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Open Teaching - using Linux and Open Source Software for Open University Teaching


 The main page covering my experiences in making the transition from Microsoft Windows to Linux - Fun with Ubuntu/Mint Linux quickly become excessively long.  This is one of several specialised pages which covers our experiences in using a dual booted systems running Linux (currently Mint 20.1) and Windows 10 for Open University teaching.

One of our main reasons for making the transition to Linux was the huge, expensive and uncontrollable flow of data whilst on the move when using Microsoft Windows XP and the following versions. We got so tired of the continual updates to the Windows systems and the associated Virus checkers, Firewalls and Malware detectors. Linux was attractive because it needs no virus checkers or separate firewalls which need updating and no unstoppable or essential automatic system updates. There is a comprehensive set of more specific pages in our Howto Series covering Linux.

This page Open Teaching covers a much more serious topic and provides a challenging test of Ubuntu Linux and WINE (Wine is Not an Emulator) which enables many well written Windows programs to be run on a Linux system. Although written specifically for those running Ubuntu and Mint it should be applicable for most Debian based Linux distributions and give some guidance for any other distribution.

When this page was last revised in a major way the Open University was nearing the end of a transition from use of FirstClass - an integrated email and conferencing systemt to a largely web based Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This is designed to run on all browsers so is virtually independent of operating system. The intergral email provided to students and tutors within FirstClass is being phased out and only tutors will be offered email on a Microsoft Exchange Server. The primary tutor email access is via OWA (Outlook Web Application) and is again browser based and operating system independent.

Overview of Software Required for Open University Courses


There is an expectation that a number of standard utilities and applications are available


WINE used to come at the top of the software list as most of the OU specific programs were solely available for Windows, with the advent of VLE this dependence on Windows only programs has been reduced. WINE enables one to run many Windows programs within Linux and arguably more safely as no Microsoft code is used. It is under continuous development and the number of applications it can handle has recently increased dramatically including a number of the most demanding games which are used as a criteria of performance by many. To loosely quote Wine HQ " WINE is an Open Source implementation of the Microsoft Windows API run on top of the X windows system and Linux. WINE is a compatibility layer for running Windows programs and does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code" Applications are run at full speed without the need of cpu emulation. WINE normally does not require anything from Microsoft Windows, however it can use native system .dll files in place of its own if they are available.

The implementation of WINE has been much improved in Ubuntu Hardy Heron and subsequent versions. The version installed is 1.2 and it is now fully integrated into the Ubuntu Linux system. The package now includes a program loader for running unmodified Windows executables as well as the WINE project's free version of the Windows API for running programs ported from Windows. It is now installed by the Add/Remove Applications Manager in minutes if you are on broadband and the default configuration is all that is normally required - with the caveat that you may wish to add the set of Microsoft Proprietary Fonts make available for download - use the Synaptic Package Manager and install msttcorefonts (ms-corefonts-installer on Karmic).

It appears on the Applications menu with a slide out menu giving Programs, Browse C:\ Drive, Configure WINE and Uninstall WINE Software as you can see below. The Programs then slides out to give the programs as they would have appeared in the Start Menu. All very well integrated. The extensions .exe and .msi are now linked to WINE so you just double click most installation files (.exe or .msi file) to start and installation going. The following is a screen-shot showing how it now looks when one is about to run FirstClass. Note the number and spread of Windows programs we have running successfully under Ubuntu Linux and WINE 1.0 including Minitab, the OU eTMA file Handler, FirstClass 8.326, Dreamweaver MX, Paintshop Pro and Irfanview.



This software was fundamental and required for every OU course. We have been using it since 1998 in various versions (3.5, 5.1, 5.5 and 7.0) under Windows 95, 98 and XP.

FirstClass 7.0. We ran this legacy version which has a simpler and less elegant interface than the latest version but was fully functional for what we needed. It ran well under Wine and had the advantage that it has an Offline mode called Personal which reduces our telephone bills considerably when 'mobile'.

FirstClass 8.315 Native Linux version. There is a Linux version which has been packaged for the most popular Linux distributions including Debian on which Ubuntu is based. It is not part of the Ubuntu distribution but can be downloaded as a .deb file ( fcc-8.315-2-Linux-i686.deb ) via links from the FirstClass.com previous clients page which can be installed by double clicking on it. It started by Applications -> Internet -> FirstClass Client and seems to be fully functional and 8.3 is a considerable improvement over 7.0 for online use alone. Unfortunately there is no Linux version for Offline use. You will need to set up one configuration file which specifies the linux programs used to open files - it currently uses one from the K rather than the gnome desktop. It is at /home/username/ firstclass/fcapps. Use ooffice for all Office application and firefox for browser applications.

FirstClass 8.326 Windows Client and Offline (personal) versions running under WINE. This is the final version of 8.3 which was frozen at the time FirstClass 9 was released. The installation file ( FC8326US.exe ) can still be downloaded via links from theFirstClass.com previous clients page and the matching Offline 'Personal' from the FirstClass FCPersonal Client Downloads Page. Installation just involves double clicking on the files you download and following the Wizard, just the same as under Windows. When it asks if it should be installed for all users or a single user select a single user if you plan to run Personal. The normal client runs perfectly OK with only a single minor quirk I have found to date, namely that you have to select icons by clicking (or double clicking) the text below rather than the icon itself!

It took a little work to get Personal working. The initial problem for me is that it can not convert my existing legacy Personal Post Office to the new format - it gives an error message that it is pre version 7.0 although it is running under FC7. FirstClass is now installed into a number of locations rather than a single directory. Next I found that Personal had to be running before one could log in offline as it was not started automatically. Lastly it was impossible to replicate as Personal could not find the settings file in either the primary or secondary locations.

On examination I found that under WINE the main files including fcc32.exe are in C:\Program Files\FirstClass as one would expect but the settings are now split off into C:\windows\profiles\ username\My Documents\FirstClass. There are also a few other locations such as C:\windows where there are some .ini files. The unusual feature was that the new ppo directory and the executable FCSPRA.exe were also in C:\windows\profiles\ username\My Documents\FirstClass. I do not yet understand why the local server is not started automatically but it could be fixed by using a script to start one then the other but at present I hope to find out why rather than bodge it. I also hope to find a utility to convert my legacy PPO to the new version and until I can keep our 10 year audit trail we are settling for 7.0 although I have discovered that if I replace the new ppo folder with an old one Personal still starts with some error messages in the log file and seems to work but lack some of the new features such as a Trash container.

I revisited FirstClass 8.3 personal through necessity as the latest server version the OU has installed seems to damage the PPO in Personal 7.0 when one replicates.

There are several settings for Personal which need to be set up. Once you have it running then click on Configure Offline and you will find 5 tabs. On the Scheduling tab we clear all the boxes and select never so we only replicate on demand. On the Replication Tab under the Directory Information to update select 'Routes Only' and we set a maximum size when we are operating 'mobile'. On the Cleanup Tab we increase the time messages and posting are kept offline to at least 720 days (two years) for an audit trail. On the Addressing tab you must only tick the bottom box Validate Site Names - anything else and you can not enter an email address offline .

Summary: If you only intend to use FirstClass online use the Linux Native version of Firstclass, it is trivial to install and just works. If you are a Personal fan you can run version 8.326 for Windows under WINE if you accept a couple of minor quirks and are prepared to do a little crafting to set Personal up. If you already have an early FirstClass version running with an offline Audit trail then you can probably just copy the folder(s) across and put a link (called a launcher in Ubuntu Linux) on the desktop but beware the early offline versions had bugs under Windows which have not gone away - for example Never do a Manual Trash collection on version 7.0 or it will trash every folder you have created's contents. It also seems that replicating to version 7 from the new OU version 9 server completely destroys your Personal Post Office at the first replication so only use it for your audit trail!

eTMA Marking Tool

Again we expected trouble and were pleasantly surprised. The tool installed by double clicking on the install file on the CD and worked just as we expected. The WINE file browser enables one to set up the directory structure for the files to be what the eTMA tool expects. The marking tool generates the Zip files to upload using the OU Web Site but there are differences in downloading the files using the Firefox browser instead of Internet Explorer (this is not a Linux - Windows issue but a Firefox versus IE issue). It is also better to use standard Zip files and the built in Ubuntu Linux Archive Manager rather than self extracting Zip files - we always used to do the same with Winzip. I may cover that further below.

The only feature which does not fully work is the ability to look at the files and open them from an inbuilt screen - this is because WINE has no way of running native Linux programs such ad OpenOffice. The WINE Browse C: Drive utility is however a normal Linux program (nautilus) pointed at the WINE folders and can be used to open any program which is associated in Linux so double clicking a .doc or .rtf file opens OpenOffice Writer and a .txt file opens the text editor (gedit) etc. If you are experienced in Linux it is also possible to modify WINE so it can open native Linux programs and that is covered in a section at the end of this page titled Opening Linux programs within WINE.

Update: I have heard reports that the latest eTMA handler does not load under WINE but have not confirmed it.

Mike Hay's Javascript marking tool for Macs and Linux

Mike Hay, an experienced OU Tutor has written a very comprehensive and fully featured substitute for the Tool written by the OU. It appears to be very professional and sophisticated alternative. It can be found at http://www.hayfamily.co.uk/etmahandlerpage.html and there is a link for the Linux version at the bottom of the page. When running it looks like this:

Mike Hays eTMA Handler in use

Note that this needs java to be loaded, if not then see Loading Java below then return here.

I unzipped the file using Archive manager into a folder in my home directory and initially tried running it in a terminal by

java -jar etmaHandlerJLinux/etmaHandlerJ.jar
Initially I got error messages and a hang up but when I changed to the latest version of Sun Java 6 it ran without problems. Check for which version of java you are using by

java -version

Now see if any other versions are present, I found the correct one sun-java-6 was loaded but not the default by:

update-java-alternatives -l

If you have a Sun Java 6 then select it by, for example

sudo update-java-alternatives -s java-6-sun

Loading Java: If you do not have then you have to use System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager -> Search for sun-java and Mark sun-java6-bin sun-java6-jre and sun-java6-plugin for installation (Right click -> Apply)

Repeat the two lines above to check it is there and select it. Note - Hardy Heron should have Sun Java 6 already loaded and active on a fresh install but not from an update. Once the java version was correct it ran immediately and all you now need to create a launcher on the desktop.

Launcher Creation: Right Click on the Desktop -> Create Launcher and copy the following code into the Command Box. Make the Name: Java eTMA Handler add a comment if you want. Leave the setting as application. This assumes you have the files extracted to a directory etmaHandlerJLinux in /home/yourusername - change as required. If you want an icon click on the icon symbol and look for an image.

/usr/bin/java -jar "/home/yourusername/etmaHandlerJLinux/etmaHandlerJ.jar"

At this point you can not select a custom image but you can do so at a latter stage by right clicking on the launcher and clicking properties - you can now use any standard type of image rather than system images - I copied the image of the parcel off Mike's web site page to the same directory until I could think of anything better.

Using the eTMA Handler: Read the help carefully and note that the file structure is more sensible but slightly different from what the OU recommends so using both together may need care. There is a PDF version of the help in the etmaHandlerJLinux folder as well as the inbuilt help. The only 'feature' I found is that the number of Right Click context menus is restricted, perhaps because of the Apple Mac heritage, so you need to use Ctrl C and Ctrl V when cutting and pasting into the PT3 and using his excellent 'comment bank'.

Mike has been very responsive and when we commented that it might be better to use the Linux basic text editor gedit for the 'comment bank' he implemented a user selection in his Preferences and I had tested it before the end of the same day! Another suggestion got me an updated version in under 15 minutes but to be fair he had already been working on it.

Updating the eTMA Handler: There are no specific instructions so this is what I have done. I could see there is some settings held in a sub-folder of ~/.java but I can also see the date stamp has changed on a couple of other files including the one with the dictionary in the etmaHandlerjLinux folder, the other files seem to remain static.

So my proceedure was:

Try it all out - none of you preferences should have changed.

If you have problems you can just delete the new folder and rename the old one.

Conclusions: Overall the JavaTool is far superior in its facilities and integration to the OU one and we understand many people are using the Mac version so the Linux one should not give any problems.

Many thanks to Mike Hay for an excellent piece of software adding another important plank to the case for a switch away from Windows, I wish we had found it ran under Linux earlier.

Update on Java Versions for the Linux marking Tool

We have been using Ubuntu 12.04 on the machine used for marking and the the notes above are OK for the Java available on that generation. However Oracle Jaava is now mostly version 7 and OpenJDK is also now at version 7. Mike has some notes on his web site that the tool needs version 6 so one may need to load an earlier version. Currently OpenJDK 6 is still in the repositories and Oracle (Sun) Java 6 is in a PPA and there is an article at http://www.webupd8.org/2012/11/oracle-sun-java-6-installer-available.html . I have used a lot of the PPA's from webupd8 and I trust them myself. I have not had time to check out the best approach on the latest versions of Ubuntu fully yet but the instructions should be enough to allow one to select from the options until it works! A superficial check of the latest version and OpenJDK 7 seemed to open up fine butthe machine had no etmas to test fully.

Minitab 15 and 16

We have Minitab 15 sort of running under WINE but it needed a complicated install procedure I found at the WineHQ database which involves installing an earlier version now only available in Japanese first:

Minitab 15

How to install under WINE 1, a procedure based on that at WineHQ:

If you don't follow this procedure you won't be able to use graphs and control charts due to runtime errors and system freezes. I found that out before discovering the above procedure at WineHQ.

Hints on running from WineHQ:

Upgrade to Minitab 16 under Wine 1.3.6

We received a new CD in 2010 for Minitab 16 which I eventually found a way of loading:

Even then the end result runs but is still a bit flaky producing a number of run time errors referring to uninitiated variables, probably true but are they important and were they also unset in the Windows version? WineHQ http://appdb.winehq.org/objectManager.php?sClass=version&iId=7257 refereed to these non catastrophic run time errors for version 15.1 and indicated they were not a show stopper. We do not have sufficient experience of version 16 under Wine 1.3.6 yet to know if this is better.


Exiting from a frozen program - xkill : If you try to run Minitab under Wine you may wish to learn one of the many ways to kill a frozen program safely (Open a terminal by Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal type xkill and return and then click anywhere in the frozen program) as we had a number of freezes before doing the Japanese version preload.

You can also put a 'force quit' button on the toolbar by right clicking the toolbar and g add to panel then dragging the Force Quit button to where you want it . You will find lots of other interesting things to add! Tomboy Notes is a useful addition when you are marking to hold useful notes.

I have covered us against potential problems by also installing Minitab under Windows on our dual Boot system - this not a major security risk as it will never be needed to be used whilst we are online.

I will report further when we have more experience but so far the output has always been the same as running directly in Windows XP despite the various errors on the way.

The ETMA site - downloading files using Firefox and extracting them using Archive Manager

Firefox 2.0 is on the the OU software CDs and Firefox 3.6 is the standard browser in the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx Distribution. One must however recall that all downloads in Firefox default to the Desktop rather than via a location selection screen as in Internet Explorer. They can then be dragged to the correct place C:\etmas\downloads if the WINE File Browser is opened. We recommend downloading standard Zip files which can be opened with the Archive Manager by right clicking. The files can then be extracted in exactly the same way as the example in the OU documentation for Winzip. Even the tick boxes are the same. See below:

After Double Clicking the zip file 2008-10-22_2315.zip to open the Archive manager.
The file has been dragged from the desktop to C:\etmas\downloads to keep it together with its contents as suggested in the eTMA handbook.

After Clicking on Extract (third icon from left) - Note the tick box settings and that downloads has been previously added as a 'favourite' to Places to make life easy

The end result after clicking Extract. We have worked down the levels in the file browser ready to double click and open a document file for marking.

Note: If you use Mike Hays Java tool you have the ability to open the eTMA web site and to do all the extraction etc within the tool. You may want to use it even if you run Windows!

Open Office

Ubuntu Linux 8.04 has OpenOffice 2.4 included in the distribution with a few minor enhancements that allow it to open .docx files as well as the standard formats of document files. Sun's StarOffice that the OU provides is identical to all intents and purposes - Open Office is free but has no support other than on the internet and other users. The one survey I have found shows that there are 40 times the number of users of Open Office to StarOffice. Many students and tutors have versions of Microsoft Office which all have significant differences and there have been been three major changes in file format in the last ten years. The latest format is .docx files which can not be read without converters by any earlier version of Microsoft Word or by earlier versions of Open/Star Office. At this time the use of .docx files by students should be discouraged as even if the tutor can read them the cross-checking by other staff may be impossible. There are steady improvements in converters for OpenOffice taking place - see the OpenOffice Ninja site for details. Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx has Open office 3.2 which has greatly improved compatibility with Microsoft Office 2007 and we are running it on one of our MSI Wind U100 netbooks.

Configuring OpenOffice Writer

The best way to mark is to use the Track Changes facility which is present in all Open/Star Office as well as all Microsoft Word versions. This is turned on and off in Open/Star Office by Edit -> Changes where there are tick boxes, the important ones being for Record and Show.

If you are using the Changes facility you should turn Autocorrect Whilst Typing off to avoid some strange anomolies. This is turned on and off in Open/Star Office by Format -> Autocorrect -> untick Whilst Typing

An alternative method is to use Comments (Called Notes in Open Office). These do not show up very well in OpenOffice where they are a tiny vertical yellow line which you hover over – they are more visible in Microsoft Word. They will be mostly used as an addition to direct changes in the text, perhaps to justify a change.

The final tool for marking is to insert a tick which is probably the most useful but depends on both tutor and student having the appropriate fonts installed. In Open Office the font set is called Dingbats but in Word it is Wingdings or Wingdings 2. It is therefore necessary for Tutors using Open Office under Linux to add the Wingdings and Wingdings 2 fonts to their system. See below

First some preliminaries to set up Open Office for marking and for students to view. I went through all the set up screens for Open Office to see what options were available. They were reached from Tools -> Options. The changes we made and some comments follow:

Open Office Options for Teaching

Option Sub-Option Parameter Value or Comment


User Data


This can lead to embarrassments if you are not on your own machine so set your name and initials


This is not very clear - you need to add all your initials as they are used in some markup such as inserting comments


My Documents

Can be set to point to ~/etma/downloads if you are only doing marking



Warn about formats when saving

Untick to get an easy life.

Backup copies.

Tick if you want to make back-ups

Language Settings

Writing Aids

Check to see if you will find problems with writing or marking code eg turn off automatic capitalisation if writing code.



Change if you need to identify inserts when marking.



Can be set to print notes


Insert: Light Blue

Delete: Light Red

Attributes: Light Magenta

This is the important one for the display of any changes tracked and needs to be matched between Tutor and Student.

It is best to turn Autocorrect off in OpenOffice when you are marking, especially if any code is involved, as you may find all sorts of unexpected changes which are easy to miss. This is turned on and off by Format -> Autocorrect -> untick Whilst Typing. If you leave it on you should look at its options for any obvious problems by: Format -> Autocorrect -> Autocorrect Options which has 5 tabs. Autocorrect is a very powerful tool when writing documents and books but a nightmare when dealing with code. We have also noticed some strange effects when it is used whilst 'Recording Changes' which can only be unscrambled by turning off Record Changes temporarily.

Finally I like to add a couple of buttons to the toolbar, namely those for Notes and Symbols. Use Tools -> Customise to do this. An alternative is to display the Insert Toolbar by View -> Toolbars and check the box for Insert - the insert toolbar has buttons for Notes and Symbols as well as some other useful possibilities for marking.

Adding Extra Fonts to Linux so they are accessible from Web browsers, Libre Office and programs running under Wine to insert Ticks and handle the MS Office 2007 and higher Default Font (Calibri). (Updated March 2021)

Mint (and Ubuntu) contain many extra fonts which can be installed using the synaptic package manager including the Microsoft Core Fonts which are not installed as standard as they are not Open Source. These fonts are used widely on the web and for older documents and include well known fonts such as Arial and Times New Roman. They can be installed using the ttf-mscorefonts-installer package (use the command line as you need to accept a licence agreement).

I also wanted to install some extra Fonts, namely the Nadianne True Type font I use for Invitations, Wine Labels etc., and the various Windings fonts which provide ticks and other symbols used by Pauline for marking Open University eTMA scripts. Nadianne is not a standard Windows font and originally I think came with a printer but the others are common to Windows and the defaults in Microsoft Office, hence the need to import them for marking of OU scripts.

This brings me to major issue in editing shared files originally created in Microsoft office. LibreOffice will do a good job of substituting fonts in the document with open source equivalents but a change of font will change the size and spacing of the text so the layout will be changed which may be unacceptable when the documents have to be converted back and returned. The worst problems seem to occur with drawings and mixed drawings and text and we have one example where equations have used some drawings overlaid and the meaning has been completely changed due to text slippage under brackets - that was obvious although the cause was not initially. Worse still text boxes may no longer be large enough to contain the text and the ends of text strings can be lost again changing the meaning completely in several cases we have seen. Combined with a double conversion from .docx to .doc and to LibreOffice which is used by many tutors, including ourselves, for marking one is no longer sure what one is seeing! This is not a satisfactory situation, one can just imagine the effects in complex technical commercial documents and agreements even if everybody is using Windows - thank you Bill for yet another setback to the progress of mankind. This means that one needs to add the common fonts used in Office such as Calibri which is the default font (starting at Office 2007) for Word, Powerpoint, Excel and Outlook.

There should be no licence issues in using them on a dual booted machine with a valid copy of Windows/Office or for viewing or editing existing documents created in Office. If you have doubts or wish to use them in documents you create a licence can be purchased from Microsoft. You can find the required fonts in c:\Windows\Fonts. In Windows this is a 'virtual' folder and contains links which Linux does not understand so you need to copy/paste the fonts you need under windows to a new folder for future use in Linux.

Having obtained any extra fonts you need they need to be installed in Linux. There is useful information at https://askubuntu.com/questions/3697/how-do-i-install-fonts but to summarise.

The fonts which are available to all users are stored in folders under /usr/share/fonts with truetype fonts in subfolder /usr/share/fonts/truetype in Ubuntu Linux so type in a terminal:

nemo admin:////usr/share/fonts/truetype

So I have created a new folder for my extra fonts which I call ttf-extra or ttf-all-extra by a right click -> create folder etc.

Drag the extra fonts into the ttf-extra folder from where they were stored

The folder and the files within it MUST have the permissions and owner set correctly to allow everyone to access it otherwise you may get some most peculiar errors in Firefox and some other programs. It should be OK if you use the procedure above but check just in case that they are the same as all the other folders and files.

If the fonts are only required by a single user then create, if not already present, a folder .fonts in your home directory and copying the fonts into it may be a better solution for a single user. It has advantages as they are retained through a system reinstall. That location is however depreciated and and I have changed to ~/.local/share/fonts which is now used by Mint and can hold individual fonts or folders of fonts.

Then alert Mint/Ubuntu that you added the fonts by typing the following in a terminal

sudo fc-cache -f -v

This rebuilds the font cache. You may also need to close and open programs needing the font or log out and back into a user. A reboot is the nuclear option. Recent experience shows that Mint seems to detect changes automatically.

You can check the fonts present by fc-list and the following gives an easy to read listing

fc-list -f '%{file}\n' | sort

Avoiding Duplicate Font files and use of Updated Font files.

The above procedure has ignored the issue of duplicated fonts. If you just pick up or install extra fonts without thought you will end up with duplicate fonts, this does not seem to crash anything but I can find nothing in the documentation covering how the font used is chosen.

I, and most people, start by installing and licencing the msttcorefonts font set using the ttf-mscorefont-installer package to add a number of important but not Open-source fonts for rendering web pages.

Andale Mono
Arial Black
Arial (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
Comic Sans MS (Bold)
Courier New (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
Georgia (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
Times New Roman (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
Trebuchet (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)
Verdana (Bold, Italic, Bold Italic)

The font files provided date back to 1998 and are missing modern hinting instructions and the full character sets but render adequately for web use and are small. However each version of Windows (and MS Office) has improved versions of many of the same fonts but just adding the font files indiscriminately from say C::\Widows\Fonts will end up with duplicates of Arial, Times New Roman and Verdana and many of the others.

Current Situation (March 2021)

My current solution is to have two sets of all additional fonts files I need over and above a basic install - the first has the extra font files needed when the msttcorefonts are installed and is a folder called ttf-extra and the second is self contained, is used without msttcorefonts and is called ttf-all-extra. My machines may use either approach depending on their requirements.

The set in ttf-extra comprises the extra fonts I need beyond those provided by msttcorefonts such as Nadianne, the extra files for fonts such as Webdings and those used as defaults in MS Office such as Calibri. The ttf-extra approach has been been in use for many years - mine contains ~53 truetype font files and has advantages on Linux only machines as you explicitely accept the licence agreement. The font files in ttf-extra are more compact as they date from the Windows XP / Office 2003 days and should render faster through less accurately than more recent versions.

The self contained set in ttf-all-extra is however more up-to-date. It starts with those in as the msttcorefonts set to which I added the files in ttf-extra containing the extra font files as above. I then updated this complete set of font files with the latest versions from Windows 10 Pro, removed any symbolic links and converted all files to lower case. This gives me a folder with ~ 90 truetype font files. I add the ttf-all-extra folder (which is backed up in My Programs) to either /usr/share/fonts/truetype or to ~/.local/share/fonts depending on whether I want to make it available to all users or just a single user. The msttcorefonts folder is not needed and, if present, should be removed from /usr/share/fonts/truetype to avoid duplication with the fonts in ttf-all-extra.

Customising OpenOffice to use Ctrl T to insert a tick symbol from the Wingdings Font

It is also easy in OpenOffice to assign anything you want to a keystroke via a macro. If you want to assign a tick to a keystroke, first record a macro:

Now you have recorded the insertion of a tick as a macro.

Now we need to attach this macro to a keystroke:

That is it - Ctrl T will now insert a tick.

It looks like a lot of steps because I have spelled out every detail - it is really very easy and you could define another macro where you inserted 'Yes, this is absolutely correct' instead and put it on Ctrl Shift T .

Enhancements to WINE to open native Linux programs such as OpenOffice

This section is not for the total newcomer to either Linux or Windows and is not totaly wthout risk, although the worst would probably be you would have to remove WINE and Add it back as a fresh copy. When you are running a Windows program under WINE there are few built in programs so if you wanted to run an Office application you would have to do the same as on a real Windows machine and install Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. What you actually want to be able to do is to access programs which are available in the Native Linux machine so that if you right click on a document file attachment which is in FirstClass or the eTMA File Handler then it will open up the File using the copy of OpenOffice that comes installed with Ubuntu Linux. This seemes a fairly normal requirement to me and I was surprised that no such facility was built in to make set up such associations and even more surprising that there was no proceedure easily found by Googling. I eventually came on a set of postings which gave a suitable way forwards.

There are several stages.

  1. You need to make the associations for the file types you want to open in native linux - this has to be within the WINE windows registry so is not something to be undertaken lightly.
  2. One needs a mechanism to open a native linux program and pass the parameters, or better still pass the selected files to a utility which can work look at the associations and open the appropriate program. This exists as part of the gnome desktop and is called gnome-open but is not well documented.
  3. You need a script to convert the path to the file from a format such as C:\documents\file.doc to /home/username/.wine/drive_c/documents/file.doc

In practice:

The names used above follow those of the originator of the idea, Tres Finocchiaro, which I found under the unlikely heading of [Wine] Fun Wine Project -- Configure Some Default Registry Entries. The contents of the two files word.reg (this link does not have the additions in red below as it is more tested) and winenative on my system are:


"Content Type"="application/linuxnative"

"Content Type"="application/linuxnative"

"Content Type"="application/linuxnative"

"Content Type"="application/linuxnative"




@="/usr/bin/winenative \"%1\""

@="C:\\windows\\system32\\winebrowser.exe %1"

# /usr/bin/winenative
# License: GPL >= V3
# Author: A. Tres Finocchiaro
# Modified: May 2008 Hilary BH Wright
# Used to call on the native linux OS to launch a filetype in Wine.
# For example, if you have a Microsoft Word document, but want to
# use the Linux version of OpenOffice Writer to open it, simply call:
# @="/usr/bin/winenative "%1""
# in
# HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\linuxnative\shell\open\command
# This assumes you've already added:
# @="linuxnative"
# to
# HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.doc --> "Content Type"

# The native command to open the file. This can be changed to $1, $2
# if you'd like to set up input variables, or you can type "openoffice"
# or something similar if you'd like to statically map it.
# If you don't use gnome, change it to your desktop's equivelant, and
# update this comment!

# The url of the file. Change to $2, etc if you want to take the 2nd
# input variable in your call.


# Transform the windows path to the linux path with the 'winpath' command
# (i.e. C:\Windows\Temp\1.doc to /home/tfino/.wine/drive_c/etc)
# NOTE1: The ticks are (` = tilde key) NOT (' = quote key).
# NOTE2: You need the "" here in order to allow for spaces in the path and file names.
# NOTE3: the -u parameter is there just to be sure that you are chnaging from windows paths to linux paths: it is the default.

lin_file=`winepath -u "$win_file"`;

# Call the native command passing the linux path enclosed in ""

$cmd_open "$lin_file";

# Exit status 1? Manipulate this value to work with errors.
exit 1;

The proceedure is to first save the files word.reg to your desktop and do an import into the wine registry by executing in a terminal:

regedit Desktop/word.reg

The second file is the " winenative " shell script. Save it to your desktop, copy it to /usr/bin, and make it executable by:

sudo cp Desktop/winenative /usr/bin/
sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/winenative

You should now be able to open the common word processor files formats in OpenOffice and PDF files in the Linux viewer. You can add .zip .xls .ppt .ods, .odp etc to the list if you want.

Many thanks to Tres Finocchiaro for the original idea and Hilary BH Wright for the improvements to winenative.

I have also received some excellent addition suggestions from Jorgen Qvartsenklint which are very useful enhancements and have been incorporated in the word.reg file above and highlighted in red. In summary the backslash and quote before and after %1 allows files with spaces and special characters in the file name to be opened in Ubuntu applications via WINE and the remainder allows web links to be opened in Firefox via WINE.

Other Considerations for Tutors - Virus Checking and Encryption

Virus Checking. Linux itself is not susceptible to any of the Windows Viruses and there is little evidence of problems using Wine so why should we be concerned? The answer is that a tutor (like the rest of us) has a moral responsibility not to knowingly pass on any virus infected files even if they are not a problem to them. The OU eTMA system again should also clean any files before you get them but we have seen such clever malware that there may be quite long periods when infected files are not found even if if the OU machines avoid infection themselves. A tutor or student running Linux may therefore still want to check files they receive for incoming Windows malware.

There is a good Open Source Virus Checker available (ClamAV) which can be loaded by Applications -> Add/Remove Programs -> Virus Checker. This loads a lot of command line tools and also a simple GUI program called ClamTk which can be used on demand to check files coming from Windows systems against a comprehensive database (650,000 virus signatures at present) without any overheads in machine machine speed when not in use.

Encrypted 'Vaults'. One is always going to have some sensitive information whilst teaching. We use the Truecrypt program which is free and runs under Windows, Mac and Linux to maintain a number of encrypted 'Volumes' - folder structures which are stored in an single file and can be mounted like any other drive to store sensitive data protected by a strong passkey. This is covered in detail within our article Ubuntu All Together - Sharing, Networking, Backup, Synchronisation and Encryption


We have had few of the problems we anticipated and we have been able to use Ubuntu Linux and Open Source Software for almost everything needed for the OU tutoring for a period of a year. You only open issue, excuse the pun, is the reliability of Minitab when run under WINE, the Windows 'emulator' and we have kept the option of running a dual boot system just in case. In exchange for a few hours tracking down information and experimenting plus some extensive testing (which you need not repeat) we have a system where virus's and virus checking is a minor issue and one we can safely and economically and reliably use away from home, even on a mobile telephone. The only difficult bits (new fonts and running native linux programs from WINE) which involve a knowledge of linux are not essential and easily worked round. The final decision which way to proceed was a 'no brainer' to us.


The views here are entirely our own and are not endorsed in any way by the Open University. What is written on these pages is our own experiences and is not intended to replace in any way the documentation supplied with any of the Open University software. Always Backup before installing any Software and on a regular basis. Do a proper cost Benefit and Risk Analysis taking into account your circumstances and knowledge base before making any changes. Past performance is no indication of the future returns.

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