Archive

Author Archive

Setting up an Ubuntu-based ASP.NET Server with Mono

November 21st, 2010 4 comments

Introduction:

In my day job, I work as an infrastructure developer for a small company. While I wouldn’t call us a Microsoft shop by any stretch (we actually make web design tools), we do maintain a large code base in C#, which includes our website and a number of web-based administrative tools. In planning for a future project, I recently spent some time figuring out how to host our existing ASP.NET-based web site on a Linux server. After a great deal of research, and just a bit of trial and error, I came up with the following steps:

VirtualBox Setup:

The server is going to run in a virtual machine, primarily because I don’t have any available hardware to throw at the problem right now. This has the added benefit of being easily expandable, and our web hosting company will actually accept *.vdi files, which allows us to easily pick up the finished machine and put it live with no added hassle. In our case, the host machine was a Windows Server 2008 machine, but these steps would work just as well on a Linux host.

I started off with VirtualBox 3.2.10 r66523, although like I said, grabbing the OSE edition from your repositories will work just as well. The host machine that we’re using is a bit underpowered, so I only gave the virtual machine 512MB of RAM and 10GB of dynamically expanding storage. One important thing – because I’ll want this server to live on our LAN and interact with our other machines, I was careful to change the network card settings to Bridged Adapter and to make sure that the Ethernet adapter of the host machine is selected in the hardware drop down. This is important because we want the virtual machine to ask our office router for an IP address instead of using the host machine as a private subnet.

Installing the Operating System:

For the initial install, I went with the Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat 32-bit Desktop Edition. Any server admins reading this will probably pull out their hair over the fact, but in our office, we have administrators who are very used to using Windows’ Remote Desktop utility to log into remote machines, and I don’t feel like training everybody on the intricacies of PuTTy and SSH. If you want to, you can install the Server version instead, and forgo all of the additional overhead of a windowing system on your server. Since all of my installation was done from the terminal, these instructions will work just as well with or without a GUI.

From VirtualBox, you’ll want to mount the Ubuntu ISO in the IDE CD-ROM drive, and start the machine. When prompted, click your way through Ubuntu’s slick new installer, and tell it to erase and use entire disk, since we don’t need any fancy partitioning for this setup. When I went through these steps, I opted to encrypt the home folder of the vm, mostly out of habit, but that’s up to you. Once you make it to a desktop, install VirtualBox Guest Additions.

From Terminal, type sudo apt-get upgrade to apply any patches that might be available.

Setting up a Static IP Address:

From a terminal, type ifconfig and find the HWaddr entry for your ethernet card, usually eth0. It will probably look something like 08:00:27:1c:17:6c. Next, you’ll need to log in to your router and set it up so that any device with this hardware address (also called a MAC address) is always given the same IP address. In my case, I chose to assign the virtual server an IP address of 192.168.1.10 because it was easy to remember. There are other ways that you can go about setting up a static IP, but I find this to be the easiest.

Getting Remote Desktop support up and running:

As I mentioned above, the guys in our office are used to administering remote machines by logging in via Windows’ remote desktop client. In order to provide this functionality, I chose to set up the xrdp project on my little server. Installing this is as easy as typing sudo apt-get install xrdp in your terminal. The installation process will also require the vnc4server and xbase-clients packages.

When the installation has completed, the xrdp service will run on startup and will provide an encrypted remote desktop server that runs on port 3389. From Windows, you can now connect to 192.168.1.10 with the standard rdp client. When prompted for login, make sure that sesman-Xvnc is selected as the protocol, and you should be able to log in with the username and password combination that you chose above.

Installing a Graphical Firewall Utility:

Ubuntu ships with a firewall baked into the kernel that can be accessed from the terminal with the ufw tool. Because some of our administrators are afraid of the command line, I also chose to install a graphical firewall manager. In the terminal, type sudo apt-get install gufw to install an easy to use gui for the firewall. Once complete, it will show up in the standard Gnome menu system under System > Administration > Firewall Configuration.
Let’s do a bit of setup. Open up the Firewall Configuration utility, and check off the box to enable the firewall. Below that box, make sure that all incoming traffic is automatically denied while all outgoing is allowed. These rules can be tightened up later, but are a good starting point for now. To allow incoming remote desktop connections, you’ll need to create a new rule to allow all TCP connections on port 3389. If this server is to be used on the live Internet, you may also consider limiting the IP addresses that these connections can come from so that not just anybody can log in to your server. Remember, defense in depth is your best friend.

Adding SSH Support:

Unlike my coworkers, I prefer to manage my server machines via command line. As such, an SSH server is necessary. Later, the SSH connection can be used for SFTP or a secure tunnel over which we can communicate with our source control and database servers. In terminal, type sudo apt-get install openssh-server to start the OpenSSH installation process. Once it’s done, you’ll want to back up its default configuration file with the command cp /etc/ssh/sshd_config /etc/ssh/sshd_config_old. Next, open up the config file your text editor of choice (mine is nano) and change a couple of the default options:

  • Change the Port to 5000, or some other easy to remember port. Running an SSH server on port 22 can lead to high discoverability, and is regarded by some as a security no-no.
  • Change PermitRootLogin to no. This will ensure that only normal user accounts can log in.
  • At the end of the file, add the line AllowUsers <your-username> to limit the user accounts that can log in to the machine. It is good practice to create a user account with limited privileges and only allow it to log in via SSH. This way, if an attacker does get in, they are limited in the amount of damage that they can do.

Back in your terminal, type sudo /etc/init.d/ssh restart to load the new settings. Using the instructions above, open up your firewall utility and create a new rule to allow all TCP connections on port 5000. Once again, if this server is to be used on the live Internet, it’s a good idea to limit the IP addresses that this traffic can originate from.

With this done, you can log in to the server from any other Linux-based machine using the ssh command in your terminal. From Windows, you’ll need a third-party utility like PuTTy.

Installing Apache and ModMono:

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll install both Apache (the web server) and mod_mono (a module responsible for processing ASP.NET requests) from Ubuntu’s repositories. The downside is that the code base is a bit older, but the upside is that everything should just work, and the code is stable. These instructions are a modified version of the ones found on the HBY Consultancy blog. Credit where credit is due, after all. From your terminal, enter the following:

$ sudo apt-get install monodevelop mono-devel monodevelop-database mono-debugger mono-xsp2 libapache2-mod-mono mono-apache-server2 apache2

$ sudo a2dismod mod_mono

$ sudo a2enmod mod_mono_auto

With this done, Apache and mod_mono are installed. WE’ll need to do a bit of configuration before they’re ready to go. Open up mod_mono’s configuration file in your text editor of choice with something like sudo nano /etc/apache2/mods-available/mod_mono_auto.conf. Scroll down to the bottom and append the following text to the file:

MonoPath default “/usr/lib/mono/3.5″

MonoServerPath default /usr/bin/mod-mono-server2

AddMonoApplications default “/:/var/www”

Finally, restart the Apache web server so that the changes take effect with the command sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart. This configuration will allow us to run aspx files out of our /var/www/ directory, just like html or php files that you may have seen hosted in the past.

Having a Beer:

That was a fair bit of work, but I think that it was worth it. If everything went well, you’ve now got a fully functional Apache web server that’s reasonably secure, and can run any ASP.NET code that you throw at it.

The one hiccup that I encountered with this setup was that Mono doesn’t yet have support for .NET’s Entity Framework, which is the object-relational mapping framework that we use as a part of our database stack on the application that we wanted to host. This means that if I want to host the existing code on Linux, I’ll have to modify it so that it uses a different database back end. Its kind of a pain, but not the end of the world, and certainly a situation that can be avoided if you’re coding up a website from scratch. You can read more about the status of Mono’s ASP.NET implementation on their website.

Hopefully this helped somebody. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything that isn’t quite clear or if you encounter any snags with the process.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Samsung Captivate SGH-i896 Meets Linux

November 7th, 2010 2 comments

Yesterday, I picked up the newly launched (in Canada) Samsung Captivate. So far, I’m extremely impressed with the device. The super amoled display is gorgeous, the touch screen is responsive, and the UI is stunning to look at and use. Coming from a Blackberry Curve 8310, this phone is like a digital orgasm.

Once I finished gushing over how awesome this phone is, I decided to try and get it to interact with my Linux Mint 9 Isadora install. For now, I just want to be able to transfer images and music to and from the device, although later on, I’d like to get a development environment set up and try my hand at writing some apps.

My first try at getting the phone to play nicely with Linux was not successful. It took me a little bit of fooling around before I could figure it out, but here goes:

  • On the phone, navigate to Settings > Applications > USB Settings and make sure that ‘Ask on Connection’ is selected
  • Plug your phone into the a USB port, and when prompted, select ‘Mass Storage’ from the dialog that appears on the phone
  • At this point, if you open up your Computer in Nautilus, you should see an icon that says something like SAMSUNG SGH-I896, but you won’t be able to interact with it in any way
  • On the phone, grab the notification bar at the top of the home screen and drag it down
  • In the notifications area, tap USB Connected, and when prompted, select Mount from the dialog
  • Back in Nautilus, the icon under Computer should now say something like SAMSUNG SGH-I896: 14GB Filesystem, and you should be able to read and write to the card

With these steps complete, I was able to interact with the phone through the file system and from within Banshee and FSpot. I’m not sure why the phone won’t allow Linux to mount its storage devices by default when in Mass Storage mode, but this little work around seems to make it behave correctly.

Drop me a line in the comments if you have any Linux/Android compatibility questions, and I’ll do my best to help you out.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

My Search for the Best Audio Editing Software

October 6th, 2010 7 comments

Lately, I’ve been doing some audio recording. In addition to a couple of podcasts that I work on, I occasionally like to record my own musical compositions. While there seems to be no shortage of high-end audio editing applications on either Windows or Mac, the situation on Linux is a bit more sparse. Faced with some frustration, I went out and downloaded a number of linux-based audio editors. I used Wikipedia to find the software in the tests below, and following are my totally subjective and highly biased reviews of each.

Each piece of software was used to edit some raw recordings from a podcast that I have been involved with lately. This source material is almost 100% spoken word, with some music and sound effects sprinkled throughout. It’s important to note these details, as your needs may vary drastically depending on the type of audio project that you’re working on.

Audacity:

The Audacity Project is kind of the Linux standard for non-professional audio editing. It was the first application that I tried to use, mainly because I was familiar with earlier versions of the program that I had once used back in my Windows days. Audacity includes a great number of features that make it ideal for post-processing of any audio project, including a wide array of effects, some great noise generators, and a few analysis tools that make it perfect for cleaning up your finished file before publication.

Audacity audio editor with a demo project loaded

Audacity audio editor with a demo project loaded

Unfortunately, I found that it lacked a usable GUI for editing podcast material. In particular, it seems to be missing the ability to edit a single track in a multi-track project without unduly affecting the other tracks.By default, if you use the selection tool to grab a portion of audio that ought to be deleted from one track in the project, it seems to delete that portion of audio from all tracks in the project.

I found this out the hard way when I played back the master track that I had assembled my finished podcast on, only to find out that significant portions of the audio had mysteriously gone missing at some point during the editing process.

To make matters worse, I closed the application, lost the undo record for the project, and had to start the editing process from the beginning.

This lack of GUI polish also exhibits itself in the way that you can interact with the audio tracks themselves. Unlike in most DAW solutions, a portion of audio that has been clipped out of a larger track cannot seemingly be moved around in the project by clicking on it and dragging it across the stage with the mouse. At least I couldn’t figure out how to do it, and ended up relying heavily on my cut, copy, and paste functions to edit my project. This is a poor way to work on a project of any kind of complexity, and makes projects that rely on audio loops a pain to assemble.

Ardour:

Where Audacity is suited more towards hobbyist recording setups, Ardour aims to be a professional audio solution that is capable of competing with mainstream software like ProTools. It is a fully featured audio suite that can allegedly do most everything that you may require, but as such, can also confuse the hell out of first-time users with its complicated GUI and lengthy manual.

Granted, this is hardly a slight to the project, because it really isn’t suited to my needs. It is a pro-level audio environment that can be used as the centrepiece to a full recording studio or stage

Ardour wants sole control of my audio interface

Ardour wants sole control of my audio interface

show. If you just want to edit a podcast, it may not be the tool for you. As such, if the GUI seems challenging and you find the documentation to be long-winded, you may just be using the wrong tool for the job.

The biggest issue that I had with this piece of software was getting it to run at all on my machine. It uses JACK to attach itself to your audio interfaces in the name of providing a perfect sampling environment that doesn’t get slowed down by having to share the interface with other pieces of software.

Unfortunately, this means that in order to use it, I had to quit all other processes that are capable of generating sound, including this web browser. This is a pain if you are trying to run Ardour in a multi-application environment, or need to reference the internet for anything while working.

After reading the introductory documentation and adjusting the settings in the startup dialog for about 15 minutes, I simply gave up on Ardour without ever managing to get into a workspace. It seems to be far too complicated for my needs, and doesn’t seem worth my time. Your mileage may vary.

Jokosher:

From the moment that I started reading about this project, I like the sound of it. Jokosher is a multi-track recoding and editing environment built on top of Python and GStreamer that was

Jokosher may look cartoony, but it may be exactly what you need for small projects

Jokosher may look cartoony, but it may be exactly what you need for small projects

created by a podcaster who was unsatisfied with the audio editing tools that were available on Linux. The application focuses on being easy enough to use that non-technical people like musicians can pick it up and get their ideas down with minimal hassle. Think of it as Garage Band for Linux.

Indeed, just as the website promised, I was able to get a working environment set up in a matter of minutes. The editing tools allow for splitting the audio, grabbing it and moving it around, and non-destructively editing multiple tracks at the same time (I’m looking at you, Audacity). The GUI also has a beautiful polish to it that, although a tad cartoony, really makes the program look and feel simple. For editing something like a podcast, I’m not sure that this application can be beat.

The only issue that I encountered in my short time using Jokosher was with its support of LADSPA plugins. These are free audio plugins that can be used to apply effects to the different tracks of your audio project. When I tried to use them from within the application, it instructed me to download some from my repositories. Upon checking Synaptic, I saw that I already had a number of them downloaded. Even after installing more, the program did not seem to pick them up.

All in all, this project lived up to its hype, and I will most certainly take some time to break it in, and may write a more in-depth review once I get used to it. If you’re doing podcasting, you owe it to yourself to check this app out.

In Conclusion:

Each of the three applications that I tried to work with while writing this piece deserve your respect. The underlying audio framework of most Linux systems is a veritable rats’ nest of subsystems, platforms, daemons, plugins and helper applications. I would wager a significant amount of money on this situation as the reason that we don’t have ProTools and its ilk on our platform of choice. I’ve done a little bit of work with GStreamer, and even it, as perhaps the prettiest and best supported of all audio libraries on the platform, left me scratching my head at times.

When choosing audio software, it’s important to keep in mind that you need a tool that’s uniquely suited to your project. Since I’m editing podcasts and fooling around with drum loops and samples of my guitars, Jokosher does just about everything that I need and more. I may use Audacity for post-production, or to record my source audio (simply because I haven’t tried recording in Jokosher yet – I know that Audacity works), because it falls somewhere in between a simple editing tool and an advanced platform. Ardour, meanwhile, is probably suited towards the more hard-core audio engineer slash system administrator types who are so fanatic about recording quality that they are willing to sacrifice an entire box for running their DAW software. It’s simply more power than the majority of hobbyist enthusiasts really needs.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Unwanted Effects on my Line-in Interface

August 26th, 2010 No comments

Shortly after purchasing an xbox360, I wrote a short piece that gave instructions for forwarding your line-in audio through your pc speakers. By using this method and sharing my network connection, I’ve managed to run my xbox as a peripheral to my main computer setup, saving me space and money.

Lately however, the line-in loopback has not been working as expected. At times, it sounds like effects have been applied to the line. In particular, it sounds like somebody has applied a phaser or a delay effect to the input signal.

For the last week or so, I’ve been scratching my head about this issue, trying to figure out what part of my system may have applied effects to my loopback, but not to other audio on the system. Tonight, I was reviewing my original instructions for setting the thing up, and noticed that the module was being loaded on startup after being added to a system config file:

sudo sh -c ' echo "load-module module-loopback" >>  /etc/pulse/default.pa '

On a hunch, I took a look at the end of the file, and found the following lines:

### Make some devices default
#set-default-sink output
#set-default-source input
load-module module-loopback
load-module module-loopback

It looked like the instruction to load the loopback module had ended up in the config file twice! Because of this, the module was being loaded twice on startup.

So what does this have to do with the effects on the line? Well, if you play two copies of the same sound with a half-second gap between them, your ears will be tricked into thinking that you’re hearing one copy of the sound, but that it’s all echoey, as if a delay effect had been applied. If you repeat the experiment but this time decrease the gap between the two sounds even further, say to a few milliseconds, your ears will hear one copy of the sound with a phaser effect applied.

Essentially, when the module loaded twice, it was capturing the mix from the line-in port twice and playing back two separate copies of the audio. Depending on how close together these instances  were, the result sounded normal, phased, or delayed. I fixed the issue by removing one of the lines and then restarting the machine. This time, it started only one copy of the service, and everything sounded fine.

The moral of the story: If you’re loading modules at startup, make sure that you only start one copy of them.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

A Matter of Opinion

July 19th, 2010 No comments

Tonight I installed VirtualBox, an incredibly handy virtualization program that lets me run instances of Windows and other Linux distributions from the comfort of my Linux Mint 9 Isadora desktop. Upon installing the latest version in my repositories, I launched the program, only to be confronted by a dialog box offering a link to a newer version of the program available on its website. So I clicked the link, and downloaded the *.deb of the new version. My package manager started up, tried to install the new package, and complained that it conflicted with the existing VirtualBox install. So I opened synaptic, uninstalled the version of VirtualBox that I got from my repositories, and finally installed the most recent version from the website.

So here’s my question, and please feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below: Should Linux applications warn the user about updates that are not available from their repositories?

On one hand, I like having up to date software, but on the other, package maintainers work hard to ensure that everything that ships with a stable distribution plays well together, and probably don’t appreciate these apps leading users outside of their carefully curated repositories. From a security-oriented point of view, this is also bad practice, as much of the security that is inherent in Linux comes from the fact that the vast majority of the software that you install has been vetted by the package maintainers who work to ensure that your distribution is safe and stable. And surely the guys who program VirtualBox, being the insanely awesome ninja-powered pirate wizards that they are, could have come up with a way to update my install without my having to uninstall and re-install an entirely new version. Just sayin’

Chime in with your opinion in the comments below.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

PulseAudio: Monitoring your Line-In Interface

July 11th, 2010 21 comments

At home, my setup consists of three machines –  a laptop, a PC, and an XBOX 360. The latter two share a set of speakers, but I hate having to climb under the desk to switch the cables around, and wanted a better way to switch them back and forth. My good friend Tyler B suggested that I run the line out from the XBOX into the line-in on my sound card, and just let my computer handle the audio in the same way that it handles music and movies. In theory, this works great. In practice, I had one hell of a time figuring out how to force the GNOME sound manager applet into doing my bidding.

After quite a bit of googling, I found the answer on the Ubuntu forums. It turns out that the secret lies in a pulse audio module that isn’t enabled by default. Open up a terminal and use the following commands to permanently enable this behaviour. As always, make sure that you understand what’s up before running random commands that you find on the internet as root:

pactl load-module module-loopback
sudo sh -c ' echo "load-module module-loopback" >>  /etc/pulse/default.pa '

The first line instructs PulseAudio (one of the many ways that your system talks with the underlying sound hardware) to load a module called loopback, which unsurprisingly, loops incoming audio back through your outputs. This means that you can hear everything that comes into your line-in port in real time. Note that this behaviour does not extend to your microphone input by design. The second line simply tells PulseAudio to load this module whenever the system starts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have jerks to run over in GTA…




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Adobe + Linux == Balls

May 27th, 2010 10 comments

This week, I replaced my increasingly infuriating Kubuntu installation with a fresh install of the beautiful Linux Mint 9 Isadora. Just like the project motto says, if Ubuntu is freedom, then Mint truly is elegance. The only hiccup that I hit during the entire installation process (aside from dicking up my fstab file because I suck) occurred when I tried to install Tweetdeck. As per usual, Adobe Air refused to correctly install on my system. It’s a damned good thing that Tweetdeck is an awesome app, because I’ve run into these problems before, and am just about ready to give up on it entirely.

This time, the alleged reason for my woes is that I dared to install Mint’s 64-bit build. Because, you know, we haven’t had 64-bit processors since 2003.

To make a long story short, it took me nearly an hour to get everything up and running. Below are two good resources that may help others in a similar situation:

In closing, Adobe sucks.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Linux Media Players Suck – Part 1: Rhythmbox

May 5th, 2010 50 comments

The state of media players on Linux is a sad one indeed. If you’re a platform enthusiast, you may want to cover your ears and scream “la-la-la-la” while reading this article, because it will likely offend your sensibilities. In fact, the very idea behind this series is to shake up the freetards’ world view, and to make them realize that a decent Winamp or iTunes clone need not be the end of the story for media management and playback on Linux.

This article will concentrate on lambasting Rhythmbox, the default jukebox software of the GNOME desktop environment. Subsequent posts will give the same treatment to other players in this sphere, including Banshee, Amarok, and Songbird (if I can find a copy that will still build on Linux). If you’re a user of media players on Linux, keep your own annoyances firmly in mind, and if I don’t mention them, please share in the comments. If you’re a developer for one of these fine projects, try to keep an open mind and get inspired to do better. A media player is not a hard thing to build, and I do believe that together, we can do better.

For the remainder of this article, please keep in mind that I am currently running Rhythmbox under Kubuntu 9.10, so you’ll see it rendered with qt widgets in all of my screen shots. This doesn’t affect the overall performance of the app, but leads nicely into my first complaint:

  1. Poor Cross-Platform Support: There are basically two desktop environments that matter in the Linux world, GNOME and KDE. Under GNOME, Rhythmbox has a reasonably nice icon set that is comparable to other media players. Under KDE, the qt re-skinning replaces those icons with a horrible set of mismatched images that really make the program look second-rate:
    Isn't this shit awful?

    As you can see, these icons look terrible. Note that there isn't even an icon for 'Burn' and the icon for 'Browse' is a fucking question mark.

    This extends to the CD burning and help features too. They rely on programs like gnome-help and brasero to work, but don’t install them with the media player, so when I try to access these features under KDE, I just get error messages. Nice.

    Honestly, who packaged this thing?

    This is just plain stupid. Every package manager has the concept of dependencies, so why doesn't Rhythmbox use them?

  2. The Player Starts in the Tray: Under what circumstances would it be considered useful for a media player to automatically minimize itself to the system tray on startup? It doesn’t begin to play automatically. The first thing that I always do is click on the tray icon to maximize it so that I can select some music to start playing. Way to start the user experience off on the wrong foot.
  3. Missing Files View: This one is just plain stupid. Whenever I delete a file from my hard drive, it shows up under the ‘Missing Files’ view, even though my intent was clearly to remove the file from my library. Further, I use Rhythmbox to put music on my BlackBerry. Whenever I fill it with music, I first delete the files on it. Those files that I deleted from my mobile device? Yeah, they show up under ‘Missing Files’ too, as if they were a legitimate part of my library! So this view ends up being like a global garbage bin that I have to waste my precious time emptying on occasion, and serves no useful purpose in the mean time. Yeah, I deleted those files. What are you going to do about it?

    Seriously, why the hell are these files in here?

    As you can see, I've highlighted the fact that Rhythmbox is telling me that these files are missing from my mobile device. No shit.

  4. Shared Libraries that I can’t Play: So we’ve known for awhile now that Apple broke the ability to connect to iTunes via the DAAP protocol, and that it’s not possible to connect to a shared iTunes library from Linux. If that’s the case, why does Rhythmbox still show these libraries as available? And how come it shows my library under this node? Why would I listen to my own shared library? Finally, I’ve found that even if I’m running Rhythmbox on another machine, I still can’t connect to my shared library. This feature seems to be downright broken – so why is it still in the build?
  5. The GUI and Backend are on One Thread: I keep about half of my music collection as lossless FLAC files. When I want to rip these files to my portable media device, they need to be converted to the Mp3 format. Turns out that Rhythmbox thinks it appropriate to transcode these files on the same thread that it uses to update its GUI, so that while this process is taking place, the app becomes laggy, and at times, downright unusable. Further, the application doesn’t seem to give me any control over the bitrate that my songs are transcoded to. Fuck!
  6. Lack of Playlist Options: Smart playlists in Rhythmbox are missing a rather key feature: Randomness. When filling the aforementioned mobile device with music, I would like to select a random 4GB of music from my top rated playlist. But I can’t. I can select 4GB of music by most every criteria except randomness, which means that I get the same 600 or so songs on my device every time I fill it. This is strange, because I can shuffle the contents of a static playlist; But I cannot randomly fill a smart playlist. Great.

    If you have a device that has a small amount of memory, this feature is essential

    It's funny; I really want to like Rhythmbox, but it's shit like this that ruins the experience for me

  7. Columns: What the fuck. Who wrote this part of the application? When I choose the columns that are visible in the main window, I can’t re-order them. That’s right. So the only order that I can put my columns in is Track, Title, Genre, Artist, Album, Year, Time, Quality, Rating. Can’t reorder them at all, and I have to go into the preferences menu to choose which ones are displayed, instead of being able to right-click on the column headers to select them like I can in every other program written in the last 10 years. This is just ridiculous. I know that the GTK+ toolkit allows you to create re-order-able columns, because I’ve seen it done.

    This is just so incredibly backward. I mean, columns are a standard part of the GTK+ toolkit, and I've seen plenty of other apps that do this properly.

    Why, for the love of God, can't these be re-ordered?

  8. The Equalizer is Balls: No presets, and no preamp. So I can set the EQ, and my settings are magically saved, but I can only have one setting, because there doesn’t appear to be a way to create multiple profiles. And louder music sounds like balls, because I can’t turn down the preamp, so I get digital distortion throughout my signal. It would be better to just not have an equalizer at all.

    I mean, it works. But...

    I mean, it works. But...

  9. Context Menus Don’t Make Sense: Let’s just take a look at this context menu for a moment. There are three ways to remove a song from a playlist. You can Remove the song, which just removes it from the playlist, but not from your library or your hard drive. Alternatively, you can select Move to Trash, which does what you might expect – it removes the song from the playlist, the library, and your computer. I’ve got a problem with the naming conventions here. The purpose of Remove isn’t well explained, and confused the hell out of me at first. In addition, when browsing a mobile device that you’ve filled with music, the GUI breaks down even further. In this case, you can still hit Remove, which seems to remove the song from Rhythmbox’s listing, but leaves the file on the device. So now I have a file on my device that I can’t access. Great. The right-click menu also has the ability to copy and cut the song, even though there is no immediately obvious way to paste it. For that functionality, you’ll have to head up to the Edit menu.

    The right-click context menu

    I'm starting to run out of anger. The 10,000 papercuts that come along with this app are making me numb to it.

  10. No Command Line Tools: Now, normally, this wouldn’t bother me too much. A music library is something that’s meant to have a GUI, and doesn’t generally lend itself to working from the command line. In this case however, command line access to Rhythmbox would be really handy, because I’d like to set up a hot key on my keyboard that will skip songs or pause playback. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that within the software, and it doesn’t have any command line arguments that I can call instead. Balls.

There you have it, 10 things that really ruin the Rhythmbox experience. While using this piece of software, I felt like the developers worked really hard to build something that was sort of comparable to Apple’s iTunes, and then stopped trying. That isn’t good enough! If we want to attract users to our platform of choice, and keep them here, we need to give them reasons to check it out, and even more to stick around. If I say to you that I want to have the best Linux media player, you tend to put the emphasis on the word Linux. Why not just make the best media player? GNOME is on at least half of all Linux desktops, if not more. Why hinder it with software that gives people a poor first impression of what Linux is capable of? Seriously guys, let’s step it up.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Adobe Air and Fedora 12

March 22nd, 2010 2 comments

This weekend, I installed Fedora 12 (Constantine) on my laptop, and I have to say that so far, I’m impressed. Thanks to the standard GNOME desktop, it looked familiar, and felt like a more polished version of the Debian desktop that I’m used to. The installation only took 15 minutes, and almost everything worked immediately.

One of the only things that I’ve had troubles with thus far is Adobe AIR. Now normally, I avoid Adobe apps like they’re the plague, since the great ones are really expensive (Photoshop, Premiere, etc), and the free ones are awful and full of security holes (Reader, Flash on anything but Windows). In this case however, I got hooked on the AIR framework because of Tweetdeck, an excellent little application that makes managing Twitter feeds a dream.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work worth a shit on Fedora 12.

Now most AIR apps ship with an installer that will put the framework on your system if you don’t already have it. I’ve always had problems with this method on Linux, and have instead downloaded AIR directly from Adobe as a *.bin file, and installed it manually from a root terminal.

The next step is to install the app. In the case of Tweetdeck, the process is a little bit convoluted because they use a Flash widget on their website (Christ, why?) that starts the installation for you – sketchy from a security standpoint, but it’s always worked well for me in the past. Under Fedora, the installer just crashed.

Hoping for a workaround, I downloaded the *.air installer file to my desktop and tried to use the Adobe AIR Application Installer from my root terminal to do the job. All that got me was a bunch of angry error text. After a quick IxQuicking, I found this blog post with some answers in the comments:

#delete the AIR certs:
rm -rf /etc/opt/Adobe/certificates/crypt/

#install your application like this:
su – /opt/Adobe\ AIR/Versions/1.0/airappinstaller /path/to/install/file.air

While this worked, and the install actually completed (albeit with a bunch of angry error messages yelling at me for deleting the AIR security certs), Tweetdeck failed to function on launch first launch, complaining about Adobe AIR failing, and requesting that I file a bug.

Luckily, one quick restart later, and everything worked perfectly.

So long story short, AIR is kinda dirty on Fedora, and doesn’t work as well as on other distributions. Everything else, however, works great.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Empathy: What a Piece of Garbage

March 20th, 2010 17 comments

The Empathy instant messaging client for Gnome is not yet ready to be the default client on your favourite Gnome-based distribution. In fact, I can’t even make it work! Tyler B originally posted about this problem way back in October, but it doesn’t seem to have been fixed during the interim.

To demonstrate my point, allow me to walk you through the process of adding an MSN account, one of the officially supported protocols, to a clean install of Empathy:

  1. After launching Empathy, select Accounts from the Edit menu:

    The accounts manager for Empathy

    Hey guys, nice UI. Way to give that listbox a default width. And why the hell is this dialogue box so big, anyway?

  2. Select the MSN protocol from the dropdown menu, and hit the create button:

    The list of protocols that Empathy "supports"

    Wow, way to get icons for every protocol, guys. Either have icons, or don't, ok?

  3. Enter your MSN email address and account password, and hit the Connect button:

    Adding my account details to the new MSN account in Empathy

    Hey, see that Add button under the listbox? If I click that, I can add a new account, before even finishing with this one! Wow, recursion in a GUI! Sweet!

  4. With the new account created, hit the Close button, and watch as the authentication of your newly added MSN account fails:

    Authentication of my newly added account failed

    Wouldn't you know it, my freshly minted account failed to authenticate. I wonder what the problem is...

  5. Hit the Edit Account button, and open up the Advanced area of the Account Manager window that pops up:

    The Advanced area of the Account Manager window in Empathy

    Have you ever seen anything communicate over port 0? I haven't

  6. Open up your working copy of the trusty Pidgin instant messenging client, put the correct port number into the Port textbox in Empathy, and try to figure out how to save your changes:

    Empathy notifies me that I have unsaved changes

    Since I couldn't click apply, I hit Close. Empathy warned me that I hadn't saved my changes, and only then enabled the Apply button in the Account Manager window... Fuck me

  7. Watch as, even with the correct Server and Port information, Empathy continues to fail miserably at connecting to an MSN account:

    The contact list again

    Hey, it's still failing to connect. Imagine that.

The Bottom line? This application is buggy, untested, incompatible, falsely-advertised garbage. I want my Pidgin back. It may have some rough edges, but at least it connects. How these glaring errors and this horrible GUI design ever got past the community is beyond me. I do hope that Empathy has something even somewhat mediocre up their sleeves for their 2.29 release, but until then, I’m headed back to Pidgin.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.