Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why Ubuntu?

First of all, why might you choose Linux over Windows?
  • Speed - It starts up a lot faster than Windows XP does on my machine, without any additional tweaking on my part.
  • Security
  • Low maintenance - No more worrying about defragmenting
  • Free - as in it costs nothing, and you have the freedom to customize/modify it as you wish

Of course, if you'd like to use both systems, it's easy to dual boot.

Choosing which Linux distro to use can be difficult. Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and there's plenty of information on the web to help you compare them. I wanted something that would be reliable and easy to use right out of the box. I chose Ubuntu.

Why Ubuntu in particular?
  • Ease of Use - Depending on what you want to do, you could use Ubuntu without ever using the terminal (command line), which makes Ubuntu accessible to everyone, even people who don't have a lot of computer know-how.
  • Support - Ubuntu has great support. The online Ubuntu community is friendly and helpful, and you can usually find whatever question you have has already been asked (and answered) by someone before.
  • Popularity - Ubuntu is a popular Linux distrubtion, which means a lot of people are not only using it, but also contributing to it.
  • Variety - there's a number of different Ubuntu versions. Of note are Edubuntu (preloaded with software useful in schools), Mythbuntu (comes with MythTV already installed, so you can turn your computer into a media center), Kubuntu (comes with KDE instead of Gnome), and Linux Mint (has a few nifty things preinstalled, such as the ability to play commericial DVD's. It also comes with some tools exclusive to Mint).
  • Hardware Support - it works with all the hardware in my computer.

So readers, why did you choose the operating system(s) you use now?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Connecting to RPI Wireless

There's two ways to connect to the wireless at RPI: VPN or 802.1x. As the school is moving away from using VPN, you may just want to set up the 802.1x. However, if you ever use the external connection option to connect to RPI from offcampus, you'll probably want to set up the VPN anyway.

VPN Method

Install vpnc and network-manager-vpnc.
In terminal:
$sudo apt-get install vpnc network-manager-vpnc
or use Synaptic Package Manager.

Left click on the network icon in your system tray, go to the entry "VPN Connections, and select "Configure VPN". Go to the VPN tab and click "Add". In the dropdown menu that appear, select "Cisco Compatible VPN (vpnc)" and click "Create".

Fill out the connection information as follows. You can put whatever you want for the connection name. Fill in your username and password, or leave these blank for extra security (i.e. if other people have access to your computer and you're worried they'll be able to get your password) in which case you'll be prompted to enter them every time you connect to VPN.

Click "OK" and now you're all set. If you'd like to add an entry for RPI External (needed to access things like Matlab from offcampus), add another entry with the same information, but use "" as the gateway instead of "".

To connect to the VPN wireless network on campus, you'll need to select "Connect to Hidden Wireless Network" under the network manager system tray icon and tell it to connect to

Once connected to the wireless network on campus (or connected to the internet if you're doing external), you can connect via vpn by once again going to the "VPN Connections" item via the system tray icon and clicking the VPN you'd like to connect to.

When you first connect, you'll be prompted to "Allow application access to keyring". I selected "Always Allow".


Select the rpi_802.1x network from network manager. It should prompt you to configure the connection. Select "LEAP" for the security, and then enter your RCS userid and password.

Update: Upon further use, neither LEAP nor MSCHAPv2 have been working, and previous success may have been due to the network not having any encryption running accidentally. At this point, I don't know of a way to connection to the RPI 802.1x from Ubuntu.

Update Mar 30, 2009: You can now connect to the 802.1x with the following settings: Security - Dynamic WEP, Authentication - PEAP, PEAP Version - Version 0, Inner Authentication - MSCHAPv2

Related Links:
VPNC from RPI Help Desk