Ubuntu 10.04

I’ve been using Ubuntu 10.04 for the last few days and I have to say, it’s very good and very deserving of the “LTS” moniker. No major issues like the ones I encountered with 9.04 so far.

One minor nit: the new ‘dark’ theme works well, but if you’re using Firefox and like to drag your bookmarks bar to the top to save space, you won’t be able to see your bookmarks unless you add the following to your userChrome.css:

#bookmarksBarContent {color: #dfd8c8 ! important;}
.places-toolbar-items {color: #dfd8c8 ! important;}
#bookmarksBarContent toolbarseparator {color: #dfd8c8 ! important;}
#bookmarksBarContent .bookmark-item {color: #dfd8c8 ! important;}
.chevron {color: #dfd8c8 ! important;}

Without this, you wouldn’t be able to see the words “Most Visited” and “gmail” in the picture below.

Firefox on Ubuntu 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" using the default theme

Smart (curly) Quotes in MSN / Windows Live Messenger

Undocumented MSN / Windows Live Messenger “feature”: Shift+Ctrl+” (Shift+Ctrl+Quotation Mark) toggles smart or curly quotes in the Conversation Window. Unfortunately, not only does this completely undocumented keystroke not give any feedback to the user (and it’s easy to press this by mistake while IMing away) but also breaks some emoticons: [Weepie] produces a weepie [Weepie], but :‘( and :’( produce nothing.

Update: The shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+Quotation Mark on US keyboards only. On British keyboards the shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+~.

Update 2: This still happens in the latest version of Live Messenger (14.0.8089.726), which is why I’ve bumped this post to 2010 (I first wrote about this bug in 2004!).

Tab Docking in Google Chrome

Almost everyone knows you can tear off and re-join tabs in Chrome, but it also supports powerful docking features that are quite useful, especially on Windows XP and Vista (which lacks the window manager refinements of Windows 7).

The most useful feature probably is the ability to drag a tab to the middle of the left or right edge of the browser window (as shown below) and have the windows arrange themselves into a vertically-split view that’s ideal for side-by-side comparisons.

Drag tab to the middle of the left or right edges of the browser window Vertically split Chrome windows side-by-side

There are more docking positions listed on Chrome’s help pages.

Useful Windows Shortcuts: Win+B

Lifehacker recently pointed to a very useful new Windows 7 shortcut that vertically maximizes windows — really useful on laptops with 800 pixels or less of vertical real estate.

In that spirit, here’s another useful “shortcut”: Win+B gives focus to the “show hidden icons” button on the system tray.
Win+B gives focus to the "Show Hidden Icons" button on the Taskbar

This works on Windows XP and Vista as well, but is especially useful on Windows 7 because 7 corrals tray icons into their own box, where they’re not easily visible.
Then, pressing Enter will reveal the hidden icons

After pressing Win+B, press Enter to reveal the hidden icons and press the cursor keys to cycle through them (caveat, the highlight effect is really quite subtle on the RC and easy to miss).

Installing Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on a Sony Vaio

Installing Linux on laptops still isn’t as easy as it should be. I installed Ubuntu 9.04 (“Jaunty”) on a Sony Vaio today, only to find that

  • WiFi — on an Atheros AR242x controller — was working, but very slowly. I got no more than 23-80kB/sec on a 12Mb/sec connection, and frequently got as little as 1 kB/sec.
  • Video effects weren’t supported on the Intel GM965/GL960 Integrated Graphics Controller (they were supported on Vista and Windows 7) because of a known bug.

I fixed the wifi by using the Windows driver for the Atheros AR242x with ndiswrapper as described here. (Although the page says Jaunty doesn’t have this problem, it did.)

The video effects were fixed by following this thread from UbuntuForums.

Looks like the year of Linux on the desktop/laptop is still a few years off.

Google UK as a Search Provider in Firefox and IE

The default Google search built into Firefox (at least in British builds) goes off to google.com and is then redirected to google.co.uk. Problem is, sometimes the redirection stops working and it stays with google.com — usually clearing cookies solves this problem. This means you lose the benefits of country-specific search. Installing this Google UK Search Provider will make sure that searches from the Firefox search bar go to Google UK every time. Also works with IE 8 (and any browser that supports OpenSearchDescription files).

Get your blog iPhone-ready

Apple’s releasing a new phone today (if you didn’t know that, you’re lucky). Beside curing all manner of ills, the phone has a great web browser that should get people really interested in using the web while on the move.

Now, the thing is lots of other phones have decent browsers — many phones run Opera, for example, or at least the Opera Mini. And with reasonable data plans becoming increasingly common, it definitely makes sense to get your site ready for mobile browsing.

I used a media="handheld" stylesheet declaration on this site, but that wasn’t very well supported. So here’s a better solution that requires very little work, if you run WordPress:

  1. Get the WordPress Mobile Edition plugin and install it. This will create a wp-mobile.php file in your WordPress plugins folder, and a wp-mobile folder in your WordPress themes folder.
  2. Open wp-mobile.php in a text editor and search for the word 'iPhone'.
  3. If you don’t find it (I’m sure it’ll be added as soon as the user-agent string is confirmed) add this text exactly as shown (without double quotes) somewhere in the middle of the list of browser user-agents:  " ,'iPhone' " (search for the text 'small_browsers' to find this list). When you’re done, save the file.
  4. Optional — you can also tweak your site’s mobile appearance by going into the wp-mobile folder (under your WordPress themes folder) and editing the files there (mainly index.php). Some knowledge of PHP is required, but you can avoid the PHP and modify only the HTML inside the file.
  5. Test your mobile site using the Opera Mini applet, iPhoney (if you’re on a Mac) or even a real iPhone ;-). Emulators for most other phone browsers are also available.

The other advantage of a mobile-ready version of your blog is that mobile versions tend to very accessible and compact. Most accessible browsers already support disabling stylesheets, images, etc, but they still have to load other text, such as blogrolls, sidebars, etc. You could use the wp-mobile theme along with a theme switcher that would allow users to switch to a compact, accessible version if they wish.

Get Custom Overlays in Google Maps

Google Earth has had overlays for a long time — they make it easy to annotate maps with all sort of information, from vacation photos to public transport pickup points. Now, overlays work with Google Maps too. You can type in a URL of a KML/KMZ file into Google Maps and it will show you the overlaid map — here’s an example showing Metrolink stations in Manchester. This just made Google Maps much more useful.