March 30th, 2007

Feisty feature of the day #18 - Be free with Restricted Drivers Manager

Sorry for the major blip, I've been bouncing from one city to the next for various reasons.

Some people take their software freedom very seriously. If you're lucky, all of your hardware will have fully-functioning open source drivers; you might even have an open BIOS.

But what of the poor folk who have to use proprietary drivers to make certain things work, just because the vendors of their hardware suck? Ubuntu uses proprietary drivers from the restricted repository to make hardware work only when there is no open source alternative available. It doesn't have to though - now you are in control of whether or not proprietary crap is cluttering up your system.

Enable or disable proprietary drivers with the restricted drivers manager

Restricted drivers manager allows you to enable or disable non-free drivers. I can't remember whether it's installed by default, but it's available from feisty's main repository. Once installed, click System -> Administration -> Restricted Drivers Manager to use the program.

Feisty feature of the day #19 - Easy codec installation

This is a much-anticipated major feature for Feisty - automated codec installation. I've only used it once so far (I had most of the bad codecs installed before I upgraded to Feisty), but it worked like a charm.

If you try to play a video or audio file and don't have the appropriate codec installed, a window pops up and asks if you want to install it. As soon as the installation is complete, the file you were trying to watch can be played. It's as simple as that.

Ubuntu can automatically install multimedia codecs that you need to watch a video or listen to music

Windows and Mac OS don't have this sort of awesomeness, as far as I know. Ubuntu now means multimedia for human beings.

Feisty feature of the day #20 - Universe and Multiverse on tap

Since the beginning of time, Ubuntu's Universe (community maintained packages) and Multiverse (packages with legal issues or proprietary bits) software repositories have been optional. While this protected users from installing software which could not be supported directly by the Ubuntu team, it also meant that accessing the vast collection of useful packages in the two repositories was that little bit more difficult.

Well, as of Ubuntu Feisty, Universe and Multiverse are enabled by default.

If you like, you can disable them by going to System -> Administration -> Software Sources. Click the Ubuntu Software tab and untick the universe and multiverse repositories.

Feisty feature of the day #21 - Pick-up popular packages

This feature has been around since either Dapper or Edgy, but only now does it seem to be working fully.

Press Applications -> Add/Remove... and look under the Popularity column. There is a star rating for each package, which is supposed to give some indication of how popular it is, i.e. how many people have installed it. This could be used if you were trying to decide between two similar packages I suppose, although I doubt that it would be of much actual use. Software search results are apparently ranked (in part) by popularity, and some of the data may be used to 'improve the support for popular applications'.

Note the popularity column's star ratings

You can contribute to these statistics if you like. Ubuntu doesn't collect information on which packages you have installed by default, so you have to enable the data collection feature yourself. Click System -> Administration -> Software Sources and click on the Statistics tab. Tick Submit statistical information and an anonymous report on how often you use your apps will be sent every week.

Feisty feature of the day #22 - Automated bug reports with apport

Apport is Ubuntu's new easy bug reporting tool. It detects crashes, pops up a small window and allows people to easily submit crash reports. This should really lower the bar to bug reporting, so while Apport will be one of those features that you hope you won't see much of, it'll be there in the background helping to improve the quality and usefulness of crash bug reports.

Apport in Ubuntu (courtesy wiki.ubuntu.com)

I've nicked the above image from the Ubuntu wiki, as nothing has crashed on me for the past couple of weeks as far as I can remember. Famous last words...