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Do you want to write for The Linux Experiment?

November 13th, 2016 No comments

Are you a Linux user? Thinking about trying your own Linux experiment? Have you ever come across something broken or annoying and figured out a solution? Or maybe you just came up with a really neat way of doing something to make your life easier? Well if you have ever done any of those and can write a decent sentence or two we’d be glad to showcase your content here.

Get the full details at our page here: Write for the Linux Experiment.

 

Categories: Tyler B Tags:

Alternative software: Vocal Podcast Client

November 1st, 2016 No comments

In my never-ending quest to seek out the hidden gems amongst the Linux alternative software pile I decided to take a look into what was offered in terms of podcast clients or podcatchers if you prefer. It wasn’t long into my Googling that I stumbled across a beautiful piece of software that I had never even heard of before: the Vocal podcast client.

What a nice, clean interface

What a nice, clean interface

Originally designed for elementaryOS this application presents a very clean, attractive interface for managing both your audio and video podcasts. It comes with a few different options like the basics – ability to stream versus download the podcasts or quickly skip forward/backward – but it was how it walked the user through setting it up the first time that actually impressed me the most. Here’s a look at that process.

When you first open the application you are presented with the following screen:

Two pretty standard options and one very intriguing one

Two pretty standard options and one very intriguing one

As you can see in the screenshot there are two pretty standard options – Add a new Feed or Import Subscriptions from another application – but it was the third option that really intrigued me. So what exactly is the Vocal Starter Pack? It’s a curated list of high-quality podcasts that give a good spread of different podcast types and topics, a perfect place for a new user to start getting into podcasts. Seriously this is a really awesome idea!

The Starter Pack imports just like any other export you may have brought over

The Starter Pack imports just like any other export you may have brought over

So once you’ve select your podcasts or imported them you can begin the fun part – the actual listening or watching of your episodes. Selecting an audio episode will display the embedded show notes and other information about it. This is a neat touch and lets you quickly see what other episodes are in the feed that you may want to listen to as well.

Podcast feed and related info

Podcast feed and related info

Or if video podcasts are more your thing Vocal has you covered there as well.

That's an unfortunate screenshot

That’s an unfortunate screenshot

Overall for as simple as this application is I’m very impressed with Vocal. Sure it only does the basics but it does it really well! If the feature set of the upcoming version 2 is anything to go by Vocal has a good future ahead of it (What? Built in iTunes store podcast browser? Heck yeah!).

Alternative software: Midori Browser

October 30th, 2016 No comments

In my previous post I spoke about how the Linux platform has an incredible amount of alternative software and wrote a bit about my experiences using one of those applications: the Konqueror browser. I decided to stay in the same genre of applications and take a look at another alternative web browser Midori.

Midori is an interesting browser whose main goal seems to be to strip away the clutter and really streamline the web browsing experience. It’s no surprise then that Midori has ended up as the default web browser for other lightweight and streamlined distributions such as elementary OS, Bodhi Linux and SliTaz at one time or another. It is also neat from a technical perspective as portions of the browser are written in the Vala programming language.

So what does it look like when you first launch the browser then?

Sigh... Another alternative browser that shows an error on first launch...

Sigh… another alternative browser that shows an error on first launch…

Midori itself is a very nice looking browser but I was disappointed to immediately see an error just like the first time I tried Konqueror. To its credit however I’m almost certain that this error is a result of me running it on Linux Mint 18 – and thus missing the Ubuntu related file it was looking for. So really… this is more of a bug on Linux Mint’s end than a problem with Midori.

Poking around in the application preferences shows a commitment to that streamlined design even in the settings menus. Beyond that there wasn’t too much to note there.

Browsing The Linux Experiment

Browsing The Linux Experiment

So how does Midori handle as a web browser then? First off let me say that it does remarkably better than Konqueror did. Pages seemed to render fine and I only had minor issues overall.

The first issue I hit was that some embedded media and plugins didn’t seem to work. For example I couldn’t get an embedded PDF to display at all. Perhaps this is something that can be fixed by finding a Midori specific plugin?

Another oddity I could see was that sometimes the right fonts wouldn’t be used or the website text would be rendered slightly larger than it would be in Firefox or Chrome for example. For the slightly larger font issue it’s kind of strange to describe… it’s as if Midori shows the text as bolded while the other browsers don’t.

I figured that as a lightweight, streamlined browser it might be a decent idea to quickly see memory usage differences between it and Firefox (just to give a baseline). At first the results showed a clear memory usage advantage to Midori when only viewing one website:

Browser Memory Usage
Firefox 144MB
Midori 46MB

However after opening 4 additional tabs and waiting for them to all finish loading the story reversed quite substantially:

Browser Memory Usage
Firefox 183MB
Midori 507MB

I have no idea why there would be such a difference between the two or why Midori’s memory usage would skyrocket like that but I guess the bottom line is that you may want to reconsider your choice if you’re planning on using Midori on a system with low RAM.

Finally if I had to give one last piece of criticism it would be that even as a stripped down, streamlined browser Midori still doesn’t feel quite as fast as something like Chrome.

Other than those mostly minor issues though Midori did really well. Even YouTube’s HTML5 playback controls worked as expected! I might even recommend people try out Midori if they’re looking for an alternative web browser to use in their day-to-day computing.

Alternative software: Konqueror Browser

October 27th, 2016 4 comments

The Linux platform has an absolute wealth of what I would call alternative software. Many of these applications were built simply to fill in a gap or provide a missing function but since then a real culture of alternative software has emerged as well. What do I mean by this? Well there are many developers who have decided that instead of putting their time and resources into building up a pre-existing application they would rather try building something similar, but different, from scratch themselves. This is both a strength and a weakness for the Linux platform overall because while it means there is always constant innovation many of the applications lack a sense of development and usability maturity about them.

Just visit one of the many, many websites that do nothing but feature these alternatives.

Just visit one of the many, many websites that do nothing but feature these alternatives.

 

One such alternative in the world of file and web browsers is Konqueror. This classic KDE application has been around since 1996 and wears many different hats from file browser and web browser to image and document viewer, etc.

As a bit of background – I only really played around with Konqueror briefly a few years ago, so when I installed it on my Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon computer I was interested in seeing how it performed. Unfortunately when I launched the application the first thing that greeted me was a half-broken interface…

Not the best start...

Not the best start…

I’m not sure if the missing images were as a result of me not running it on KDE but this wasn’t the best first impression all the same.

Next I decided to take a look through the various settings and menus to see what options were available. Most of it was pretty standard fare but I was intruiged by what appeared to be the option to change the web browser engine from KHTML to… well I’m not really sure to be honest as there was only the one option.

Configuring Konqueror

Configuring Konqueror

Being a web browser I figured what better way to run it through its paces than load up a few web sites and see how things go. For the most part Konqueror proved to be an adequate, if not slow, web browser but I also ran into a number of rendering problems along the way. For example while watching videos on YouTube none of the playback controls were visible. Another time I visited a website and there was a weird white square over top of one of the menus.

On the left is Google Chrome rendering it correctly. On the right is Konqueror overlaying a weird square for some reason.

On the left is Google Chrome rendering it correctly. On the right is Konqueror overlaying a weird square for some reason.

When I tried loading up a popular news website Konqueror gave up and completely stop responding. None of these are reasons to recommend anyone actually use this browser over something like Firefox or Chrome.

So if Konqueror isn’t a great web browser how does it compare as a file browser? The short answer is even worse. I tried browsing to my home directory and instead just got what appears to be a low-level file system/type error…

Oh yeah, I'm sure the average user knows exactly what an inode is...

Oh yeah, I’m sure the average user knows exactly what an inode is…

If it isn’t obvious by now I think it’s safe to state the obvious: I would not recommend using Konqueror as an alternative to either one of the mainstream web browsers (i.e. Firefox, Chrome, etc.) or standard file browsers.

Removing old Kernels in Ubuntu 16.04/Linux Mint 18

October 25th, 2016 No comments

Recently I’ve noticed that my /boot partition has become full and I’ve even had some new kernel updates fail as a result. It seems the culprit is all of the older kernels still lying around on my system even though they are no longer in use. Here are the steps I took in order to remove these old kernels and reclaim my /boot partition space.

A few warnings:

  • Always understand commands you are running on your machine before you run them. Especially when they start with sudo.
  • Be very careful when removing kernels – you may end up with a system that doesn’t boot!
  • My rule of thumb is to only remove kernels older than the most recent 2 (assuming I haven’t had any bad experiences with either of them). This allows me to revert back to a slightly older version if I find something that no longer works in the latest version.
First determine what kernel your machine is actually currently running

For example running the command:

uname -a

prints out the text “4.4.0-45-generic“. This is the name of the kernel my system is currently using. I do not want to remove this one!

Next get a list of all installed kernels

You can do this a few different ways but I like using the following command:

dpkg --list | grep linux-image

This should print out a list similar to the one in the screenshot below.

Example list of installed kernels

Example list of installed kernels

From this list you can identify which ones you want to remove to clear up space. On my system I had versions 4.4.0-21.37, 4.4.0-36.55, 4.4.0-38.57 and 4.4.0-45.66 so following my rule above I want to remove both 4.4.0-21.37 and 4.4.0-36.55.

Remove the old kernels

Again this can be done a number of different ways but seeing as we’re already in the terminal why not use our trust apt-get command to do the job?

sudo apt-get purgelinux-image-4.4.0-21-generic linux-image-4.4.0-36-generic

and just like that almost 500MB of disk space is freed up!

Trying out KeePassX

October 23rd, 2016 No comments

KeePassX is an independent implementation of the popular password manager that supports the KeePass (kdb) and KeePass2 (kdbx) database formats. Like the official KeePass application, KeePassX is open source but the main difference is that KeePass requires Microsoft’s .NET framework or the Mono runtime to be installed whereas KeePassX does not.

The feature list from their website shows that KeePassX offers:

  • Extensive management
    • title for each entry for its better identification
    • possibility to determine different expiration dates
    • insertion of attachments
    • user-defined symbols for groups and entries
    • fast entry dublication
    • sorting entries in groups
  • Search function
    • search either in specific groups or in complete database
  • Autofill (experimental)
  • Database security
    • access to the KeePassX database is granted either with a password, a key-file (e.g. a CD or a memory-stick) or even both.
  • Automatic generation of secure passwords
    • extremly customizable password generator for fast and easy creation of secure passwords
  • Precaution features
    • quality indicator for chosen passwords
    • hiding all passwords behind asterisks
  • Encryption
    • either the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) or the Twofish algorithm are used
    • encryption of the database in 256 bit sized increments
  • Import and export of entries
    • import from PwManager (*.pwm) and KWallet (*.xml) files
    • export as textfile (*.txt)
  • Operating system independent
    • KeePassX is cross platform, so are the databases, as well
  • Free software
    • KeePassX is free software, published under the terms of the General Public License, so you are not only free to use it free of charge, but also to redistribute it, to examine and/or modify it’s source code and to publish your modifications as long as you provide the same freedoms for your modified version.

I’ve been a long time user of KeePass and figured I would check out KeePassX to see if there were any advantages to making the switch. Opening up my existing KeePass2 database was a breeze and even the ‘experimental’ autofill seemed to work just fine. I should also point out that, at least on Linux, KeePassX seems to be much quicker and definitely feels more native compared to the WinForms+Mono official version (I imagine the opposite is true while running on Windows).

The password generation tool for KeePassX is also very similar to the one in the official KeePass however they’ve opted for some defaults which could actually reduce the randomness, and thus security, of a password: exclude look-alike characters, ensure that the password contains characters from every group, etc.

The Password Generator in the official KeePass application

The Password Generator in the official KeePass application

These defaults do make it a bit easier to read or transcribe the passwords should you ever need to and given a long enough password the impact on security should be minimal.

The Password Generator in KeePassX

The Password Generator in KeePassX

So what are my feelings on KeePassX overall? In my limited use it seems like an excellent alternative to the official KeePass application and one that may almost be preferred on non-Windows platforms. I think I’ll be making the switch to KeePassX for my Linux-based installs.

Update: after some slow progress a few developers decided to fork the KeePassX project over at KeePassX Reboot. We’ll have to see how things with this fork play out but I wanted to mention it here in case you decided that the fork was the better version for you.

KWLUG: Emulating Tor (2016-10)

October 4th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Emulating Tor published on October 4th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Categories: Linux, Podcast, Tyler B Tags: ,

KWLUG: Watcamp calendar, Indieweb, Key Retention using Guile (2016-09)

October 4th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Watcamp calendar, Indieweb, Key Retention using Guile published on September 13th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Categories: Linux, Podcast, Tyler B Tags: ,

Ubuntu 16.04 VNC woes? Try this!

October 2nd, 2016 No comments

You may recall a few years back I made a very similar post about Ubuntu 14.04’s ‘VNC woes’. Well unfortunately it seems things have changed slightly between 14.04 and 16.04 and now the setting that once fixed everything now doesn’t persist and is only good for that session. Thankfully it is pretty easy to adapt the existing work around into a script that gets run on startup in order to ‘fix it’ forever. Note that these steps should also work on any Ubuntu derivatives such as Linux Mint 18, etc.

Credit goes to the excellent post over at ThinkingMedia for confirming that the fix is basically the same as the one I had for 14.04. What follows is their instructions on creating a start up script:

1. Create a text file called vino-fix.sh and place the following in it:

#!/bin/bash
export DISPLAY=0:0
gsettings set org.gnome.Vino require-encryption false 

2. Modify the file’s permissions so that it becomes executable. You can do this via the terminal with the following command:

chmod +x vino-fix.sh

3. Create a new startup application and point it at your script. Now every time you reboot it will run that script for you and ‘fix’ the issue.

One last thing I should point out – this work around disables the built in VNC encryption. Generally I would absolutely not recommend disabling any sort of security like this however VNC at its core is not really a secure protocol to begin with. You are far better off setting up VNC to only listen to local connections and then using SSH+VNC for your secure remote desktop needs. Just my two cents.

KWLUG: Summer Smorgasboard (2016-08)

August 21st, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Summer Smorgasboard published on August 11th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Categories: Linux, Podcast, Tyler B Tags: ,

KWLUG: Personal Information Manager Synchronization (2016-07)

July 9th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Personal Information Manager Synchronization published on July 5th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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RetroPie – turning your Raspberry Pi into a retro-gaming console!

June 12th, 2016 No comments

Recently I decided to pick up a new Raspberry Pi 3 B from BuyaPi.ca. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with it but I figured with all of the neat little projects going on for the device I would find something. After doing some searching I stumbled upon a few candidate projects before finally settling on RetroPie as my first shot at playing around with the Raspberry Pi.

RetroPie works great on other Raspberry Pi models as well but performance is much better on the 3

RetroPie works great on other Raspberry Pi models as well but performance is much better on the 3

RetroPie, as their site says, “allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi into a retro-gaming machine.” It does this by linking together multiple Raspberry Pi projects, including Raspbian, EmulationStation, RetroArch and more, into a really nice interface that essentially just works out of the box.

Setup

The setup couldn’t be easier. Simply follow the instructions to download a ready made image for your SD Card, put the RetroPie image on your SD Card, plug in a controller (I used a wired Xbox 360 controller), power it on and follow the setup instructions.

When it gets to the controller configuration settings screen be careful what you select. If you follow the on-screen button pushes by default (i.e. button “A” for “A” and button “B” for “B”, etc.) you will end up with something that matches the name of the button but not the placement you’re expecting. This is because RetroPie/RetroArch uses the SNES Controller layout as its default.

The 'default' SNES controller layout

The ‘default’ SNES controller layout

So if you simply followed the on-screen wizard and pushed the Xbox 360 controller’s “A” button instead of it’s “B” button (which is the location of the “A” button on the SNES) you’ll experience all sorts of weird behaviour in the various emulators. So be sure to actually follow the setup guide for your particular controller (see below for example).

Notice how you actually have to push "B" when it asks for "A" and so on during the initial controller configuration

Notice how you actually have to push “B” when it asks for “A” and so on during the initial controller configuration

The one confusing downside to this work around is that all of the menus in RetroPie itself still ask you to push “A” or “B” but they really mean what you mapped that to, so it’s kind of backwards until you actually get into a game. That said it’s a minor thing and one that I’m sure I could fix, if I cared enough to do so, by setting a custom alternative controller layout for the menu only.

Games

RetroPie supports a crazy number of emulators. No seriously it’s a bit ridiculous. Look at this list (as of the time of writing):

RetroPie automatically detects if you have games for the systems. So if you had a SNES game for example you would get a SNES system to choose from on the main menu.

RetroPie automatically detects if you have games for the systems. So if you had a SNES game you would get a SNES system to choose from on the main menu.

Additionally you get PC emulators like DOSBox and the Apple II and there are a number of custom ports of PC games including DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D, Minecraft Pi Edition, OpenTTD and more!

Now obviously not all of the above emulators work flawlessly. Some are still labeled experimental and some systems even offer multiple emulators so you can customize it to the game you are trying to play – just in case one emulator happens to offer better compatibility than another. That said for the majority of the emulators I tried, especially for the older systems, things work great.

The RetroPie SD Card contains various folders that you simply copy the ROM or various bits of game data to. Once the files are there you just restart EmulationStation and it automatically discovers the new games.

Remote Storage

One thing I had to try was to see if I could use a remote share to play the games on the RetroPie off of my NAS instead. This would save quite a bit of space on the SD Card and as long as the transfer speeds between the Raspberry Pi and the NAS were decent enough should actually work.

I figured using a Windows share from the NAS was the easiest (this would also let you share games from basically any computer on your network). Here are the steps to set it up:

SSH into the Raspberry Pi

The default login for RetroPie is username pi and password raspberry. You can usually find it on the network by simply connecting to the device name retropie.

Add remote mounts to fstab

The most simple way to set up the remote mounts is to use fstab. This will ensure that the system gets the share as soon as it boots up. However you might run into problems booting the RaspberryPi if it can’t find the share on the network… so that is something to keep in mind.

Open up /etc/fstab (I used nano):

sudo nano /etc/fstab

Then add a line that looks like this to the end of the file

//{the location of the share}    /home/pi/RetroPie/roms/{the location to mount it}    cifs    guest,uid=1000,iocharset=utf8    0    0

replacing the pieces in { brackets } with where you actually want things to mount. So for example let’s say the NAS is at IP address 192.168.1.50 and you wanted to mount a share on the NAS called SNES that contains SNES ROMs for RetroPie. First I would recommend creating a new sub-directory in the standard SNES ROMs location so that you can have both ROMs on the SD Card and remote ones:

mkdir /home/pi/RetroPie/roms/snes/NASGames

Then you would add something like this to your fstab file:

//192.168.1.50/SNES    /home/pi/RetroPie/roms/snes/NASGames    cifs    guest,uid=1000,iocharset=utf8    0    0

The next time you boot up your Raspberry Pi it should successfully add that remote share and show you any SNES ROMs that are on the NAS in RetroPie!

After testing a few remote games this way I can say that it does indeed work well (via WiFi no less!). This is especially true for the older systems where game size is only a few KiB or MiBs. When you start to get into larger PC or disc based games were the sizes are in the hundreds of MiB it still works decently well but the first time you access something you might notice a bit of a delay. Thankfully Linux does a decent job of caching the file data after it’s read it once and so subsequent reads are much faster. That said if you had a good wired connection I have no doubt that things would work even more smoothly.

Portable Console? Best Console? A bit of both.

The RetroPie project is really neat, not only for its feature set but also because as a games console it’s one of the smallest and has the potential to have one of the largest games library ever!

My setup is pretty plain but some people have done awesome things with theirs!

My setup is pretty plain but some people have done awesome things with theirs like turning it into a full arcade cabinet!

If you like to play classic games then I would seriously recommend giving RetroPie a try.

This post originally appeared on my website here.

KWLUG: Raspberry Pi Projects (2016-06)

June 11th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Raspberry Pi Projects published on June 7th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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KWLUG: Sound in Linux, Part 2 (2016-05)

June 11th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Sound in Linux, Part 2 published on May 3rd 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Extract album art from MP3 files

May 7th, 2016 No comments

Recently I needed to extract the album art from an MP3 file and came across a really easy to use command line utility called eyeD3 to do just that (among other things). Here is how you can extract all of the album art from a file MyFile.mp3 into a directory called Output.

1) Install eyeD3

sudo apt-get install eyeD3

2) Extract all embedded album art from the file

eyeD3 --write-images=Output/ MyFile.mp3

Pretty simple!

KWLUG: Docker Tutorial (2016-04)

April 23rd, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Docker published on April 5th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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KWLUG: Mastering Photo DVDs, KDEnlive (2016-03)

March 8th, 2016 No comments

This is a podcast presentation from the Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group on the topic of Mastering Photo DVDs, KDEnlive published on March 8th 2016. You can find the original Kitchener Waterloo Linux Users Group post here.

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Murdering misbehaving applications with xkill

March 5th, 2016 No comments

Have you ever had a window in Linux freeze on you and no matter how many times you tried to close it, it just wouldn’t go away? Then when you try and find the process in System Monitor (or the like) you can’t seem to identify it for whatever reason?

Thankfully there is a really easy to use command that lets you simply click on the offending window and POOF!… it goes away instantly. So how does it work? Let’s say you have a window that is frozen like this

As long as you can see it you can kill it!

As long as you can see it you can xkill it!

First open up a new terminal window and type the command

xkill

and hit Enter. This will then tell you to simply click on the window you want to kill:

Select the window whose client you wish to kill with button 1….

Next it is as simple as actually clicking on the frozen window and you can say goodbye to your problem. Happy xkill-ing 🙂

This post originally appeared on my website here.

Limit bandwidth used by a command in Linux

February 28th, 2016 No comments

If you’ve ever wanted to run a bandwidth intensive command (for example downloading system updates) but limit how much of the available bandwidth it can actually use then trickle may be what you’re after.

Simply install it using

sudo apt-get install trickle

and then you can use it with the following syntax

trickle -d X -u Y command

where X is download limit in KB/s, Y is the upload limit in KB/s and command is the process you want to start limited to these bandwidth constraints. For example if I wanted to start a download of the latest (as of this writing) AMD64 VirtualBox for Ubuntu using wget but limit it to only using 50KB/s down and 20KB/s up then I would run

trickle -d 50 -u 20 wget http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/5.0.14/virtualbox-5.0_5.0.14-105127~Ubuntu~trusty_amd64.deb

I should point out that trickle does it’s best to limit the bandwidth to what you select but often won’t be exact in how it does this. Either way it is another cool little tool for your Linux toolbox.

This post originally appeared on my website here.

Categories: Linux, Tyler B Tags:

A nifty utility to limit CPU usage on Linux

February 27th, 2016 No comments

If you want to run a command that you know is going to use quite a bit of CPU but you don’t want it to completely take over your system there is a really neat utility that can help you out. It’s called cpulimit and it does exactly what you think it would.

The basic usage is this:

cpulimit -l XX command

where XX is the CPU % you want to limit the process to and command is the process you want to run. So for example let’s say you wanted Firefox to only ever use 30% of your CPU you would simply start it from a terminal like this:

cpulimit -l 30 firefox

You can even limit it based on CPU cores instead of overall CPU usage if you want using the -c flag instead of the -l flag.

If you want more advanced features you could use something like cgroups but for simple stuff cpulimit seems to work very well.

This post originally appeared on my website here.

Categories: Tyler B Tags: