Using Linux and WD’s My Box Live

For a while I’ve had a hankering to be able to share content (mostly music) between my various laptops via a network drive, mostly to avoid having to either attach a drive or waste laptop SSD space. A cursory look through Amazon gave me Western Digital’s My Book Live, which seemed compatible with Ubuntu while mostly being presented as an OSX/Windows product. However the official line is actually “if it works with Linux great, if not we don’t support it”.

Actually getting things working was harder than I had anticipated, if I had a Ethernet connected computer switched on then the drive appeared normally however as soon as I switched off the computer then the drive disappeared as well, presumably meaning that the drive was being shared via mesh networking rather than being available to the Wifi devices as a first-class network citizen.

Some online comments suggested that the issue was that the device was not using a static IP, so I went into the settings and changed that. While in Static IP mode the drive started to give a warning it wasn’t connected to the internet, which presumably is something to do with port forwarding for the WD2GO service which also requires some router config. Despite this the drive was available once the static IP binding was done. However any music player (Rhythmbox and Banshee) that tried to connect to the drive failed to connect and there didn’t seem to be a way to provide the required anonymous login.

The final stretch was helped by this post about mounting network drives, on mounting the drive manually it was possible to access the new drive and generate playlists for the new drive. I didn’t want to edit fstab for this so I’m think of creating aliases for the mounting and unmounting operations.

I am now able to share my music collection to my Ubuntu laptop but it has not been a simple experience and I do think WD are short-sighted in not making the operation smoother. Linux may not be a massive market but it doesn’t seem that complex to support it better, if nothing else in the FAQ for the product.


Switching Nvidia drivers from the command-line

The Steam client informed me today that there were more recent Nvidia drivers for Ubuntu available and that I should upgrade for stability, etc. etc. It seemed a fairly innocuous change compared to the beta drivers I was using so I pressed the button and then restarted. Resulting in a failure to boot Unity and a chance to rediscover the joy of the command-line.  I don’t know why Unity and the new drivers fail to mix to spectacularly however the simplest thing to do seemed to be to revert to the earlier drivers.

The problem with doing that is that I’ve only ever done it via the gui tools. This AskUbuntu answer told me about Jockey the software that underpins the proprietary driver contol. Running Jockey at the command-line was very, very slow but it did indeed allow me to select the earlier drivers and after a restart the GUI was booting again. Much easier than hand-editing an X config file.


Running Virtual Ubuntu

So at work I need to be able to have access to a personal UNIX playground and the form that you have to fill in to get a licensed VMFusion instance is a nightmare so I decided to look at the alternatives. I already had Parallels installed on my MacBook Pro but I had not done anything with it. I also decided to try and get Ubuntu running on my Windows Vista machine using the free (to download) VMWare Player.

VMWare Player requires a special image (I used this one) however once the software and the image was downloaded (the images are sensibly torrented although the player software itself does not seem to be), getting the system running was extremely easy. You just click on the image, it loads up and you update within Ubuntu as normal.

Getting Parallels working was not as as easy. I tried a standard DVD from a Linux Magazine, that failed with an X error where the X window could not be started. So I downloaded a text based installer and ran through that. It had the same problem and after reading this item in the Parallels Knowledge Base I took a guess at the problem and set the resolution during the text installation to be 1024 by 768. That sorted the issue and after that the major problem was networking. The Parallels installation did not seem able to share my wireless connection. Once I connected my Ethernet cable then the instance updated fine. Oddly once I set the VM to use Shared networking I could use the Wireless connection but counter-intuitively setting the Ubuntu instance to use the Wired connection. I guess at that point Parallels was able to weave a little magic and make the connection available and the issue of whether the physical hardware was Ethernet or Wireless was completely irrelevant.

Both systems run their virtual machines very quickly but VM Player seems to be the better suited to rapidly stopping and starting the machine. It works pretty much like a normal application, you fire it up and close the window when you are done. The Parallels application is much less seamless. Both applications use a similar amount of space to save their state, VM Player perhaps runs a bit fatter from my experience.

VM Player is pretty amazing for a product that is offered for free and is definitely a well-done teaser product. If you have never run a virtual machine before I would definitely recommend giving it a spin. Parallels is a slick and excellent program but its focus on running Windows under OS X seems to have led it to not being able to create a trouble-free installation experience for the leading desktop Linux distribution of today. That is a big mistake and even Parallels’ relatively low price tag of £50 to £60 does not excuse it. Some things should just work. After all at some point you are going to appreciate having the flexibility to install a OS how you like and at that point you may be more tempted to upgrade your existing solution than switch to a new application altogether.