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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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….
This post was originally published on January 17, 2016. The original can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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:
Identifier “Intel Graphics”
Option “TearFree” “true”
A quick reboot later and I’m happy to say that my screen no longer tears as I scroll down long web pages.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
Or if video podcasts are more your thing Vocal has you covered there as well.
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!).
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?
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.
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:
However after opening 4 additional tabs and waiting for them to all finish loading the story reversed quite substantially:
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
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.
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!
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.