Sunday, 30 August 2009

Vinux 2.0 Release Notes!

Vinux is a specialist version of Linux optimised for visually impaired users. It is now based on Debian Lenny which currently provides a more stable platform to build an accessible distribution on than Ubuntu does. If you plan to try Vinux I recommend that you read all of the following information very carefully.

1. What features does Vinux offer? Vinux provides a screen-reader, full screen magnification and support for Braille displays out of the box. It can be run from the Live CD without making any changes to your hard drive. If you like it you can install it to a USB thumbdrive or to your hard drive either alongside Windows or as a complete replacement for it. There is also a virtual version available which can run Vinux as a guest operating system using VMWare Player on Windows. The main screen-reader/magnifier is called Orca and the Braille display is supported by Brltty. There is also a secondary screen-reader installed called Speakup, which is a console based screen-reader. This is aimed at more advanced users but can also provide a useful backup in the event of any problems. Vinux provides a wide range of open source software including an internet browser, a file manager, a text editor and various multimedia applications. Vinux is designed to be a completely secure modern desktop system for all the family, visually impaired and sighted alike.

2. How do I download and Burn Vinux? In order to try Vinux you need to download the iso image from the website and burn it to a CDR using an application that supports writing iso images to CD. An iso image cannot just be copied to a CD like an ordinary file. It is a complete image of CD and must be burnt with a suitable tool like Nero, Roxio, DeepBurner on Windows or with the file manager of any modern Linux distribution. Once burnt you place the CD in the drive and reboot your computer. Most computers are set to boot from a CD drive by default. If not you may have to modify the bios or press a key after powering on the computer. If for any reason the CD won't boot you should check the md5sum of the iso image you downloaded and the CD itself to make sure it wasn't corrupted during the download or burning process.

3. Why is the Live CD slower than an installed system? The Live CD does not perform as well as an installed system and this is partly due to the fact that Debian is not really designed to be run from a live CD. This means that the system will be a lot more responsive and stable once installed to your hard drive.

4. What should I do if Orca crashes? If Orca crashes at anytime you can restart it by pressing ctrl+shift+o. Once the system is installed it is unlikely that Orca will crash, but if it does you must enter your admin password and press enter after pressing ctrl+shift+o.

5. How do I use the magnification? You can start or stop full screen magnification at any time by pressing insert+m while Orca is running. You can turn the Orca speech on or off by pressing insert+s and the colour inversion and cross hairs can be turned on or off by pressing insert+i and insert+c respectively. The magnification may be a little jerky on older computers in which case you may find using keystrokes to navigate produces a smoother response than using the mouse.

6. How do I use Braille? Brltty should start automatically when Vinux is booted. However Vinux currently only supports Grade 1 Braille on USB displays, which is fine for installing and navigating menus and applications etc but not ideal for reading at any length. I hope to add support for Grade 2 Braille and Serial Braille displays in a future version.

7. How do I launch applications? You can launch applications in one of three ways: You can press alt+F1 to open the main menu and then navigate the menus and sub-menus using the cursor keys. When you find the application you want press enter to launch it. You can press alt+F2, type the name of the application you want to launch then press enter, or you can open a terminal by pressing ctrl+alt+t, typing the command you want to run and press enter.

8. How do I change the default language and keyboard layout? The default language on the Live CD and the installed system is English. If you want a different language then you can start the installer from a terminal using 'sudo remastersys-installer gui intl' and this will allow you to choose a different language. You will of course need a working internet connection to download the new language packs. Alternatively you can modify the language settings manually after installation.

9. How do I run applications with root permissions? You can run administration applications from the menus with Orca support, but you will be asked to enter the administration password once the system is installed. However while you can run administration commands from the terminal on both the Live CD and an installed system using the 'sudo' command, in reality once the system is installed the 'sudo' command is actually being intercepted and being replaced with 'su -c'. This means that that you must enter the administration password when asked rather than your user password. You must also enclose any commands that require arguments in addition to the command itself in double speech marks if you use the 'sudo' command. I recommend that once you have installed the system you use 'su' to switch to root user rather than using 'sudo' to avoid confusion. This provides a higher level of security than adding an ordinary user to the sudoers file.

10. Why do some applications not work once Vinux is installed? As a consequence of the difference syntax required by 'sudo' and 'su -c' there are two items on the menus/panels which will only work on the Live CD and not the installed system. These are the 'Install Vinux to Hard Drive' and 'Restore Bootloader' launchers. I could fix this, but there isn't really any legitimate reason for running these on an installed system, because it is already installed and if it is running the bootloader doesn't need restoring either.

11. Does Vinux contain any non-free software? This version of Vinux contains some restricted multimedia codecs and non-free wireless firmware which may not be legal to download or distribute in countries in which software patents are enforceable.

12. Should I install updates when they are available? I have added and enabled the Debian Multimedia, Backports and Proposed Updates repositories which means you can install restricted multimedia codecs and newer versions of some packages if required. There are some newer versions of the installed wireless firmware drivers available, but I would not recommend installing any of these unless your existing setup doesn't work as when I installed these I lost access to the existing working wireless connection and could not restore it. Generally I would not advise you to update applications unless you are having problems or require specific new facilities etc as this will keep the system as stable as possible.

13. How do I use console mode? To switch to console mode and use Speakup you have to press ctrl+alt+F1 from the running Gnome session or the GDM login screen. You can then use Speakup to input commands from the console and read back any output generated. If you are running the Live CD you can start using Speakup straight away, if you do this from an installed system you need to login in the normal way. To switch back to the graphical desktop press alt+F7 or alt+F2-F6 to open more console sessions. Speakup is much faster and more stable than Orca and Speech-Dispatcher but it requires an indepth knowledge on the Linux command line to be used effectively.

14. What Keybindings does Vinux use? There are full lists of keystrokes for Vinux, Orca and Speakup in the Vinux folder in the Home directory. The Vinux keystrokes are only functional while running the Gnome Desktop, the Orca keystrokes are only functional while Orca is running and the Speakup keystrokes are only functional while in console mode. The Vinux keystrokes enable you to open various applications for example: A terminal with ctrl+shift+t, the Home directory with ctrl+shift+h and the internet browser with ctrl+shift+i. The Orca keystrokes enable you to control the accessibility settings for example: insert+right/left to increase/decrease the voice rate, insert+plus/minus to increase/decrease the magnification and insert+d/t to get the date/time. The Speakup keystrokes allow you to navigate the virtual terminal and control what is read while in console mode.

15. How do I boot and/or login to Vinux? When the Live CD starts to boot you will hear three audio beeps played by the system bell (if you have one). This means that the boot prompt is ready and you can either press enter to start the Live CD, or enter 'xforcevesa' for safe graphics mode or 'hd' to boot from the first hard drive instead. Once you have installed Vinux you will hear Espeak greet you when the GDM login screen is ready. This is not an interactive screen-reader, just a recording of Espeak, so it will not echo what you type. If you enter a legitimate username and password you will be told that the desktop is starting. If not you will be asked to enter your username and password again. When the desktop starts Orca will greet you with 'Welcome to Orca'.

16. Why is the desktop layout different from other Linux distributions? If you are partially sighted you will notice that Vinux has a radically different desktop layout to most other distributions. The panels are all on the left side of the screen instead of the top and bottom, and there are three panels not two. These three panels with extra large icons provide simple one click access to the most commonly used applications and computer settings etc. They also allow users to make the best use of the available screen space on modern wide screen displays by providing the full depth of the screen for applications at all times. You can hide these panels by clicking on the buttons at the top and bottom, or use the full screen by pressing ctrl+alt+w in any application that supports full screen mode.

17. Why are some applications inaccessible? Vinux includes some programs that are inaccessible to speech users but are accessible to partially sighted users with the aid of magnification. For example Abiword (a word processing application) and Gnumeric (a spreadsheet application) are not really supported by Orca but they can be used with magnification, and in fact it is possible for someone using Orca to use them to open a Microsoft Office document and copy and paste it into Gedit (a text editor) for reading and editing. However the vast majority of applications included are fully accessible with Orca and/or Speakup.

18. Why are some applications missing? In order to fit Vinux on a single CD I have had to remove a large number of programs which are included in a standard Debian installation or Live CD. The most notable of these are Open Office; which provides a full office suite including word processing, spreadsheets, slide-shows, databases and graphics etc., and Evolution which provides a fully featured e-mail client. These applications and many others can easily be reinstalled once you have installed Vinux to your hard drive.

19. How do I install new software? There are three different ways to install new applications on your Vinux system. You can use the terminal, the Add/Remove Programs application or the Synaptic Package Manager. If you know the name of the application you want to install, the terminal is the easiest option. Open a terminal, switch to root by typing 'su' followed by your admin password and then type 'apt-get update' to update the available packages list. In order to install a new application just type e.g. 'apt-get install audacity'. To remove an application just type e.g. 'apt-get remove audacity'. If you don't know the name of the application or just want to see what is available you can use one of the other two GUI based applications. The Add/Remove Programs application offers a simple list of the most popular applications sorted by category. The Synaptic Package Manager lists all available applications (25,000+) and has a lot more options etc., but it can be a bit overwhelming for people new to Linux.

20. How did you create Vinux? There is a full step by step guide to building Vinux 2.0 from a standard Debian installation CD in the Vinux folder in the Home folder called "Roll Your Own Vinux.txt". By following these steps you can convert an existing Debian Lenny installation to Vinux. If you attempt to build your own version I recommend you follow the instructions in the order they are written otherwise some steps may not work. It takes approximately one full working day to complete all of the steps, test it and remaster to a Live CD presuming that nothing goes wrong. In practice things will inevitably go wrong and you may have to start all over again if you can't fix it - so proceed with caution and test everything as you go along.

21. What extra command line applications are included? There are a large number of useful text based tools installed on the CD for more advanced users which are not shown in the menus and have to be launched from the terminal. These include: Forensics Tools - testdisk, autopsy, dcfldd, foremost, scalpel, sleuthkit, gddrescue, wipe and ddrescue. Internet Based - lynx, urlview, irssi, alpine and ncftp. Miscellaneous Applications - units e3 mpg123 pdmenu partimage xzoom vlock sysv-rc-conf sc aumix joe mc tpp. If you want to learn how to use these applications type e.g. lynx --help' into a terminal to get a list of commands or e.g. 'man lynx' to read the manual.

22. How do I connect to a wireless network? Although you can launch all of the installed applications from the menus and/or a terminal you may want to navigate to the network manager applet on Panel 1 to view the list of available wireless connections and choose one to connect to. In order to do this you should press and hold ctrl+alt and then press tab until you hear Panel 1 and release the keys. You can then use the tab key or the cursor keys to find the network applet icon which is called 'icon'. there maybe two icons called 'icon' in the system tray, one is the battery and the other is the network manager applet. When you find the correct icon press enter and then use the cursor keys to browse the available networks. When you find the one you want press enter and then input the wireless network key if required. If you are comfortable using the command line then you can manage your network connections by using cnetworkmanager. Type 'cnetworkmanager --help' for a list of commands and arguments.

23. How do I install Vinux? There are two different ways to install Vinux. It can be installed to a standard hard drive either as a dual boot system or a stand alone system, or it can be installed and run from a USB thumbdrive. The 'Install Vinux to Hard Drive' launcher will allow you to partition your hard drive and install Vinux to it. You will need at least one Ext3 partition and one Swap partition to complete the installation. but you can have a separate Home partition if you want to. Installing Vinux to a computer as the only operating system is the easiest to do and involves the least risk. If you attempt a dual boot install and make a mistake you may lose your existing data, operating system and software, so make sure you have a backup of anything important before you try this. If you are not confident that you understand the process thoroughly then don't attempt this. It is easier and safer to install Vinux to an old computer or second hard drive to begin with, if you like it you can always install it to your main computer later on. The 'Install Vinux to USB' launcher allows you to install it to a USB thumbdrive. There are several stages to this process which must be followed in order. You have to pick the thumbdrive, format it with at least one FAT32 partition for the operating system and one Ext3 partition called 'live-rw' for persistent storage. You must also set the FAT32 partition flag to bootable. You can then copy the necessary files to the thumbdrive and activate the persistent storage. You may have to press a key or modify the bios settings if your computer doesn't automatically detect and boot from bootable USB drives if present.

24. Why does the Live CD take so long to boot and/or shut down? The Live CD takes quite a long time to boot and sometimes appears to be frozen, but it isn't, it will finish booting eventually. The Live CD also sometimes gets stuck when shutting down the computer after the CD draw pops out and you are asked to press enter. When you press enter the computer will sometimes lock up, this is caused by Speakup locking up and I haven't yet found a solution. If this happens then simply press and hold the power button to turn the computer off. If the Live CD ever locks up completely and won't respond to any input press and hold alt+PrintScreen then press s,u and then b in that order to reboot the computer.

25. Why is the console mode sometimes unavailable? I have noticed that after running the Live CD for a long time that sometimes I am unable to switch to console mode by pressing ctrl+alt+F1. If this happens simply press ctrl+alt+backspace to restart the GDM login screen and then press ctrl+alt+F1 again and you should then find yourself in console mode.

26. Why are there some icons misplaced or missing? Depending upon the resolution of your display some of the icons on the side panels maybe be out of position or even missing. These can be repositioned by right clicking on them, unchecking the 'lock to panel' box and then moving them back into position. If there are any missing icons you can replace them by right clicking on the relevant panel and selecting 'Add to Panel' and then selecting the missing icon.

27. Why is the screen resolution detected incorrectly? On some laptops you may find that the screen resolution in not correctly detected initially and you only get a slightly smaller display area in one corner of the screen. If this happens you will probably not be able to set the correct resolution while running from the Live CD, but I have found that after installation the resolution is then correctly detected and configured.

28. Do I need to use an anti-virus package? No, Linux is built in a completely different way from Windows, and each Linux distribution is different so in practise there are no Linux viruses in the wild and therefore you generally down't have to worry about computer viruses. This doesn't mean that you won't download viruses, just that they won't have any effect on your system. However you can pass them on to Windows users if you exchange files. You can of course still be hacked if you are not protected by a firewall so you should not be complacent but as the root password is required to make any significant changes to the system you are very well protected. In fact if you only download and install software from the official Debian repositories you are extremely unlikely to download any malware. If you are particularly paranoid you can download and install clamtk which will allow you to detect and isolate any potential viruses or malware. Of course if you are running the Live CD then you are totally secure because as soon as you switch the computer off it goes back to the way it was before you booted Vinux.

29. Why doesn't the clock show the correct time? There is a bug in the system clock which prevents you from changing the time manually, and installing the Network Time Protocol package does not fix this either. I suspect it is caused by a Daylight Savings Time configuration error but I haven't been able to fix it yet. If it bothers you I suggest that you simple delete it from the panel for now until a fix is found.

30. Why doesn't the Keyring Manager accept my password? I have set the default login keyring manager password to 'vinux' on the Live CD and this will be retained once it is installed. However the default keyring will only be loaded automatically if the password is the same as your login password. You can easily change the keyring manager password by opening the Encryption and Keyrings manager and changing the unlock password.