Jitsi Ubuntu VoIP SIP Client

The latest instalment in my never-ending quest to find a decent SIP client (see Ubuntu SIP I & Ubuntu SIP II) I came across JITSI (http://jitsi.org/). Since the website looked very interesting and the project seems very well maintained (http://jitsi.org/index.php/Main/Screenshots) I decided to give it a go.

The installation is a breeze with a Ubuntu/Debian package available and the installation also adds the repository to keep the package up to date.

http://download.jitsi.org/jitsi/debian/

After a few test calls it seems to work very well. The UI is much more intuitive than comparable Ubuntu clients. Looks I found my new default client – nice job Jitsi Team.

 

Connecting to Cisco Small Business VPN from Ubuntu

Connecting to IPSec VPN gateways has always been one of the more painful things to do. Unfortunately Cisco is not helping by being extremely sluggish on making their utilities available on most recent OS revisions (you can’t even get their QuickVPN client to work properly on 64bit Win7 yet). Operating System support outside of Windows seems to be pretty much non-existent (see https://supportforums.cisco.com/thread/2040595).

Shame on you Cisco !

Option 1 – running QuickVPN under using wine

Download the QuickVPN client

http://www.cisco.com/cisco/software/type.html?mdfid=282414013&flowid=787

Install using wine

wine setup.exe

Copy the QuickVPN Client Certificate to the QuickVPN program folder and run

cp RVS4000_Client.pem ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Cisco\ Small\ Business/QuickVPN\ Client/
cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Cisco\ Small\ Business/QuickVPN\ Client/
wine VPNClient.exe

Option 2 – vpnc connection

apt-get install vpnc openconnect  network-manager-vpnc  network-manager-openconnect

Theoretically it should be possible to connect to the Cisco Small Business Routers using vpnc (& openconnect). However there is ZERO information from Cisco as to the settings and the QuickVPN utility seems to use some non-standard authentication and handshake mechanisms.

I would love to hear from anybody who was able to connect using native (and standard) Linux VPN utilities rather than the wine hack above.

Running your business (mostly) on Open Source Software

The release of the latest Ubuntu Version has been seen by a number of commentators as the most end-user friendly yet and signals another milestone in the readiness of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for more widespread (and business) use.

As a long-term user of a number of different Operating Systems and as SME Owner for the last 15 years I have overseen the gradual replacement of a number of proprietary software solutions with FOSS Alternatives. With the beginning of the new financial year however, we are planning to go another step further and are starting to change our default Operating System to Ubuntu (from MS Windows).

It is worth pointing out that I don’t have an issue with paying for software (after all we are partly in the software development business). We also happily pay quite a number of SaaS suppliers for their services (see list below) and support. My main issue is why I should pay license fees for standard software (i.e. Office Productivity Tools) when there is so many excellent community developed products out there that do the same (in some instances better, in some instances just adequate) job ? It is hard enough running a small business in the current climate.

One major benefit of changing over to a web-based (FOSS) approach to our back-end systems has been the ability to operate from anywhere. This has dramatically increased productivity for myself as well as staff being able to work from home more often. This is mainly due to changing back-end systems to browser based software, but also due to the fact that you can access the web-based software also on personal devices (such as phones).

Since licensing fees are only one part of the cost of running software it has to be said that support for users in the early days is certainly higher than just keeping the ‘stuff they know’ and have been taught at University / TAFE / Schools. Different tools will always require some learning curve to get familiar with the new environment.  However in the long run we have not seen a significant difference to the previous scenario.

For Software development reasons we still have to maintain a license for some of these systems for testing purposes, however it has been quite a while since we have actually done so for actual production purposes.

Advantages

  • No license and reoccurring upgrade fees (other than service fees)
  • Community support

Downsides

  • Drivers (some drivers for Graphics Cards can still be a bit of a challenge)
  • Accessories / devices (if you run a lot of (b)leading edge devices such as USB accessoroes, it can be a challenge to get appropriate Linux support)

It generally pays to check user forums (for Ubuntu there is a list of certified hardware) before buying accessories. However most common hardware (such as major phones and personal audio devices) have good support.

Show-stoppers / Challenges

In previous attempts when contemplating the phasing out of Windows as the Standard Operating Environment in our business we were faced with some show-stoppers such as our Accounting Package that was not available at all in a non-Windows environment. However we have since migrated all of our mission-critical applications into web-based & off-site hosted environments. With these changes the need for client-based software has rapidly diminished and the focus has shifted to web-browser support of critical systems.

Some challenges remain with new staff needing to be trained and sometimes convinced that there is other things out there than the packages they are familiar with. I have been advocating for changes in our Schools to teach the concepts of software rather than certain tools – ie. teach the concept of Word Processing rather than Microsoft Word. But I am realistic that these changes will not be implemented soon if at all.

One area we have not been able to change is Graphic Design. Whilst I am personally not convinced that GIMP/Inkscape are not able to replace the Photoshop/Illustrator combo I do not have the personal knowledge in that field and have hence given up trying to change this. Life is too short to be wasted listening to Graphic Designers whining to you daily that they need Adobe for XYZ. ;-)

Myths

I very often hear the following arguments:

“If you use this FOSS stuff that is owned by nobody you will not be supported”

One of the longest standing arguments and the easiest to answer. Most FOSS operating systems now have a number of commercial operations supporting.

As for community support there is an extremely active community around Ubuntu with a local Australian Team and literally thousands of community volunteers world-wide. And for those less comfortable relying on community support there are a growing number of commercial operations willing to support Open Source OS’s.

“If everybody can see the source code – isn’t that insecure ?”

Again one of the oldest FUD arguments. There is a detailed Wikipedia entry that explains the concept of Open Source Security and why most independent experts will assert the exact opposite.

“Proprietary OS’s are streamlined and much more efficient”

We found this one to be correct in some areas and completely false in others. To the contrary a number of tasks (such as adding network printers or network connections) are much more efficient on Ubuntu. Whilst the User Interfaces on proprietary systems are much more polished (eye-candy) they are not necessarily contributing much to an effective work practice. And when it comes to setting up new equipment there is no comparison whatsoever. It generally takes up to an hour to have a developer system configured with Software installs and other config tasks thanks largely to Linux package management tools (such as apt-get) which can be completely automated with a few lines of script. A similar developer system on Windows can take hours of idle install time and reboots galore.

“You will not save any money”

This point is the least exact and hardest to answer as it will largely depend on individual circumstances, in-house IT knowledge and support. For our part we have certainly saved cost in software licensing. However we generally have invested this in either being able to afford additional IT work done (custom workflows) or being able to invest in systems that would have been outside of budget.

Project Listing

As a practical exercise I thought I would share our Standard Operating Environment (SOE). Whilst not all of the software listed is Open Source (as the title obviously suggests) a substantial majority is.

Operating Systems

Others
  • Fedora 14/15 (mainly for our Sysadmin purposes as most of our Servers run on RHEL / CentOS)
  • Windows (XP & W7) for hardware that can not be utilised on Ubuntu
  • (OSX (single machine for testing & iOS compilation purposes))

Browsers

Directory Services

  • OpenLDAP
  • Samba

Office / Productivity

  • GoogleApps (with local backups)
  • Webmail (nobody actually uses a desktop mail client these days)
  • Webcalendar (shared calendars & resources)
  • Open / Libre Office – http://www.libreoffice.org/

Multimedia

Graphics

Utilities

Development

Backend Business Systems

Sysadmin

 

VoIP client for Ubuntu II

After upgrading to Ubuntu 11 (Natty) I did some further research on VoIP clients (SIP) for Ubuntu Linux as XLite seems horribly out of date now.

I came across QuteCom (formerly WengoPhone) and from first testing it seems to work quite well. The install is easy as it’s part of the Ubuntu Community Software (Universe) and that means it can be installed via apt-get, Software Center or Synaptic.

Qutecom configuration

So far the early testing has been very positive and the interface seems quite workable as well as having a number of other instant messaging options available.

QuteCom Account Configuration

KeePass Version 2 on Ubuntu

EDIT: As of Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) this is now much easier as KeePass 2 has finally made it into the repositories

apt-get install keepass2

————————————————————————————————————-

If you need to read KeepPass 2 data files (.kdbx) on Ubuntu (as well as from other platforms such as Windows or Android) you need to run the Portable Version under Mono (.NET Runtime). Make sure you download the Portable Version 2.x from http://keepass.info/download.html

The default Mono Distribution on Ubuntu (V11 Natty) is missing a few dependencies required for KeePassX

apt-get install libmono-accessibility2.0-cil libmono-addins-gui0.2-cil libmono-addins0.2-cil libmono-cairo2.0-cil libmono-corlib2.0-cil libmono-data-tds2.0-cil libmono-i18n-west2.0-cil libmono-management2.0-cil libmono-messaging2.0-cil libmono-posix2.0-cil libmono-security2.0-cil libmono-sharpzip2.84-cil libmono-sqlite2.0-cil libmono-system-data2.0-cil libmono-system-messaging2.0-cil libmono-system-runtime2.0-cil libmono-system-web2.0-cil libmono-system2.0-cil libmono-wcf3.0-cil libmono-webbrowser0.5-cil libmono-winforms2.0-cil libmono2.0-cil mono-2.0-gac mono-csharp-shell mono-gac mono-gmcs mono-runtime ubuntu-mono

You should be able to start by:

mono KeePass.exe

Further info: http://keepass.info/help/v2/setup.html#mono

My mobile personal learning environment

Taking part in MobiMOOC has given me the opportunity to take stock of my own MobilePLE – the top 5 tools I find most useful as part of my ongoing learning.

 

  • Catch Notes (previously 3Bananas) – mobile note taking the most critical component. Whenever I get a new device – this is what has to be installed as one of the first actions. For those not familiar with this software – it’s like Evernote without the bloat.
  • TwiDroyd – mobile Twitter / Status.Net client. This could be replaced by similar Twitter clients
  • GoogleReader – RSS reader client
  • Flickr – image upload and sharing
  • FourSquare – location based sharing

 

These are the main applications I use pretty much constantly, however here are some other useful services I use regularily:

 

  • Delicious – Online Bookmarking (this is an old one, but a good one). Unfortunately there are not a great deal of mobile interfaces for Delicious as Yahoo has publicly stated that it is trying to offload the project
  • Pixelpipe – universal uploader (upload to multiple services such as Flickr, Picasa, Youtube from mobile)
  • BeyondPod – podcast client
  • GoogleGoggles – image recognition software to allow searches based on camera input
  • Zxing Barcode Scan – open source barcode scanner (QR codes as well as EAN type)
  • WordPress Client – mobile client to edit wordpress blogs
  • Sketchbook – mobile drawing application from Autodesk (you need a reaonable screen for this – tab preferred)
  • UStream Broadcaster – streaming video producer from mobile handset

 

One thing worth noting is that this is very much the “CURRENT Mobi-PLE”. The one sure thing with mobile tech in general is that it tends to change quickly over time and with need.

Looking forward to hearing about things I am missing – comments welcome !

VoIP client for Ubuntu

Having used IP Telephony for a number of years I need a workable SIP client for all of the devices I use. I have found a very capable client for my Android phones (SipDroid) and on Windows/MacOSX I generally use X-Lite (as well as it’s paid version EyePhone) from Counterpath.

Having tried several different Linux SIP clients (Ekiga, Twinkle, …) but all discarded them because of weird UI’s and/or problems with stability I noticed that there is a Linux version of XLite available. Unfortunately on current versions of Ubuntu (10.04) it needs a deprecated version of a library.

Download XLite Linux: http://www.counterpath.com/x-lite-3.0-for-linux-download.html

Dowload libstdc++.so.5: http://packages.debian.org/lenny/i386/libstdc++5/download

[you will need root permissions for all of the below]

dpkg -i libstdc++5_3.3.6-18_i386.deb
tar -xzf X-Lite_Install.tar.gz
cd xten-xlite
cp xtensoftphone /usr/sbin
chmod +x /usr/sbin/xtensoftphone
Now you should be able to run:
xtensoftphone

Enjoy calling from your Ubuntu machine !

EDIT: Since upgrading to Ubuntu 11 (Natty) I have switched to QuteCom

Huawei K3765 on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid)

Since I have switched my 3G data network from Hutchinson Three to Vodafone AU recently I also upgraded the USB modem from a Huwaei E220 (which used to work fine on recent Ubuntu NBR releases on my trusty old ASUS EEE 900)

Unfortunately the new Huawei K3765 would not be recognised as a valid modem by the network manager. After a fair bit of searching it turns out that you only need to install one additional package (usb-modeswitch) to make this modem work (be recognised) on the current stable 10.04 release:

sudo apt-get install usb-modeswitch

For the command-line challenged here is a quick screenshot on how to do it using Synaptic Package Manager:

Synaptic usb-modswitch - screenshot

Hope this might save some time for people trying to make this modem work on Lucid.

Happy roaming !

iPad Alternatives

Due to the hype generated by the recent launch and my reservations on using the Apple Inc. iTunes I was doing some research into alternatives to the proprietary and completely locked  iPad device (and the associated lock-down to Apple’s iTunes Store). Hopefully this list can be of use for other people as well.

I can see the form factor and the tablet style with a cut down (mainly web-browser based) Operating System as useful in a number of settings not least in educational institutions and libraries.

Here is the findings so far:

EDIT: I have re-published the list as a Google Spreadsheet to enable submission of new items. Please ENTER YOUR OWN if you found an item not on the list.

If you are purely looking for a tablet as an electronic reading device there is a good Wikipedia comparison chart to look at.

I will add further devices as I discover them. Please leave a comment if you find other tablets / devices that have similar features, but are more open and do not require iTunes lock-down.

Ubuntu – Google Mail (GoogleApps) as default mail client

Since Ubuntu 9.10 NetbookRemix has been released I am again finding myself using my trusty old ASUS EEE when on the road.  And  finally it seems I have found a vanilla Linux distribution that is reasonably responsive and works ‘out of the box’.

One thing I don’t need on the road (as a matter of fact on none of my equipment) is having to install & maintain some client/server mail client. Here is a workable solution to have your browser default ‘mailto:’ links to Google Apps.

Howto

System –> Preferences –> Preferred Applications

Ubuntu Preferences Screenshot

Chrome:

perl -MURI::Escape -e '$to = shift;$to =~ s/^mailto://i;exec("chromium-browser", "https://mail.google.com/a/yourdomain.tld/?view=cm&fs=1&tf=1&cmid=22&to=".URI::Escape::uri_escape($to) );' '%s'

Firefox:

perl -MURI::Escape -e '$to = shift;$to =~ s/^mailto://i;exec("firefox", "https://mail.google.com/a/yourdomain.tld/?view=cm&fs=1&tf=1&cmid=22&to=".URI::Escape::uri_escape($to) );' '%s'

Note: do not forget to replace ‘yourdomain.tld’ with your actual Google Apps domain

Here is the link to the original blog entry by David Davis (xantus77): http://xantus.vox.com/library/post/howto-use-gmail-for-mailto-links-linuxubuntu.html (Kudos !)