Installing Ubuntu on an HP Stream Mini PC

c04526282When I heard the news a few weeks ago that HP was introducing a cute little blue mini PC that would only cost $180, my first thought was, “I want one!” And when I heard that the Stream Mini would ship with Windows 8.1 preinstalled, my second thought was, “And when I get it the first thing I’m going to do is install Ubuntu on it.”

Easier said than done.

The actual process of installing Ubuntu is not difficult. The difficulty proved to be in simply getting the Stream Mini to boot from a USB stick.

tl;dr

The HP Stream Mini has UEFI boot. If you hit F12 at boot, you get the UEFI boot selector screen, but that’s no good because it won’t show the USB stick. For HP devices like this you need to hit F10 on boot to access the UEFI/BIOS configuration tools. From this point I trust you can find the settings to change the boot order. Just put your USB stick ahead of the hard drive in the order and you’re set.

Actually, I do prefer to read the whole thing, no matter how long it is

Now, for those of you who want the full story, here’s how it goes. I’ll say up front that I primarily use a Mac, so my instructions for preparing the USB stick are Mac-only.

Actually, not quite true. Most of what I’m describing is done at the UNIX command line, so for a UNIX/Linux system, the experience should be similar to this, but you don’t have to convert the .iso file. Also, for the first couple of steps I’m using the Mac-only command diskutil. The instructions on the Raspberry Pi page mentioned in step 2 use the generic UNIX equivalents.

For Windows… you’re on your own. It involves crappy third-party apps you have to download and, well, yuck. I started out all of this trying to get it set up using the Windows 8.1 install that came on the HP Stream Mini, but I quickly gave up and switched to my Mac. (The official Ubuntu docs have instructions for Windows that I read before giving up.)

Step 1: Download Ubuntu

There are many options (including other Linux distros), but if you’re undecided, you probably want to get yourself a copy of the latest version (or latest LTS [Long Term Support] version) of Ubuntu Desktop. Be sure to go for the 64-bit version. At the time of this writing, Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS is the latest and greatest.

Step 2: Prepare your USB stick

Déjà vu? No, I really have written about this before. More or less. While there are some minor differences, this is basically the same process I described for preparing an SD card with Raspbian for a Raspberry Pi using a Mac.

You can read the even lengthier details there, but basically, you want to:

1) Insert a USB stick (I recommend at least 2 GB, but who can even find one under 4 GB these days?) into a USB port on the Mac. Make sure you don’t care about losing all of the data on this USB stick, because you will.

2) Open Terminal and save yourself some extra typing in the immediate future by starting with: sudo -s

3) Type diskutil list and press Enter to see a list of volumes. Look for your USB stick and note what it says at the right under IDENTIFIER. There’s a good chance it’s going to be disk1s1 but it could be something else. You just need to know the disk1 part. Don’t worry about the s1. Remember this for later.

4) Unmount the disk. Enter this command: diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1 being sure to replace the 1 with whatever number you saw in the previous step.

5) Find your Ubuntu installer image. It’s probably in your Downloads folder. Type cd ~/Downloads and press Enter. Then type ls -al and look for the Ubuntu filename, which likely ends with .iso. You’re going to need to convert this into a .img file.

6) Run this command: hdiutil convert input.iso -format UDRW -o output.img but be sure to replace input.iso with the actual filename of your Ubuntu .iso file. You can also change output.img to whatever you want… or at least the output part. This is the filename for the new .img file.

7) Run ls -al again. Mac OS X probably “helpfully” stuck a .dmg extension on your .img file, so run this: mv output.img.dmg output.img replacing both instances of output as appropriate.

OK, now we are actually ready to write Ubuntu onto the USB stick. Run this command:

dd bs=1m if=output.img of=/dev/rdisk1

Be sure to use the correct name for your .img file, and the correct disk number in that rdisk1 bit. Note that the r I added stands for “raw” and it just makes the process go a bit faster.

Now, wait. It shouldn’t take too long, but it might be a minute or so. Once you get the # command prompt again, your USB stick is ready to go. You’ll probably also get a system dialogue box warning you that the disk you inserted is unreadable. Just ignore that. Remove the USB stick from your Mac and insert it into the (powered down) HP Stream Mini.

Step 3: Boot the HP Stream Mini and access the UEFI/BIOS configuration

With the USB stick in one of the HP Stream Mini’s USB ports, power on, then immediately press and hold (or, if you like, frantically tap repeatedly) the F10 key on your keyboard. This should bring up the UEFI/BIOS configuration tool.

hp01

First, go to the Storage menu and choose Boot Order. The dialogue below will appear.

hp02

I recommend disabling UEFI Boot Sources as shown here. Then under Legacy Boot Sources look for your USB stick (not shown here because I didn’t have one inserted when I took the photo). Follow the instructions in the lower right of the box to select and change the order of the boot devices. Make sure your USB stick is above Hard Drive in the list. Press F10 to confirm.

hp03

Now go to the File menu and choose Save Changes and Exit. The computer will now proceed to boot up from the USB stick.

Step 4: Run the Ubuntu installer

This is pretty straightforward. Unlike earlier Linux distributions, Ubuntu these days has a very polished installer program that should feel very familiar to anyone who’s ever installed Windows or Mac OS X on a computer before. There are several steps such as picking your language, location and keyboard layout, but just follow the on-screen instructions and wait for the process to complete, which in my experience took about 20 minutes.

After installation is complete, the system will ask you to reboot, then remove the USB stick and press Enter. Follow those instructions and in less than a minute you should be up and running with a clean install of Ubuntu!

The Raspberry Pi Arcade Project, Part 3: Get Raspbian

Now that you have your Raspberry Pi and assorted accessories, it’s time to get it up and running. The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a hard drive… that’s what the SD card is for. The Raspberry Pi includes an ARM CPU, so in principle any operating system that has been ported to the ARM architecture should be able to run on it.

In practice… I’m already in over my head trying to explain CPU architectures. But you don’t need to know anything about that to get your Raspberry Pi running. Several “flavors” of Linux have been ported and modified specifically to work well with the Raspberry Pi but the gold standard is Raspbian, a variant of the popular Debian distro, and the preferred choice for starting out on the Raspberry Pi. If you really know what you’re doing and have very specific requirements, other OSes may be preferable over Raspbian, but if you just want to get your Raspberry Pi up and running with a stable, easy-to-use Linux, Raspbian is the way to go.

Get Raspbian

The first step in setting up Raspbian is to download it. This of course assumes you have another computer to download the disk image to. Any Windows, Mac or Linux PC should do. The key is having a PC with an SD card slot, because you’ll need to use it to get Raspbian onto the SD card.

If you don’t have a PC with an SD card slot, or you just don’t want to mess around with it, you can buy an SD card preloaded with Raspbian for not much more than the cost of the card itself. Note that the preloaded SD cards are probably only going to be 4 GB however, not the 16 GB card I recommended in Part 2 of this series.

Assuming you’re going to install Raspbian yourself, the first thing you need to do is download it. This download link includes a few other options for different OSes that will also work on the Raspberry Pi, so if you are inclined to ignore my advice, check them out!

Install Raspbian on Your SD Card

Once you have Raspbian downloaded, you’ll need to install it on your SD card. The process for doing this varies depending on whether you’re on Windows, or using a UNIX-based OS like Mac OS X or Linux. More detailed Windows instructions are available on the download page I linked to above. Being a die-hard Mac user, I am going to describe the Mac/Linux process, which I recommend doing at the command line.

1. Insert the SD card into your SD card slot.
This should be fairly self-explanatory. On most MacBook Pro’s the SD card slot is on the side near all of the other ports; on other Macs like my Mac mini, it’s in the back. Not all Macs have an SD card slot, e.g. the MacBook Air. If your computer doesn’t have an SD card reader, USB add-ons are available.

2. Open Terminal and become a superuser.
If you’ve never used Terminal before… well, to be honest, if you’ve never used Terminal before, this whole project is going to be a bit of a challenge. But solider on! Terminal is located in your /Applications/Utilities folder. It’s your way to access the command line on the Mac. You’re going to be doing some things that require root (“superuser”) access. The “safer” way to do this is to prepend any of those commands with sudo but I prefer not to mess around with that. Type sudo -s Enter to enter superuser mode. Note the command prompt will change from $ to #. Now you can do some real damage. Consider yourself warned. (And do not, under any circumstances, type rm -Rf / ever. For real.) Proceed at your own risk, or just prepend commands with sudo along the way if the system says you don’t have permission.

3. Identify your SD card in the filesystem.
In Terminal, type df Enter. You’ll get a list of all of the disks (“volumes”) on your Mac. You’re looking for the SD card. The name it displays in the Finder will be shown in the far right column, “Mounted on”. But you need to know what its name is in the “Filesystem”, the far left column. On my Mac mini it comes up as /dev/disk2s1. You don’t need to worry about the s1 part; that’s the partition. We just need the disk number, e.g. /dev/disk2. Make note of this for future reference. Now you need to unmount the volume so you’ll be able to write to it. Take a look at the disk name under “Mounted on” (starting with /Volumes/). Type umount -f [disk name] Enter, replacing [disk name] with exactly what was listed under “Mounted on.” Important: if there are any spaces, you’ll need to edit the name and put that portion, between slashes, in quotation marks. For example, if the name is /Volumes/My Awesome SD Card you’ll need to type umount -f /Volumes/"My Awesome SD Card" instead. And if this doesn’t work, check here for another tip on unmounting the volume.

4. Identify your Raspbian disk image.
Now you want to switch to the directory where your downloaded Raspbian disk image is. This is likely to be the Downloads folder in your home directory. If so, then in Terminal you’ll type cd ~/Downloads Enter. Then type ls -al Enter to see a list of the files in this directory. You’re looking for one with a .img file extension. In my case it’s 2013-02-09-wheezy-raspbian.img. If you don’t see that, but you see something similar with a .zip extension, you just need to unzip it. Type unzip [filename] Enter (using the real filename, of course) and then type ls -al Enter again, and you should see another file with the same name but ending in .img. That’s the one.

5. Write the image to the SD card.
Now that you know the name of your Raspbian disk image and the disk you’re writing to, you can run the dd command to copy the image over. This command includes a lot of different options for setting the block size, etc. The kinds of technical details about computers most of us haven’t thought about since the early days of MS-DOS, if ever. In my experience these settings don’t appear to matter here, however, as I was able to prepare my SD cards with only the basic parameters of if (input file) and of (output file). Here’s the command I would use in my exact situation. Adjust your if and of according to your results of steps 3 and 4 above.

dd if=2013-02-09-wheezy-raspbian.img of=/dev/disk2

Then hit Enter and… wait.

And wait.

And wait.

This is the command line. You will get no feedback that any progress has been made, or that anything is happening at all. So just leave Terminal open and go about your business. Some substantial amount of time later (in the realm of a half hour, in my experience), the process will have completed, and you’ll get your command prompt again. That’s how you know it’s done. Now, go back to the comfortable confines of the Finder and see if the SD card is showing up as a mounted volume. If it is, eject it. Now you can take out the SD card and insert it into your Raspberry Pi. You’re ready to power up!

Next time… powering up your Raspberry Pi with Raspbian for the first time.

The uncomfortable marriage of the UNIX command line and Mac GUI, and its implications for my sudoers file

I’m a longtime Mac user. A “power user,” you might say. Not so much a power UNIX user, though I do a fair bit of Linux-based command line tomfoolery as part of my job.

But things get ugly when the two come together. At the command line I am a bit too inclined to treat my Mac like a Linux server. It may have UNIX at its core, but it’s not Linux. And Apple has put some effort into de-UNIX-ing it as well. Things you expect to work don’t work the way you expect them to. (Yes, I just wrote that sentence. See what this is doing to my brain???)

For reasons I don’t care to get into, I decided today that I needed to modify the sudoers file on the studio’s Mac mini file server. And in my own inimitable and slightly stupid way, I handled this task as I typically do anything involving changing buried system files, not by struggling through using a command line text editor, but by copying the file to my desktop (where it is magically released from the prison of UNIX file permissions in which Apple has… uh… imprisoned hidden UNIX system files). I edited the file and put it back in the /etc folder where it belongs.

Only problem: in the process, the file’s ownership and permissions got changed. No problem, I thought. I’ll just sudo that sucker. Only problem is, when the permissions on the sudoers file aren’t what the system expects them to be, it doesn’t let anybody sudo anything.

Well… crap.

But then I remembered… Mac GUI solutions to the rescue! I opened up Disk Utility and ran “Repair Disk Permissions.” Problem solved! Apple has saved me from myself.

Now I can go back to my delusion that I am a power user.

Ubuntu hits the big time, for real this time

Ubuntu LinuxI just finished installing Ubuntu Linux 9.04 on my MacBook under Parallels Desktop. In the past, I’ve ventured boldly into the realm of triple-boot configurations to allow my Mac to run Mac OS X, Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. But that involves modifying firmware and overriding the standard boot process, plus splitting your drive into 3 partitions and reciting dark incantations by the light of the full moon whilst drinking the blood of a calf slain with a silver blade.

Well OK, not that last bit. I’m not sure where that comes from (oh right, that was the part about installing Windows on the Mac). But suffice to say, while it certainly could be done, setting up triple-boot was not for the faint of heart, and once it was working, the question of whether it was all worth it loomed large. And no, I cannot think in non-clichés tonight.

When I got my new MacBook a couple months ago, I decided my days of triple boot were over. I was just going to go by the book (see what I mean?) and use Boot Camp. Well, sort of by the book. Never one to take the easy road, I wasn’t just using Boot Camp, but also running Parallels Desktop. And while you certainly can run a valid Boot Camp installation of Windows XP with an OEM license (the cheapest way to go, courtesy of Newegg.com) both directly via Boot Camp and also with Parallels, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy for you. It involves calling an automated Microsoft support line, and reciting dark incantations by the light of the full moon — I mean reciting a 48-digit number displayed on your screen, answering four simple questions asserting that you have only installed Windows on one computer and you would never, ever, ever, ever lie to Microsoft or Steve Ballmer will bite the head off a live goat and put it in your bed while you sleep, and then typing in a new 48-digit number the automated system recites back to you, while it slays a calf with a silver blade, yadda yadda.

Now where was I?

Oh yeah, Ubuntu. A new version of Ubuntu Linux is released every six months, the latest version, 9.04 (so named for being released in April 2009, get it?), having arrived on the world’s virtual doorstep earlier this week. Ubuntu releases all have clever, alliterative codenames too. This one is Jaunty Jackalope. I’ve been following Ubuntu (via the triple-boot ritual) since Gutsy Gibbon (7.10), through last year’s releases of Hardy Heron (8.04) and Intrepid Ibex (8.10), the latter of which powers this website, thanks to Slicehost.

I’ve been more and more impressed with each release of Ubuntu, as the Ubuntu development team has polished the user experience — especially the once-nightmarish installation process — and as the GNOME team has simultaneously polished the desktop software most Ubuntu users live in day-to-day. While I’m still a die-hard Mac lover, I’ll admit Microsoft has been making major improvements with its GUI design (despite other notorious issues) with Vista, and Ubuntu/GNOME has been getting better and better with each new release as well. But I really feel like 9.04, Jaunty Jackalope, has finally crossed the line where Ubuntu Linux now feels to me every bit as polished, professional, usable and pleasing as a commercial OS. The installation process is far easier, and faster, than a Windows installation, and the overall experience of the interface is clean, intuitive, and responsive.

So it occurs to me, even in this age of netbooks and Microsoft’s (and to a much lesser extent, Apple’s, at least where the Mac is concerned — iPhone is definitely their top focus these days) recent floundering, while Linux, Ubuntu in particular, is making inroads, it’s still just not going to be embraced wholeheartedly as a viable desktop alternative.

Why is that? Well, obviously Microsoft doesn’t want that to happen. Linux really much more of a threat to Microsoft than it is to Apple. Even though all three OSes can run on Macs, people as a rule just aren’t buying Macs to not run Mac OS X. I’m sure it happens but… really… why? So the major hit to commercial OS developers comes when a user buys a non-Apple computer and decides to install and use Linux (Ubuntu or otherwise) as their primary/sole OS instead of Windows. So even as Linux, and the world of free, high-quality software that comes with it, reaches maturity, and Microsoft gives us an OS that is best known as the butt of jokes (not to mention viruses and malware of all sorts), why aren’t more people switching?

Ultimately there must be some software that users are relying on for Windows that they just can’t get for Linux. It’s the same argument often leveled against Macs: “not enough software.” It’s a straw man argument. Sure there is vastly more software written for Windows than for the other OSes, but 99.9% of that Windows-only software is: a) highly specialized tools for specific industries, b) utter crap, or usually c) both. Especially when we’re talking about consumer software, whatever it is you want to do can be done just as easily on Windows, Mac or Linux. The software exists. Often between Macs and Windows it’s the same software, ported from one OS to the other or developed concurrently. With Linux it’s usually open source alternatives that are every bit as feature-rich as their commercial counterparts.

Linux has decent free options for managing photos, listening to MP3s, editing video, and all of the office tasks covered by iLife and iWork on the Mac, or by Microsoft Office and the parade of unimaginatively named Microsoft tools or OEM add-on crapware that generally comes preinstalled on Windows PCs.

Except one.

No disrespect to the developers of GIMP, but the one software program Linux absolutely needs in order to be taken seriously as a desktop OS is Photoshop. That’s it. Once Adobe stops wasting its time writing terrible custom installers and decides instead to devote those resources to porting Creative Suite to Linux, it will be all over. Windows will never go away, I’m sure, but it will be reduced to a niche OS: it will live on mainly to support legacy point-of-sale systems and industrial fabrication applications and the other arcane and ugly commercial applications that companies generally deployed in huge numbers back in the Windows NT 3.51 era and have left untouched for more than a decade.

Adobe, it’s all up to you. You owe the world a karmic debt after Bridge.

Barack Obama: the open-source candidate?

Now we’re speaking close to my heart. Granted, I’m a freeloader in the open source world. I have yet to contribute a single line of code to an open source project. (OK, I guess that’s not entirely true: I did write a WordPress plugin. Sweet. I’m in the club! Sort of.) But I have wholly embraced open source software in my work. PHP FTW, baby! (Uh yeah… whatever.)

These days the only thing I’m a more enthusiastic and outspoken proponent of than open source software is Barack Obama. So I’m surprised it took me so long to research what he’s running his website on.

Linux PWS/1.3.28

*Whew* Glad to see it’s Linux. But what the heck is PWS? I was at a loss. Then I found this blog talking about the very same issue. And suddenly it made sense why I didn’t recognize the acronym. I never would have considered Microsoft’s Personal Web Server to be the web server of choice running on a Linux server. I am still scratching my head at it. The whole VM thing seems the only logical explanation, except that there’s no logic to explain it. At least it’s not so transparently ass-backwards as John McCain’s configuration:

Linux Microsoft-IIS/6.0

And the inexplicable:

Linux ECAcc (lhr)

Interestingly, though, a Google search for “ECAcc (lhr)” reveals a link to a Digg post entitled John McCain Owns VoteForTheMILF.com. Stay classy, San Diego.

Let’s be clear: I think the idea of running a web site under Windows in a virtual machine on a Linux box is the most incomprehensible, mind-bogglingly stupid arrangement you’d ever bother with. I’d have to guess that the sites were developed to run in a Windows environment, but when it came time to deal with practical server and network capacity issues, load balancing and whatnot, some sysadmin made the (probably prudent) decision to load balance on Linux boxes instead of Windows, but since the site was tied to some feeble Windows technology, they couldn’t just move it over to Linux wholesale.

But let’s take this a step further. Back in late spring I received an email from Barack Obama’s IT director soliciting applicants for web developer positions with the campaign. Even though the job was in Boston, I figured it would be insane not to apply, so I submitted my resume. (I never heard back, for what it’s worth.) And it’s from this that I happen to know that the campaign was specifically seeking PHP developers. Rock on.

With that in mind, the whole Windows-on-Linux-through-VM arrangement made even less sense. Why would they develop the site in PHP, run it on a Windows server (definitely not the optimal arrangement for a PHP-based app, though it certainly will work), and then VM that Windows environment on a Linux box, instead of just gearing the PHP app for a Linux server in the first place? And that’s when I remembered that just earlier in the day I had been looking at taxcut.barackobama.com. Of course! Separate third-level domains are all over Obama’s site. Let’s check the configuration on that domain. Now that’s much better:

Linux Apache/1.3.34 (Debian) mod_gzip/1.3.26.1a AuthMySQL/4.3.9-2 PHP/5.2.0-8+etch10

And I think it explains a lot. Campaigns start off small. Obama had to register barackobama.com and put something up there ages ago, long before he was the Democratic nominee and the hugely successful fundraiser he became along the way. So that original site, www.barackobama.com, was probably developed on a Windows box in someone’s proverbial basement, probably when was running for the U.S. Senate or maybe even the Illinois Senate. But as the campaign has grown, its websites (plural) have grown as well, and in a decidedly open-source direction. There’s some good stuff in there. Debian (which could mean Ubuntu, too… I haven’t checked the signature on Ubuntu’s Apache package to see if it’s split from its Debian roots), PHP (and a reasonably up-to-date version at that), MySQL, etc.

It’s kind of fun to do this kind of research, as long as you don’t mind being distracted along the way, because there are plenty of weird sources of distraction.

Aside from the aforementioned MILF site (classy), and the somewhat interesting fact that searching on “PWS/1.3.28” brings back as its first result a reference to Obama’s hosting, I discovered that for some reason the page title on John McCain’s official store is “Independent Online Stores.” OK. No one looks at title bars. And even fewer web developers look at <title> tags. I know that from experience. But of course that’s just a transitional landing page, announcing that McCain wares are not actually sold by the campaign, but by independent, for-profit companies, and buying these items doesn’t translate into money going back into the campaign. Huh. I can’t quite wrap my brain around that, but I’m a lifelong, union-loving Democrat, so I guess I wasn’t meant to. The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe it has to be that way, legally, now that he’s accepted public campaign financing. Anyway, the first McCain store link I found, which as they state is apparently an independent operation not affiliated with the campaign, is, not surprisingly, running:

Windows Server 2008 Microsoft-IIS/7.0

I also found that the company that hosts some of Obama’s pages also hosts a site for the American Model Yachting Association. Really? Model yachting? That exists?