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Fix annoying high-pitched sound

November 28th, 2013 No comments

If you’re like me you’ve been suffering through a crazy high-pitched sound emanating from your laptop speakers. Apparently this is a common issue with certain types of audio devices. Thankfully via the power of the Internet I’ve been able to finally find a solution!

It turns out that the issue actually stems from some power saving features (of all things) in the Intel HDA driver. So I simply turned it off and guess what? It worked.

1) Open up (using root) /usr/lib/pm-utils/power.d/intel-audio-powersave

2) Replace or comment out the line:

INTEL_AUDIO_POWERSAVE=${INTEL_AUDIO_POWERSAVE:-true}

3) In its place put the line:

INTEL_AUDIO_POWERSAVE=false

4) Reboot

Hopefully this also works for you but if not check out the site I found the solution at for some additional tips/things to try.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Fix no screen brightness on boot problem

October 14th, 2013 No comments

I recently upgraded my laptop to a brand new Lenovo Y410P and promptly replaced Windows 8 with a Linux install. Unfortunately I immediately ran into a very strange driver(?) issue where, on boot, the computer would default to the absolute lowest screen brightness level. This meant that I would need to manually adjust the screen brightness up just to see the login screen. Thankfully after some help from the excellent people over on the Ubuntu Forums I managed to find a very easy work around.

1) As root open up /etc/default/grub

I did this by simply issuing the following command:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

2) Find the line that says GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX= and add “acpi_backlight=vendor” to the list of options.

3) From a terminal run this command to update GRUB

sudo update-grub

4) Reboot!

That’s pretty much it. My computer now boots with the correct screen brightness as one would expect.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Open source project hosting options

September 8th, 2013 2 comments

So you want to host an open source project using one of the many free services available but can’t decide which one to use? If only someone would put together a quick summary of each of the major offerings…

Hosting providers covered in this post:

  • Bitbucket
  • CodePlex
  • GitHub
  • Gitorious
  • Google Code
  • Launchpad
  • SourceForge

Bitbucket

Bitbucket is a hosting site for the distributed version control systems (DVCS) Git and Mercurial. The service offering includes an issue tracker and wiki, as well as integration with a number of popular services such as Basecamp, Flowdock, and Twitter.

Features:

  • Supports both Git and Mercurial
  • Allows private repositories for free, up to 5 users
  • Unlimited repositories
  • Has JIRA integration for issue tracking
  • Has its own REST API

Downsides:

  • Only allows up to 5 users for free (a user defined as someone with read or write access)

CodePlex

CodePlex is Microsoft’s free open source project hosting site. You can create projects to share with the world, collaborate with others on their projects, and download open source software.

Features:

  • Supports both Git & Mercurial
  • Integrated Wiki that allows to add rich documentation and nice looking pages
  • Bug Tracker and Discussion Forums included

Downsides:

  • Often times feels more like a code publishing platform than a collaboration site
  • Primarily geared toward .NET projects

GitHub

Build software better, together. Powerful collaboration, code review, and code management for open source and private projects.

Features:

  • Supports Git
  • Powerful and easy to use graphical tools
  • Easy team management
  • Integrated wiki, issue tracker and code review

Downsides:

  • Only supports Git
  • Quite a few ‘dead’ projects on the site

Gitorious

The Git hosting software that you can install yourself. Gitorious.org provides free hosting for open source projects that use Git.

Features:

  • Supports Git
  • Free project hosting
  • Integrated wiki
  • Can download the software and install it on your own server

Downsides:

  • Only supports Git

Google Code

Project Hosting on Google Code provides a free collaborative development environment for open source projects.

Features:

  • Supports Subversion, Mercurial Git
  • Integrated wiki

Downsides:

  • Not very pretty

Launchpad

Launchpad is a software collaboration platform.

Features:

  • Supports Bazaar
  • Integrated bug tracking and code reviews
  • Ubuntu package building and hosting
  • Mailing lists

Downsides:

  • Only supports Bazaar
  • Geared toward Ubuntu (which can be a downside depending on your project)

SourceForge

Find, Create, and Publish Open Source software for free.

Features:

  • Supports Git, Mercurial, Subversion
  • Integrated issue tracking, wiki, discussion forums
  • Stat tracking

Downsides:

  • Ads
  • A lot of ‘dead’ projects

 

Now obviously I’ve missed some things and glossed over others but my goal here was to provide a quick ‘at a glance’ summary of each. Check the individual websites for more. Thanks to the people over at Stack Exchange for doing a lot of the legwork.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

One license to rule them all? Noooooooooope!

August 20th, 2013 No comments

Lately I’ve been taking a look at the various open source software licenses in an attempt to better understand the differences between them. Here is my five minute summary of the most popular licenses:

GNU Public License (GPL)

Requires that any project using a GPL-licensed component must also be made available under the GPL. Basically once you go GPL you can’t go back.

Lesser GNU Public License (LGPL)

Basically the same as the GPL except that if something uses software licensed as LGPL it also doesn’t need to be licensed the same. So if you write a program that uses an LGPL library, say a program with a GTK+ user interface, it doesn’t need to be licensed LGPL. This is useful for commercial applications that rely on open source technology.

v2 vs v3

There are a number of differences between version 2 and version 3 of the GPL and LGPL licenses. Version 3 attempts to clarify a number of issues in version 2 including how patents, DRM, etc. are handled but a number of developers don’t seem to like the differences so version 2 is still quite popular.

MIT

This license allows for almost anything as long as a copy of the license and copyright are included in any distribution of the code. It can be used in commercial software without issue.

BSD3

Similar to the MIT, this license basically only requires that a copy of the license and copyright are included in any distribution of the code. The major difference between this and the MIT is that the BSD3 prohibits the use of the copyright holder’s name in any promotion of derivative work.

Apache

Apache is similar to the BSD license in that you have to provide a copy of the license in any derivative works. In addition there are a number of extra safeguards, such as patent grants, that set it apart from BSD.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

The real lesson to take from Elementary OS

August 18th, 2013 No comments

Elementary OS is the latest darling for the Linux community at large and with some good reason. It isn’t that Elementary OS is The. Best. Distro. Ever. In fact being only version 0.2 I doubt its own authors would try to make that claim. It does however bring something poorly needed to the Linux desktop – application focus.

Focus?

Most distributions are put together in such a way as to make sure it works well enough for everyone that will end up using it. This is an admirable goal but one that often ends up falling short of greatness. Elementary OS seems to take a different approach, one that focuses on selecting applications that do the basics extremely well even if they don’t support all of those extra features. Take the aptly named (Maya) Calendar application. You know what it does? That’s right, calendar things.

Yeah, a calendar. What else were you expecting?

Yeah, a calendar. What else were you expecting?

Or the Geary e-mail client, another example of a beautiful application that just does the basics. So what if it doesn’t have all of the plugins that an application like Thunderbird does? It still lets you read and send e-mail in style.

It does e-mail

It does e-mail

Probably the best example of how far this refinement goes is in the music application Noise. Noise looks a lot like your standard iTunes-ish media player but that familiarity betrays the simplicity that Noise brings. As you may have guessed by now, it simply plays music and plays it well.

The best thing about Noise is that it plays music well

The best thing about Noise is that it plays music well

But what about feature X?

OK I understand that this approach to application development isn’t for everyone. In fact it is something that larger players, such as Apple, get called out over all the time over. Personally though I think there is a fine balance between streamlined simplicity and refinement. The Linux desktop has come a long way in the past few years but one thing that is still missing from a large portion of it is that refined user experience that you do get with something like an Apple product, or the applications selected for inclusion in Elementary OS. Too often open source projects happily jump ahead with new feature development long before the existing feature set is refined. To be clear I don’t blame them, programming new exciting features is always more fun than fixing the old broken or cumbersome ones, although this is definitely one area where improvements could be made.

Perhaps other projects can (or will) take the approach that Elementary has and dedicate one release, every so often, to making these refinements reality. I’m thinking something like Ubuntu’s One Hundred Paper Cuts but on a smaller scale. In the meantime I will continue to enjoy the simplicity that Elementary OS is currently bringing my desktop Linux computing life.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Linux, Tyler B Tags: , , ,

An Ambitious Goal

August 1st, 2013 3 comments

Every since we announced the start of the third Linux Experiment I’ve been trying to think of a way in which I could contribute that would be different from the excellent ideas the others have come up with so far. After batting around some ideas over the past week I think I’ve finally come up with how I want to contribute back to the community. But first a little back story.

A large project now, GNOME was started because there wasn't a good open source alternative at the time

A large project now, GNOME was started because there wasn’t a good open source alternative at the time

During the day I develop commercial software. An unfortunate result of this is that my personal hobby projects often get put on the back burner because in all honesty when I get home I’d rather be doing something else. As a result I’ve developed, pun intended, quite a catalogue of projects which are currently on hold until I can find time/motivation to actually make something of them. These projects run the gamut of little helper scripts, written to make my life more convenient, all the way up to desktop applications, designed to take on bigger tasks. The sad thing is that while a lot of these projects have potential I simply haven’t been able to finish them, and I know that if I just could they would be of use to others as well. So for this Experiment I’ve decided to finally do something with them.

Thanks to OpenOffice, LibreOffice and others there are actual viable open source alternatives to Microsoft Office

Thanks to OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice and others there are actual viable open source alternatives to Microsoft Office

Open source software is made up of many different components. It is simultaneously one part idea, perhaps a different way to accomplish X would be better, one part ideal, belief that sometimes it is best to give code away for free, one part execution, often times a developer just “scratching an itch” or trying a new technology, and one part delivery, someone enthusiastically giving it away and building a community around it. In fact that’s the wonderful thing about all of the projects we all know and love; they all started because someone somewhere thought they had something to share with the world. And that’s what I plan to do. For this Linux Experiment I plan on giving back by setting one of my hobby projects free.

Before this open source web browser we were all stuck with Internet Explorer 6

Before this open source web browser we were all stuck with Internet Explorer 6

Now obviously this is not only ambitious but perhaps quite naive as well especially given the framework of The Linux Experiment – I fully recognize that I have quite a bit of work ahead of me before any of my hobby code is ready to be viewed, let alone be used, by anyone else. I also understand that, given my own personal commitments and available time, it may be quite a while before anything actually comes of this plan. All of this isn’t exactly well suited for something like The Linux Experiment, which thrives on fresh content; there’s no point in me taking part in the Experiment if I won’t be ready to make a new post until months from now. That is why for my Experiment contributions I won’t be only relying on the open sourcing of my code, but rather I will be posting about the thought process and research that I am doing in order to start an open source project.

Topics that I intend to cover are things relevant to people wishing to free their own creations and will include things such as:

  • weighing the pros and cons as well as discussing the differences between the various open source licenses
  • the best place to host code
  • how to structure the project in order to (hopefully) get good community involvement
  • etc.

An interesting side effect of this approach will be somewhat of a new look into the process of open sourcing a project as it is written piece by piece, step by step, rather than in retrospect.

The first billion dollar company built on open source software

The first billion dollar company built on open source software

Coincidentally as I write this post the excellent website tuxmachines.org has put together a group of links discussing the pros of starting open source projects. I’ll be sure to read up on those after I first commit to this 😉

Linux: a hobby project initially created and open sourced by one 21 year old developer

Linux: a hobby project initially created and open sourced by one 21 year old developer

I hope that by the end of this Experiment I’ll have at least provided enough information for others to take their own back burner projects to the point where they too can share their ideas and creations with the world… even if I never actually get to that point myself.

P.S. If anyone out there has experience in starting an open source project from scratch or has any helpful insights or suggestions please post in the comments below, I would really love to hear them.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Installing Linux to an external hard drive (+ driver issues)

July 27th, 2013 No comments

While I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to be doing for this round of The Linux Experiment, I have decided that now is a good time to try something I’ve been meaning to try for a while: get Linux to boot off of an external hard drive. This was actually such a straight forward process, simply install like normal but choose the external drive for the location of all files, that I won’t bother you with the details. The only special thing I did was decide to install GRUB on the external drive making the whole install essentially a completely isolated thing – that way if I turn off the external drive then the computer boots up off of the internal drive like normal, if I boot with the external drive on then GRUB asks me what to do.

The only downside to a setup like this is that I am using USB 2.0 as my connection to the hard drive which means the disk I/O and throughput will be theoretically lower than normal. Arguably I could get around this by using something like USB 3.0 or eSATA but so far in my experience this hasn’t really been an issue. Besides once the OS boots up almost everything is running and/or cached within RAM anyway. In fact that only problems I have run into with running Linux on this desktop were, ironically, driver issues.

First up is the wireless drivers. Yes, it is 2013 and I am still having Linux WiFi driver issues… This issue was unlike any I had seen before – the wireless card was automatically detected, the Broadcom proprietary driver was automatically selected and enabled, it even appeared to work but no matter what I tried it simply would not make a lasting connection to the wireless network. On a whim I decided to just turn off the device driver and, even though the dialog window told me that I would no longer be using the device, things suddenly started working like magic. I have to assume that buried deep within the Linux kernel is already an open source implementation for my wireless driver and that is what is actually working right now. Whatever the actual cause, the device is now working flawlessly.

For future reference: Do not use the device = magically make everything work perfectly

For future reference: Do not use the device = magically make everything work perfectly

The other driver issue I had was again related to a proprietary driver, this time for my graphics card. By default the install used the open source driver and this worked fine. However I have had a long battle with AMD/ATI cards working on Linux without using the proprietary driver and so I decided to enable it in order to avoid any future problems.

graphics

One reboot later and not only was my colour and resolution completed screwed up but I also got this “awesome” overlay on my desktop that said “Hardware not supported”. I tried to take a screenshot of it but apparently it is drawn onto the screen post-display or something (the screenshot did not show the overlay). So for now I am back to using strictly open source drivers for everything and amazingly it is all just working. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever been able to say that about Linux before.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

404 Oh No!

July 27th, 2013 No comments

Some of you may have noticed some previously working links going to 404 (page not found) pages. This is due to a change we’ve made in order to make permalinks more consistent among different authors and topics. Sorry for any inconvinence this may cause. On the plus side the website has a search bar that you can use to find what you were looking for :)




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Tyler B Tags:

Announcing The Linux Experiment (The Third!)

July 23rd, 2013 No comments

That’s right, time for round three!

If you’ve been following this website in the past you know what this means. This time around our rules are simple: give back to the community. With this idea in mind the participants, known as guinea pigs, will attempt to use their unique passions, interests and talents to give something back to the world of Linux and open source software. The goal is purposely designed to be generic and open ended – we want each guinea pig to interpret the rule in their own way and let their creativity determine how they will give back.

Some ideas we’ve tossed around to accomplish this goal have been:

  • Writing about a unique way to setup open source software to accomplish something
  • Trying out and writing about a new distribution that offers a different experience
  • Giving back to a distribution you use or like
  • Helping a project by submitting code patches, documentation updates, artwork, UX design or simply spreading the word
  • Starting your own project to accomplish something
  • Etc.

So join us dear reader as we chronicle giving back to the community. Oh and don’t be afraid to take part in your own way either 😉




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Tyler B Tags:

Make printing easy with the Samsung Unified Linux Driver Repository

July 13th, 2013 No comments

I recently picked up a cheap Samsung laser printer and decided to give the Samsung Unified Linux Driver Repository a shot while installing it. Basically the SULDR is a repository you add to your /etc/apt/sources.list file which allows you to install one of their driver management applications. Once that is installed anytime you go to hookup a new printer the management application automatically searches the repository, full of the official Samsung printer drivers, finds the correct one for you and installs it. Needless to say I didn’t have any problems getting this printer to work on linux!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Hardware, Linux, Tyler B Tags: , ,

Listener Feedback Podcast Update (July 2013)

July 12th, 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 17.
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).

Big distributions, little RAM 6

July 9th, 2013 3 comments

It’s that time again where I install the major, full desktop, distributions into a limited hardware machine and report on how they perform. Once again, and like before, I’ve decided to re-run my previous tests this time using the following distributions:

  • Fedora 18 (GNOME)
  • Fedora 18 (KDE)
  • Fedora 19 (GNOME
  • Fedora 19 (KDE)
  • Kubuntu 13.04 (KDE)
  • Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon)
  • Linux Mint 15 (MATE)
  • Mageia 3 (GNOME)
  • Mageia 3 (KDE)
  • OpenSUSE 12.3 (GNOME)
  • OpenSUSE 12.3 (KDE)
  • Ubuntu 13.04 (Unity)
  • Xubuntu 13.04 (Xfce)

I even happened to have a Windows 7 (64-bit) VM lying around and, while I think you would be a fool to run a 64-bit OS on the limited test hardware, I’ve included as sort of a benchmark.

All of the tests were done within VirtualBox on ‘machines’ with the following specifications:

  • Total RAM: 512MB
  • Hard drive: 8GB
  • CPU type: x86 with PAE/NX
  • Graphics: 3D Acceleration enabled

The tests were all done using VirtualBox 4.2.16, and I did not install VirtualBox tools (although some distributions may have shipped with them). I also left the screen resolution at the default (whatever the distribution chose) and accepted the installation defaults. All tests were run between July 1st, 2013 and July 5th, 2013 so your results may not be identical.

Results

Just as before I have compiled a series of bar graphs to show you how each installation stacks up against one another. This time around however I’ve changed how things are measured slightly in order to be more accurate. Measurements (on linux) were taken using the free -m command for memory and the df -h command for disk usage. On Windows I used Task Manager and Windows Explorer.

In addition this will be the first time where I provide the results file as a download so you can see exactly what the numbers were or create your own custom comparisons (see below for link).

Things to know before looking at the graphs

First off if your distribution of choice didn’t appear in the list above its probably not reasonably possible to be installed (i.e. I don’t have hours to compile Gentoo) or I didn’t feel it was mainstream enough (pretty much anything with LXDE). Secondly there may be some distributions that don’t appear on all of the graphs, for example because I was using an existing Windows 7 VM I didn’t have a ‘first boot’ result. As always feel free to run your own tests. Thirdly you may be asking yourself ‘why does Fedora 18 and 19 make the list?’ Well basically because I had already run the tests for 18 and then 19 happened to be released. Finally Fedora 19 (GNOME), while included, does not have any data because I simply could not get it to install.

First boot memory (RAM) usage

This test was measured on the first startup after finishing a fresh install.

 

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache Only

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap Usage

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage after updates

This test was performed after all updates were installed and a reboot was performed.

After_Updates_All

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap

Swap

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Memory (RAM) usage change after updates

The net growth or decline in RAM usage after applying all of the updates.

All Data Points

All Data Points

RAM

RAM

Buffers/Cache

Buffers/Cache

RAM - Buffers/Cache

RAM – Buffers/Cache

Swap Usage

Swap

RAM - Buffers/Cache + Swap

RAM – Buffers/Cache + Swap

Install size after updates

The hard drive space used by the distribution after applying all of the updates.

Install Size

Install Size

Conclusion

Once again I will leave the conclusions to you. This time however, as promised above, I will provide my source data for you to plunder enjoy.

Source Data




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

How to backup and restore a Trac project

July 4th, 2013 No comments

If you use Trac as your bug and progress tracking tool then you too may one day need to take a backup of it or move it to a new server like I had to the other day. Thankfully, as I discovered, it is a relatively straight forward process. Here are the steps to backup and restore a Trac project.

Take a hot backup of your existing install. This is essentially a backup from a fixed point that you can take while still using your Trac at the same time (great for having no downtime).

trac-admin [/path/to/projenv] hotcopy [/path/to/backupdir]

For example:

trac-admin /var/www/trac/projectx hotcopy /home/awesomeadmin/trac_backup/projectx

In order to restore it on another server you just need to create the project from scratch (i.e. using initenv) like this

trac-admin [targetdir] initenv

and then simply replace the install directory contents with the backed up contents. Strictly speaking I’m not even sure if you need to initenv but that’s how I did it and it worked.

Hopefully this works for you as well. Happy… err… Trac-ing?




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Tyler B Tags: , ,

How to backup and restore an SVN repository with full commit history

July 2nd, 2013 No comments

Sometimes you need to move an SVN repository from one server to another but maintain the full commit history (i.e. comments and changes). Here is a very simple way to do so.

1. Dump (and compress) the source SVN in one line:

svnadmin dump [path to source SVNrepository] | gzip -9 > [path to destination gzipped dump file]

For example:

svnadmin dump /var/svn/projectx | gzip -9 > /home/awesomeadmin/svn_backup/projectx.dump.gz

2. Transfer gzipped dump to new server

3. Decompress dump

gunzip projectx.dump.gz

4. Restore dump to new SVN repository

svnadmin load [path to new SVN repository] < [path to dump file]

For example:

svnadmin load /var/svn/projecty < /home/awesomeadmin/svn_backup/projectx.dump

That’s it. Pretty simple, no?




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Tyler B Tags: , , ,

An Experiment in Transitioning to Open Document Formats

June 15th, 2013 2 comments

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.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

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 17.
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).
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 17.
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).
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 17.
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).
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 17.
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).
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 17.
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).
Categories: KDE, Linux, Tyler B Tags: , ,