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The apps of KDE 4.10 Part VII: Dragon Player

May 27th, 2013 2 comments

Rounding out this little series I took a look at KDE’s video player of choice: Dragon Player.

Dragon Player

For those of you familiar with similar applications such as VLC, Totem or even Windows Media Player, Dragon Player is a simplistic interface on top of quite powerful video playback.

Everyone loves Big Buck Bunny!

Everyone loves Big Buck Bunny!

Dragon Player’s power comes from the integrated KDE media backend Phonon. What this means for the user is that it is completely compatible with all installed system codecs. Speaking of codecs, Dragon Player prompts you whenever it doesn’t recognize a new piece of media and offers the ability to automatically search and install the required codecs. This works very well and allows you to keep your system relatively free of nonsense codecs you’ll never actually use, instead installing what you need as you need it.

For a KDE application Dragon Player is surprisingly streamlined and doesn’t offer very many configuration options. In fact almost any other video player has more configuration options than Dragon Player. The only real settings I could find were changing how the video playback looks:

Video Settings

Video Settings

And that’s it. No seriously, there isn’t anything else to mention about this application and believe it or not that’s a good thing! This program is designed for exactly one thing and it does it well. If you’re looking for a single use video player application, and you’re not already a VLC fan, I would highly suggest this as an alternative.

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: KDE, Tyler B Tags: ,

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part VI: Calligra Suite

May 24th, 2013 1 comment

LibreOffice? Pfft. OpenOffice? Blah. KOffice? Dead for a while now. Calligra Suite? Now we’re talking!

Calligra Suite

You may be a bit confused as to what Calligra Suite is, in fact you may not have ever even heard of it before now. Essentially Calligra Suite is a fork of the KOffice project from back in 2010 and has now become the de facto group of KDE publishing/office applications, as KOffice isn’t really being developed any more. It consists of the following applications:

For the purposes of this post I’m going to be going over the first three which I think are the most commonly used day-to-day applications.

Calligra Words

You’ve seen one word processor, you’ve seen them all right? Well maybe not in this case. Calligra Words has quite a different interface than its contemporaries (even counting the new-ish Microsoft Office ribbon interface in that category).

Take that ribbon!

Take that ribbon!

The first thing you’ll notice is that the majority of the buttons and options are located on the right hand side of the interface. Initially this seems quite strange but I suppose if you were working on a large widescreen monitor, as well all should be right?, this makes perfect sense. As you click in the little tabs they expand to reveal additional categorized options. It is sort of like putting the ribbon interface from Microsoft Office on its side.

Side bar in action

Side bar in action

While there is nothing inherently wrong with Calligra Words there were times when I found it confusing. For instance there seems to be some places where the application ignores the conventional paradigm for doing something specific, instead opting for their own way with mixed success. A good example of this is formatting the lines on an inserted table. Normally you would simply select the table, go into some format properties window and change it there. Instead Calligra Words has you select the format you want, from the side bar, and then paint it onto the existing table one line at a time. Again not a big deal if you were first learning to edit documents using Calligra Words, but I could easily see people having a difficult time transitioning from Microsoft Office or LibreOffice.

Other things are just strange. For example the application supports spellcheck and will happily underline words you’ve misspelled but I couldn’t find the option to run through a spellcheck on the whole document. Instead it seems as though you need to hunt through the document manually in order to avoid missing anything. I also had the application crash on me when I attempted to insert a bibliography.

Overall I just get the feeling that Calligra Words is still very much under development and not quite mature enough to be used in everyday life. Perhaps in a few released this could become a legitimate replacement for some of the other mainstream word processors, but for now I can’t say that I would recommend it beyond those who are curious to see its unique interface.

Calligra Sheets

Like Words, Sheets shares the sidebar interface for manipulating data.

Example balance sheet template

Example balance sheet template

Most of the standard functionality makes an appearance (i.e. cell formulas, formatted text, etc.) although once again I’m going to have to focus on the negatives here. Like Words I found some of the features very confusing. For instance I tried to make a simple bar chart with two columns worth of data (x and y). Instead I ended up with a bar chart showing both data sets against some random x plane. Try as I might I couldn’t force it to do what I wanted. The program also seemed very unstable for me and crashed often. Unfortunately I became so frustrated with this program that I just couldn’t dive too deeply into its features.

Calligra Stage

Stage is Calligra Suite’s version of Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint or LibreOffice’s Presentation.

Showing one of the included templates

Showing one of the included templates

 

This is the first application of the three that I think really benefits from having the side bar and it makes finding what you’re after surprisingly easy and straight forward. The only weird thing I really ran into was when adding animation to part of the slide. Again you need to select animation, then sort of paint it on kind of like what you had to do with tables in Words.

Like the rest, I think Stage could use some more development and maturity but unlike the other two I think Stage feels much further along (it didn’t even crash on me once!).

Conclusion

If you can’t read between the lines above allow me to summarize my feelings in this way: Calligra Suite is a solid set of applications but one that feels very young and very much still under development. This is not exactly the sort of feeling you want when you are working on a business or time critical document. However I do like some of the things they’ve started here and look forward to seeing where they take it in the future.

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: KDE, Tyler B Tags: ,

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part V: Kopete

May 15th, 2013 2 comments

What does KDE offer for instant communication with your co-workers and friends? Kopete steps up to be your all-in-one IM solution.

Kopete

Kopete provides a KDE integrated instant messaging experience that aims at reducing the number of other instant messaging clients you need to run simultaneously in order to stay in touch with your friends. Rather than running a client for Yahoo Messenger, Facebook chat and Windows Live Messenger, you can instead fire up Kopete, add all of your accounts and take advantage of a single unified interface for all of them. This drastically reduces the on-screen clutter.

Kopete supports a lot of different networks!

Kopete supports a lot of different networks!

The process by which you actually configure all of these accounts is also very straight forward. In fact the first time you start Kopete up (and every time thereafter that you wish to add a new account) you get this nice little interface that helps walk you through the process.

Adding a new account

Adding a new account

Once through that easy process you are taken to the main Kopete interface screen where it allows you to view your online friends and, of course, chat with them.

Main contacts screen

Main contacts screen

Not that it should come as any surprise to anyone familiar with KDE but Kopete also supports quite a bit of customization. You can adjust any of the standard settings that you would expect (i.e. auto-away time out, ‘now playing…’ song statuses, etc.) as well as the general look and feel of your conversations.

With this much customization you're sure to find something that works for you

With this much customization you’re sure to find something that works for you

While I don’t have much bad to say about Kopete I should point out a couple of its more obvious deficiencies. For one Kopete has no Skype support. Skype is fast becoming one of the most popular instant messaging platforms and its absence is a bit disappointing.

Secondly Kopete varies from being just an acceptable, somewhat decent instant messaging client to being a great instant messaging client, all dependant on which IM network you are using. What I mean by this is basically that Kopete is designed to be a very generic IM client  in order to support as many networks as possible, and that’s fine. However because of this design choice it rarely excels at being the best IM client for networks which handle more than just simple text messages. There are many times when the official client for a given IM network will support many more features than Kopete.

Neither of these should deter you from using Kopete (or at least giving it a try). Like all of the other applications I’ve written about in this series, Kopete offers a KDE feeling and integration to your day-to-day applications and for some people that could be far more worth while than having 100% of all features.

Update: as pointed out in the comments this application is actually now known by the name KDE Telepathy. Sorry for the confusion.

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: KDE, Tyler B Tags: , ,

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part IV: Amarok

April 25th, 2013 No comments

Ready to rock out with KDE’s premier music management application? Let’s rediscover our music with Amarok.

Amarok

I have to start by first admitting that I’ve actually run Amarok once or twice in the past, but sadly could never really figure it out. This always bothered me because people who can figure it out seem to love it. So I made it my mission this time around to really dig into the application to see what all the noise was about (poor pun intended).

 

Rediscover Your Music

Rediscover Your Music

Starting with the navigation pane on the left hand side of the screen I drilled down into my Local Music collection. For the purposes of testing I just threw two albums in my Music folder.

The navigation panel

The navigation panel

Double clicking Local Music opens up a view into your Music folder that lets you play songs or search through your artists and albums.

Local media list

Local media list

When you play a song the main portion in the center of the application changes to give you a ton of information about that track.

Automatically pulls lyrics and other information from the web

Automatically pulls lyrics and other information from the web

This is actually a pretty neat feature but also has the downside that its not always correct. For instance when I started playing the above song by the 90s band Fuel I ended up getting shown the following Wikipedia page about fuel (i.e. an energy source) and not the correct page about the band.

I don't think that's right...

I don’t think that’s right…

Placing a CD in the computer caused it to appear under Local Media (although under a different section). Importing tracks was very straight forward; simply right-click on the CD and choose Copy to Collection -> Local Collection. You then get to pick your encoding options (which you can deeply customize to fit your needs).

Pick your encoding format and go

Pick your encoding format and go

For Internet media Amarok comes loaded with a number of sources including a number of streaming radio stations, Jamendo, Last.fm, Librivox.org, Magnatune.com, Amazon’s MP3 store and a podcast directory. Like most other media, Amarok also tries to display relevant information about what you’re listening to.

Internet Radio

Internet Radio on Amarok

There are loads of other features in Amarok, from its excellent playlist support to loads of expandable plugins, but writing about all of them would take all day. Instead I will wrap up here with a few final thoughts.

Is Amarok the best media manager ever made? To some maybe, but I still find its interface a bit too clunky for my liking. I also noticed that it tended to take up quite a bit of RAM (~220MB currently) which puts it on the beefier side of the media manager resource usage spectrum. The amount of information that it presents about what you’re currently listening to is impressive, but often times when I’m listening to music I’m doing so as a background activity. I don’t foresee a situation where I would be actively watching Amarok in order to benefit from its full potential as a way to ‘rediscover my music’. Still, for at least its deep integration within the KDE desktop, I say give it a try and see if it works for you.

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: KDE, Linux, Tyler B Tags: , ,

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part III: KTorrent

April 11th, 2013 No comments

Welcome to another edition of The apps of KDE 4.10. This time around I’m going to be touching on the KDE BitTorrent client KTorrent.

KTorrent

KTorrent represents KDE’s take on what a BitTorrent client should be. It presents a relatively standard interface that reminds me a lot of other fully featured BitTorrent clients such as uTorrent and Deluge.

The main KTorrent interface

The main KTorrent interface

Being a KDE application it is also one of the more fully customizable BitTorrent clients out there, although not to the scale of some of the advanced menus seen in Vuze. It allows you to customize various options including things like encryption, queuing options and bandwidth usage. It also benefits from using a bunch of shared KDE libraries. When I checked its memory usage it was sitting at a respectable 16MB which makes it not the leanest client but certainly not the heaviest either.

Settings menu

Settings menu

Similar to Deluge, KTorrent supports a wide array of plugins which allows you to really tailor the program to your needs. In my testing I didn’t notice a way to browse for new plugins from within the application but I’m sure there are ways to add them elsewhere.

Plugins

Plugins

I have to admit that I actually went into this article expecting to have a lot more to say about this application but the bottom line is this: it does exactly what you expect. If you need to download torrent files then KTorrent might be for you – and not just if you’re running KDE either. Perhaps its because KTorrent covers the bases so well but I actually can’t think of anything that I dislike about it. It’s a solid application that serves a single purpose and what’s not to love about that?

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: KDE, Linux, Tyler B Tags: , ,

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part II: Kontact

April 9th, 2013 4 comments

Continuing on where I left off last time I decided my next order of business would be to set up my e-mail accounts and calendar. KDE provides a number of different, more or less single purpose applications to handle all of your personal information management. For example e-mail is handled by KMail, RSS feeds are pulled in via Akregator, calendars are maintained through KOrganizer, etc. Each of these applications could easily be reviewed on their own, however there is yet another application provided in KDE, Kontact, that unifies all of these distinct programs into one. For the purposes of this article I will be treating all of these as part of Kontact as a whole but will still try and focus on each individual component where needed.

Kontact

The first time you start Kontact

The first time you start Kontact

The first time you start Kontact it automatically starts an “Account Assistant” wizard that walks you through setting up your e-mail accounts. This brings me to the first embedded application: KMail.

KMail

The first item below summary on the left hand side of Kontact is Mail which makes it, in my opinion, the showcase application for Kontact.

Kontact's sidebar

Kontact’s sidebar

Mail is actually powered by the KMail application which at this point is very mature and fully featured.  Setting up an e-mail account is relatively straightforward although I do take issue with some of the default settings. While some are personal preference, for example I prefer to start my e-mail reply above the quote instead of below it, others are just plain strange. For instance by default KMail won’t display HTML e-mails, only plain text e-mails, supposedly in the name of security. Insecure or not I think consensus says HTML is the way forward.

"No HTML for you!"

“No HTML for you!”

Following in the standard KDE tradition KMail is crammed full of customization and configuration possibilities. For instance you remember that reply above/below the quote thing I mentioned above? In most other e-mail clients this is a simple combobox or switch, in KMail however you can configure everything from the location of the quote to the position of the cursor.

Composer Settings

Composer Settings

KMail also takes spam filtering and anti-virus to a whole new level. You have your choice from any compatible installed spam or anti-virus applications (i.e. SpamAssassin, ClamAV etc.). This gives you some flexibility if you find one works better for you than another.

A typical view of KMail

A typical view of KMail

Finally, on the security front, KMail integrates with the KDE Wallet system to securely store your account passwords and also supports OpenPGP and S/MIME e-mail encryption and signing.

KAddressBook

Next up is Contacts, this time powered by KAddressBook.

Contacts can store a lot of detail

Contacts can store a lot of detail

This is a pretty straightforward application and so I don’t have much to say about it other than it allows you to store a lot of information about a given person (from regular details like e-mail and websites to location and OpenPGP keys). It even generates a fancy little QR code for your contacts.

 

An example contact

An example contact

KOrganizer

For Calendar/To-do List/Journal functionality Kontact makes use of the KOrganizer application. Like KAddressBook this program functions exactly as expected which is not a bad thing. You can create events, send e-mail invitations and get alerts. It supports multiple calendars and is very functional.

Look! A calendar!

Look! A calendar!

The journal feature is kind of neat but I’m not sure who would actually make use of it on a regular basis. Perhaps I’m not the target market for it.

Dear diary...

Dear diary…

Akregator

If your thing is RSS feeds look no further than Akregator. I personally don’t normally use RSS feeds all that much but I know those that do are very addicted to it. Add to that the recent shutdown of Google Reader and this might just be your cup of tea.

Showing some feeds

Showing some feeds

As RSS readers go this one is also full of options. You can even configure a sharing service, such as Twitter or Identi.ca, if you happen to stumble across an article that you wish to spread.

akregator_share

Popup Notes

Last on the list is Popup Notes powered by KNotes. This is basically a sticky note application that lets you jot down little random thoughts or reminders. There isn’t a whole lot to this one.

Take a note

Take a note

Conclusion

So how does Kontact stand up at the end of the day? I like it. It does an effective job at unifying all of the different features you may need without making you feel like you need to pay attention to any one of them. In my use case I mainly stick to e-mail and calendar but in my limited time playing around with Kontact I have very few complaints.

Is it better than the alternatives like Thunderbird or Evolution? In some ways absolutely, in others there is still some work to be done. Outside of mail, calendar and RSS feeds the remaining functionality feels a bit lackluster or, at worst, simply there to round off some feature list bullet point. Thankfully this is something that could be easily remedied with a bit more attention and polish.

Give Kontact a try and let me know what you think in the comments.

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I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

The apps of KDE 4.10 Part I: Rekonq

April 6th, 2013 No comments

It’s been a while since I’ve used KDE, however with the recent rapid (and not always welcome) changes going on in the other two main desktop environments (GNOME 3 and Unity) and the, in my opinion, feature stagnation of environments like Xfce and LXDE I decided to give KDE another shot.

My goal this time is to write up a series of quick reviews of KDE as presented as an overall user experience. That means I will try and stick to the default applications for getting my work done. Obviously depending on the distribution you choose you may have a different set of default KDE applications, and that’s fine. So before you ask, no I won’t be doing another write up for KDE distribution X just because you think its ‘way better for including A instead of B’. I’m also going to try and not cover what I consider more trivial things (i.e. the installer/installation process) and instead focus on what counts when it comes to using an operating system day-to-day.

Rekonq

The default web browser in the distribution I chose is not Konqueror but rather its WebKit cousin Rekonq. Where Konqueror uses KHTML by default and WebKit as an option, Rekonq sticks to the more conventional rendering engine used by Safari and Chrome.

konqueror_4_4_2

This is not Rekonq, it is Konqueror

Rekonq is a very minimalistic looking browser to the point where I often thought I accidentally started up Chrome instead.

This is Rekonq

This is Rekonq

From my time using it, Rekonq seems to be a capable browser although it is certainly not the speediest, nor does it sport any features that I couldn’t find elsewhere. One thing it does do very nicely is with its integration into the rest of the KDE desktop. This means that the first time you visit YouTube or some other Flash website you get a nice little prompt in the system tray alerting you of the option to install new plugins. If you choose to install the plugin then a little window appears telling you what it is downloading and installing for you, completely automatically. No need to visit a vendor’s website or go plugin hunting online.

Like most other KDE applications Rekonq also allows for quite a bit of customization, although I found its menus to be very straightforward and not nearly as intimidating as some other applications.

The settings menu

The settings menu

I did notice a couple of strange things while working with Rekonq that I should probably mention. First off while typing into a WordPress edit window none of the shortcut keys (i.e. Ctrl+B = bold) seemed to work. I also found that I couldn’t perform a Shift+Arrow Key selection of the text, instead having to use Ctrl+Shift+Arrow Key which highlights an entire word at a time. At this time I’m not sure what other websites may suffer from similar irregularities so while Rekonq is a fine browser in its own right, you may want to keep another one around just in case.

Browsing the best website on the net

Browsing the best website on the net

While I haven’t found any real show-stoppers with Rekonq, I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something. I don’t know how to describe it other than I think I would feel safer using a more mainstream web browser like Firefox, Chrome or even Opera. But like any software, your experience may vary and I would certainly never recommend against trying Rekonq (or even Konqueror). Who knows, you may find out that it is your new favorite web browser.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Free Software, KDE, Linux, Tyler B Tags: , ,

Changing ATI power profile to low

April 6th, 2013 No comments

My laptop’s graphics card has never had the best support on linux and has now approached the point in its life where even ATI has stopped supporting it with new driver releases. On one hand I’m thankful that the open source driver performs well enough that I can continue to use this hardware, on the other though it does result in some downright awful power management. With the default settings my graphics card runs extremely hot and requires the fan to be on constantly. Luckily there is a quick way to fix this and tell the open source driver to run my card in a low power state at all times.

  1. Start a root terminal (or use sudo for everything)
  2. Set the card to use the power profile (assuming your computer uses card0)

    echo profile > /sys/class/drm/card0/device/power_method

  3. Set the power profile to “low” setting

    echo low > /sys/class/drm/card0/device/power_profile

You can check what the current setting is by running the following command:

cat /sys/class/drm/card0/device/power_profile

I would also highly recommend rebooting and then checking the setting again. I found that on my laptop the setting was being reset everytime the computer turned on. If this happens to you try my work around – simply edit /etc/rc.local and add the line in step 3 before the return 0. My file looks like:

#!/bin/sh -e

echo low > /sys/class/drm/card0/device/power_profile

exit 0




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Listener Feedback Podcast Update

February 23rd, 2013 No comments

A couple new Listener Feedback podcast episodes have been released in case you missed them:

So grab the MP3 or Ogg version of this Creative Commons podcast and enjoy!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.

Using ATI Catalyst drivers on Ubuntu 12.10 with old hardware

February 14th, 2013 No comments

As of version 12.10, Ubuntu has upgraded the version of X.org they include to the latest and unfortunately it is no longer compatible with the official ATI Catalyst drivers for some cards, specifically the HD2xxx, 3xxx and 4xxx models. The open source driver is the only officially supported alternative and, while it is fine for most uses, it doesn’t support the advanced power settings that the ATI driver does. This means that on my laptop in particular the fan runs constantly as it tries to cool down the overheating card.

So… no Ubuntu 12.10+ then?

Thankfully someone has created a PPA that successfully downgrades the version of X.org to the maximum supported version for the official ATI driver. This step is obviously quite drastic and should not be used on production systems. However from the limited time that I have been running it things seem pretty stable. The PPA (and instructions) can be found at this link: AMD Catalyst Legacy




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Tyler B, Ubuntu, Xorg/X11 Tags: , , ,