Fixing your preferred browser on (L)Ubuntu systems

I use Lubuntu on my trusty netbook, it’s become a nicely polished OS over the last few versions however it still has a few rough edges. One of which is defining a preferred browser.

The default browser on Lubuntu is Chromium, the unbranded version of Google Chrome. While it’s nice I’m still a hardened Firefox user and so I keep Chromium installed but I don’t use it unless diagnosing a browser-specific issue.

I have Firefox selected in “Preferences > Preferred Applications” as my default browser, however hyper-links in emails were still insisting on opening up in Chromium, which takes time as it’s rarely pre-loaded when I’m using the computer.

To fix this I ran this command in a terminal:

sudo update-alternatives --config x-www-browser

This provides some options for a preferred browser, I had two for Chromium and a third for Firefox, I entered the number for Firefox and from then on, no more closing unwanted browsers!

Un-friending Facebook

On Saturday morning a took a big step when after more than 5 years of continual use, I de-activated my Facebook account for the first time. Very likely not for the last time unfortunately but it is the end of the beginning of the end for me and Facebook.

This action was the latest step in my phased disconnection plan that I initiated a couple of weeks ago when I made the decision to leave. To summarise my reasoning it was on privacy grounds and the issues here are obvious and well covered elsewhere, just search the Internet for Facebook and privacy and you’ll dig up a lot of reasons, which I’m all on-board with.

To avoid social drama from my sudden disappearance, I posted my intentions on my wall so my friends wouldn’t assume it was anything personal, particularly because my security settings should make my disappearance fairly indistinguishable from an un-friending. There seemed to be a bit of support for the idea, hopefully not because they’re happy to see the back of me, but perhaps I will lead others to make similar choices in the near future.

The next steps were removing the app from my Android Smartphone, this was not possible because it came pre-installed so cannot be removed, but it can be disabled which has the same effect. After this I continued using the mobile site for some time, which gave me a better sense of privacy because contained within a browser there is only so much they can do compared with an installed app that demands a lot of direct permissions from the phone, how true this is is debatable but that’s inconsequential now, it was only ever temporary.

I attempted to download my data a few times, this failed on every occasion which really speaks volumes about their commitment to data portability, or lack of it. I managed to get my photos out via Trovebox however and frankly I don’t care too much about the rest.

Finally I came to the test disconnect so I de-activated my account to see what would happen…and so far it’s not much, although it has highlighted a few issues, which is the purpose of the test. The main one so far being that my address book is woefully out-of-date. I cannot trust that most of my contact details are correct for quite a few people who I want to keep in touch with, and the same goes for birthdays, punctuated when I was oblivious to a colleague’s birthday this week while everyone else clearly knew through Facebook. So I started building a new address book on my Owncloud, if I know you don’t be surprised if I ask for contact details at some point!

Once these issues are all behind me I will delete my account permanently and I won’t look back. The experience has been an eye-opener on how dependent we have become on Facebook for so many important things, I only hope that others will choose to see for themselves, it really is a red-pill moment that every one should have to understand why they need to leave Facebook and use the Internet properly how it was designed to be: decentralised, distributed and free.

Although I made my own plan, there are resources available online to help, if you know any other good sites, leave a comment and I’ll add them to this list:

Installing SpiderOak client on a headless 64bit Ubuntu server

SpiderOak is a fine example of secure cloud backup done right, I’ve been a happy paying customer for 3 years and run their client on all my computers but when I came to install it on a new headless server however I ran into problems. For the uninitiated, “headless” means there is no screen, I’m connected via a terminal which cannot handle graphics. Normally the SpiderOak client is a graphical application but it will also run from a terminal, which is a bit of a nasty bodge but at least it works!

When I first installed the Debian package using dpkg, then ran the application for the first time I got this error:

ImportError: libkrb5.so.3: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

This should be simple enough to resolve installing libkrb.5-3 from the Ubuntu repositories, but it’s not that simple because although SpiderOak supplies both 32bit and 64bit packages, the software in both packages is 32bit, so you need to install the 32bit version of libkrb5-3, like this:

sudo apt-get install libkrb5-3:i386

Once complete you can continue the SpiderOak setup. Be warned though, running the application without the –setup parameter however will error due to other missing libs, but these are only necessary for running the GUI version of the application.

GTK theming QT apps

It’s becoming more common to run a mixture of apps using the QT toolkit (as seen in the KDE desktop) and the GTK toolkit (as seen in GNOME desktop). When using a GTK-based desktop, QT apps may appear out of place by not following the GTK theme settings, this can be fixed using ‘qtconfig’ as follows:

From a console run:

qtconfig qt4

From the graphical menu pull down the “Select GUI style” option and select “GTK+”. Click ‘file’ then ‘save’ and any running QT apps should instantly re-theme and look a lot better!

If ‘qtconfig’ is not installed, it can be installed on apt-based systems by entering:

sudo apt-get install qt4-qtconfig

Owncloud: csync failed to create a lock file

I use the Owncloud client to synchronise important files between my laptop and desktop computers. Recently the client failed immediately on start-up with the error “csync failed to create a lock file”. To resolve this issue, locate and remove the lock file.

On version 1.2.x the lock file can be found in the following locations, depending on which OS you are using.

Linux:

~/.local/share/data/ownCloud/lock

Mac OSX

~/Library/Application Support/ownCloud/lock

Windows:

TBC

Take heed: Left-over “stale” lock files are usually safe to remove, however if multiple instances of the same program are running, such as in a separate user session, removing the lock file can cause write-conflicts and corrupt your data, so be warned! Only remove the file if you’re sure it’s not being used by another running instance of the Owncloud app.

Update

Thanks to Markus for providing the Mac OSX location

The aftermath of the demise of Google Reader

Update 27/03: Fabsh has published a great write-up at the H on the same topic, well worth checking out.

When Google announced last week that they would be discontinuing Reader, I felt somewhat a sense of deja-vu harking back to the time they pulled the plug on Wave, which may have been the ugly duckling of the Google top bar but I was a fond user all the same. But losing Reader is different, I’ve been a daily user of Reader for many years as is virtually everybody I know it seems. So for Google to pull it so ruthlessly was quite a shock to the system, a shock that rang out on social networks with posts of disbelief, confusion, denial, justification, sadness, then eventually acceptance and more recently optimism, with a sudden realisation that with the Blue Whale of feed readers gone, the little fish have a chance to grow and multiply.

Of course what inevitably happened was millions of users closed in upon a handful of relatively tiny Feed Reader websites, blissfully minding their own business in a data centre somewhere, upon which they promptly keeled over. I was one of those millions, so for blog post 1, I’ll share a few of my experiences.

Netvibes

I already had an account at Netvibes having tried them out for their dashboard focused design with news stories occupying boxes you can organise in panels across the display. Their dashboard is powered by RSS feeds and they also allow you to view the data in a traditional feed reader format much like Google Reader and virtually every desktop RSS aggregator in existence.

You can set up multiple lists of feeds for different scenarios which they call Dashboards. I have one set up for work and personal feeds.

You can import from a standard OPML file that you get exporting from Google Reader, although you need to manually download and upload the file, but this doesn’t take long.

The interface is quite snappy but the layout takes some getting used to, there’s not been any intention to model it around Google Reader so there’s a few differences that can catch you out.

Adding feeds is easy using the big green button at the top but there’s no popular feeds to choose from, you just enter the feed address manually.

It’s simple and functional but it does have a few drawbacks. It lacks the social features that are one of the primary benefits of online feed readers. You can read feeds but that’s about it, you can’t discover feeds from other users and share them like you can elsewhere.

There is a paid option, but this isn’t what you expect, they target online marketeers and provide analytical tools for substantially higher than you would pay for a feed reader. One of my concerns is that using Netvibes, I’m clearly not their target audience and they may choose to see me as an unwanted drain on their resources some day like Google have.

The Old Reader

It took me about 5 days to get into The Old Reader, they are building a site around the traditional Google Reader design which is exactly what you’d expect and it works great. But their feed import is extraordinarily slow, days instead of seconds and they tease you with a queue position you are supposedly at, but it goes up as well as down. When things have calmed down a bit it’s worth checking out, they have all the Reader features you’d expect and it works well, if a little slow at the moment. They have no paid service yet, obviously if it’s going to continue long term they need to monetise it somehow and some people prefer to pay rather than get adverts pushed in your face.

Newsblur

I’ll be frank that I haven’t used Newsblur much, when I attempted to sign up they told me they had turned off their free accounts to ease the scaling issues with the surge in demand, and to pay up or go away (but in a nicer way). I wasn’t going to pay for a service I’d never tried so I went away, but then I got an email welcoming me and when I tried going back to their website it appears they have re-enabled free accounts.

Unlike the Netvibes and TheOldReader, their free account only supports up to 64 feeds, which is a couple fewer than I have, but that’s enough to give it a try and their paid service is not expensive at $24/year and supposedly goes towards feeding their pet dog, and I love dogs!

A few features really stand out at Newsblur, first is they provide the ability to view articles in their original website design as well as raw text-only output. They have lots of social features and the interface is all shiny, using modern browser features to make it work like a native application with a resizeable 3-panelled display. It does lag a bit when I use it, but this is likely due to server load, they have a blog post that suggest their user base has increased many-fold in the last few days, so this is understandable and they are working to address it.

One feature that is dear to my heart is that their software is open source. They make the application available on Github so in theory you could run the software on your own server, if you were so inclined. This is a big plus for me and may be a winner, but it’s a big commitment for me and I’m not ready to settle down just yet.