Interview with FreeDOS Founder and Lead Dev Jim Hall

By John Paul

Jim Hall FreeDOS

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the FreeDOS project. To help celebrate those many years and help raise awareness for the project, I connected with Jim Hall (FreeDOS founder and lead developer) and asked him a few questions. Here are his answers.

It’s FOSS: How did FreeDOS project get started? What was the inspiration behind it?

Jim Hall: I’d been a DOS user for many years. When I was growing up, we were fortunate to have a PC at home. That was where I first learned to use DOS. And not incidentally, I taught myself how to write programs in DOS, and created several personal utilities that extended the DOS command line and made it more useful to me.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, when I was an undergraduate physics student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I considered myself a DOS power-user by that time. I loved using DOS for everything. I had discovered some shareware programs that made my life easier as a student: the As Easy As spreadsheet, the Telix terminal program, and the Galaxy Write word processor. I did all of my work in DOS. Sure, the campus had a PC computer lab with Microsoft Windows, but that was Windows 3.1. And if you remember Windows 3.1 at the time, it wasn’t great. I avoided Windows.

I’d also discovered Linux while at college. My first distribution was Softlanding Linux System (SLS) which I dual-booted on my computer with DOS. Linux did all the work of the “big Unix” systems in our campus computer lab, but there weren’t a lot of Linux applications yet. No word processor, no spreadsheet. And I needed those to do my work as a student. So I spent most of my time in DOS.

In 1994, I started to see a lot of articles claiming that Microsoft planned to finally “do away” with DOS with the next version of Windows. I wasn’t happy about that. I thought, “If Windows 3.2 or 4.0 is anything like Windows 3.1, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Since I’d used Linux, it occurred to me that if developers could come together to create a free Unix system, surely we could do the same with a free DOS. After all, DOS is a much simpler operating system. I made an announcement in the comp.os.msdos.apps online discussion group, via Usenet, that I wanted to create a free version of DOS. People thought that was a good idea, so I did it.

It’s FOSS: Why would someone want to install FreeDOS?

Jim Hall: We posted a survey several years ago, and asked people why they use FreeDOS. We find there are three or four reasons people install FreeDOS today:

1. To play classic DOS games

Just because a game is old doesn’t mean it stopped being fun! There are a lot of great classic DOS games to play, even though the graphical resolution and polygon count doesn’t compare to modern games. For example, I still boot FreeDOS to play Commander Keen, or DOOM, or Dark Forces, or several other classic games. Sure, you can run these in something like DOSBox, but I like the experience of running these games in an actual DOS system. And FreeDOS makes it very easy to run games.

We also include several open source games in the FreeDOS 1.2 distribution. This was a conscious decision for the FreeDOS 1.2 release; we did not include games in previous official FreeDOS distributions. But since so many people use FreeDOS to play DOS games, we thought it was important to include some games of our own. We include games from different genres, so there should be something for everyone.

2. To run legacy DOS applications

People need to run legacy DOS applications from time to time, even today. And with FreeDOS, you can do that. I’ll sometimes boot FreeDOS just to run AsEasyAs, my favorite shareware spreadsheet program.

Others may run legacy DOS applications because they need to recover some old data, or maybe they need to run a report from a legacy business application. For example, I used to work at a university. One day, one of the faculty brought in some floppy disks. They had some old research data on the disks, but the data was in a proprietary file format from an old DOS program. Modern programs couldn’t read the files. So we installed FreeDOS on a spare PC, found the DOS program on a website somewhere, and used that to read and export the data into CSV files. That’s one real-world case where being able to run legacy DOS applications comes in handy.

Another example is ‘Game of Thrones’ author George R. R. Martin boots DOS to run the WordStar word processor, which he uses to write all of his books. And McLaren’s Special Operations workshop uses an old laptop running DOS to run diagnostics on the McLaren F1 car. I don’t know if either of these run FreeDOS specifically, but it’s interesting to see DOS systems still in use today.

3. To develop embedded systems

Most embedded systems have now moved to modern platforms like Linux, but some developers still support and update embedded systems that run on DOS. And FreeDOS can make it easy to run these embedded systems.

Years ago, a developer contacted me to say he had created a pinball machine that ran an embedded FreeDOS to track score and update the table’s back display. I thought this was a great application! I don’t know how he did it, but my guess is every bumper or target registered as a key on a keyboard bus, which was read by a DOS program. That was probably my favorite example of FreeDOS in an embedded system.

4. To update the BIOS on your computer

When you need to update the BIOS on your computer, manufacturers may provide a DOS application. Using DOS means the operating system has complete access to hardware, and another process won’t clobber the BIOS update program. So when folks need to update their computer’s BIOS, we often see them booting FreeDOS to run the update program.

It’s FOSS: What’s your background? What is your day to day job?

Jim Hall: My background is actually physics. That’s my undergraduate degree.

I also have a Master’s degree in Scientific and Technical Communication. My Master’s capstone topic was “Usability Themes in Open Source Software,” under Dr. Ann Duin.

At work, I’m a chief information officer in local government.

It’s FOSS: How did the project get its mascot?

Jim Hall: For a long time, FreeDOS didn’t have a mascot. I’d kind of wanted one. After all, GNU had the gnu, BSD had the daemon, and Linux had the penguin. I thought FreeDOS should have a mascot, too.

I didn’t know what mascot we should have, though. I liked lemurs at the time, so I’m sure I suggested that. I also thought a seal would make for a nice pairing with the Linux penguin; I imagined Tux and the FreeDOS seal sitting next to each other, enjoying a day on the ice. But someone had already created a SEAL graphical user interface for FreeDOS, and that had the obvious mascot.

So we didn’t have a mascot for a long time.

Eventually, a user submitted a fish for the FreeDOS logo; he said the fish represented freedom. I posted his fish logo as an “alternative” image, but didn’t push for a mascot.

A few years later, Bas Snabilie contacted me. Bas had created a new fish mascot for us. The new mascot was cartoony and really cute. I instantly liked him. The new FreeDOS fish didn’t have a name yet; that came later. We eventually named him Blinky because of his big eye.

FreeDOS logo
Blinky: Mascot of FreeDOS project

It’s FOSS: The project has been around for 23 years. Why do you think it has had such staying power?

Jim Hall: I think one reason FreeDOS remains so popular is that we continue to evolve. We’ve made a decision as a project to keep FreeDOS as a “DOS” operating system, but that doesn’t mean FreeDOS needs to remain static. We try to keep FreeDOS fresh and modern – or as fresh and modern as DOS will allow. Our FreeDOS distribution comes packed with applications and other goodies. We have a network stack, and a web browser. We have games. We have compilers, assemblers, and other development tools.

All of that attracts a lot of folks who are interested in “retro computing” without having to abandon some of the modern conveniences.

We don’t imagine that FreeDOS will ever become a dominant desktop platform to topple Linux, Windows, or Mac, but it’s nice to have a modern DOS that people like to use.

It’s FOSS: In the past 23 years, have you ever gotten a reaction from Microsoft for keeping DOS alive?

Jim Hall: That would be cool, but no one has ever reached out to us officially.

It’s FOSS: You originally created the FreeDOS project because you heard that Microsoft was going to discontinue DOS. In some respects, DOS is still with us through the command line. Do you think there will ever be a time when the command line is fully removed from Windows?

Jim Hall: That’s hard to say. I don’t use Windows, except at work. From my perspective, it seems for the “general user,” Microsoft wants everything to be done via a graphical user interface. But for “power users,” they still provide a set of command line tools to uncover advanced functionality or to allow scripting and automation.

The tradeoffs between the command line and a graphical user interface are power, flexibility, and user-friendliness. The command line is good for some things, but a graphical user interface is better for some other things.

It’s FOSS: A couple of years ago, the Raspberry Pi appeared on the scene and got many people interested in basic computing and Internet of Things. Have you ever thought of porting FreeDOS to ARM to take advantage of the new interest?

Jim Hall: That question comes up a lot. Can we run FreeDOS on the ARM?

Technically, you could easily recompile most of the FreeDOS utilities for ARM. But FreeDOS kernel, like any DOS, is highly dependant on the Intel architecture. It also requires a BIOS. It would not be an easy task to get FreeDOS to run on the ARM. It’s not really something that interests us.

It’s FOSS: I was playing around with FreeDOS the other day and discovered that it has its own package manager (fdimples). Is that a new addition?

Jim Hall: The FreeDOS Installer (FDI) – My Package List Editor Software (FDIMPLES) is new in FreeDOS 1.2.

Some background on the new installer:

When we were planning the FreeDOS 1.2 distribution, Jerome Shidel contributed a new installer. The previous installer hadn’t really changed since I first wrote it for the FreeDOS Beta 1 distribution, long ago. We’d added a full screen mode and some other tidbits, but it was essentially the same installer.

Jerome offered to update the installer, and the FreeDOS Installer (FDI) in the new FreeDOS 1.2 distribution is a complete re-write. It’s based on a set of DOS batch powertools, called V8, which provide the different components for a “visual” interface. The new installer is just one smart DOS batch file. Impressive!

To help manage the programs you’ve installed as part of the FreeDOS 1.2 distribution, and to make it easier to install other extra components from FreeDOS 1.2, Jerome also created FDIMPLES. It does a great job to install and remove packages on your FreeDOS system. Jerome did an outstanding job here.

It’s FOSS: I also noticed that FreeDOS has 3 graphical user interfaces. Which is your favorite?

Jim Hall: Yes, we have OpenGEM, oZone, and SEAL. They each provide some neat features, but I think OpenGEM is my favorite. It’s plain to look at, but it’s very mature.

It’s FOSS: You originally released FreeDOS as public domain software, but later relicensed it as GPL. Why?

Jim Hall: When I first released my DOS programs, I didn’t understand the difference between “Free software” and “Public domain.” Many of the programs that we found on FTP sites were distributed in the public domain. So FreeDOS was actually named “PD-DOS” when we first launched the project in 1994.

But we soon realized that using a license such as the GNU General Public License was a much better idea. We didn’t want others to “steal” our work and re-release it as proprietary programs without the source code. If we released our programs under the public domain, someone could do that. So we looked to the GNU General Public License, and most of our programs were released under the GNU GPL after that. As a result, we quickly changed our name to “Free-DOS.” Much later, we dropped the hyphen and have been “FreeDOS” ever since.

It’s FOSS: FreeDOS is used by a number of big companies, such as Dell and HP. Do any of these companies contribute to the project, either with code or financially?

Jim Hall: No, none of these companies contribute to FreeDOS in any way, that I know of. It would be awesome if they did!

It’s FOSS: If someone wanted to contribute to the FreeDOS project, how would they go about doing it?

Jim Hall: Most of our discussion happens on the freedos-devel email list. Just go to our website and click on the “Email Lists” link in the orange navigation bar.

We welcome anyone who wants to contribute to FreeDOS! And we occasionally do see new people join the email list and contribute new things to FreeDOS.

It’s FOSS: What are you planning for the next release of FreeDOS?

Jim Hall: We released the FreeDOS 1.2 distribution in December 2016, so almost a year ago. We’ve definitely slowed down in our release cycles – FreeDOS isn’t chasing a moving target anymore, and we are already feature complete with the original MS-DOS, except for some compatibility with Windows 3.1.

We recently discussed the next version on the FreeDOS email list. What should the next version of FreeDOS look like? Should we make major changes, and release the next version as “FreeDOS 2.0”? Or do we want to make only incremental changes, and release the next version as “FreeDOS 1.3”?

Ultimately, we realized that FreeDOS must remain “DOS” so making major changes to FreeDOS doesn’t make sense. The next version wil be “FreeDOS 1.3”.

That’s not to say that we won’t make changes in FreeDOS 1.3. After all, we made some significant and visible changes when we went from FreeDOS 1.1 to FreeDOS 1.2. For example, FreeDOS 1.2 has a completely new install program which is much easier to use and greatly simplifies the install process. So “FreeDOS 1.3” could include some larger changes – but at its core, FreeDOS will remain the same.

However, we don’t have a target date for that release. As I said, FreeDOS isn’t chasing a moving target. We don’t need to be in a hurry.


I would like to thank Jim for taking the time to reply to my many questions. For more information about the history of FreeDOS, check out the ebook “23 Years of FreeDOS”.

Have you ever played around with FreeDOS? What is your favorite use of FreeDOS?

If you found this article interesting, please take a minute to share it on social media.

From: It’s FOSS

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10 Best LaTeX Editors For Linux

By Ankush Das

LaTex Sample

Brief: Once you get over the learning curve, there is nothing like LaTex. Here are the best LaTex editors for Linux and other systems.

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a document preparation system. Unlike plain text editor, you can’t just write a plain text using LaTeX editors. Here, you will have to utilize LaTeX commands in order to manage the content of the document.

LaTex code compiled into a document

LaTex Editors are generally used to publish scientific research documents or books for academic purposes. Most importantly, LaText editors come handy while dealing with a document containing complex Mathematical notations. Surely, LaTeX editors are fun to use. But, not that useful unless you have specific needs for a document.

Why should you use LaTex?

Well, just like I previously mentioned, LaTeX editors are meant for specific purposes. You do not need to be a geek head in order to figure out the way to use LaTeX editors but it is not a productive solution for users who deal with basic text editors.

If you are looking to craft a document but you are not interested in spending time formatting the text, then LaTeX editors should be the one you should go for. With LaTeX editors, you just have to specify the type of document, and the text font and sizes will be taken care of accordingly. No wonder it is considered one of the best open source tools for writers.

Do note that it isn’t something automated, you will have to first learn LaTeX commands to let the editor handle the text formatting with precision.

9 Of The Best LaTeX Editors For Linux

Just for information, the list is not in any specific order. Editor at number three is not better than the editor at number seven.

1. Lyx

Lyx is an open source LaTeX Editor. In other words, it is one of the best document processors available on the web.LyX helps you focus on the structure of the write-up, just as every LaTeX editor should and lets you forget about the word formatting. LyX would manage whatsoever depending on the type of document specified. You get to control a lot of stuff while you have it installed. The margins, headers/footers, spacing/indents, tables, and so on.

If you are into crafting scientific documents, research thesis, or similar, you will be delighted to experience Lyx’s formula editor which should be a charm to use. LyX also includes a set of tutorials to get started without much of a hassle.

Lyx

2. Texmaker

Texmaker is considered to be one of the best LaTeX editors for GNOME desktop environment. It presents a great user interface which results in a good user experience. It is also crowned to be one among the most useful LaTeX editor there is.If you perform PDF conversions often, you will find TeXmaker to be relatively faster than other LaTeX editors. You can take a look at a preview of what the final document would look like while you write. Also, one could observe the symbols being easy to reach when needed.

Texmaker also offers an extensive support for hotkeys configuration. Why not give it a try?

Texmaker

3. TeXstudio

If you want a LaTeX editor which offers you a decent level of customizability along with an easy-to-use interface, then TeXstudio would be the perfect one to have installed. The UI is surely very simple but not clumsy. TeXstudio lets you highlight syntax, comes with an integrated viewer, lets you check the references and also bundles some other assistant tools.

It also supports some cool features like auto-completion, link overlay, bookmarks, multi-cursors, and so on – which makes writing a LaTeX document easier than ever before.

TeXstudio is actively maintained, which makes it a compelling choice for both novice users and advanced writers.

TeXstudio

4. Gummi

Gummi is a very simple LaTeX editor based on the GTK+ toolkit. Well, you may not find a lot of fancy options here but if you are just starting out – Gummi will be our recommendation.It supports exporting the documents to PDF format, lets you highlight syntax, and helps you with some basic error checking functionalities. Though Gummi isn’t actively maintained via GitHub but it works just fine.

Gummi

5. TeXpen

TeXpen is yet another simplified tool to go with. You get the auto-completion functionality with this LaTeX editor. However, you may not find the user interface impressive. If you do not mind the UI, but want a super easy LaTeX editor, TeXpen could fulfill that wish for you.Also, TeXpen lets you correct/improve the English grammar and expressions used in the document.

TeXpen

6. ShareLaTeX

ShareLaTeX is an online LaTeX editor. If you want someone (or a group of people) to collaborate on documents you are working on, this is what you need.

It offers a free plan along with several paid packages. Even the students of Harvard University & Oxford University utilize this for their projects. With the free plan, you get the ability to add one collaborator.

The paid packages let you sync the documents on GitHub and Dropbox along with the ability to record the full document history. You can choose to have multiple collaborators as per your plan. For students, there’s a separate pricing plan available.

ShareLaTeX

7. Overleaf

Overleaf is yet another online LaTeX editor. Similar to ShareLaTeX, it offers separate pricing plans for professionals and students. It also includes a free plan where you can sync with GitHub, check your revision history, and add multiple collaborators.

There’s a limit on the number of files you can create per project – so it could bother if you are a professional working with LaTeX documents most of the time.

Overleaf

8. Authorea

Authorea is a wonderful online LaTeX editor. However, it is not the best out there – when considering the pricing plans. For free, it offers just 100 MB of data upload limit and 1 private document at a time. The paid plans offer you more perks but it may not be the cheapest from the lot.The only reason you should choose Authorea is the user interface. If you love to work with a tool offering an impressive user interface, there’s no looking back.

Authorea

9. Papeeria

Papeeria is the most cheapest LaTeX editor you can find on the Internet – considering it is as reliable as the others. You do not get private projects if you want to utilize it for free. But, if you prefer public projects it lets you work on an unlimited number of projects with numerous collaborators. It features a pretty simple plot builder and includes Git sync for no additional cost.If you opt for the paid plan, it will empower you with the ability to work on 10 private projects.

Papeeria

Wrapping Up

So, there go our recommendations for the LaTeX editors you should utilize on Ubuntu/Linux.

There are chances that we might have missed some interesting LaTeX editors available for Linux. If you happen to know about any, let us know down in the comments below.

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How to Install and Use TeamViewer on Linux [Complete Guide]

By Ambarish Kumar

Using TeamViewer in Linux

Brief: Step-by-step beginner’s guide to installing TeamViewer on Linux. It also explains how to use TeamViewer on Linux.

TeamViewer is a remote desktop application primarily used to connect to a different system quickly and securely. It lets you remotely connect to someone’s desktop, transfer files, share screen and video conferencing.

It is extremely popular for its simplicity and ease of use. It is mainly used to provide technical support to remote computers.

It’s a cross-platform software available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android and there is a web browser support too. Though TeamViewer is a proprietary software, it is available free of charge for non-commercial use and offers almost everything the paid version has to offer.

TeamViewer features

  • Allows you to take a remote control of a system.
  • Supports video conferencing, group calls, desktop sharing.
  • There is a 256 bit AES session encoding and 2048 bit RSA key exchange for a secure connection.
  • Wake-on-LAN feature allows switching on your computer remotely.
  • Supports rebooting your system or servers while on the go.
  • Switching between multiple screens is easy.

Installing TeamViewer in Linux

TeamViewer provides .deb binaries for Debian and Ubuntu-based Linux distributions. It also has .rpm packages for Fedora and SUSE. There is also a tarball for other Linux distributions.

You can grab a copy of TeamViewer from the official download page:

Download TeamViewer

I will be installing TeamViewer on Ubuntu so I downloaded the .deb file. You can use the graphical installer by double-clicking the downloaded package and following the subsequent instructions.

If you face dependency issues, I suggest you try installing it with GDebi package installer.

Alternatively, if you prefer the terminal way, navigate to the download folder and run the below command:

sudo dpkg -i teamviewer*

In case you are notified of installation failure due to missing dependencies, type the below command to complete the installation.

sudo apt-get install -f

Once installed, you can open TeamViewer from the application menu or run it from the console using the command:

teamviewer

How to use TeamViewer on Linux to connect to other systems

Here are a few things you should know about using TeamViewer for remotely connecting to other systems:

  • Both host and target systems should have TeamViewer installed.
  • Host and target can be any supported operating systems. For example, you can use it to connect to a Windows system from your Linux system.
  • By default, each system is given an ID and a 4 digit password that is generated randomly at each start of the application.
  • If you are trying to connect to a remote system, you’ll need to know the ID and the password of the target system.
  • Similarly, if you are giving someone access to your system, you need to provide them the password and ID of your system to the remote system.
  • Both systems must be connected to the internet.
  • You are not required to create an account on TeamViewer to use it.

Now that you know a few things, let’s see how to do it:

Step 1

Start TeamViewer on both host and target systems. You’ll see the ID and password of your TeamViewer application on your screen. Similar info will be displayed on the remote system.

This is important information as it will be required to make the remote desktop connection.

An ID and Password is displaced on the screen

Step 2

For connecting to a system, both the host and target machines should have TeamViewer installed. You will need the unique ID and password of the system to which you want to connect to. Open TeamViewer and under the “Remote Control” type in the ID in Partner ID option, and click on “Connect to partner”:

Using TeamViewer in Linux to connect to a remote desktop
Enter the ID of the target device

Quite obviously, it will ask you to enter the password of the target system.

Connect to a remote desktop in Linux using TeamViewer

Once you enter the correct password and hit Log On, you should be immediately connected to the target system.

Step 3

Once connected, you have the full control of the target system. I have a system running Ubuntu from which I established a remote desktop connection to another system running Elementary OS and then I ran a command there!

running TeamViewer
Connected to elementary OS from Ubuntu system

The top bar provides different options for TeamViewer. Under the Actions tab, you can find options to end the session, reboot your device or even invite additional participants.

View tab contains the most useful options. You can select the screen fit, optimize speed and quality and select the screen resolution for the target system.

Files & Extras gives you the option to take a screenshot or record a session. You can share a file between the two system via drag and drop or using the file manager.

Do more with TeamViewer

There are ways to optimize your TeamViewer experience. Let’s see some of them.

1. Using TeamViewer account for easy access

TeamViewer provides an ID and password which can be used to take control of your system. However, signing up for a free user lets you store these credentials, and quickly connect to a system without the hassle of typing it every time.

2. Recording a session

You can always record a TeamViewer session for a later access or for the records. Once you are connected to TeamViewer, navigate to Extras in the Toolbar and you will find the option to start, pause and stop recording. Once a recording is done, you are prompted to save it.

3. Multiple Sessions support

TeamViewer supports multiple sessions simultaneously, you can take control of a second system without being disconnected from the first one. Click on the + sign in the top left corner to add another machine. For IT support people, this can be very useful.

4. Easy file transfer

You can share a file by selecting File Transfer from the TeamViewer toolbar. You can either select the file which you want to share, or drag and drop a file using option File box. This is important since you can push an application to the target machine and install it without having a physical access.

5. Manage Visual Settings

Visual Settings options lets you optimize your connection to the target machine by giving you options to choose the Quality, Scaling, Screen resolution. It can be accessed via View option. In case there is a lag, you could select Optimize speed under Quality options, or disable GUI animations.

6. Connect with a smartphone

TeamViewer app is available for iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile which can help you take a look at your system anywhere, anytime. This lets me access my system and check if some downloads are completed, or even change the music track without reaching out to my system.

I tried taking a control of my system with my Phone and it worked like a charm.

Remote desktop

Final Words on TeamViewer

TeamViewer is a great tool when it comes to getting control of someone’s system for troubleshooting or monitoring your own system with your mobile handset. And since it is available for almost every platform, there’s always a way around to help someone by connecting to their system.

Are you a TeamViewer user? What other tools do you use for remote desktop connection in Linux? Let us know in the comments how it helps you!

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Call for Papers is now Open for Univention Summit 2018

By Derick Sullivan M. Lobga

Univention Summit

On February 1 and 2, 2018, about 300 IT professionals from software developers, cloud service providers and value-added resellers will have network opportunities and knowledge transfer sessions with Open Source users at the Univention Summit in Bremen.

This summit is organized by Univention. It’s the company behind Univention Corporate Server (UCS), the open source answer to Windows Domain Controller.

What is the Univention Summit all About?

The Univention Summit is a platform where software developers, cloud service providers, value-added resellers and users meet to acquire more information, get latest trends in IT, discover new software solutions and of course networking with each other. The summit has now grown to become a meeting point for Open Source communities to network, transfer knowledge and initiate new projects.

Be Part of the Event

You can join Univention, the vendor of Univention Corporate Server, at the Univention Summit in Bremen, Germany. The Univention Summit is an excellent opportunity to meet software vendors such as NextCloud, CSP, system houses, and UCS users from around the world. Connect with open source and Linux enthusiasts on the premises of the Jacobs University Bremen. Its beautiful campus will make you feel like being at an American University.

Summit Agenda

The summit’s agenda has been published. As usual, it is packed with software presentations from various vendors, interesting case studies and best practice scenarios around UCS and the Univention App Center.

The first day of the summit is the most important one to gather information, network and share knowledge. The second day will offer various, specific workshops around UCS and UCS@school. More details can be obtained from the event’s website.

Call for Papers is now open

Right now, Univention is calling for the submission of papers. Anyone who would like to share a UCS or UCS@school user story with the other summit participants is invited to apply before December 1, 2017.

If you just want to attend, you can get early bird discount if you get the tickets by 30th November 2017.

Univention Summit

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Linux Now Runs on All of the Top 500 Supercomputers

By Abhishek Prakash

Supercomputers love Linux

Linux might be struggling for a decent desktop market share but it is definitely ruling the world of supercomputers.

As per the latest report from Top 500, Linux now runs on all of the fastest 500 supercomputers in the world. The previous number was 498 as remaining two supercomputers ran Unix.

Top500 is an independent project that was launched in 1993 to benchmark supercomputers. It publishes the details about the top 500 fastest supercomputers known to them, twice a year. You can go the website and filter out the list based on various criteria such as country, OS type, vendors etc.

Don’t worry. I am going to list some of the most interesting facts from this report.

Some interesting facts about top 500 supercomputers

Top 10 fastest supercomputers
Top 10 fastest supercomputers in 2017
  • China has still got the fastest supercomputer in the world. Sunway TaihuLight, developed by China’s National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC), maintains this position for last two years.
  • China also has the most number of supercomputers as it owns 202 out of top 500 supercomputers. The USA falls in second place with 143 entries in the top 500.
  • Japan is in third place with 35, followed by Germany with 20, France with 18, and the UK with 15. India and Saudi Arabia have 4 each while Russia has 3 supercomputers.
  • Out of the top 10 fastest supercomputers, USA has 5, Japan and China have 2 each while Switzerland has 1. Top 2 positions are held by supercomputers from China.

There was a time when Unix was the most used operating system on supercomputers. By mid-2000’s Linux started outnumbering Unix.

The main reason for this growth is that Linux is free and easier to customize. Supercomputers are devices built for specific purposes. This requires an operating system customized ed for those specific needs.

Unix, being a closed source and propriety operating system, is an expensive deal when it comes to customization. This is why Linux gains the upper hand here.

Do share this article on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. It’s an achievement for Linux and we got to show off 😀

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Linux Kernel 4.14 is Here! First Kernel to be Supported for Six Years

By Derick Sullivan M. Lobga

Linux Kernel 4.14 released

Linux Kernel 4.14 is here. It is a long-term support release and as stated earlier, it is the first Linux Kernel that will be supported for six years. Until now Linux Kernel LTS versions were supported for two years.

As usual, Linus Torvalds announced the release of Linux 4.14 in Linux Kernel mailing list. Introducing the release, Linus said, “No surprises this week, although it is probably worth pointing out how the 0day robot has been getting even better (it was very useful before, but Fengguang has been working on making it even better and reporting the problems it has found)”.

The mentioned 0day robot is actually an automated vulnerability-checker that checks Linux kernel code for potential vulnerabilities.

He also said the most noticeable last-minute change that was done was to revert a code that showed “a good MHz value in /proc/cpuinfo even for the modern “CPU picks frequency dynamically” case. This worked fine but it was realized it will be too expensive on machines that have hundreds of CPU cores. Hence the reason why it wasn’t included in 4.14 though it might be done later and then back-port.

Main features in Linux Kernel 4.14

  • Bigger Memory Limits: On x86_64, hardware limits have been increased to 128PiB of virtual address space and a physical address space of 4PiB from the previous 4-level paging limit of 256 TiB virtual address space and physical address space of 64 TiB. AMD Secure Memory Encryption Support has also been added. The Secure Memory Encryption can now be used to protect DRAM contents from physical attacks on the system.Linux version 4.14 also has the Heterogeneous Memory Management that allows GPUs to get access into an application’s memory space.
  • Networking: A New Realtek Wi-Fi driver, RTL8822BE is now available to support the 802.llac wireless network card on new PCs. The driver has been placed in ‘staging’ to reduce the time whereby the new card will have in-kernel driver access.
  • Asus T304UA Support: HID: multitouch supports Asus T304UA media keys. Asus T304UA now has a convertible magnetic detachable keyboard with touchpad to be connected over USB.
  • For TV tuners, webcams & video captures: A packed Bayer raw12 pixel formats has been added that is made up of a compressed 12-bit raw bayer format having four different pixel orders.
  • Graphics: Improvements have been made in AMDGPU DRM Vega driver. drm/amdkfd has image tiling mode v2 support; drm/amdgpu allows for specifying a limit on VRAM through a module parameter.
  • Improved support for Ryzen processors
  • Support for HDMI CEC for Raspberry Pi. Rasberry Pi Zero W, Rockchip RK3328/Pine 64, Banana Pi R2 and are now supported in Linux Kernel 4.14.

You can check out the full list of the changed features pf Linux 4.14 here.

Installing Linux Kernel 4.14

A few Linux distribution might already be rolling out the new Kernel. However, most Linux distributions will take months to test it and then release it to their users.

It is not advisable to upgrade the Linux Kernel on your own. You should wait till your distribution makes it available for you.

If you think you know what you are doing and you are okay with experimenting with your system, you can use a tool like Ukuku to upgrade Linux kernel in Ubuntu. You can also manually upgrade the kernel in Debian Linux.

What do you think about the latest release version, Linux 4.14? Share your comments with us below.

From: It’s FOSS

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ProtonMail: An Open Source Privacy-Focused Email Service Provider

By Phillip Prado

ProtonMail email service provider

Brief: Have a look at ProtonMail, a secure, privacy-focused email provider that you can use as an alternative to Gmail.

I, like most people in 2017, use email every single day. I, also like most people in 2017, have several email addresses that I manage.

The difference between most people in 2017 and myself is which email providers we use. I am going to throw out a wild guess and say you use a Gmail account as your main email address. And if you don’t I bet you know SEVERAL people that do.

And that’ an issue for a privacy-focused person like me. You probably already know that Google reads your emails. And I don’t want Google to do that, especially for my business emails.

I do use Gmail but only as a “spam” email address. That means it’s the email address I give to people or services when I don’t want them to have one of my actual email addresses.

One of those email addresses is powered by an open source service called ProtonMail, and I am here to tell you why ProtonMail should be one of your “actual” email addresses.

What is ProtonMail?

ProtonMail is a Swiss-based and privacy-centric email provider like Gmail. You can get a free @protonmail.com account or you can you can use your own custom domain for a very small fee.

ProtonMail describes themselves as “scientists, engineers, and developers drawn together by a shared vision of protecting civil liberties online.” And based on what I have seen thus far, I can attest to this self-proclamation.

But why does this matter? You may say “I already use Gmail and it has done me fine up to this point, so why would I switch?” Well, let me show you how good is ProtonMail. And perhaps after that, you would turn your Gmail account into your junk account and switch to a ProtonMail account.

Though this is not really a ProtonMail review, I’ll also highlight the negative points of using ProtonMail.

Why use ProtonMail?

Let’s first see the plus point of using ProtonMail.

1. Privacy and security

Since ProtonMail focuses so much on security it only makes sense for it to be a reason why you would want to use it. First off, since ProtonMail is Switzerland based, strict Swiss privacy laws protect their servers. Because of this, they are able to implement end to end encryption without a hassle. That means that ProtonMail’s servers encrypt your email at every step of the way. Because of this client-side encryption, the risk of a third party collecting your email against your knowledge is “largely eliminated.” You and those you are emailing are the only ones able to read your emails.

What this also means is that your personal data is not accessible to even the folks at ProtonMail. They don’t even have the technical ability to read your emails if they wanted to. ProtonMail says “[your] privacy isn’t just a promise, it is mathematically ensured”, which settles any questions you may have about the level of security they are offering.
Open Source

Not only are these bold claims, but we can count on them keeping these promises for one major reason: ProtonMail is Open Source! Not only are they secure, but in using Open Source libraries ProtonMail is fundamentally transparent. There are no secrets, no data mining, nothing. ProtonMail doesn’t just talk-the-talk, they walk-the-walk, and they have the source code to back it up. That is something those other email providers simply cannot say.

2. ProtonMail custom domain

This is the part that blew me away when I first found out about ProtonMail. When I heard about what they offered and their reasoning behind it my first thought was “OK cool. Now how much do you cost, an arm and a leg?” Then, to my surprise, I found that, like Gmail, ProtonMail starts at a grand total of $0 a month. Yep, you read that correctly. Totally free. No tricks. No trials. Nothing.

Now that does come with a few caveats of course. You get one email address, a limit of 500 Mb of storage, a max of 150 messages per day, and a few other limitations. For $5 a month you can have up to 5 email addresses, you get up to 5 Gb of storage, and you can send up to 1000 messages a day. For only a couple bucks a month that is a substantial upgrade. They also offer a couple of other plans that progressively get more expensive but continue to offer more and more features. You can even pay for a ProtonMail VPN for a couple more dollars a month.

3. Open Source

While this might not be everyone’s concern, I know there are people like who want their software free and open source. You can browse through the source code of ProtonMail that is available on GitHub.

4. Intuitive UI

ProtonMail Interface

Unlike some other legacy open source email clients, ProtonMail boasts of a nice modern UI. You can add labels, stars etc to categorize your emails.

5. Cross-Platform

You can access ProtonMail on a web browser, that’s not surprising. But ProtonMail also has its own native iOS and Android app to keep you connected, always. This makes it ideal for personal as well as business use.

The downsides of using ProtonMail

So at this point, you have only heard me say a plethora of great things about the service. You may wonder what the downsides of ProtonMail are. Though there aren’t many setbacks there are a few things that you might want to be mindful of before you switch.

1. No third-party integration

Because of ProtonMail’s zero access architecture, you cannot use ProtonMail on a third-party email client. I use Geary, one of the best email clients for Linux, as my desktop email application, and as far as I can tell it is not compatible with ProtonMail.

That means you are stuck using the web client or the mobile application that they offer. Though this may take a second to get used to, I don’t think this is a big deal. A majority of the internet’s average users use the Gmail web client anyway, and because ProtonMail makes their own mobile application you don’t have to mess around with configuring a third party email client. It works out of the gate.

2. Limited features in the free version

Another reason you might be wary about switching to ProtonMail is the limitations on the free account. You get limited storage, limited support, limited organization features, etc. Unless you are content with those limitations, you will need to fork out the minimum $5 a month to start getting some of those premium features.

Now let’s be honest. Those limitations sound worse than they are. I have been using the free ProtonMail account for months and I have used 1% of the 500 Mb. And on top of that, how many of us can actually say we send and receive more than 150 emails a day? I sure can’t.

3. No easy account recovery

The third reason you might be hesitant to use ProtonMail is also the best feature: encryption. This could be a bad thing because with accounts like Gmail if you forget your password you can ask Google to recover your information. They don’t encrypt your information so it is not a problem.

Since ProtonMail has encryption and a zero-knowledge policy for their customers if you forget your password there is nothing ProtonMail can do. Your information is encrypted forever. Because they respect your privacy, using ProtonMail requires a little bit more responsibility on our end. Strong passwords/pass-phrases that are easy to remember and written down in a safe place are essential when using ProtonMail. So if you are not capable of or will to do that then ProtonMail may not be for you.

Conclusion

I have a very specific use case for ProtonMail. I use the free version for all my online accounts and social media profiles. My ProtonMail account also acts as the recovery email for the business email address I use. That way I know all my personal data is secure, as I always have ProtonMail as a safety net for all my accounts.

Though I do not need the premium benefits they offer, I still obliged to donate to ProtonMail anyway as my way of saying thank you. So obviously I like the product and I think you should give ProtonMail a chance too. As FOSS users, ProtonMail offers us a way of interacting that aligns with our values and passions. So give it a shot and let us know what you think. I GUARANTEE you will not be dissatisfied.

From: It’s FOSS

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The Truth About the Intel’s Hidden Minix OS and Security Concerns

By Sylvain Leroux

Intel Processors

If you have an Intel-chipset based motherboard, there are great chances it is equipped with the Intel Management (Intel ME) unit. This is not new. And concerns regarding the privacy issue behind that little know feature were raised for several years. But suddenly, the blogosphere seems to have rediscovered the problem. And we can read many half-true or just plain wrong statements about this topic.

So let me try to clarify, as much as I can, some key points for you to make your own opinion:

What is Intel ME?

First, let’s give a definition straight from Intel’s website:

Built into many Intel® Chipset–based platforms is a small, low-power computer subsystem called the Intel® Management Engine (Intel® ME). The Intel® ME performs various tasks while the system is in sleep, during the boot process, and when your system is running.

Simply said, that means Intel ME adds another processor on the motherboard to manage the other sub-systems. As a matter of fact, it is more than just a microprocessor: it’s a microcontroller with its own processor, memory, and I/O. Really just like if it was a small computer inside your computer.

That supplemental unit is part of the chipset and is NOT on the main CPU die. Being independent, that means Intel ME is not affected by the various sleep state of the main CPU and will remain active even when you put your computer in sleep mode or when you shut it down.

As far as I can tell Intel ME is present starting with the GM45 chipset—that brings us back to the year 2008 or so. In its initial implementation, Intel ME was on a separate chip that could be physically removed. Unfortunately, modern chipsets include Intel ME as part of the northbridge which is essential for your computer to work. Officially, there is no way to switch off Intel ME, even if some exploit seems to have successfully been used to disable it.

I read it runs on “ring -3” what does that mean?

Saying Intel ME as running in “ring -3” leads to some confusion. The protection rings are the various protection mechanisms implemented by a processor allowing, for example, the kernel to use certain processor instructions whereas applications running on top of it cannot do it. The key point is software running in a “ring” has total control over software running on a higher level ring. Something that can be used for monitoring, protection or to present an idealized or virtualized execution environment to software running in higher level rings.

Typically, on x86, applications run in ring 1, the kernel run in ring 0 and an eventual hypervisor on ring -1. “ring -2” is sometimes used for the processor microcode. And “ring -3” is used in several papers to talk about Intel ME as a way to explain it has even higher control than everything running on the main CPU. But “ring -3” is certainly not a working model of your processor. And let me repeat once again: Intel ME is not even on the CPU die.

I encourage you to take a look especially at the first pages of that Google/Two Sigma/Cisco/Splitted-Desktop Systems report for an overview of the several layers of execution of a typical Intel-based computer.

What is the problem with Intel ME?

By design, Intel ME has access to the other sub-systems of the motherboard. Including the RAM, network devices, and cryptographic engine. And that as long as the motherboard is powered. In addition, it can directly access the network interface using a dedicated link for out-of-band communication, thus even if you monitor traffic with a tool like Wireshark or tcpdump you might not necessarily see the data packet sent by Intel ME.

Intel ME architectural overview

Intel claims that ME is needed to get the best of your Intel Chipset. Most useful, it can be used especially in a corporate environment for some remote administration and maintenance tasks. But, no one outside Intel knows exactly what it CAN do. Being close sourced that leads to legitimate questions about the capabilities of that system and the way it can be used or abused.

For example, Intel ME has the potential for reading any byte in RAM in search for some keyword or to send those data through the NIC. In addition, since Intel ME can communicate with the operating system—and potentially applications— running on the main CPU, we could imagine scenarios where Intel ME would be (ab)used by a malicious software to bypass OS level security policies.

Is this science fiction? Well, I’m not personally aware of data leakage or other exploit having used Intel ME as their primary attack vector. But quoting Igor Skochinsky can give you some ideal of what such system can be used for:

The Intel ME has a few specific functions, and although most of these could be seen as the best tool you could give the IT guy in charge of deploying thousands of workstations in a corporate environment, there are some tools that would be very interesting avenues for an exploit. These functions include Active Managment Technology, with the ability for remote administration, provisioning, and repair, as well as functioning as a KVM. The System Defense function is the lowest-level firewall available on an Intel machine. IDE Redirection and Serial-Over-LAN allows a computer to boot over a remote drive or fix an infected OS, and the Identity Protection has an embedded one-time password for two-factor authentication. There are also functions for an ‘anti-theft’ function that disables a PC if it fails to check in to a server at some predetermined interval or if a ‘poison pill’ was delivered through the network. This anti-theft function can kill a computer, or notify the disk encryption to erase a drive’s encryption keys.

I let you take a look at Igor Skochinsky presentation for the REcon 2014 conference to have a first-hand overview of the capabilities of Intel ME:

As a side note, to give you an idea of the risks take a look at the CVE-2017-5689 published in May 2017 concerning a possible privilege escalation for local and remote users using the HTTP server running on Intel ME when Intel AMT is enabled.

But don’t panic immediately because for most personal computers, this is not a concern because they do not use AMT. But that gives an idea of the possible attacks targeting Intel ME and the software running in there.

What do we know about Intel ME? How is it related to Minix?

Intel ME and the software running on top of it are close sourced, and people having access to the related information are bound by a non-disclosure agreement. But thanks to independent researchers we still have some information about it.

Intel ME shares the flash memory with your BIOS to store its firmware. But unfortunately, a large part of the code is not accessible by a simple dump of the flash because it relies on functions stored in the inaccessible ROM part of the ME microcontroller. In addition, it appears the parts of the code that are accessible are compressed using non-disclosed Huffman compression tables. This is not cryptography, its compression— obfuscation some might say. Anyway, it does not help in reverse engineering Intel ME.

Up to its version 10, Intel ME was based on ARC or SPARC processors. But Intel ME 11 is x86 based. In April, a team at Positive Technologies tried to analyze the tools that Intel provides to OEMs/vendor as well as some ROM bypass code. But due to Huffman compression, they weren’t able to go very far.

However, they were able to do was to analyze TXE, the Trusted Execution Engine, a system similar to Intel ME, but available on the Intel Atom platforms. The nice thing about TXE is the firmware is not Huffman encoded. And there they found a funny thing. I prefer quoting the corresponding paragraph in extenso here:

In addition, when we looked inside the decompressed vfs module, we encountered the strings “FS: bogus child for forking” and “FS: forking on top of in-use child,” which clearly originate from Minix3 code. It would seem that ME 11 is based on the MINIX 3 OS developed by Andrew Tanenbaum 🙂

Let make things clear: TXE contains code “borrowed” from Minix. That’s sure. Other hints suggest it probably runs a complete Minix implementations. Finally, despite no evidence, we can assume without too many risks that ME 11 would be based on Minix too.

Until recently Minix was certainly not a well know OS name. But a couple of catchy titles changed that recently. That and a recent open letter by Andrew Tannenbaum, the author of Minix, are probably at the root of the current hype around Intel ME.

Andrew Tanenbaum?

If you don’t know him, Andrew S. Tanenbaum is a computer scientist and professor emeritus at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Generations of students, including me, have learned computer sciences through Andrew Tannenbaum books, work, and publications.

For educational purposes, he started development of the Unix-inspired Minix operating system in the late 80s. And was famous for its controversy on Usenet with a then young guy named Linus Torvalds about the virtues of monolithic versus micro-kernels.

For what interests us today, Andrew Tanenbaum has declared not having any feedback from Intel about the usage they have made of Minix. But in an open letter to Intel, he explains he was contacted a few years ago by Intel engineers asking many technical questions about Minix and even requesting code change to being able to selectively remove part of the system in order to reduce its footprint.

According to Tannenbaum, Intel never explained the reason for their interest in Minix. “After that initial burst of activity, there was radio silence for a couple of years”, that is up until today.

In a final note, Tannenbaum explains its position:

For the record, I would like to state that when Intel contacted me, they didn’t say what they were working on. Companies rarely talk about future products without NDAs. I figured it was a new Ethernet chip or graphics chip or something like that. If I had suspected they might be building a spy engine, I certainly wouldn’t have cooperated […​]

Worth mentioning if we can question the moral behavior of Intel, both regarding the way they approached Tannenbaum and Minix and in the aim pursued with Intel ME, strictly speaking, they acted perfectly in accordance with the terms of the Berkeley license accompanying the Minix project.

And what about using AMD?

I’m not familiar with AMD technologies. So if you have more insight, let us know using the comment section. But from what I can tell, the AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) line of microprocessors have a similar feature where they embed an extra ARM-based microcontroller, but this time directly on the CPU die. Amazingly enough, that technology is advertised as “TrustZone” by AMD. But like for its Intel counterpart, no one really know what it does. And no one has access to the source to analyze the exploit surface it adds to your computer.

So what to think?

It is very easy to become paranoid about those subjects. For example, what proves the firmware running on your Ethernet or Wireless NIC don’t spy at you to transmit data through some hidden channel?

What makes Intel ME more a concern is because it works at a different scale, being literally a small independent computer looking at everything happening on the host computer. Personally, I fell concerned by Intel ME since it’s initial announcement. But that didn’t prevent me from running Intel-based computers. Certainly, I would prefer if Intel made the choice to open-source the Monitoring Engine and the associated software. Or if they provided a way to physically disable it. But that’s an opinion that only regards me. You certainly have your own ideas about that.

Finally, I said above, my goal in writing that article was to give you as much as possible verifiable information so you can make your own opinion…

From: It’s FOSS

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Arch Linux Ends Support for 32-Bit Systems

By Derick Sullivan M. Lobga

Arch Linux 32 bit support ends

Brief: Arch Linux joins the growing list of Linux distributions that terminated support for 32-bit systems.

Arch Linux has ended support for i686 architecture i.e 32-bit systems. This is not a sudden decision because an announcement was made in January this year. Decreasing popularity was cited as the driving factor behind this decision: “Due to the decreasing popularity of i686 among the developers and the community, we have decided to phase out the support of this architecture.”

Since March 2017, 32-bit images of Arch Linux have not been available. Existing 32-bit installs were given this ‘grace period’ to plan their switch to other Linux distributions that still support 32-bit processors.

After a 9-month deprecation period, the time has come to put 32-bit Arch into the ground.

Arch Linux broke the news yesterday that “By the end of November, i686 packages will be removed from our mirrors and later from the packages archive”. It also states that the [multilib] repository will not be affected.

In other words, Arch Linux 32-bit will stop getting any updates starting today. By the end of this month, Arch Linux distribution will only work on computers based on the x86_64 architectures i.e. 64-bit systems. The 32-bit Arch install will not get any kind of updates or install any program, practically making them useless.

Arch Linux 32-bit lives in the form of archlinux32

One of the reasons why I love Linux is its open source nature and the enthusiastic community.

Meet archlinux32, a community maintained fork of Arch Linux 32-bit. Check out their official website:

archlinux32

Transition instructions from Arch Linux to archlinux32 are also explained. Check out the transition instructions. A dual-bootable installation media has also been made available for users.

What do you think about Arch ending support for 32-bit systems? Please share your views in the comment section.

From: It’s FOSS

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How to Use GNOME Shell Extensions [Complete Guide]

By Abhishek Prakash

GNOME Shell Extension in action

Brief: This is a detailed guide showing you how to install GNOME Shell Extensions manually or easily via a browser.

While discussing how to install themes in Ubuntu 17.10, I briefly mentioned GNOME Shell Extension. It was used to enable user themes. Today, we’ll have a detailed look at GNOME Shell Extensions in Ubuntu 17.10.

I may use the term GNOME Extensions instead of GNOME Shell Extensions but both have the same meaning here.

What are GNOME Shell Extensions? How to install GNOME Shell Extensions? And how to manage and remove GNOME Shell Extensions? I’ll explain all these questions, one by one. Let’s start with knowing about GNOME Extensions first.

What is a GNOME Shell Extension?

A GNOME Shell Extension is basically a tiny piece of code that enhances the capability of GNOME desktop.

Think of it as an add-on in your browser. For example, you can install an add-on in your browser to disable ads. This add-on is developed by a third-party developer. Though your web browser doesn’t provide it by default, installing this add-on enhances the capability of your web browser.

Similarly, GNOME Shell Extensions are like those third-party add-ons and plugins that you can install on top of GNOME. These extensions are created to perform specific tasks such as display weather condition, internet speed etc. Mostly, you can access them in the top panel.

GNOME Shell Extension to display weather information

There are also GNOME Extensions that are not visible on the top panel. But they still tweak GNOME’s behavior. For example, middle mouse button can be used to close an application with one such extension.

Installing GNOME Shell Extensions

Now that you know what are GNOME Shell Extensions, let’s see how to install them. There are three ways you can use GNOME Extensions:

  • Use a minimal set of extensions from Ubuntu (or your Linux distribution)
  • Find and install extensions in your web browser
  • Download and manually install extensions

Before you learn how to use GNOME Shell Extensions, you should install GNOME Tweak Tool. You can find it in the Software Center. Alternatively, you can use this command:

sudo apt install gnome-tweak-tool

At times, you would also need to know the version of GNOME Shell you are using. This helps in determining whether an extension is compatible with your system or not. You can use the command below to find it:

gnome-shell --version

1. Use gnome-shell-extensions package [easiest and safest way]

Ubuntu (and several other Linux distributions such as Fedora) provide a package with a minimal set of GNOME extensions. You don’t have to worry about the compatibility here as it is tested by your Linux distribution.

If you want a no-brainer, just get this package and you’ll have 8-10 GNOME extensions installed.

sudo apt install gnome-shell-extensions

You’ll have to reboot your system (or maybe just restart GNOME Shell, I don’t remember it at this point). After that, start GNOME Tweaks and you’ll find a few extensions installed. You can just toggle the button to start using an installed extension.

Change GNOME Shell theme in Ubuntu 17.1
GNOME Shell Extensions in GNOME Tweaks tool

2. Install GNOME Shell extensions from a web browser

GNOME project has an entire website dedicated to extensions. That’s not it. You can find, install, and manage your extensions on this website itself. No need even for GNOME Tweaks tool.

GNOME Shell Extensions Website

But in order to install extensions a web browser, you need two things: a browser add-on and a native host connector in your system.

Step 1: Install browser add-on

When you visit the GNOME Shell Extensions website, you’ll see a message like this:

“To control GNOME Shell extensions using this site you must install GNOME Shell integration that consists of two parts: browser extension and native host messaging application.”

Installing GNOME Shell Extensions

You can simply click on the suggested add-on link by your web browser. You can install them from the link below as well:

Step 2: Install native connector

Just installing browser add-on won’t help you. You’ll still see an error like:

“Although GNOME Shell integration extension is running, native host connector is not detected. Refer documentation for instructions about installing connector”

How to install GNOME Shell Extensions

This is because you haven’t installed the host connector yet. To do that, use this command:

sudo apt install chrome-gnome-shell

Don’t worry about the ‘chrome’ prefix in the package name. It has nothing to do with Chrome. You don’t have to install a separate package for Firefox or Opera here.

Step 3: Installing GNOME Shell Extensions in web browser

Once you have completed these two requirements, you are all set to roll. Now when you go to GNOME Shell Extension, you won’t see any error message.

GNOME Shell Extension
It’s a good idea to sort the extensions for current version of GNOME

A good thing to do would be to sort the extensions by your GNOME Shell version. It is not mandatory though. What happens here is that a developer creates an extension for the present GNOME version. In one year, there will be two more GNOME releases. But the developer didn’t have time to test or update his/her extension.

As a result, you wouldn’t know if that extension is compatible with your system or not. It’s possible that the extension works fine even in the newer GNOME Shell version despite that the extension is years old. It is also possible that the extension doesn’t work in the newer GNOME Shell.

You can search for an extension as well. Let’s say you want to install a weather extension. Just search for it and go for one of the search results.

When you visit the extension page, you’ll see a toggle button.

Installing GNOME Shell Extension
Toggle the button to enable or disable GNOME Shell Extensions

Click on it and you’ll be prompted if you want to install this extension:

Install GNOME Shell Extensions via web browser

Obviously, go for Install here. Once it’s installed, you’ll see that the toggle button is now on and there is a setting option available next to it. You can configure the extension using the setting option. You can also disable the extension from here.

Configuring installed GNOME Shell Extensions
Extensions can be configured via browser

You can also configure the settings of an extension that you installed via the web browser in GNOME Tweaks tool:

GNOME Tweaks to handle GNOME Shell Extensions
Installed extensions will always be accessible in Tweaks

You can see all your installed extensions on the website under installed extensions section. You can also delete the extensions that you installed via web browser here

Manage your installed GNOME Shell Extensions
Manage your installed GNOME Shell Extensions

One major advantage of using the GNOME Extensions website is that you can see if there is an update available for an extension. You won’t get it in GNOME Tweaks or system update.

3. Install GNOME Shell Extensions manually

It’s not that you have to be always online to install GNOME Shell extensions. You can download the files and install it later, without needing internet.

Go to GNOME Extensions website and download the extension with the latest version.

Download GNOME Shell Extension
Download GNOME Shell Extension

Extract the downloaded file. Copy the folder to ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions directory. Go to your Home directory and press Crl+H to show hidden folders. Locate .local folder here and from there, you can find your path till extensions directory.

Once you have the files copied in the correct directory, go inside it and open metadata.json file. Look for the value of uuid.

Make sure that the name of the extension’s folder is same as the value of uuid in the metadata.json file. If not, rename the directory to the value of this uuid.

Manually install GNOME Shell extension
Name of extension folder should be the same as uuid

Almost there! Now restart GNOME Shell. Press Alt+F2 and enter r to restart GNOME Shell.

Restart GNOME Shell

Restart GNOME Tweaks tool as well. You should see the manually installed GNOME extension in the Tweak tool now. You can configure or enable the newly installed extension here.

And that’s all you need to know about installing GNOME Shell Extensions.

Remove GNOME Shell Extensions

It is totally understandable that you might want to remove an installed GNOME Shell Extension.

If you installed it via a web browser, you can go to the installed extensions section on GNOME website and remove it from there (as shown in an earlier picture).

If you installed it manually, you can remove it by deleting the extension files from ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions directory.

Bonus Tip: Get notified of GNOME Shell Extensions updates

By now you have realized that there is no way to know if an update is available for a GNOME Shell extension except for visiting the GNOME extension website.

Luckily for you, there is a GNOME Shell Extension that notifies you if there is an update available for an installed extension. You can get it from the link below:

Extension Update Notifier

How do you manage GNOME Shell Extensions

I find it rather weird that you cannot update the extensions via the system updates. It’s as if GNOME Shell extensions are not even part of the system.

I’ll write a separate article about best GNOME Shell extensions in coming days. Meanwhile, share your experience with GNOME Shell extensions. Do you often use them? If yes, which ones are your favorite?

From: It’s FOSS

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