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Shove ads in your pi-hole!

January 8th, 2017 No comments

There are loads of neat little projects out there for your Raspberry Pi from random little hacks all the way up to full scale home automation and more. In the past I’ve written about RetroPie (which is an awesome project that you should definitely check out!) but this time I’m going to take a moment to mention another really cool project: pi-hole.

Pi-hole, as their website says, is “a black hole for Internet advertisements.” Essentially it’s software that you install on your Raspberry Pi (or other Linux computer) that then acts as a local DNS proxy. Once it is setup and running you can point your devices to it individually or just tell your router to use that instead (which then applies to everything on the network).

Then as you’re browsing the internet and come across a webpage that is trying to serve you ads, pi-hole will simply block the DNS request for the ad from really resolving and instead return a blank image or web page meaning that the site simply can’t download the ad to show you. Voila! Universal ad blocker for your entire network and all of your devices! Even better – because you’re blocking the ads from being downloaded in the first place your browsing speeds can sometimes be improved as well.

Pi-hole dashboard

You can monitor or control which domains are blocked all from a really nice dashboard interface and see the queries come into pi-hole almost in real time.

After running pi-hole for a week now I’m quite surprised with how effective it has really been with removing ads. It’s legitimately pleasant being able to browse the web without seeing ads everywhere or having ad blockers break certain websites. If that sounds like something you too might be interested in then pi-hole might be worth taking a look.


This post originally appeared on my personal website here.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Fixing Areca Backup on Ubuntu 16.04 (and related distributions)

December 30th, 2016 No comments

Seems like I’m at it again, this time fixing Areca Backup on Ubuntu 16.04 (actually Linux Mint 18.1 in my case). For some reason when I download the current version (Areca 7.5 for Linux/GTK) and try and run the areca.sh script I get the following error:

tyler@computer $ ./areca.sh
ls: cannot access ‘/usr/java’: No such file or directory
No valid JRE found in /usr/java.

This is especially odd because I quite clearly do have Java installed:

tyler@computer $ java -version
openjdk version “1.8.0_111”
OpenJDK Runtime Environment (build 1.8.0_111-8u111-b14-2ubuntu0.16.04.2-b14)
OpenJDK 64-Bit Server VM (build 25.111-b14, mixed mode)

Now granted this may be an issue exclusive to OpenJDK, or just this version of OpenJDK, but I’m hardly going to install Sun Java just to make this program work.

After some digging I narrowed it down to the look_for_java() function inside of the areca_run.sh script located in the Areca /bin/ directory. Now I’m quite sure there is a far more elegant solution than this but I simply commented out the vast majority of this function and hard coded the directory of my system’s Java binary. Here is how you can do the same.

First locate where your Java is installed by running the which command:

tyler@computer $ which java
/usr/bin/java

As you can see from the output above my java executable exists in my /usr/bin/ directory.

Next open up areca_run.sh inside of the Areca /bin/ directory and modify the look_for_java() function. In here you’ll want to set the variable JAVA_PROGRAM_DIR to your directory above (i.e. in my case it would be /usr/bin/) and then return 0 indicating no error. You can either simply delete the rest or just comment out the remaining function script by placing a # character at the start of each line.

#Method to locate matching JREs
look_for_java() {
JAVA_PROGRAM_DIR=”/usr/bin/”
return 0
# IFS=$’\n’
# potential_java_dirs=(`ls -1 “$JAVADIR” | sort | tac`)
# IFS=
# for D in “${potential_java_dirs[@]}”; do
#    if [[ -d “$JAVADIR/$D” && -x “$JAVADIR/$D/bin/java” ]]; then
#       JAVA_PROGRAM_DIR=”$JAVADIR/$D/bin/”
#       echo “JRE found in ${JAVA_PROGRAM_DIR} directory.”
#       if check_version ; then
#          return 0
#       else
#          return 1
#       fi
#    fi
# done
# echo “No valid JRE found in ${JAVADIR}.”
# return 1
}

Once you’ve saved the file you should be able to run the normal areca.sh script now without encountering any errors!


This post originally appeared on my personal website here.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Resizing and Correctly Orienting Images with Mogrify

December 30th, 2016 No comments

Lately, I’ve been publishing woodworking tutorials over on my own blog, and I’ve found myself needing to resize and correctly orient images taken with my iPhone prior to posting.

If you want to do anything with images on Linux, the best place to start is with ImageMagick, an all-in-one utility that does just about everything under the sun with images, and has fantastic documentation to boot.

After a bit of research, I came up with this command:

mogrify -auto-orient -resize 584×438 -strip -quality 85% *.jpg

Here’s a rundown of exactly what this does:

  • mogrify modifies the images in the source directory. This command will overwrite your image files, so use it on a copy of them if you care to keep the original sized images
  • auto-orient fixes image orientation. When you take a picture with your iPhone, it writes the image directly to storage in the orientation that the image sensor was in at the time the image was taken, and then writes that orientation information to the image’s metadata. This makes taking pictures faster, because the phone doesn’t have to rotate the image prior to writing the file, but can cause images to show up in all sorts of creative orientations, depending on the software tool chain that you use to get the image onto your website
  • resize resizes the image to the specified size (expressed in pixels). If the image can’t be resized to the exact dimensions specified, it will be taken to the nearest possible dimensions, while maintaining aspect ratio, so the end image won’t be all stretched out
  • strip removes all metadata from the final images. This is handy for privacy, since you probably don’t want the GPS coordinates of your home being published online, but also removes the pesky orientation metadata, which is good, because the auto-orient command already acted on it, and you wouldn’t want an image to be double-rotated at display time
  • quality specifies the quality of the final jpg. I’ve found that 85% works well, but if you’re quality-conscious, you could set this too 100% and it won’t take much extra time to convert the images
  • *.jpg executes the command against all .jpg images in the current directory

So there you have it! A simple one-line command that rotates and resizes images prior to posting them. Oh, and if you’re the type that tends to forget complicated command-line syntax, don’t forget about the history command:

jon@IDEAPAD-UBUNTU:~$ history | grep mogrify
1691 mogrify -auto-orient -resize 584×438 -strip -quality 85% *.jpg
1696 history | grep mogrify

It’s an easy way to find that pesky command that you know you’ve used in the recent past, without resorting to looking up all of the command line switches again.

Cheers, and happy image uploading!

This post was adapted from the original post on my blog at jonathanfritz.ca




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Jon F, Linux, Open Source Software Tags:

Blast from the Past: Linux Media Players Suck – Part 1: Rhythmbox

December 30th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on May 5, 2010. The original can be found here.


The state of media players on Linux is a sad one indeed. If you’re a platform enthusiast, you may want to cover your ears and scream “la-la-la-la” while reading this article, because it will likely offend your sensibilities. In fact, the very idea behind this series is to shake up the freetards’ world view, and to make them realize that a decent Winamp or iTunes clone need not be the end of the story for media management and playback on Linux.

This article will concentrate on lambasting Rhythmbox, the default jukebox software of the GNOME desktop environment. Subsequent posts will give the same treatment to other players in this sphere, including Banshee, Amarok, and Songbird (if I can find a copy that will still build on Linux). If you’re a user of media players on Linux, keep your own annoyances firmly in mind, and if I don’t mention them, please share in the comments. If you’re a developer for one of these fine projects, try to keep an open mind and get inspired to do better. A media player is not a hard thing to build, and I do believe that together, we can do better.

For the remainder of this article, please keep in mind that I am currently running Rhythmbox under Kubuntu 9.10, so you’ll see it rendered with qt widgets in all of my screen shots. This doesn’t affect the overall performance of the app, but leads nicely into my first complaint:

  1. Poor Cross-Platform Support: There are basically two desktop environments that matter in the Linux world, GNOME and KDE. Under GNOME, Rhythmbox has a reasonably nice icon set that is comparable to other media players. Under KDE, the qt re-skinning replaces those icons with a horrible set of mismatched images that really make the program look second-rate:
    Isn't this shit awful?

    As you can see, these icons look terrible. Note that there isn’t even an icon for ‘Burn’ and the icon for ‘Browse’ is a fucking question mark.

    This extends to the CD burning and help features too. They rely on programs like gnome-help and brasero to work, but don’t install them with the media player, so when I try to access these features under KDE, I just get error messages. Nice.

    Honestly, who packaged this thing?

    This is just plain stupid. Every package manager has the concept of dependencies, so why doesn’t Rhythmbox use them?

  2. The Player Starts in the Tray: Under what circumstances would it be considered useful for a media player to automatically minimize itself to the system tray on startup? It doesn’t begin to play automatically. The first thing that I always do is click on the tray icon to maximize it so that I can select some music to start playing. Way to start the user experience off on the wrong foot.
  3. Missing Files View: This one is just plain stupid. Whenever I delete a file from my hard drive, it shows up under the ‘Missing Files’ view, even though my intent was clearly to remove the file from my library. Further, I use Rhythmbox to put music on my BlackBerry. Whenever I fill it with music, I first delete the files on it. Those files that I deleted from my mobile device? Yeah, they show up under ‘Missing Files’ too, as if they were a legitimate part of my library! So this view ends up being like a global garbage bin that I have to waste my precious time emptying on occasion, and serves no useful purpose in the mean time. Yeah, I deleted those files. What are you going to do about it?

    Seriously, why the hell are these files in here?

    As you can see, I’ve highlighted the fact that Rhythmbox is telling me that these files are missing from my mobile device. No shit.

  4. Shared Libraries that I can’t Play: So we’ve known for awhile now that Apple broke the ability to connect to iTunes via the DAAP protocol, and that it’s not possible to connect to a shared iTunes library from Linux. If that’s the case, why does Rhythmbox still show these libraries as available? And how come it shows my library under this node? Why would I listen to my own shared library? Finally, I’ve found that even if I’m running Rhythmbox on another machine, I still can’t connect to my shared library. This feature seems to be downright broken – so why is it still in the build?
  5. The GUI and Backend are on One Thread: I keep about half of my music collection as lossless FLAC files. When I want to rip these files to my portable media device, they need to be converted to the Mp3 format. Turns out that Rhythmbox thinks it appropriate to transcode these files on the same thread that it uses to update its GUI, so that while this process is taking place, the app becomes laggy, and at times, downright unusable. Further, the application doesn’t seem to give me any control over the bitrate that my songs are transcoded to. Fuck!
  6. Lack of Playlist Options: Smart playlists in Rhythmbox are missing a rather key feature: Randomness. When filling the aforementioned mobile device with music, I would like to select a random 4GB of music from my top rated playlist. But I can’t. I can select 4GB of music by most every criteria except randomness, which means that I get the same 600 or so songs on my device every time I fill it. This is strange, because I can shuffle the contents of a static playlist; But I cannot randomly fill a smart playlist. Great.

    If you have a device that has a small amount of memory, this feature is essential

    It’s funny; I really want to like Rhythmbox, but it’s shit like this that ruins the experience for me

  7. Columns: What the fuck. Who wrote this part of the application? When I choose the columns that are visible in the main window, I can’t re-order them. That’s right. So the only order that I can put my columns in is Track, Title, Genre, Artist, Album, Year, Time, Quality, Rating. Can’t reorder them at all, and I have to go into the preferences menu to choose which ones are displayed, instead of being able to right-click on the column headers to select them like I can in every other program written in the last 10 years. This is just ridiculous. I know that the GTK+ toolkit allows you to create re-order-able columns, because I’ve seen it done.

    This is just so incredibly backward. I mean, columns are a standard part of the GTK+ toolkit, and I've seen plenty of other apps that do this properly.

    Why, for the love of God, can’t these be re-ordered?

  8. The Equalizer is Balls: No presets, and no preamp. So I can set the EQ, and my settings are magically saved, but I can only have one setting, because there doesn’t appear to be a way to create multiple profiles. And louder music sounds like balls, because I can’t turn down the preamp, so I get digital distortion throughout my signal. It would be better to just not have an equalizer at all.

    I mean, it works. But...

    I mean, it works. But…

  9. Context Menus Don’t Make Sense: Let’s just take a look at this context menu for a moment. There are three ways to remove a song from a playlist. You can Remove the song, which just removes it from the playlist, but not from your library or your hard drive. Alternatively, you can select Move to Trash, which does what you might expect – it removes the song from the playlist, the library, and your computer. I’ve got a problem with the naming conventions here. The purpose of Remove isn’t well explained, and confused the hell out of me at first. In addition, when browsing a mobile device that you’ve filled with music, the GUI breaks down even further. In this case, you can still hit Remove, which seems to remove the song from Rhythmbox’s listing, but leaves the file on the device. So now I have a file on my device that I can’t access. Great. The right-click menu also has the ability to copy and cut the song, even though there is no immediately obvious way to paste it. For that functionality, you’ll have to head up to the Edit menu.

    The right-click context menu

    I’m starting to run out of anger. The 10,000 papercuts that come along with this app are making me numb to it.

  10. No Command Line Tools: Now, normally, this wouldn’t bother me too much. A music library is something that’s meant to have a GUI, and doesn’t generally lend itself to working from the command line. In this case however, command line access to Rhythmbox would be really handy, because I’d like to set up a hot key on my keyboard that will skip songs or pause playback. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that within the software, and it doesn’t have any command line arguments that I can call instead. Balls.

There you have it, 10 things that really ruin the Rhythmbox experience. While using this piece of software, I felt like the developers worked really hard to build something that was sort of comparable to Apple’s iTunes, and then stopped trying. That isn’t good enough! If we want to attract users to our platform of choice, and keep them here, we need to give them reasons to check it out, and even more to stick around. If I say to you that I want to have the best Linux media player, you tend to put the emphasis on the word Linux. Why not just make the best media player? GNOME is on at least half of all Linux desktops, if not more. Why hinder it with software that gives people a poor first impression of what Linux is capable of? Seriously guys, let’s step it up.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

vi(m) or emacs? Neither, just use nano!

December 29th, 2016 No comments

There is quite a funny, almost religious, debate within the Linux community between the two venerable command line text editors vi or Vim and Emacs. Sure they have loads of features and plugins but do you really need that from a command line editor? I think for the most part, or perhaps for most people at least, the answer is no. Instead I’m going to do something really stupid and publicly state, on a Linux related website, that you should ignore both of those text editors and instead use what many consider an inferior, more simplistic one instead: nano.

Sure it doesn’t have all of the fancy bells and whistles but honestly half the time I’m using a command line editor it’s just to change one line of text. I don’t generally need the extra fluff and when I do I can always use a graphical editor instead. Besides it’s so easy to use… just look at how easy it is to use:

Create/edit a file:

  1. Open the file in nano
  2. Make your changes
  3. Save the changes

Open the file:

nano doc.txt

Make your changes:

Admit it, it's true!

Admit it, it’s true!

 

Save your changes:

No complicated key combinations to remember – it’s all listed at the bottom of the screen. Want to save, “Write Out,” your changes? Easy as Ctrl+O and then Enter to confirm.

Sooooooooo easy to use

Sooooooooo easy to use

So let’s all come together, stop the fanboy wars, and all embrace nano as the best command line text editor out there! 😛

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.
Categories: Linux, Open Source Software, Tyler B Tags: , , ,

Blast from the Past: Going Linux, Once and for All

December 28th, 2016 No comments

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


With the linux experiment coming to an end, and my Vista PC requiring a reinstall, I decided to take the leap and go all linux all the time. To that end, I’ve installed Kubuntu on my desktop PC.

I would like to be able to report that the Kubuntu install experience was better than the Debian one, or even on par with a Windows install. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

My machine contains three 500GB hard drives. One is used as the system drive, while an integrated hardware RAID controller binds the other two together as a RAID1 array. Under Windows, this setup worked perfectly. Under Kubuntu, it crashed the graphical installer, and threw the text-based installer into fits of rage.

With plenty of help from the #kubuntu IRC channel on freenode, I managed to complete the Kubuntu install by running it with the two RAID drives disconnected from the motherboard. After finishing the install, I shut down, reconnected the RAID drives, and booted back up. At this point, the RAID drives were visible from Dolphin, but appeared as two discrete drives.

It was explained to me via this article that the hardware RAID support that I had always enjoyed under windows was in fact a ‘fake RAID,’ and is not supported on Linux. Instead, I need to reformat the two drives, and then link them together with a software RAID. More on that process in a later post, once I figure out how to actually do it.

At this point, I have my desktop back up and running, reasonably customized, and looking good. After trying KDE’s default Amarok media player and failing to figure out how to properly import an m3u playlist, I opted to use Gnome’s Banshee player for the time being instead. It is a predictable yet stable iTunes clone that has proved more than capable of handling my library for the time being. I will probably look into Amarok and a few other media players in the future. On that note, if you’re having trouble playing your MP3 files on Linux, check out this post on the ubuntu forums for information about a few of the necessary GStreamer plugins.

For now, my main tasks include setting up my RAID array, getting my ergonomic bluetooth wireless mouse working, and working out folder and printer sharing on our local Windows network. In addition, I would like to set up a Windows XP image inside of Sun’s Virtual Box so that I can continue to use Microsoft Visual Studio, the only Windows application that I’ve yet to find a Linux replacement for.

This is just the beginning of the next chapter of my own personal Linux experiment; stay tuned for more excitement.

This post first appeared at Index out of Bounds.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Help out a project with OpenHatch

December 27th, 2016 No comments

OpenHatch is a site that aggregates all of the help postings from a variety of open source projects. It maintains a whole community dedicated to matching people who want to contribute with people who need their help. You don’t even need to be technical like a programmer or something like that. Instead if you want to lend your artistic talents to creating icons and logos for a project, or your writing skills to help them out with documentation – both areas a lot of open source projects aren’t the best with – I’m sure they would be greatly appreciative.

So what are you waiting for? Get connected and give back to the community that helps create the applications you use on a daily basis!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

5 apt tips and tricks

December 22nd, 2016 No comments

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

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

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

apt-cache search Firefox

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

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

2) Search for package information with apt-cache show

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

apt-cache show firefox

More details than you probably even wanted!

More details than you probably even wanted!

3) Upgrade only a specific package

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

apt-get upgrade

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

apt-get upgrade firefox

4) Install specific package version

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

apt-get install firefox=version

Where version is the version number you wish to install.

5) Free up disk space with clean

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

apt-get clean

apt-get autoclean

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

CoreGTK 3.18.0 Released!

December 18th, 2016 No comments

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

Highlights for this release:

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

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

Read more about this release here.

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

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

December 16th, 2016 No comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Solution?

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

Enter OpenDocument/Office Open XML

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

Is it possible to transition to OpenDocument?

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on my personal website here.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Using screen to keep your terminal sessions alive

December 15th, 2016 No comments

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

Enter: screen

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

Explain with an example!

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

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: nano doc.txt

What a wonderful document!

What a wonderful document!

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

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: screen

Welcome to screen!

Welcome to screen!

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

ssh user@computer
user@computer’s password:

user@computer: screen -r

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Blast from the Past: Coming to Grips with Reality

December 12th, 2016 No comments

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


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

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

Bad idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

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

December 9th, 2016 No comments

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


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

10: IRC is not dead

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

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

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

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

9: Jokes about Linux for nerds can actually be funny

Stolen from Sasha’s post.

Admit it, you laughed too

Admit it, you laughed too

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

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

7. When it works, it’s unparalleled

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

6. Linux seems to fail for random or trivial reasons

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

Mixer - buttons unchecked

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

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

Armagetron

Armagetron

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

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

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

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

2. I love the terminal

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Alternative software: Abiword word processor

December 8th, 2016 No comments

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

So what is Abiword anyway?

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

A much leaner interface than most 'bigger' word processors

A much leaner interface than most ‘bigger’ word processors

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

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

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

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

That sure is a dark ruler...

That sure is a dark ruler…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.
Categories: Open Source Software, Tyler B Tags:

Blast from the Past: How is it doing that?

December 7th, 2016 No comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Enjoy some free audiobooks with LibriVox!

December 6th, 2016 No comments

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

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

December 5th, 2016 No comments

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


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

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

What a beautifully clean desktop.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

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

Unfortunately, it’s not all great

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

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

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

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

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

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

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

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


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

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

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

Open by example

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

Documents

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

Verdict: open formats have largely won out.

Audio

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

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

Video

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

Verdict: closed/proprietary formats have largely won out.

File Compression

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

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

Native Applications vs Web Apps

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

Verdict: tie.

The answer to the question is…

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

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

This post originally appeared on my website here.

 




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Alternative software: Vocal Podcast Client

November 1st, 2016 No comments

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

What a nice, clean interface

What a nice, clean interface

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

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

Two pretty standard options and one very intriguing one

Two pretty standard options and one very intriguing one

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

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

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

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

Podcast feed and related info

Podcast feed and related info

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

That's an unfortunate screenshot

That’s an unfortunate screenshot

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




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.

Alternative software: Midori Browser

October 30th, 2016 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Browsing The Linux Experiment

Browsing The Linux Experiment

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

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

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

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

Browser Memory Usage
Firefox 144MB
Midori 46MB

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

Browser Memory Usage
Firefox 183MB
Midori 507MB

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

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

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




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 18.
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).
Feel free to visit me at my personal website here.