Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I bought a discounted IBM T42 ThinkPad and installed Ubuntu on it. I decided that I would try to get switched over to Linux (for now) before I headed off to OSCON later this week. It was amazingly easy to install and wifi, suspend and various hardware goodies seem to work. I still haven't gotten my printer set up or my DVDs to play... Anyway, we'll see if I'll be able to make this trip without bringing my PowerBook.


ubotu: tell joiito about restrictedformats

Look at the Unofficial Starter Guide, too - it explains how to install just about everything you'd need.

You might notice that Japanese fonts look awful with the stock configuration, but don't worry! With some (relatively) simple tweaking, it's possible to get OS X-quality rendering. I've been intending to write a How To about it for a while, but I'm in the process of transferring my website to a new server and CMS, so it's been sidelined a bit. Drop a line to my email and I'll send an explanation.

just one question: why?

Yes, Walk don't run to RestrictedFormats.

printer - install cups and that'll take care of itself for most reasonably standard printers. Its got a fairly clunky (they could use some css) but quite usable web interface to manage printers.

dvd - restrictedformats, as the others said

oh - another thing. see if you can't migrate a set of ttf fonts for everything over and let your x font server pick it up .. that'll make it even more readable.

and if your X hasn't been fully tweaked yet

1. Download the ATI proprietory radeon drivers for linux (huge performance boost over the regular radeon opensource driver that'd normally get used)

2. Take a look at enabling "render" and "composite" for X - in your xorg.conf, near the top -

Section "Extensions"
Option "Composite" "Enable"
Option "RENDER" "Enable"

Thanks for all of the great tips! And thanks for everyone on IRC for helping too. We'll get this working yet. ;-)

The problem my printing is that I have a funky Fuji-Xerox C1616 which doesn't seem to want to talk to cups and lpd talks to it, but it doesn't seem to want to print. Even on OS X, you have to download a special driver for it. Maybe I should buy a more generic printer...

Boris> just one question: why?

Black plastic might be an aesthetically more pleasing background for stickers than aluminium ;-)

Well, according to the Fuji Xerox website, this printer has the following feature:

"Direct printing of PDF files using the Contents Bridge function. A user can send PDF files directly from their Windows® or Macintosh® (8.1-9.1 Power PC) to the printer. No printer driver or application required*(requires more than 128 MB) and compatible for PDF version Acrobat® 4 (PDF 1.2) and 128 bit Acrobat® 5"

This is actually a very handy features for what you're trying to do. So it should be possible to hack up a simple filter in Linux to make this work. Basically, you need to convert the outgoing print job into PDF, and then send the PDF to the printer. I am guessing that that printer is addressable using LPD or with samba. Obviously it's not gonna work easily if the printer is only set up for Appletalk.

You can find out more about making PDF's on linux with

Antoin: I think you're right. This is interesting. Yet another Yak to shave, but I think I'll try it. It looks about the right size of Yak to be challenging, yet doable by a noob like me.

All these hours and money spent just to forward a phone call?

Adriaan>All these hours and money spent just to forward a phone call?

Yes, but that phone call might be from you ;-)

> All these hours and money spent just to forward
> a phone call?

Yup. Fun, isn't it?

Don't be fooled!

The T42 is a older laptop and has very decent Linux support.

Unless the vendor goes out of there way to support Linux on their laptop from the start it's probably not going to work for about a year after the laptop is released.

IBM seems to have better support. Dell seems to always do crazy things with there ACPI and firmware which confuses Linux.

At least in my experience.

How can people say this is a waste of time or money. We are talking about building something that can be used as a small telephone exchange here, for less than 1500 dollars. The same thing would have cost you over USD 100,000 a few short years ago.

On a different note, finding an alternative to Microsoft on the desktop and for its Office applications that is more-or-less open will basically change the economics of the software business.

It's worth putting in a bit of time to be part of that, surely?

I also can see that Joi wants to keep close to the technology. That's a good idea. If you spend a lot of time flying around to conferences, you can forget that this is basically what it's all about.

Obviously, I must be missing something...

a) I thought you had an Asterisk server set up for you anyways. Why do you want it running on your personal portable computer?

b) Why in the world would a busy person like you spend a single second putsing with the timesuck that is Linux when pretty much 99% of what you want to do "just works" on the very system you have been using, and know inside out, for the last X years?

Don't get me wrong, Linux is awesome, yada yada yada (cue world's smallest violin)... but dammit Joi, you DO have better things to do than geek out, no? Do you really want to fuck with printer drivers and media players and "which model number Toshiba/IBM/NoName x86 hunk of plastic works best with Ubuntu"?

Seems highly counterproductive to me.


Boris apparently had a very traumatic experience with a 386 and a pile of slackware floppies a few years back... It scared away a lot of people for life.

Actually, pretty much everything works on Linux nowadays, looks pretty good and doesn't crash as often as OS X. (That is to say, "Less than infrequently.")

I've gotten hooked lately on Fedora Core, the free Redhat derivative. Installing is as easy as installing OS X. It has a program called Yum (available on lots of Linuxes) that makes installing and updating a joy. (Apt-get is much the same, for Debian heads...)

Of course, for a workstation, I use a Powerbook, but I could do everything on an old laptop with Linux, so that would be my next choice, ten choices above Windows.

> Boris apparently had a very traumatic experience
> with a 386 and a pile of slackware floppies a few
> years back... It scared away a lot of people for life.

My traumatic experience was with a debian install ("dselect endless loop") some years back.

After running away screaming and gibbering about tentacles, I went right back to slackware. I'm happy with it.

That's one reason I don't touch debian. The other reason's here -

Boris: I need to understand how hard/easy it is since I'm going to have to talk about Open Source more and more. I can't really talk about it if I'm not using it myself...

Joi: Understood, although it wasn't clear from your blog entries since they mostly referred to call forwarding. It's like you were planning a spam hub ;)

I'm just pointing out that it seems odd reasoning to me...

Jim: no, I have an aversion to having to jump through more than a reasonable amount of hoops to get something done. Granted I haven't looked recently, but my experience thus far has been spending hours hunting though horrifyingly unfriendly web sites trying to find "small piece X, loosely joined to Y" just to do some basic thing, which OS X does out of the box (and don't ask me for an example...) ;)

Joi: there is tons of Open Source Software on OS X. Remember: it's BSD...

I absolutely do NOT intend to slam Linux and OSS. I do totally appreciate it and it's existence and undeniable value. My point is merely that for someone who just wants to get stuff done without shaving a hundred yacks, AND has the money to buy a Mac, I don't see the value proposition in terms of time investment. Not to mention nerves.

Furthermore, understanding how hard/easy something is, is 100% relative and subjective. What you find easy, I may find hard, and vice versa. For you to play with OSS on Linux does not give you much of a reliable idea of how someone else may find it. And there again, playing is one thing, migrating platforms for day-to-day use is entirely another.

Again, just saying. It just doesn't make sense to me. But then, that's relative too... ;)

And to pick up on Suresh's last comment, you thought Windows vs Mac religious wars were bad? Checkout all the various Linux distributions *cough* cults *cough* and how proponents of each swear up, down and backwards on their particular flavor, each with their own installer mechanisms and Window Servers and UI yadda yadda. It's a horribly opinionated monstrosity of a nightmare!

"I use Debian! I hate Debian! SUSE all the way! Mandrake! Fedora Core! Gentoo! Gentoo! Ubuntu will save the world!"

And let's .. not.. even mention what they all think of BSD.

Again, I am VERY happy it all exists and is out there and yes it's changing the world (like everything we create), but I am even MORE happy that I don't have to use any of it. Amen hallelujah!


Oh, I love bsd, and been running freebsd on my personal server for quite some time. Slackware seems to me about as close to bsd as a linux can ever get in terms of stark, beautiful simplicity and "just works" behavior. No wonder the new Mac is a bsd at heart (i'm not even going near the licensing aspect of mac os being possibly linux based, with a 20 foot pole!)

But for Joi at least, its a fun experience, getting hands dirty on this stuff, to produce something that doesnt have anywhere near the slick desktop feel of a mac (hell, even of windows xp) sometimes. I still use it on a desktop because I like it - but my gnome 2.10 has a mac'ish skin / theme on it, me being too damn cheap to go buy a real mac.

Here's an oldish article I wrote on that - be gentle, and dont bust a gut laughing, it was way back in 2001. But my "choosing linux like you'd buy a car" idea heavily channeled Neal Stephenson's "In the beginning was the command line" essay (though I hadn't read it till my friend Udhay Shankar pointed me to it after reading the article).

Pasting my "linux like buying a car" article entirely below as I just pulled off google cache .. it was written for a linux "portal" that went bust quite a while back, so the original link is now kind of unavailable.

Choosing a Linux Distro

By Suresh Ramasubramanian
Posted: ( 2001-03-07 04:50:09 EST by )

You have made up your mind to install Linux. The question then is where can you get Linux. And once you figure that out, you realize that there's no such thing as a single `Linux' - there are dozens of varieties (distributions) of Linux. That leads to another question -- How does one choose from the many `Linux_distro_' (common jargon for distribution) available in the market?
This is somewhat like asking "How does one choose a car?" You ought to know a few basic things about Linux, just like "engine", "mileage" and "dashboard gadgets" are essential to choosing a car. Discussing these can go deep into geek-land. So, to keep it simple, let's compare a Linux distro to a car.


The kernel is as important to Linux as an engine is to a car. It runs your Linux; doing stuff like helping other programs access your hardware, sharing your computer's processor between various programs and other such. Just like a car's engine, the Linux kernel keeps getting better with new additions like new security features, support for more hardware and hence more bang for your buck. Excellent, considering that the kernel (like Linux) comes absolutely free.

So when you pick a distribution, go for one that offers you a comparatively recent kernel. Though kernel 2.4.1 is out, most current versions of various Linux distributions will give you some version of 2.2.16 or 2.2.17. Don't install any distro that has an older kernel. If you do, upgrade the kernel immediately.

Operating system programs

We compare these to the chassis, gears and transmission in a car. Without them, the engine (or the kernel) wouldn't be of any use to you. These OS level programs (various servers which handle your mail, web and other services, the "LILO" bootloader, etc.) harness the power of the kernel for you.

User level programs

Now that you have all that you need for a basic car (steering wheel, gears, engine, etc etc), you need to find stuff which will give you a great comfortable ride, like white-wall tyres, comfortable leather upholstery on the seats and such. In the case of Linux, stuff like browsers (from the text-based lynx to graphical ones like Netscape/Konqueror), mail user agents (pine, mutt, Netscape), word processors (Star Office, Abiword), text editors (vi, pico, emacs) etc.

Window managers

A window manager is somewhat like the dashboard and steering wheel of your car. If you want something fancy, with lots of point and click and a windows style "WYSIWYG" (What You See Is What You Get) interface, then go for Gnome or KDE (which will make you feel at home if you just shifted from Windows or MacOS). Of course, if KDE and Gnome are a bit too heavy for your computer, you can switch to something lighter like IceWM, Blackbox etc. Your Linux CD will have several window managers available, and all of them are available for download off the Net.

A hardcore Linux junkie will prefer a powerful engine and transmission to a fancy interface and stick to the "command line" shell prompt. In the shell, you get things done by typing all sorts of (at first) obscure looking commands like cat, grep, rm, sed, awk, all with several dozen options each. It's your choice of course, but we warn you that the sheer power you experience using the shell prompt is somewhat addictive.

Back to "Distros"

Continuing the same "Linux is a car" note, we don't suppose you'd want to build a car yourself by buying an engine, a transmission, a chassis, nuts, bolts, a welding torch etc. etc ... you'd rather go to a few car dealers, check out the make and model you like and write a check. Here too, plenty of makes and models are available. The more famous ones are Red Hat, Mandrake, SuSE, Caldera, Slackware and Debian. Okay, so they are numerous. Don't fret, choosing from them is not so difficult.

First, see what you need in your distro. Ask yourself a few questions. Do you want it easy to install and packed with all kinds of programs to make maintenance easy? Do you want all the latest and greatest user software (lots of it)? If so, we would recommend Mandrake ( It's just like Red Hat (my second choice in this case), but has a far better user interface and configuration options. Mandrake is basically an enhanced and `prettied up' Red Hat. If you can get Caldera (, try it.

If, on the other hand, you want a server, you will need something which is secure and stable and which is not vulnerable to being broken into by hackers. Red Hat Linux (in a default install) is extremely vulnerable to being hacked, and needs a custom configuration (plus a lot of downloaded upgrades), before it is suitable for deployment as a server. Debian and Slackware are much better in that they give you a reasonably secure install (which is extremely easy to customize and "harden", i.e. increase security).

There is extensive documentation for the major Linux distro's (and better still, lots of personal experiences narrated by users) out there on the Web. will find a lot of it for you. Here's a brief comparison of the major Linux'.

Red Hat: It's pretty simple and easy to install. It is easily available, as several magazines (PC Quest and Chip, for example) have been distributing it in their CDs for the past few years. Also it has an easy but reputedly buggy config tool called Linuxconf.

Mandrake: As we said, it's a much prettier version of Red Hat - snazzy interface, easy install, and the full version comes bundled with recent versions of several excellent software. Lots of "drakes" help you with your config like, HardDrake, UserDrake etc.

Caldera: Extremely easy to install, configure and use (perhaps, easier than Mandrake), it makes an ideal desktop machine.

SuSE: This is a full-featured Linux (comes with a staggering amount of software, has an easy install/config app. called YaST). Highly recommended for both server and desktop use. Plus, as one of the SuSE members is closely associated with the XFree86 project, even the most obscure video cards (such as the infamous SiS 6215c) are supported in SuSE.

Slackware: This is simple and stripped down Linux at its purest. Shorn of all frills, is extremely user friendly, but (as the old joke goes), is very picky about choosing its friends. Slackware 7.1 has got quite a recent kernel and software versions though. Once you get to know it, it becomes a whole lot more user friendly. SuSE has its roots in Slackware, but is considerably more user friendly.

Debian: It's stated goal is "Free Software", as per the goals of the GNU project ( So its correct name is Debian GNU/Linux. Extremely powerful, its package management system (apt-get, dselect) and other features make it easy for you to upgrade your system. Debian's stated belief in free software also means that you won't get any commercial software in Debian, whereas the commercial versions (full, multiple CD packs) of other distributions include a lot of commercial software.


Now you can select Linux according to your requirement. This is the beauty of Linux. There are so many various kinds available that you can be sure to find one to suit your needs.

For a far more detailed article, try the Linux distribution howto by Eric S Raymond at
(Yes, he's the same "ESR" who wrote the fetchmail POP client and maintains the Jargon file. Take a look at for more).


"I absolutely do NOT intend to slam Linux and OSS ... but Why in the world would a busy person like you spend a single second putsing with the timesuck that is Linux? My experience thus far has been spending hours hunting though horrifyingly unfriendly web sites trying to find 'small piece X, loosely joined to Y' just to do some basic thing, which OS X does out of the box (and don't ask me for an example...)"

This could be reworded to be much shorter -

"I don't mean to slam Linux, but I think it's crap and you should think so too, because I must be right. But don't ask me why."

Jeez. Enough flaming from the peanut gallery already. He said the thing worked except for printing (which requires "putzing" in MacOS X too) and DVD playback, which doesn't work because the DVD Consortium require you to fork out for players and Ubuntu costs nothing.

Fluendo are planning on releasing a commercial (legal) native Linux DVD player sometime in the next year, at which point, you'll be able to get it just as easily as on any other OS.

Until then, getting DVD playback working simply requires installing some extra stuff. What's the big deal?

I just got a new box and was going to install the latest Fedora release on it and a neighbor apologized to me. I asked him why he was apologizing, he said he felt bad for me that I would be using that distro. This is from a non-Linux user. He told me his horror story with Fedora, and his savior in the form of some other distro. I have used a lot of different distros, and you begin to cultivate a zen like compassion towards all things, living and mechanical, when you take into account that there are jobs, and for those jobs there are tools, AND for those tools there are humans.

Life is learning, and sometimes time and effort may seem to be wasted for the greater good (read that as being a l33tx0r h4x0r_!!!1).

Ganbatte yo, Joi-chan!

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_ Joi Ito installs Ubuntu on a ThinkPad: I bought a discounted IBM T42 ThinkPad and installed Ubuntu on it. I decided that I would try to get switched over to Linux (for now) before I headed off to OSCON later this week. It was amazingly easy to inst... Read More

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