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5 apt tips and tricks

December 22nd, 2016 No comments

Everyone loves apt. It’s a simple command line tool to install new programs and update your system, but beyond the standard commands like update, install and upgrade did you know there are a load of other useful apt-based commands you can run?

1) Search for a package name with apt-cache search

Can’t remember the exact package name but you know some of it? Make it easy on yourself and search using apt-cache. For example:

apt-cache search Firefox

It lists all results for your search. Nice and easy!

It lists all results for your search. Nice and easy!

2) Search for package information with apt-cache show

Want details of a package before you install it? Simple just search for it with apt-cache show.

apt-cache show firefox

More details than you probably even wanted!

More details than you probably even wanted!

3) Upgrade only a specific package

So you already know that you can upgrade your whole system by running

apt-get upgrade

but did you know you can upgrade a specific package instead of the whole system? It’s easy, just specify the package name in the upgrade command. For example to upgrade just firefox run:

apt-get upgrade firefox

4) Install specific package version

Normally when you apt-get install something you get the latest version available but what if that’s not what you wanted? What if you wanted a specific version of the package instead? Again, simple, just specify it when you run the install command. For example run:

apt-get install firefox=version

Where version is the version number you wish to install.

5) Free up disk space with clean

When you download and install packages apt will automatically cache them on your hard drive. This can be useful for a number of reasons, for example some distributions use delta packages so that only what has changed between versions are re-downloaded. In order to do this it needs to have a base cached file already on your hard drive. However these files can take up a lot of space and often times don’t get a lot of updates anyway. Thankfully there are two quick commands that free up this disk space.

apt-get clean

apt-get autoclean

Both of these essentially do the same thing but the difference here is autoclean only gets rid of cached files that have a newer version also cached on your hard drive. These older packages won’t be used anymore and so they are an easy way to free up some space.

There you have it, you are now officially 5 apt commands smarter. Happy computing!

 

Blast from the Past: 10 reasons why Mint might not fail in India

December 21st, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on July 7, 2010. The original can be found here.


Last evening while reading the SA forums, I encountered a thread about Linux and what was required to bring it to the general public. One of the goons mentioned a post that indicated ten reasons why Ubuntu wasn’t ready for the desktop in India. I kid you not – the most ridiculous reason was because users couldn’t perform the important ritual of right click/Refreshing on the desktop five or more times before getting down to work.

Here are Bharat’s reasons why Ubuntu fails, followed by why I think Mint might succeed instead in its place (while still employing his dubious logic.) When I refer to Indian users, of course, I’m taking his word for it – he’s obviously the authority here.

GRUB Boot Loader does not have an Aesthetic Appeal.

Bharat complains about the visual appearance of Grub – how it does not create a good first impression. This is, of course, in spite of Windows’ horrible boot menu when there’s more than one operating system or boot option to select. Apparently Indian users all have full-color splash screens with aesthetic appeal for BIOS, video card and PCI add-in initialization as well; this is just the icing on the cake that makes them go “eurrrgh” and completely discount Ubuntu.

To improve relations with India and eliminate this eyesore, Mint has added a background image during this phase of boot. My good friend Tyler also informs me that there’s a simple option in the Mint Control Center called “Start-Up Manager” that alllows easy configuration of grub to match a system’s native resolution and color depth.

Login Screen-Users are required to type in their username.

Again, another seemingly impenetrable barrier. Has nobody in India worked in an environment where typing in usernames AND passwords is required – like, for example, posting a blog entry on WordPress or signing into Gmail? In any event, Mint’s GNOME installation definitely gives a clickable list for this awfully onerous task.

Desktop-The Refresh option is missing!

I’m just going to directly lift this description as to the burning need for right click / Refresh:

What does an average Indian user do when the desktop loads in Windows?He rights clicks on the desktop and refreshes the desktop about 5-6 times or until he is satisfied.This is a ritual performed by most Indian Users after switching on the computer and just before shutting down the computer.
When this average user tries to perform his ‘Refresh’ ritual in Ubuntu,he is in for a rude shock.The Ubuntu Desktop does not have a Refresh Option or any other simliar option like Reload in the Right Click Menu.
So I advice Ubuntu Developers to include to a Refresh or a Reload option in the right click menu on the Desktop and in the Nautilus File Manager.The option should be equivalent of pressing Ctrl+R.As of now ,pressing Ctrl+R refreshes the Desktop in Ubuntu.

Mint’s developers have unfortunately not come around to this clearly superior way of thinking by default yet.

Read more…

Discover and listen to your next favourite band, all free!

December 20th, 2016 No comments

Jamendo is a wonderful website where artists can share their music and fans can listen all for free. The music featured is all released under various Creative Commons licenses and so it is free to use and listen to, burn it onto a CD (if people still do that?), put it on your music device and take it on the go, or cut it up and use it in your own works like a podcast. In cases where there may otherwise be a license conflict, for example if you are advertising in your podcast or not releasing it under the same license as the music, Jamendo even facilitates buying a commercial license for yours needs. Sure these features make it attractive for content creators looking for some free background music but none of this is where Jamendo really shines. It shines in just how good of an experience it is to find and listen to new music.

A simple interface makes finding new music a joy

A simple interface makes finding new music a joy

From fostering different music communities, putting together nice playlists or featuring new music Jamendo always has something new to discover.

A few quick stats about Jamendo taken straight from their website:

  • A wide catalog of more than 500,000 tracks
  • More than 40,000 artists
  • Over 150 countries

You can find Jamendo’s website at https://www.jamendo.com.

 

Categories: Tyler B Tags: , , ,

Blast from the Past: Linux Saves the Day

December 19th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 23, 2009. The original can be found here.


Earlier this week I had an experience where using Linux got me out of trouble in a relatively quick and easy manner. The catch? It was kind of Linux’s fault that I was in trouble in the first place.

Around halfway through November my Linux install on my laptop crapped out, and really fucked things up hard. However, my Windows install wasn’t affected, so I started using Windows on my laptop primarily, while switching to an openSUSE VM on my desktop for my home computing needs.

About a week back I decided it was time to reinstall Linux on my laptop, since exams and my 600 hojillion final projects were out of the way. I booted into Win7, nuked the partitions being used by Linux and… went and got some pizza and forgot to finish my install. Turns out I hadn’t restarted my PC anywhere between that day and when shit hit the fan. When I did restart, I was informed to the merry tune of a PC Speaker screech that my computer had no bootable media.

… Well shit.

My first reaction was to try again, my second was to check to make sure the hard drive was plugged in firmly. After doing this a few times, I was so enraged about my lost data that I was about ready to repave the whole drive when I had the good sense to throw in a BartPE live CD and check to see if there was any data left on the drive. To my elation, all of my data was still in tact! It was at this precise moment I thought to myself “Oh drat, I bet I uninstalled that darned GRUB bootloader. Fiddlesticks!”

However, all was not lost. I know that Linux is great and is capable of finding other OS installs during its install and setting them up in GRUB without me having to look around for a windows boot point and do it myself. 20 minutes and an openSUSE install later, everything was back to normal on my laptop, Win7 and openSUSE 11.1 included!

As we speak I’m attempting an in-place upgrade to openSUSE 11.2 so hopefully I get lucky and everything goes smoothly!

 

CoreGTK 3.18.0 Released!

December 18th, 2016 No comments

The next version of CoreGTK, version 3.18.0, has been tagged for release! This is the first version of CoreGTK to support GTK+ 3.18.

Highlights for this release:

  • Rebased on GTK+ 3.18
  • New supported GtkWidgets in this release:
    • GtkActionBar
    • GtkFlowBox
    • GtkFlowBoxChild
    • GtkGLArea
    • GtkModelButton
    • GtkPopover
    • GtkPopoverMenu
    • GtkStackSidebar
  • Reverted to using GCC as the default compiler (but clang can still be used)

CoreGTK is an Objective-C language binding for the GTK+ widget toolkit. Like other “core” Objective-C libraries, CoreGTK is designed to be a thin wrapper. CoreGTK is free software, licensed under the GNU LGPL.

Read more about this release here.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.

Blast from the Past: An Experiment in Transitioning to Open Document Formats

December 16th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on June 15, 2013. The original can be found here.


Recently I read an interesting article by Vint Cerf, mostly known as the man behind the TCP/IP protocol that underpins modern Internet communication, where he brought up a very scary problem with everything going digital. I’ll quote from the article (Cerf sees a problem: Today’s digital data could be gone tomorrow – posted June 4, 2013) to explain:

One of the computer scientists who turned on the Internet in 1983, Vinton Cerf, is concerned that much of the data created since then, and for years still to come, will be lost to time.

Cerf warned that digital things created today — spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data — won’t be readable in the years and centuries ahead.

Cerf illustrated the problem in a simple way. He runs Microsoft Office 2011 on Macintosh, but it cannot read a 1997 PowerPoint file. “It doesn’t know what it is,” he said.

“I’m not blaming Microsoft,” said Cerf, who is Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist. “What I’m saying is that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time.”

The data objects are only meaningful if the application software is available to interpret them, Cerf said. “We won’t lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk.”

This is a well known problem for anyone who has used a computer for quite some time. Occasionally you’ll get sent a file that you simply can’t open because the modern application you now run has ‘lost’ the ability to read the format created by the (now) ‘ancient’ application. But beyond this minor inconvenience it also brings up the question of how future generations, specifically historians, will be able to look back on our time and make any sense of it. We’ve benefited greatly in the past by having mediums that allow us a more or less easy interpretation of written text and art. Newspaper clippings, personal diaries, heck even cave drawings are all relatively easy to translate and interpret when compared to unknown, seemingly random, digital content. That isn’t to say it is an impossible task, it is however one that has (perceivably) little market value (relatively speaking at least) and thus would likely be de-emphasized or underfunded.

A Solution?

So what can we do to avoid these long-term problems? Realistically probably nothing. I hate to sound so down about it but at some point all technology will yet again make its next leap forward and likely render our current formats completely obsolete (again) in the process. The only thing we can do today that will likely have a meaningful impact that far into the future is to make use of very well documented and open standards. That means transitioning away from so-called binary formats, like .doc and .xls, and embracing the newer open standards meant to replace them. By doing so we can ensure large scale compliance (today) and work toward a sort of saturation effect wherein the likelihood of a complete ‘loss’ of ability to interpret our current formats decreases. This solution isn’t just a nice pie in the sky pipe dream for hippies either. Many large multinational organizations, governments, scientific and statistical groups and individuals are also all beginning to recognize this same issue and many have begun to take action to counteract it.

Enter OpenDocument/Office Open XML

Back in 2005 the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) created a technical committee to help develop a completely transparent and open standardized document format the end result of which would be the OpenDocument standard. This standard has gone on to be the default file format in most open source applications (such as LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org, Calligra Suite, etc.) and has seen wide spread adoption by many groups and applications (like Microsoft Office). According to Wikipedia the OpenDocument is supported and promoted by over 600 companies and organizations (including Apple, Adobe, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Oracle, Wikimedia Foundation, etc.) and is currently the mandatory standard for all NATO members. It is also the default format (or at least a supported format) by more than 25 different countries and many more regions and cities.

Not to be outdone, and potentially lose their position as the dominant office document format creator, Microsoft introduced a somewhat competing format called Office Open XML in 2006. There is much in common between these two formats, both being based on XML and structured as a collection of files within a ZIP container. However they do differ enough that they are 1) not interoperable and 2) that software written to import/export one format cannot be easily made to support the other. While OOXML too is an open standard there have been some concerns about just how open it actually is. For instance take these (completely biased) comparisons done by the OpenDocument Fellowship: Part I / Part II. Wikipedia (Open Office XML – from June 9, 2013) elaborates in saying:

Starting with Microsoft Office 2007, the Office Open XML file formats have become the default file format of Microsoft Office. However, due to the changes introduced in the Office Open XML standard, Office 2007 is not entirely in compliance with ISO/IEC 29500:2008. Microsoft Office 2010 includes support for the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 compliant version of Office Open XML, but it can only save documents conforming to the transitional schemas of the specification, not the strict schemas.

It is important to note that OpenDocument is not without its own set of issues, however its (continuing) standardization process is far more transparent. In practice I will say that (at least as of the time of writing this article) only Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 can consistently edit and display OOXML documents without issue, whereas most other applications (like LibreOffice and OpenOffice) have a much better time handling OpenDocument. The flip side of which is while Microsoft Office can open and save to OpenDocument format it constantly lags behind the official standard in feature compliance. Without sounding too conspiratorial this is likely due to Microsoft wishing to show how much ‘better’ its standard is in comparison. That said with the forthcoming 2013 version Microsoft is set to drastically improve its compatibility with OpenDocument so the overall situation should get better with time.

Current day however I think, technologically, both standards are now on more or less equal footing. Initially both standards had issues and were lacking some features however both have since evolved to cover 99% of what’s needed in a document format.

What to do?

As discussed above there are two different, some would argue, competing open standards for the replacement of the old closed formats. Ten years ago I would have said that the choice between the two is simple: Office Open XML all the way. However the landscape of computing has changed drastically in the last decade and will likely continue to diversify in the coming one. Cell phone sales have superseded computers and while Microsoft Windows is still the market leader on PCs, alternative operating systems like Apple’s Mac OS X and Linux have been gaining ground. Then you have the new cloud computing contenders like Google’s Google Docs which let you view and edit documents right within a web browser making the operating system irrelevant. All of this heterogeneity has thrown a curve ball into how standards are established and being completely interoperable is now key – you can’t just be the market leader on PCs and expect everyone else to follow your lead anymore. I don’t want to be limited in where I can use my documents, I want them to work on my PC (running Windows 7), my laptop (running Ubuntu 12.04), my cellphone (running iOS 5) and my tablet (running Android 4.2). It is because of these reasons that for me the conclusion, in an ideal world, is OpenDocument. For others the choice may very well be Office Open XML and that’s fine too – both attempt to solve the same problem and a little market competition may end up being beneficial in the short term.

Is it possible to transition to OpenDocument?

This is the tricky part of the conversation. Lets say you want to jump 100% over to OpenDocument… how do you do so? Converting between the different formats, like the old .doc or even the newer Office Open XML .docx, and OpenDocument’s .odt is far from problem free. For most things the conversion process should be as simple as opening the current format document and re-saving it as OpenDocument – there are even wizards that will automate this process for you on a large number of documents. In my experience however things are almost never quite as simple as that. From what I’ve seen any document that has a bulleted list ends up being converted with far from perfect accuracy. I’ve come close to re-creating the original formatting manually, making heavy use of custom styles in the process, but its still not a fun or straightforward task – perhaps in these situations continuing to use Microsoft formatting, via Office Open XML, is the best solution.

If however you are starting fresh or just converting simple documents with little formatting there is no reason why you couldn’t make the jump to OpenDocument. For me personally I’m going to attempt to convert my existing .doc documents to OpenDocument (if possible) or Office Open XML (where there are formatting issues). By the end I should be using exclusively open formats which is a good thing.

I’ll write a follow up post on my successes or any issues encountered if I think it warrants it. In the meantime I’m curious as to the success others have had with a process like this. If you have any comments or insight into how to make a transition like this go more smoothly I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.

 

Using screen to keep your terminal sessions alive

December 15th, 2016 No comments

Have you ever connected to a remote Linux computer, using a… let’s say less than ideal WiFi connection, and started running a command only to have your ssh connection drop and your command killed off in a half finished state? In the best of cases this is simply annoying but if it happens during something of consequence, like a system upgrade, it can leave you in a dire state. Thankfully there is a really simple way to avoid this from happening.

Enter: screen

screen is a simple terminal application that basically allows you to create additional persistent terminals. So instead of ssh-ing into your computer and running the command in that session you can instead start a screen session and then run your commands within that. If your connection drops you lose your ‘screen’ but the screen session continues uninterrupted on the computer. Then you can simply re-connect and resume the screen.

Explain with an example!

OK fine. Let’s say I want to write a document over ssh. First you connect to the computer then you start your favourite text editor and begin typing:

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: nano doc.txt

What a wonderful document!

What a wonderful document!

Now if I lost my connection at this point all of my hard work would also be lost because I haven’t saved it yet. Instead let’s say I used screen:

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: screen

Welcome to screen!

Welcome to screen!

Now with screen running I can just use my terminal like normal and write my story. But oh no I lost my connection! Now what will I do? Well simply re-connect and re-run screen telling it to resume the previous session.

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: screen -r

Voila! There you have it – a simple way to somewhat protect your long-running terminal applications from random network disconnects.

 

Blast from the Past: Phoenix Rising

December 14th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 12, 2009. The original can be found here.


As we prepare to bring The Linux Experiment to a close over the coming weeks, I find that this has been a time of (mostly solemn) reflection for myself and others. At the very least, it’s been an interesting experience with various flavours of Linux and what it has to offer. At its peak, it’s been a roller-coaster of controversial posts (my bad), positive experiences, and the urge to shatter our screens into pieces.

Let me share with you some of the things I’ve personally taken away from this experiment over the last three-and-a-half months.

Fedora 12 is on the bleeding edge of Linux development

This has been a point of discussion on both of our podcasts at this point, and a particular sore spot with both myself and Tyler. It’s come to a place wherein I’m sort of… afraid to perform updates to my system out of fear of just bricking it entirely. While this is admittedly something that could happen under any operating system and any platform, it’s never been as bad for me as it has been under Fedora 12.

As an example, the last *six* kernel updates for me to both Fedora 11 and 12 combined have completely broken graphics capability with my adapter (a GeForce 8600 M GS). Yes, I know that the Fedora development team is not responsible for ensuring that my graphics card works with their operating system – but this is not something the average user should have to worry about. Tyler has also had this issue, and I think would tend to agree with me.

Linux is fun, too

Though there have been so many frustrating moments over the last four months that I have been tempted to just format everything and go back to my native Windows 7 (previously: release candidate, now RTM). Through all of this though, Fedora – and Linux in general – has never stopped interesting me.

This could just be due to the fact that I’ve been learning so much – I can definitely do a lot more now than I ever could before under a Linux environment, and am reasonably pleased with this – but I’ve never sat down on my laptop and been bored to play around with getting stuff to work. In addition, with some software (such as Wine or CrossOver) I’ve been able to get a number of Windows games working as well. Linux can play, too!

Customizing my UI has also been a very nice experience. It looks roughly like Sasha’s now – no bottom panel, GnomeDo with Docky, and Compiz effects… it’s quite pretty now.

There’s always another way

If there’s one thing I’ve chosen to take away from this experiment it’s that there is ALWAYS some kind of alternative to any of my problems, or anything I can do under another platform or operating system. Cisco VPN client won’t install under Wine, nor will the Linux client version? BAM, say hello to vpnc.

Need a comprehensive messaging platform with support for multiple services? Welcome Pidgin into the ring.

No, I still can’t do everything I could do in Windows… but I’m sure, given enough time, I could make Fedora 12 an extremely viable alternative to Windows 7 for me.

The long and short of it

There’s a reason I’ve chosen my clever and rather cliche title for this post. According to lore, a phoenix is a bird that would rise up from its own ashes in a rebirth cycle after igniting its nest at the end of a life cycle. So is the case for Fedora 12 and my experience with Linux.

At this point, I could not see myself continuing my tenure with the Fedora operating system. For a Linux user with my relatively low level of experience, it is too advanced and too likely to brick itself with a round of updates to be viable for me. Perhaps after quite a bit more experience with Linux on the whole, I could revisit it – but not for a good long while. This is not to say it’s unstable – it’s been rock solid, never crashing once – but it’s just not for me.

To that end, Fedora 12 rests after a long and interest-filled tenure with me. Rising from the ashes is a new user in the world of Linux – me. I can say with confidence that I will be experimenting with Linux distributions in the future – maybe dipping my feet in the somewhat familiar waters of Ubuntu once more before wading into the deep-end.

Watch out, Linux community… here I come.

 

The Linux Action Show

December 13th, 2016 No comments

This isn’t a normal post for The Linux Experiment but I wanted to give a shout out to the guys over at the Linux Action Show. The Linux Action Show is a long running weekly Jupiter Broadcasting podcast that aims to bring the listeners up to speed on all things Linux news as well as cover one major topic in-depth per episode. While it’s true that sometimes the hosts can be a bit… ‘Linux-preachy’ or gloss over the (sometimes major) hurdles in choosing to run open source software they always put together an entertaining and informative show.

It's a Linux podcast... what did you expect? :P

It’s a Linux podcast… what did you expect? 😛

If a Linux podcast sounds like something you might be interested in I would highly recommend checking them out!

Linux Action Show @ Jupiter Broadcasting

 

Blast from the Past: Coming to Grips with Reality

December 12th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 8, 2009. The original can be found here.


The following is a cautionary tale about putting more trust in the software installed on your system than in your own knowledge.

Recently, while preparing for a big presentation that relied on me running a Java applet in Iceweasel, I discovered that I needed to install an additional package to make it work. This being nothing out of the ordinary, I opened up a terminal, and used apt-cache search to locate the package in question. Upon doing so, my system notified me that I had well over 50 ‘unnecessary’ packages installed. It recommended that I take care of the issue with the apt-get autoremove command.

Bad idea.

On restart, I found that my system was virtually destroyed. It seemed to start X11, but refused to give me either a terminal or a gdm login prompt. After booting into Debian’s rescue mode and messing about in the terminal for some time trying to fix a few circular dependencies and get my system back, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time, backed up my files with an Ubuntu live disk, and reinstalled from a netinst nightly build disk of the testing repositories. (Whew, that was a long sentence)

Unfortunately, just as soon as I rebooted from the install, I found that my system lacked a graphical display manager, and that I could only log in to my terminal, even though I had explicitly told the installer to add GNOME to my system. I headed over to #debian for some help, and found out that the testing repositories were broken, and that my system lacked gdm for some unknown reason. After following their instructions to work around the problem, I got my desktop back, and once more have a fully functioning system.

The moral of the story is a hard one for me to swallow. You see, I have come to the revelation that I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the course of the last 3 months, I have learned an awful lot about running and maintaining a Linux system, but I still lack the ability to fix even the simplest of problems without running for help. Sure, I can install and configure a Debian box like nobody’s business, having done it about 5 times since this experiment started; but I still lack the ability to diagnose a catastrophic failure and to recover from it without a good dose of help. I have also realized something that as a software developer, I know and should have been paying attention to when I used that fatal autoremove command – when something seems wrong, trust your instincts over your software, because they’re usually correct.

This entire experiment has been a huge learning experience for me. I installed an operating system that I had never used before, and eschewed the user-friendly Ubuntu for Debian, a distribution that adheres strictly to free software ideals and isn’t nearly as easy for beginners to use. That done, after a month of experience, I switched over from the stable version of Debian to the testing repositories, figuring that it would net me some newer software that occasionally worked better (especially in the case of Open Office and Gnome Network Manager), and some experience with running a somewhat less stable system. I certainly got what I wished for.

Overall, I don’t regret a thing, and I intend to keep the testing repositories installed on my laptop. I don’t usually use it for anything but note taking in class, so as long as I back it up regularly, I don’t mind if it breaks on occasion; I enjoy learning new things, and Debian keeps me on my toes. In addition, I think that I’ll install Kubuntu on my desktop machine when this whole thing is over. I like Debian a lot, but I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu and its variants, and feel that I should give them a try now that I’ve had my taste of what a distribution that isn’t written with beginners in mind is like. I have been very impressed by Linux, and have no doubts that it will become a major part of my computing experience, if not replacing Windows entirely – but I recognize that I still have a long way to go before I’ve really accomplished my goals.

As an afterthought: If anybody is familiar with some good tutorials for somebody who has basic knowledge but needs to learn more about what’s going on below the surface of a Linux install, please recommend them to me.

 

Blast from the Past: Top 10 things I have learned since the start of this experiment

December 9th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on October 2, 2009. The original can be found here.


In a nod to Dave’s classic top ten segment I will now share with you the top 10 things I have learned since starting this experiment one month ago.

10: IRC is not dead

Who knew? I’m joking of course but I had no idea that so many people still actively participated in IRC chats. As for the characters who hang out in these channels… well some are very helpful and some… answer questions like this:

Tyler: Hey everyone. I’m looking for some help with Gnome’s Empathy IM client. I can’t seem to get it to connect to MSN.

Some asshat: Tyler, if I wanted a pidgin clone, I would just use pidgin

It’s this kind of ‘you’re doing it wrong because that’s not how I would do it’ attitude can be very damaging to new Linux users. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get help and someone throwing BS like that back in your face.

9: Jokes about Linux for nerds can actually be funny

Stolen from Sasha’s post.

Admit it, you laughed too

Admit it, you laughed too

8. Buy hardware for your Linux install, not the other way around

Believe me, if you know that your hardware is going to be 100% compatible ahead of time you will have a much more enjoyable experience. At the start of this experiment Jon pointed out this useful website. Many similar sites also exist and you should really take advantage of them if you want the optimal Linux experience.

7. When it works, it’s unparalleled

Linux seems faster, more featured and less resource hogging than a comparable operating system from either Redmond or Cupertino. That is assuming it’s working correctly…

6. Linux seems to fail for random or trivial reasons

If you need proof of these just go take a look back on the last couple of posts on here. There are times when I really think Linux could be used by everyone… and then there are moments when I don’t see how anyone outside of the most hardcore computer users could ever even attempt it. A brand new user should not have to know about xorg.conf or how to edit their DNS resolver.

Mixer - buttons unchecked

5. Linux might actually have a better game selection than the Mac!

Obviously there was some jest in there but Linux really does have some gems for games out there. Best of all most of them are completely free! Then again some are free for a reason

Armagetron

Armagetron

4. A Linux distribution defines a lot of your user experience

This can be especially frustrating when the exact same hardware performs so differently. I know there are a number of technical reasons why this is the case but things seem so utterly inconsistent that a new Linux user paired with the wrong distribution might be easily turned off.

3. Just because its open source doesn’t mean it will support everything

Even though it should damn it! The best example I have for this happens to be MSN clients. Pidgin is by far my favourite as it seems to work well and even supports a plethora of useful plugins! However, unlike many other clients, it doesn’t support a lot of MSN features such as voice/video chat, reliable file transfers, and those god awful winks and nudges that have appeared in the most recent version of the official client. Is there really that good of a reason holding the Pidgin developers back from just making use of the other open source libraries that already support these features?

2. I love the terminal

I can’t believe I actually just said that but it’s true. On a Windows machine I would never touch the command line because it is awful. However on Linux I feel empowered by using the terminal. It lets me quickly perform tasks that might take a lot of mouse clicks through a cumbersome UI to otherwise perform.

And the #1 thing I have learned since the start of this experiment? Drum roll please…

1. Linux might actually be ready to replace Windows for me

But I guess in order to find out if that statement ends up being true you’ll have to keep following along 😉

 

KWLUG: C Language, WebOS (2016-12)

December 8th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of C Language, WebOS published on December 6th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Categories: Linux, Podcast, Tyler B Tags: ,

Alternative software: Abiword word processor

December 8th, 2016 No comments

Continuing my ‘quest to seek out the hidden gems amongst the Linux alternative software pile’ I decided to take a look into alternative word processors this time. Outside of the major two offerings, LibreOffice and OpenOffice, there are two smaller word processors that often get mentioned: Abiword and Calligra Words. This post is about the former.

So what is Abiword anyway?

Well Abiword is, shocker!, a word processor just like LibreOffice or Microsoft Word. What makes it different from the other two is that it tends to be a bit more lean and stripped down which makes it lighter on system resources. It does this by not offering the same number of features that the bigger word processors do but there is an argument to be made that most people don’t even use half of those features anyway. Instead Abiword focuses on the core writing experience.

A much leaner interface than most 'bigger' word processors

A much leaner interface than most ‘bigger’ word processors

So what is is like to type in Abiword? Well, put simply, for the most part it is pretty boring. I suppose that is a good thing for a word processor but it also points out one of Abiword’s biggest failings: there’s no real compelling reason to use it. In fact there are a few compelling reasons not to use it including: that it’s a smaller project, and thus not likely to get as much attention or develop as much software maturity as something like LibreOffice, and that it honestly seems a bit buggy. For example when starting to type the above paragraph within the application itself I ended up with a cursor that was stuck in the middle of a letter in my word.

Forgive the spelling issues I wanted to grab a screenshot in case the bug disappeared.

Forgive the spelling/grammar issues – I wanted to grab a screenshot as quickly as possible in case the bug disappeared.

I also had an issue with Abiword integrating cleanly with my desktop environment’s theme. I’m not saying this is specifically a fault in Abiword but I can say that LibreOffice does integrate with the theme much better.

That sure is a dark ruler...

That sure is a dark ruler…

And yes, while it’s true that Abiword does take up less resources that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s doing the same job. For example I copied the content of this post, above what I’m currently writing, and pasted it into both LibreOffice Writer and Abiword to see what the results would be. LibreOffice Writer took about 50MB to display the content while Abiword only took around 20MB but just look at the differences…

OK, that looks pretty close to the original post I copied from

OK, that looks pretty close to the original post I copied from

What happened here? Images became a bullet point list that continue through the rest of the document? And why is everything so super-sized?

What happened here? Images became a bullet point list that continues through the rest of the document? And why is everything so super-sized?

I guess my point is while I don’t think you need your word processor to be flashy you do need it to be a work horse. It, above most other software packages a user installs, is the quintessential productivity application and absolutely needs to get out of your way and work. I’m not saying LibreOffice is perfect, far from it in fact, I just don’t see a good reason to recommend someone deal with the issues in Abiword in order to save an extra couple of MB of RAM.

 

Categories: Open Source Software, Tyler B Tags:

KWLUG: OpenWRT customization (2016-11)

December 7th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of OpenWRT customization published on December 6th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Categories: Linux, Podcast, Tyler B Tags: ,

Blast from the Past: How is it doing that?

December 7th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 15, 2009. The original can be found here.


Just about everything that I’ve ever read about media playback on Linux has been negative. As I understand the situation, the general consensus of the internet is that Linux should not be relied on to play media of any kind. Further, I know that the other guys have had troubles with video playback in the past.

All of which added up to me being extremely confused when I accidentally discovered that my system takes video playback like a champ. Now from the outset, you should know that my system is extremely underpowered where high definition video playback is concerned. I’m running Debian testing on a laptop with a 1.73 GHz single-core processor, 758MB shared video RAM, and a 128MB Intel GMA 900 integrated graphics card.

Incredibly enough, it turns out that this humble setup is capable of playing almost every video file that I can find, even with compiz effects fully enabled and just a base install of vlc media player.

Most impressively, the machine can flawlessly stream a 1280x528px 1536kb/s *.mkv file over my wireless network.

As a comparison, I have a Windows Vista machine with a 2.3GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 512MB video card upstairs that can’t play the same file without special codecs and the help of a program called CoreAVC. Even with these, it plays the file imperfectly.

I can’t explain how this is possible, but needless to say, I am astounded at the ability of Linux.

 

Enjoy some free audiobooks with LibriVox!

December 6th, 2016 No comments

LibriVox is a really neat project that takes volunteer readers who record themselves reading public domain works aloud and packages up the results as completely free audiobooks. This is a great alternative to something like the commercial offerings found at Audible, although it doesn’t have anywhere near the same number of available books to choose from. This is especially true if you stray away from the classics and want something a bit more… modern.

Do you have an awesome reading voice? Maybe you should contribute to the project!

Do you have an awesome reading voice? Maybe you should contribute to the project!

Even still I’ve listened to a few so far and, while some readers are certainly better than others, I have to say I’m quite impressed with the overall quality of the recordings. There are also some mobile apps for iOS and Android that make the whole listening experience very nice.

 

Blast from the Past: A lengthy, detailed meta-analysis of studies of GNOME Do

December 5th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on November 23, 2009. The original can be found here.


GNOME Do is a fantastic little program that makes Linux Mint a very comfortable experience. At first glance, GNOME Do just looks like a collection of launchers that can be docked to your window, with a search function attached for completeness. What stands out about Do, though, is that the search function offers a lot of versatility. Through Do, I can launch programs, mount and unmount drives, bring up folders, and execute a variety of actions through the plug-ins. I’ve found that it saves me a lot of mouse movement (yes, I’m that lazy) when I’m working on assignments. In less than two seconds, I can call up Kate to start up my data entry, start up R in terminal, open the folder containing all of my data, and start a conversation in Pidgin. Best of all, since the search function can be called up with the Super+Space key combination, I can do all of this without ever having to switch windows.

I also find that Do helps to clean up the clutter on my desktop. I’ve got it set up as the Docky theme on the bottom of my screen. Since I have no need for the panel, I’ve got it set up to autohide at the top of my monitor. This means when I have something maximized, it legitimately takes up the entire monitor.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

Adding or removing programs to or from Do is a cinch too – it’s as simple as dragging and dropping.

Unfortunately, it’s not all great

Like every other Linux program, Do saves time and effort. Like every other Linux program, Do also costs time and effort in the bugs that it has. The most frustrating bug I’ve had so far is that Do simply disappears on a restart. It runs and in a manner it “exists” since I can resize it on my desktop, but I can’t actually see or use it. Apparently this is a known bug, and I haven’t been able to find a decent solution to it. It’s especially unfortunate because Do provides so much convenience that when it doesn’t work properly, I feel like I’m reverting to some primitive age where I’m dependent on my mouse (the horror!)

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it's a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does work since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it’s a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does function, since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Regardless, I’d recommend Do for anyone who can install it. When it works, it’s great for saving you some time and effort; when it doesn’t, well, ’tis better to have loved and lost….

 

Blast from the Past: Open formats are… the best formats?

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on January 17, 2016. The original can be found here.


Over the past few years there has been a big push to replace proprietary formats with open formats. For example Open Document Format and Office Open XML have largely replaced the legacy binary formats, we’re now seeing HTML5 + JavaScript supplant Silverlight and Java applets, and even the once venerable Flash is on its deathbed.

This of course all makes sense. We’re now in an era where the computing platforms, be it Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, Android, iOS, Linux, etc., simply don’t command the individual market shares (or at least mind shares) that they once used to. Things are… more diversified now. And while they may not matter to the user the underlying differences in technologies certainly matter to the developer. This is one of the many reasons you see lots of movement to open formats where the same format can be implemented, relatively easily, on all of the aforementioned platforms.

So then the question must be asked: does this trend mean that open formats are the best formats? That is obviously quite a simple question to a deep (and perhaps subjective) subject so perhaps it’s better to look at it from a user adoption perspective. Does being an open format, given all of its advantages, translate to market adoption? There the answer is not as clear.

Open by example

Let’s take a look a few instances where a clear format winner exists and see if it is an open format or a closed/proprietary format.

Documents

When it comes to documents the Open Document Format and Open Office XML have largely taken over. This has been driven largely by Microsoft making Office Open XML the default file format in all versions of Microsoft Office since 2007. Additionally many governments and organizations around the world have standardized on the use of Open Document Format. That said older Microsoft Office binary formats (i.e. .doc, .xls, etc.) are still widely in use.

Verdict: open formats have largely won out.

Audio

For the purposes of the “audio” category let’s consider simply the audio codec that most people use to consume their music. In that regard MP3 is still the absolute dominant format. While it is somewhat encumbered by patents you will hardly find a single device out there that doesn’t support it. This is true even when there are better lossy compression formats (including the proprietary AAC or open Ogg Vorbis) as well as lossless formats like FLAC.

Verdict: the closed/proprietary MP3 format is the de facto standard.

Video

Similarly for the “video” category I’ll only be focusing on the codecs. While there are plenty of open video formats (Theora, WebM, etc.) they are not nearly as well supported as the proprietary formats like MPEG-2, H.264, etc. Additionally the open formats (in general) don’t have quite as good quality vs size ratios as the proprietary ones which is often while you’ll see websites using them in order to save on bandwidth.

Verdict: closed/proprietary formats have largely won out.

File Compression

Compression is something that most people consider more as an algorithm than a format which is why I’ll be focusing on the compressed file container formats for this category. In that regard the ZIP file format is by far the most common. It has native support in every modern operating system and offers decent compression. Other open formats, such as 7-Zip, offer better performance and even some proprietary formats, like RAR, have seen widespread use but for the most part ZIP is the go-to format. What muddies the waters here a bit is that the base ZIP format is open but some of the features added later on were not. However the majority of uses are based on the open standards.

Verdict: the open zip format is the most widely used standard.

Native Applications vs Web Apps

While applications may not, strictly speaking, be a format it does seem to be the case that every year there are stories about how Web Apps will soon replace Native Applications. So far however the results are a little mixed with e-mail being a perfect example of this paradox. For personal desktop e-mail web apps, mostly Gmail and the like, have largely replaced native applications like Microsoft Outlook and Thunderbird. On mobile however the majority of users still access their e-mail via native “apps”. And even then in enterprises the majority of e-mail usage is still done via native applications. I’m honestly not sure which will eventually win out, if either, but for now let’s call it a tie.

Verdict: tie.

The answer to the question is…

Well just on the five quick examples above we’ve got wins for 2 open formats, 2 closed/proprietary formats and one tie. So clearly based on market adoption we’re at a stand still.

Personally I’d prefer if open formats would take over because then I wouldn’t have to worry about my device supporting the format in question or not. Who knows, maybe by next year we’ll see one of the two pull ahead.

This post originally appeared on my website here.

 

Countdown to 2017!

December 1st, 2016 No comments

We’re almost done with 2016! Can you believe it? In order to give this year a proper send off I have decided to post something new every week day for the month of December until the new year! So if you feel like checking out what I’m sure will be the BEST. POSTS. EVAR. then be sure to come back every week day to see what’s new!

See you tomorrow 🙂

Categories: Tyler B Tags:

Stop screen tearing with Nvidia/Intel graphics combo

November 29th, 2016 No comments

Ever since upgrading my laptop to Linux Mint 18 I’ve noticed some pronounced screen tearing happening. Initially I figured this was something I would simply have to live with due to the open source driver being used instead of the proprietary one, but after some Googling I found a way to actually fix the issue.

Following this post on Ask Ubuntu I created a new directory at /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/ and then created a new file in there called 20-intel.conf. Inside of this file I placed the following text:

Section “Device”
Identifier      “Intel Graphics”
Driver          “intel”
Option          “TearFree”          “true”
EndSection

A quick reboot later and I’m happy to say that my screen no longer tears as I scroll down long web pages.

Even Borat agrees!

Even Borat agrees!