A Little Bit of Linux Sanity

I’ve been using Linux for several years. My distro of choice is Kubuntu, the KDE environment version of Ubuntu. My relationship with Linux has had many good times and all the fun of the occasional arguments that beset all happy couples.  Yes, I’m a geek and love all things IT and technical; and as a geek whose survived the pitfalls of a Linux relationship I thought I’d offer some mediation for all those unhappy, less fortunate, Linux-Human couples.

To be fair, most of my problems have been hardware related – sometimes she just needs a bit of TLC (with a hammer…); but it’s the software and user interface problems I’m going to help you with here.  Most software problems stem from a lack of understanding – you say one thing and Linux assumes you mean something else; Linux tells you something and you press all the wrong buttons or look in the wrong places. Despite the misunderstandings I’d still never go back to Windows and I think you must be feeling the same about your Linux distro.  After all, Linux has a sexier body to look at, she’s easier to install, she wakes up quicker, she costs less and (once you understand her) being an independent kinda gal she takes less maintenance. Best of all, she updates her self; whenever an update to any installed software becomes available, she quite happily goes shopping and brings home the goods so we don’t have to worry about it.

As I said before, I use Kubuntu Linux but as Linux is Linux most of these tips will apply to all Linux distros.

First and foremost, whenever she tells you that she can’t do something because you have inadequate permissions e.g “Unable to write to…” then you can force her hand by elevating yourself to Super User status.

To become a super user, open a terminal (AKA Konsole is equivalent to Window’s Command Prompt) and type Sudo before whatever command you want to be carried out e.g “sudo dolphin” will open the Dolphin file manager in Super User mode which will allow you to move, remove (delete) and change permissions of files that ordinary users may not affect.  Be careful though because you might end up changing something that’s essential to your OS’s operation (remember that Ctrl+Z will usually undo a change (but not always)).

If you have a lot of instructions to carry out then type “sudo su” and input your password when prompted.  Sudo su will elevate you to Super User status for the duration of your terminal session or until you type “exit” in the terminal.

When your installing software that requires the Grapical User Interface (GUI) to be inactive, press Ctrl+F1 (or any of F1 through to F8) to open a terminal session and type sudo /etc/init.d/kdm stop to close the GUI, install the software then restart the GUI with sudo /etc/init.d/kdm start (Gnome users replace kdm with gde).

Talking of installing software, as well as the graphical package managers such as KPackageKit or Synaptic (my preference) you may install software using terminal commands (remember to use sudo status).

  • apt-get update will update your software repositories,
  • apt-get install will install software.  Place the name of the software after install e.g apt-get install firefox“,
  • apt-get install – -fix-broken will fix broken packages that are preventing other installations and updates from being enacted,
  • apt-get remove will remove any program specified after “remove” e.g “apt-get remove firefox” will remove Firefox,
  • apt-get upgrade will upgrade packages,
  • apt-get dist-upgrade will upgrade your Linux distribution version,
  • apt-cache search will search through your cache of already downloaded packages,
  • apt-cache show will show you details about an already downloaded package,
  • apt-get clean will clean your package cache (handy for resolving repository download problems,
  • apt-get auto-clean will clean your packages cache of old files only,

Activate sudo status by typing sudo before the command e.g sudo apt-get update.

If you need to alter your repository lists but can’t do it through a graphical interface (such as Apt Package Manager or KPackageManager) then you can alter it using a text editor such as Kate.  Open a terminal and type sudo kate /etc/apt/sources.list and make any necessary alterations.  You will usually only need to do this when you’ve added a repository source that prevents apt (or any other package manager) from loading.

If you and your computer are arguing over a file’s ownership then you can force ownership over to yourself (or any other user).

The easiest way is to browse to the file’s containing folder, right click it select Actions then Open Terminal Here. In the terminal window type sudo chown [user name] [file name], or for a whole group of files you could use sudo chown -R [user name].

Be warned that incorrect file ownership (especially of system files) could (more often will) prevent the system from functioning correctly and might even stop it from reloading after you’ve shut it down.  If you’re changing ownership of documents and media files (not added by your operating system) then you will be O.K. Should the system fail to load to a graphical interface then you can usually drop to a shell (terminal, command prompt (Alt+F1) and tell the system to re-install the desktop (KDE, Gnome etc..). You   might even be able to start the GUI by typing startx.

Ever been locked out of your desktop environment?  To get back in and retrieve files in preparation to re-install your operating system, boot your computer with a Live Disk.  Change your computer’s boot device priority in the BIOS so that the first boot device is your CD/DVD drive (set up details are usually accessed by holding/tapping the “Del” (delete) key when you switch on your computer.  Hold/tap it until a set-up screen appears)).  Once the Live Disk has loaded a desk top environment, open a terminal and type sudo mount -a to mount all drives (makes them visible to your file browser) then type sudo dolphin to browse the drives with administrative (Super User) privileges.  Your desktop files will be stored at home/user/desktop (replace “user” with your user name).

As an extra tip, if you use Firefox with the FEBE plug-in then you can restore your Firefox profile whilst using a Kubuntu Live Disk.  Even though the restored profile will be temporary (it will need installing on each Live Disk run) it is still a handy facility.

Firstly, install Firefox using KPackageKit or Synaptic (Applications/System), open Dolphin (sudo dolphin), browse to root/usr/, right-click the bin folder, select Actions/Open Terminal Here, then type (in the terminal) firefox -p and create two user profiles (“Default” and “Your Name”), start the Default profile and install the FEBE add-on.  Restart Firefox.  On restart, go to FEBE (Tools/FEBE) and restore your profile into the secondary user profile you created after installing Firefox.  Firefox might freeze at this point; leave FEBE restoring your profile data for about 5 minutes before deciding it’s frozen (don’t worry because it will still have restored…).  To close Firefox, close the terminal window that you used to start it.  Re-open the terminal window (at /root/usr/bin) and type firefox -p then select the secondary profile (the one you just restored into).  And there you have it – a restored FEBE user profile on a Live Disk session.  You will need to redo this every Live Disk session.

One more thing to remember: sometimes she will unexpectedly boot-up to a black screen with a login prompt. Don’t worry about this. Give her 5 minutes to continue dressing with your favourite desktop. If, after 5 minutes, she hasn’t fully loaded, log-in with your usual username and password then type “startx” to load your desktop (in the “X” environment). Should that not work, you   can restart the computer by typing “shutdown -r now

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