used to. And some will impress you so much you’ll never go back to their Windows counterparts again. And because Ubuntu has integrated many great open source apps into their system, you’ll find it hard to ever go back to Windows again.

For example, if you’ve ever worked with ISO disc images in Windows, you’ll know that unless you already have burning software than can handle them, you’ll have to go out looking just to be able to burn them to disc. And if you actually want to create or edit ISO images, you’ll need to buy (or illegally download) something like PowerISO, since there is not much in the way of freeware. In Ubuntu, you just double-click the ISO file (or right-click and choose “Write to Disc“) and away you go! What’s more, you can just right-click it and choose to open it with an archive manager if you want to view or edit the contents rather than rely on a commercial alternative like PowerISO.

Speaking of discs, now only self-deluding Windows fan-boys will have the audacity to claim Windows comes with the ability to play DVDs “out-of-the-box“. Yes, you paid for Windows, but you didn’t pay for things like proprietary codecs needed to play some copyrighted media types… and even DVDs you created, let alone copy-protected retail ones. Try playing a DVD in Windows Media Player (WMP) on a freshly installed system and see how far you get. It’s when you’ve either bought software or installed what came with your burner that Windows suddenly gets the ability to handle video DVDs.

While Ubuntu is free, it also respects proprietary issues, so also ships without the ability to play DVDs. The difference here, and it is a major one, is that all you need to do is fire up Synaptic, type in ubuntu-restricted-extras in the Search field, hit Enter, and once you’ve marked it for installation and hit Apply, you’ll not only be able to play copy-protected DVDs, but basically any other media type out there in the whole frakking universe (“So say we all!”)!

So that means that while you need to find and install special players in Windows for media types like MKV, MP4, FLAC, and FLV (YouTube clips), in Ubuntu any of your installed media players will be able to handle them. In Windows, even with two different codec pack launchers pumping codecs into WMP, I still can’t play a good portion of clips I download these days. In Ubuntu, every one of them plays, and I can pick and choose between the players I have. And guess what: since you installed all the codecs via one metapackage (collection of packages rolled into one, basically), any time a codec is updated or created, you get it with your updates! So not only should you be able to play all those clips you thought must be duds back in Windows, you’ll be able to continue to do so without ever worrying if you have the latest codecs or not.

Media players abound, and you can choose from the more minimalistic to quite flashy ones like Amarok. WMP might have some visual appeal, but it also has useless features that can’t be disabled (like links to stores, etc), so there is wasted space and it all ends up not as intuitive as it could be. In Ubuntu, the default audio player is Rhythmbox, which might look less flashy, but has many more useful features (so is in effect more powerful than WMP). I’ve found it much better to work with devices like USB players, and you can do things like directly editing tags of MP3 files.

While we’re on the subject of multimedia, let’s not forget to mention editing capabilities. For audio, there are great sound editing apps like Audacity for working with sound files, Sound Converter for converting between audio formats, and all the way through to a bunch of composition and recording apps for musicians. For video, there are user-friendly programs for DVD authoring like ManDVD, video editors like Cinelerra and Open Movie Editor, and powerful video converters like tovid GUI.

In fact, it was with this last program that I noticed some stunning differences in performance compared to expensive commercial counterparts in Windows. On certain clips I needed to convert to DVD-compliant MPEG format, I would end up with a slight (or sometimes more than slight) lag in either the video or audio. Often I suspected it had to do with things like crappy formats like WMV (which would sometimes crash my converters), and just had to live with it. So when I started using tovid GUI, I was amazed to receive perfectly-synced outputs from those that had given me trouble in Windows (one had ended up with over 20 seconds of lag using one of the best apps out there for Windows, but with its Ubuntu counterpart it was perfect!).

So, for the average user, Ubuntu comes with basically everything you could need out-of-the-box, like the ability to copy and burn discs, Firefox as the default web browser, a powerful PIM and email client (Evolution, which Windows and Mac users also use), OpenOffice.org office suite (also used by millions of Windows and Mac users), GIMP (a powerful image editor almost in the league of Adobe PhotoShop), and a handful of media players.

After a few minutes of searching for things in Synaptic, you can easily install all the codecs you’ll ever need, as well as install some new apps for your other needs, such as aMSN (MSN chat client), Azureus/Vuze for bittorrent filesharing, Downloader for X as download manager, Opera (as another web browser if you want to be able to save complete web pages into one MHT archive like with Internet Explorer), QtTube for downloading YouTube clips directly from the web pages (so you can play them back at any time with your media player), and perhaps some fun games like the ever-popular Frozen-Bubble (anyone can play this, and it’s addictive!).

As for those who use their computers for more complex tasks, well, I’ve covered multimedia a little, but whatever your needs may be, I’m sure there is an app out there for it. Just remember that not everything is always available in the repositories (the official list of Ubuntu packages), so you may need to do some more of what you’re already used to, being some Googling till you find what you’re looking for (some developers don’t bother to submit their programs to the repository, but offer their apps for download from their web sites).

And once you’ve done with installing some programs, go to your System menu in the top panel and into Preferences > Appearance and spend hours (I mean quite literally hours!) tweaking the look of your system like you’ve only ever dreamed of doing in Windows, or Mac OS for that matter. Ever seen pics of people’s systems where the file manager windows look like they’ve been made with polished wood, or everything is dark and looks like it’s moulded from black plastic? Want to be able to change the rather basic default icon theme to one with icons that look like they’ve been cut from glass? Or to initiate those stunning Compiz-Fusion desktop effects you saw YouTube clips of? Well, you can do so in the Appearance Preferences window. What about that cool cursor set you downloaded that mimics the cursors in your favourite game? No worries! And of course, you can save all the changes as your own custom theme(s), to change between at will.

Finally, here are a few more things for your consideration. In Ubuntu, you can access everything on your Windows drive/partition with no problems; in Windows, the system does not even recognise there is another drive/partition attached. And talking about drives, Ubuntu comes with the superior EXT3 (and now EXT4) filesystem; Windows has NTFS, notorious for file fragmentation and data corruption. With Ubuntu, new hardware technologies and interfaces (for example, eSATA) usually present no problem, since you get support for those with system updates; with Windows, you usually need the driver disc, and some basic support that should be part of the OS just isn’t there (like trying to get an eSATA drive recognised in XP). In Windows, the supplied firewall is notoriously useless, and even the decent commercial ones can let you down; in Ubuntu, built-in IP tables and the very structure of Linux mean you don’t even need to install a firewall (though you can of course choose to do so, and for that I recommend Firestarter). In Ubuntu, you might be amazed how much of your Windows software that you just can’t live without will run fine under Wine; in Windows, you’re dreaming if you think you’re going to get any Linux apps to work! In Ubuntu, if you have the knowledge, you can not only tinker with any program or part of the system, you can even package it for others’ use under your own name; in Windows, if you tinker with any part of Windows, even just on your own system, you are open to prosecution from Microsoft (and the same goes for those programs you paid for!). And last but not least: with Ubuntu, you get a system for free, and it is yours to do with as you please; with Windows, you pay hundreds of dollars just to lease their OS (um, read the license agreement if this has shocked you into disbelief)!

Hopefully this introduction to Ubuntu has been helpful, and maybe even inspired you to try it, or any other Linux distro for that matter (Ubuntu is a good place to start since it has such a huge community). I’ll be posting occasional Ubuntu tidbits and further (shorter) comparisons between it and Windows in the future. Sometimes the cool little tricks I find in Ubuntu are hard to contain, and when I find a major difference between it and Windows, well, that really just needs to be shared.

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