Archive for août 2006

Keyboard layout and deceptive GUI

août 19, 2006

I have buyed a PC in Germany with a QWERTZU keyboard, though I rather like the AZERTY keyboard. And since this PC was a refund from a German school, his keyboard wasn’t in a good state. Unfortunately I didn’t have found an AZERTY keyboard until today, so I had installed Ubuntu with the original keyboard, hence, the German layout is the default setting.

Today, I wanted that Ubuntu catches my new keyboard. I was in the same situation with my Fedora Core 1 some time ago, but Fedora had detected the change itself. So I expected the same magic with Ubuntu but it wasn’t. Hopefully the preferences setting has everything for that, as shown below (in French)


I’ve tried almost everything: removing the German layout, setting as default my layout, keeping the both and playing with their order. I’ve restarted several times, I’ve even put the corresponding applet in the menu bar. Nothing until I look in Gconf. There, I unchecked the OverrideSetting key’s box and everything works. So, why an interface for a set of purposes is provided if it depends to an other interface ? May be it’s a bug, that wasn’t the intention of the Gnome’s developers, I don’t know. But it could be an undocumented point as well, something which would better have been mentionned in the GUI. Sure, that gives the feeling of a slapdash work, but it’s better than letting the user disappointed. Otherwise, the GUI is deceptive. The things go in the same way with the applet. As shown below, the « Fra » means that the French layout is selected and active.

Well, not exactly. Once again that depends to the layout order as one can see in the first picture. One changes the order with the up and down arrows but what’s the logic here ? is it to set a kind of priority ? If yes, does it start at the top or the bottom ? I’ve just noticed that if one puts the French layout at top, the applet works wrong side up: « Fra » actives the German layout indeed.

What I See Is What I Get, I know that this concept is about printing and output but one can extend it about GUI: I see or select « Fra » and I « get » the French keyboard layout. And that doesn’t even work if the OverrideSetting key is turn on, of course.

Transferring graphics stuff from the PC to the monitor

août 18, 2006

Sometime the innovation comes from a re-organization, not from a new technology. Why a monitor wouldn´t have a graphics card inside it rather than in the PC ?
One takes a monitor and removes its board; from the computer one takes the graphics card and puts its stuff on the monitor board as shown below.


Then, one has something which could be called a graphics board and one places it in the monitor in a removable way as a graphics card. Thus one can upgrade the monitor or save the graphics board if the screen takes a hit.


This is the general idea which certainly has a lot of technical involvements. The first implication is the choice of the link between the monitor and the computer : USB, Firewire or Ethernet ?


USB is widely known and supported, Firewire is as well supported but on mid or higher-end PC. Nonetheless, both have a bandwidth limitation over the distance. Ethernet is better on this point and even a low-end PC has a T-100 Ethernet port, moreover that opens some network capacities. This choice involves a micro-controller or a low power CPU to support the TCP/IP stack. So, in the end, the graphics board has some similarities with a thin-client.
Does one need to add something on the PC side ? Personally I don´t know, though, that could be handle by a driver : either a new graphic driver, either an additional driver which makes the bridge. Frankly, my concern is rather about the BIOS since it should be able to catch the monitor through Ethernet. One has the same problem with USB keyboard and mouse on workstation, they´re not detected at boot, hence one cannot access to the BIOS setup. I have seen some console which leads to the BIOS after the boot, but it´s not a real solution. This is the downside of this new organisation and there are maybe some others, though, what are the benefits ?

Concerning the cost, it would be a little bit higher than the cost of a graphic card, but that´s not sure. One doesn´t make a big saving upon the connectors but the Bill Of Material is simplified since one would just need some Ethernet connectors and gears, and then one benefits from the economy of scale. That´s true for the graphics board maker as well as for the motherboard maker. Moreover the latter better has to build two RJ45 on-board, one for the network and one for the monitor; otherwise that would imply a switch which is not a good argument of selling for an OEM. So in the end, the overall cost could be reduced.
In fact this organization brings some new opportunities. Since the graphics board is removable, this allows the offer of a standard monitor case on the market, thus giving more room for the OEMs. Chipset and graphics card makers can invest the monitor market or use it to enlarge their offers. Motherboard makers get more flexibility in their design, for low-end PC this transfer is the more profitable and for mid or higher-end one can arbitrate upon the number of PCI slot.


Some opportunities are also given to ISPs and content carriers since the monitor relies on Ethernet. Hence, either the DSL box get more gears to drive the monitor, either the latter becomes a terminal, though it could be a mix as well. And since one can get the TV through the net, it´s also an opportunities for TV maker.

There are also some technical benefits. On the PC side the overall heat is obviously reduced and the graphics gears get a better cooling since there are in a separate case. Thus, in some case, one could avoid the use of a fan and then the overall noise could be reduced. As well one saves a little bit in power consumption. PC could be more compact, especially low-end computer which could gain in graphics power. It´s true as well for virtual or emulated machine which can not exploit plainly the host machine´s hardware. The main benefit indeed is that computers and graphics gears could be more independent.

What does your ISP with your ID and password ?

août 17, 2006

For your ISP these data aren´t a secret since he notifies them to you. But what does « ISP » mean ? Is it a set of trusted employees or a galaxy of external suppliers out of control ?

I came to these questions when I was reached by phone for a broadband offer. The commercial do his speech and at one moment he starts to check my identity asking to me if my ID and my password are really mine ! Of course this offer come from my ISP, so I should not be surprised. But I´m not sure that my ISP performs his marketing offer in his wall, or whether he has delegated the task to some external call center. I think that the latter is most likely true.

The real point here is that requiring credentials for an identity checking isn´t necessary.

My password in clear

août 17, 2006

With Gnome, the login proceeds in two steps, two screens: first, your username, and second, your password. Under Ubuntu these two screens are exactly the same excepted the field name (« username » and « password »): If you don´t pay attention but you have typed incorrectly your password, you return to the first screen after the warning dialog box, and at this point, you type your password in the username field, hence it appears in clear.

Not really important at home, but it could be embarrassing in an office. Anyway, as a default setting, a single screen would have been better. Moreover, the system seems to be unable or not configured to catch where stands the error: the dialog box says « either-either » is wrong.

User and Super-User

août 17, 2006

As far as I know, in command line, when one makes a « su », one has to logout after. With « sudo », it looks like a « su » on a per action basis and his working relies on the sudoer configuration. I would conclude that, with the « su » program, the user has to pay attention; on the contrary with the « sudo » program, the user better has to take a look at the « sudoer ». In both case, one just pass from the user status to the super-user status, and from my little experience, this passage is not firmly represented under a GUI. I´ve even lived some disturbing things with my Ubuntu 5.10.

I wanted to set an internet connection, so I launch the network manager and then the system claims for my user´s password since Ubuntu is set with « sudo ». I enter my parameters, activate the connection and close the app. I launch the browser but apparently my connection isn´t established. Hence, I open again the network manager but at this point the system doesn´t claims my password again. Maybe, there´s a time delay set in the sudoer but I would rather like to have something more systematical. I find the error and finally I get my connection. I surf on the web, though, am I surfing as a simple user ? And the things go worst. I get my e-mail, send some mails and so on until the system warns me that my password could be incorrect !

Unfortunately, this warning message doesn´t tell if it´s about my ISP password, my mail account or the root password. In the latter case it´s unconsistent, either my password is wrong and so I couldn´t be at this point, either it is right and this message isn´t relevant. In the end, I was really wondering if I was under the user status or not. The GUI could show that by cutting it in two parts or sides: the system side which requires the super-user privilege and the user side. Since a desktop environment is as well a matter of menus, the menu bar could be splitted in this way as shown in the picture below.

user and super-user menu bars

Here, one is in the user side, by clicking on the tower at the left side of the bar one goes to the system side as shown in the picture below.

system side

Obviously, the system has claimed the password but by this way the rule is simple: either system side, either user side but not the both or a fuzzy boundary. Things can be more clear, for example the system side has not even a desktop but instead of that, the desktop directory or the home directory is open. One returns to the user side by clicking on the head at the right hand side. Of course some user program relies on some system program, or to write in, if not even to read, some directory requires to be the super-user. Two solutions here. The lazy one which is a dialog box claiming for the password, though, it could be a fake forged by a malicious keylogger, no ? More exactly nothing shows to the user that it could be a forgery. The rough one simply invite the user to pass on the system side, so the user will have to click on the tower. At this point and after the password confirmation, the requested program or directory is launched. Don´t know if that can limit some social engineering tricks, but in my mind the GUI is not here just an appearance, rather an analogy.