Archive for the ‘Open Source Software’ Category

One week, three distributions (Day 6: Linux Mint Debian Edition)

October 23rd, 2010 7 comments

To round out the week I installed the newly released Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). Like the other posts I have made I will walk you through my first impressions as well as the general overall feel of the distribution.


LMDE’s install is something quite different from the experiences I had with Ubuntu 10.10 and Kubuntu 10.10. While it is still a very polished installer (complete with a single slide slide-show even!) it does lack a couple of features that make it far less user friendly. Where the other installers basically held your hand in every way, LMDE requires at least some technical understanding in order to complete. For instance there is no friendly auto-partition step, instead LMDE leaves the user to do it manually with GParted. While hardly the end of the world it is enough of a challenge that you could no longer just hand this disc to your non-technical friend and let them have at it. However once that step is complete the installer is very straight forward and rips through the installation in a matter of minutes.

First boot and drivers (oh my!)

I have to say that my first impression of LMDE was a mixed one. On one hand it spewed text everywhere as it booted, which I assume came from its Debian heritage. On the other hand the boot was ridiculously fast. I know it’s been one of Canonical’s goals to make Ubuntu the fastest booting Linux distribution but I have to say that a stock install of LMDE (and maybe even Debian Testing) will easily give that claim a run for its money.

Once at my desktop I was presented with a very familiar Linux Mint set up. If you were to place this desktop next to Linux Mint’s Ubuntu derivative (Linux Mint 9 for instance) I would be very hard pressed to spot any differences.

Unfortunately one thing that was glaringly missing was the lack of the Ubuntu automatic driver detection and install system jockey. Without jockey I had to resort to Fedora-esque measures in order to install the correct driver which is necessary for correct display and power management on my laptop. For reference here are the steps I took in order to install the proprietary ATI driver and setup my X configuration:

1) Run the following command in order to make sure you have the most recent package list

$ sudo apt-get update

2) You may want to now install all available updates so that we start with the most recent kernel

$ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

3) Install the kernel headers so that we can configure it to work with the ATI driver

$ sudo apt-get install linux-headers-2.6-$(uname -r | sed ‘s,.*-,,’)

4) Install the ATI driver and control panel

$ sudo apt-get install fglrx-control fglrx-driver

5) From there just follow the instructions on my post here in order to generate the new X configuration file and maybe even fix your vsync issues at the same time.

I have read that jockey is currently being ported and will appear in the LMDE repositories so hopefully this small issue will be solved quickly.

Rolling release = LOTS OF UPDATES

One of LMDE’s big selling points is that it is a rolling release, which means that you will continue to get new packages and updates on your system without having to reinstall at 6 month intervals like some other distributions. Strangely though LMDE does not ship with update checking enabled which I found kind of weird. A quick forced check later and I discovered why the team may have made that choice

That’s right, almost 500 updates… Almost every package on my newly installed machine had to be replaced updated. This is definitely a release for people looking for the newest software but could easily lead to update fatigue for everyone else.

32-bit working system vs PAE kernel broken system

One of the unfortunate things about this release is that it only comes in a 32-bit version. As I run a 64-bit processor with 4GB of RAM it irks me to know that I am not using the full potential of my system. I starting looking into Physical Address Extension (PAE) kernels as a solution to this problem. PAE kernels, for those who don’t know, use a system of memory indirection in order to allow a 32-bit processor access to more than 4GB of mappable memory. In the case of Linux the PAE kernel can map up to 64GB of RAM.

After a bit of googling I stumbled upon instructions to install a PAE kernel by simply installing the linux-image-686-bigmem meta-package. Unfortunately this quick fix, as most often is the case, didn’t exactly turn out well and actually broke my GDM system. Without GDM I was unable to log into my desktop and this experiment came to an end. In the interest of time I decided to just reinstall instead of trying to troubleshoot how to fix what I had inadvertently broken.

Software selection

The software selection in LMDE is impressive and in many ways is what Ubuntu’s used to be. Here you will find (pre-installed) Flash, the Java and Mono runtimes, an MP3 codec and even the Gimp. Everything, like the other Linux Mint releases, is designed to make it so that the user does not have to search for solutions to missing functionality.

Because this is a rolling release it doesn’t really make sense for me to review the included software as much as it does to just mention it. For web browsing LMDE, like Ubuntu, ships with Firefox. To send and receive e-mail it calls upon Firefox’s cousin Thunderbird. Instant messaging is handled by Pidgin and your music collection is controlled by Rhythmbox. F-Spot remains as the photo manager, unlike Ubuntu which replaced it with Shotwell, while Gwibber and Totem round out the release.


Currently Linux Mint Debian Edition is somewhat of an enthusiast’s release. It has the potential to be a great rolling release but it’s pretty obvious that right now it needs some work to get there. For instance, why when I updated my software, did my GDM background change to a Debian one? The team over at Linux Mint knows how to polish a distribution and so I’m confident that they will do the same for Debian Edition.


  • Rolling release which means you always have the most recent software
  • Still has that Linux Mint charm to it


  • The distribution still needs a bit of polish before I could see myself recommending it to all but seasoned Linux users
  • Being a rolling release might result in update fatigue

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 week, three distributions (Day 4: Ubuntu 10.10)

October 20th, 2010 3 comments

Continuing where we left off I am now ready to report my first impressions of Ubuntu 10.10. I should start by apologizing a little bit, this post is going up one day late (even though I had already finished writing most of it). With that out of the way let’s begin.


The install, as one would expect, is exactly the same as the one featured in Kubuntu. As noted before I have nothing but praise for this installer and still think it is one of the best, if not the best, installer on any Linux distribution.

‘New’ Theme

The new theme found in this release of Ubuntu is beautiful. It’s hard to place exactly what makes this theme so nice but Canonical has done a wonderful job iterating the old theme from 10.04 and making some subtle changes that have an incredible overall effect.

This level of polish even extends to the new sound menu. Canonical has implemented new sound APIs which allow media players to integrated natively with the sound menu in a way that is just awesome.

Image Shamelessly Stolen Last Minute from Another Website

Heck even the calculator looks better with the new theme!


As with my previous post, I decided to take a look through the default installed software and see how it presents Ubuntu as an all-in-one desktop experience.

Empathy (2.32.0)

The instant messaging client of champions… or at least those who thought Pidgin was too complicated. My understanding for why this client replaced Pidgin was that it was set to offer features (like audio and video calling) that Pidgin was simply too slow at incorporating. Up until this release that reasoning has been nothing more than a pipe dream in my experience. Yes some people have had better luck than others but I have never had it really work all that well. This time however I did get it to work and, after installing the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package, also got it to successfully negotiate a full video call with the proper Windows Live Messenger client.

Evolution (2.30.3)

First off I have to just say “wow”. The first time I used Evolution was back on Ubuntu 8.04 and I absolutely hated it. Now however I’m starting to sing a different tune. Evolution not only looks better but also performs better as well. It includes many features, like calendar and PGP integration, that my favourite e-mail client Thunderbird requires add ons to accomplish.

Furthermore it integrates completely into the Ubuntu message centre which is a nice touch. I can’t even get Thunderbird to minimize to the system tray on Linux. All told I must say that I’m very impressed with with this version of Evolution.

Gwibber (

Gwibber is Ubuntu’s answer to all of your social media sources. It has the ability to combine all of your feeds, from Twitter to Facebook, in one convenient location. From there you can easily catch up on what your friends are doing and interact with them, all from one easy to use centralized location.

Unfortunately this universal nature is exactly where the Gwibber experience starts to fail. Because it works with everything it often fails to excel at anything in particular. Because of that I just don’t see myself using this application all that often. It is nice that it integrates into the Ubuntu message centre though.

Firefox (3.6.10)

Ubuntu’s default web browser is Firefox which, let’s be honest, I’m sure you know all about. I will say one thing about this browser though; I hope Firefox 4 improves the speed significantly or I think it will continue to lose users to Chrome.

Transmission (2.04)

For downloading torrents Ubuntu 10.10 continues to ship with the Transmission BitTorrent client. It is a more or less unremarkable client that places a large emphasis on simplicity. It is also the only BitTorrent client I know that warns you not to pirate things.

It also might just be me but for some reason this version of Transmission seems to have more features than I remember.

Rhythmbox (0.13.1)

This version of Rhythmbox contains the Ubuntu One music store which I decided to poke around in for a bit. It seems to be a full capable store with many popular artists.

Unfortunately I did manage to make it crash in a rather hilarious way…

Yes that’s right, the Ubuntu One music store is being run off of a Microsoft IIS web server.

Rythmbox the program also suffers from some annoying issues which were well covered by Jon on one of his previous post. One that particularly annoys me is the encoding options. As long as you stick to the defaults the application is very easy to use, but the second you want to adjust the settings you get stuck trying to decipher GStreamer command line options.

Totem Movie Player (2.32.0)

For video playback we get stuck with Totem. Its not that I think it’s the worst video player in the world, it’s just that it doesn’t do anything particularly well. Back when I was using Kubuntu’s Dragon Player I felt the same way but at least Dragon Player was able to provide video playback devoid of various vsync issues. To be fair though this might be an issue with Compiz vs KWin and not directly related to the video software.

PiTiVi (0.14.5)

PiTiVi, besides having a horrible name, is actually a very good piece of software. It is essentially a Windows Movie Maker clone and makes no excuses for it, which in this case is probably a good thing. Within just a couple of minutes of never using the program before I was able to import the two free clips that come with Ubuntu, one movie and one song, strip the audio from the movie clip and replace it with the song’s audio. One button click later my movie was rendered in glorious 1080p. That’s a lot of p’s!

For those wanting a bit more power, the software also seems capable of rendering to any (logical) combination of containers and codecs you might have installed on your system.

Ubuntu Software Centre (3.0.4)

And finally the big one. This release brings with it the first paid application to the new app store. This has already  been written about quite a lot, and while I think its a good thing, I do have some issues with it. The biggest issue that I have is that with only one application in the store people will probably never check it out again, even if new applications are added later. In my opinion what they should have done was created a beta program that people could opt into and test the store out. That would have given Canonical the feedback they need while still not spoiling the store for potential future users.


This release of Ubuntu is a solid one and deserves much praise. While I could give or take on some of the default included software, but then again who couldn’t, I do think that this release has an overall polish that simply hasn’t been as strong in previous releases. This is what Ubuntu 10.04 should have been from the start and makes me look forward to what is still yet to come.


  • An unparalleled polish and sheen that no other distribution has
  • An updated software roster that is showcases some of the best Linux application-desktop integration I have ever seen


  • While the polish is nice there really isn’t that much difference from 10.04
  • The Ubuntu Software Centre store release may have been a bit premature

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: GNOME, Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags: ,

One week, three distributions (Day 2: Kubuntu 10.10)

October 17th, 2010 3 comments

As noted in my previous post I have decided to try out a mini experiment wherein I test out three recently released distributions (Kubuntu 10.10, Ubuntu 10.10 and Linux Mint Debian Edition) giving each 48 hours to leave me with either a brilliant or terrible first impression. First on the docket was Kubuntu 10.10.


Kubuntu’s installer is absolutely beautiful. It is simple, sleek and gorgeous. As you work your way through the very simple wizard system it begins to copy files in the background which makes the whole install process much faster than in previous iterations. I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that this is perhaps the best Linux installer I have ever used.

‘New’ Desktop

When I first booted into the desktop I was very pleasantly surprised. I haven’t used KDE since version 4.3 when I had given up on it because, while beautiful and functional, there were just too many rough edges. It seems to be an Internet cliché at this point but I am going to throw it out there anyway: KDE 4.5 is the KDE release you have been waiting for. Most, if not all, of the rough edges that have plagued the 4.x series in the past have been ironed out and replaced with extremely user friendly, soft and presentable windows and options that just make sense.

For instance the new network connection interface is stupidly simple. If you can’t figure out how to connect to a network (hint: you just click on it) perhaps you shouldn’t be using a computer in the first place.

All of these refinements are accented by the new notification system that not only provides a universal area for all program events, but also fixes almost all of my complaints about the previous versions. You can now scroll through the notifications, instead of watching them grow off-screen, and you can even filter by the individual applications that are generating said notifications. Think of it like a unified e-mail inbox versus individual account inboxes.

Along similar lines the new, subtle, system tray notifications are simply awesome. Take a look at this screen-shot of the animated file copy indicator.

Its a bit hard to see in the screen-shot but the white pie in the upper right is actually the progress indicator. Unlike in GNOME where you get either a file copy dialog, or a motionless tray icon, I now have no clutter and yet full functionality. You couldn’t make a better system for displaying the information needed. “But what if I want to see more information?” Like everything else, this indicator is fully integrated into the notification system and a single click brings up the progress bar and file copy information. I suppose the point that I’m trying to get across is that this KDE release has done a lot of work in doing away with the clutter that you don’t really care to see 9 times out of 10.

Driver installation is once again handled by jockey, just like in Ubuntu. This time however I had absolutely no issues with it crashing or just not working unexpectedly.

‘New’ Software

I also decided to try out the default software selection to see what had changed. Plus I figured this would be a non-bias way to get a real first impression/feel of the distribution.

Software Management

KPackageKit has always been a sore part of (EDIT: the KDE SC) Kubuntu for me. It ‘worked’ but it was far from intuitive, helpful and, sometimes, even useful. The new KPackageKit is an entirely different story. It is far more like a mix between Synaptic and the Ubuntu Software Center and it pulls it off beautifully.

You can now browse by category or search by application (not just package) name. In addition it now also features a list of installed software which is something so painfully obvious that it is hard to believe that this functionality hadn’t existed previously. These three changes alone have completely reinvented KPackageKit in my opinion. I now almost look forward to opening it up to find new software, whereas in previous releases I would go straight to the command line just to avoid it.


The browser that ships with Kubuntu 10.10 is rekonq 0.6.1, which is essentially a re-spin of Konqueror but instead of using the KHTML rendering engine it uses the faster and more compatible WebKit. While there is nothing overly special about this browser it does feel very Chrome-like and was good enough that I never even bothered to switch to anything else.

One nice thing about it is that it integrates seamlessly into the KWalletManager password store. It also did an excellent job of prompting me to install all of the proprietary codecs so that I could watch YouTube or whatever. The only low point was a lack of a Moonlight plugin but I assume that is probably forthcoming.

Instant Messaging

The default instant messenger is Kopete 1.0.80 which is a fine instant messenger that integrates nicely into the notification system. The real problem with Kopete however is that it simply hasn’t seen nearly as much improvement as the rest of the distribution’s software. If you showed me the Kopete that shipped with KDE 4.3 and the one in KDE 4.5 I couldn’t tell you the difference. From my tests (using the Windows Live Messenger service) I didn’t see anything new. Oddly enough, just like the last time I used Kopete, this version recognizes my laptop’s webcam but there is no option to use it anywhere inside of a chat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of work has been put into Kopete since 4.3 but the problem is I would never know it.


KMail, now at version 1.13.5, once again takes the e-mail duties for KDE and once again I find it to be far too complicated, cluttered and messy. Sure it is very function and has a boat load of options but at the end of the day I just want to read my e-mail. A good e-mail client should be invisible to the user and KMail is certainly not.


I’ve always liked KTorrent and this release (version 4.0.3) is no different. If you don’t feel like messing around and just want things to work then default settings are perfect. But if you like to tweak your settings at all KTorrent offers every major feature that you’re looking for.


I’ll be honest, I don’t really like Amarok and never have. That being said I was determined to give it a fair try and I found it to be a very functional media player. I still do think that it is a bit too complicated for the average person though. What do I mean by this? Well for example why do I have to right click and then choose a menu option to listen to my music? Why doesn’t double click just do it?

One area where Amarok does excel is in its music importing wizard. It is very simple and full of sensible defaults that makes ripping tracks from a CD super simple. Kubuntu ships with Amarok version 2.3.2.

Dragon Player

Like GNOME’s Totem, KDE’s Dragon Player (version 2.0) is a no fuss video playback application. There really isn’t much to say about this as it is a very feature lean and purpose focused player. I do however have to give it a special mention; I never had a single vsync issue while using Dragon Player (even with my troublesome ATI graphics card). Not even VLC can say the same without some fiddling around in the options menu.


Kontact 4.4.6 is KDE’s answer to Microsoft Outlook. It provides e-mail, calendar, tasks, RSS and more by basically displaying a single user interface that joins together KMail, Akregator, KOrganizer and more in a single window. While this is an excellent way to achieve the end result it does unfortunately mean that the user experience suffers a bit when each application chooses to do things slightly different from one another. Again this is one area that I didn’t notice much difference from the last time I used it.

Conclusion (Konclusion?)

This Kubuntu release is so much improved its hard to believe it was done by the same people who have worked on the previous iterations (I mean that as a compliment… somehow ;)). If you’ve been put off by KDE in the past or even if you’re just looking for a modern KDE distribution then I highly recommend checking this release out.


  • A huge improvement over previous releases
  • Lots of refinements that make using it a pleasure


  • Some of the KDE software (not the desktop) could still use some work
  • Plasmas are cool and all but I don’t think they are quite as amazing as the KDE team keeps pushing them to be

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, Kubuntu, Tyler B Tags: ,

Do something nice for a change

October 6th, 2010 1 comment

Open source software (OSS) is great. It’s powerful, community focused and, lets face it, free. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t use OSS. Between Firefox, Linux Mint, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Pinta, Deluge, FileZilla and many, many more there is hardly ever an occasion where I find myself in a situation where there isn’t an OSS tool for the job. Unfortunately for all of the benefits that OSS brings me in my daily life I find, in reflection, that I hardly ever do anything to contribute back. What’s worse is that I know I am not alone in this. Many OSS users out there just use the software because it happens to be the best for them. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, many of these individuals could be contributing back. Now obviously I don’t expect everyone, or even half for that matter, to contribute back but I honestly do think that the proportion of people who do contribute back could be much higher.

Why should I?

This is perhaps the easiest to answer. While you don’t have to contribute back, you should if you want to personally make the OSS you love even better.

How to I contribute?

Contributing to a project is incredibly easy. In fact in the vast majority of cases you don’t need to write code, debug software or even do much more than simply use the software in question. What do I mean by this? Well the fact that we here on The Linux Experiment write blog posts praising (or tearing to shreds supplying constructive criticism) to various OSS projects is one form of contributing. Did I lose you? Every time you mention an OSS project you bring attention to it. This attention in turn draws more users/developers to the project and grows it larger. Tell your family, write a blog post, digg stories about OSS or just tell your friends about “this cool new program I found”.

There are many other very easy ways to help out as well. For instance if you notice the program is doing something funky then file a bug. It’s a short process that is usually very painless and quickly brings real world results. I have found that it is also a very therapeutic way to get back at that application that just crashed and lost all of your data. Sometimes you don’t even have to be the one to file it, simply bringing it up in a discussion, such as a forum post, can be enough for others to look into it for you.

Speaking of forum posts, answering new users’ questions about OSS projects can be an excellent way to both spread use of the project and identify problems that new users are facing. The latter could in turn be corrected through subsequent bug or feature requests. Along the same lines, documentation is something that some OSS projects are sorely missing. While it is not the most glamorous job, documentation is key to providing an excellent experience to a first time user. If you know more than one language I can’t think of a single OSS project that couldn’t use your help making translations so that people all over the world can begin to use the software.

For the artists among us there are many OSS projects that could benefit from a complete artwork makeover. As a programmer myself I know all to well the horrors of developer artwork. Creating some awesome graphics, icons, etc. for a project can make a world of difference. Or if you are more interested in user experience and interface design there are many projects that could also benefit from your unique skills. Tools like Glade can even allow individuals to create whole user interfaces without writing a single line of code.

Are you a web developer? Do you like making pretty websites with fancy AJAX fluff? Offer to help the project by designing an attractive website that lures visitors to try the software. You could be the difference between this and this (no offense to the former).

If you’ve been using a particular piece of software for a while, and feel comfortable trying to help others, hop on over to the project’s IRC channel. Help new users troubleshoot their problems and offer suggestions of solutions that have work for you. Just remember: nothing turns off a new user like an angry IRC asshat.

Finally if you are a developer take a look at the software you use on a daily basis. Can you see anything in it that you could help change? Peruse their bug tracker and start picking off the low priority or trivial bugs. These are often issues that get overlooked while the ‘full time’ developers tackle the larger problems. Squashing these small bugs can help to alleviate the 100 paper cuts syndrome many users experience while using some OSS.

Where to start

Depending on how you would like to contribute your starting point could be pretty much anywhere. I would suggest however that you check out your favourite OSS project’s website. Alternatively jump over to an intermediary like OpenHatch that aggregates all of the help postings from a variety of projects. OpenHatch actually has a whole community dedicated to matching people who want to contribute with people who need their help.

I don’t expect anyone, and certainly not myself, to contribute back on a daily basis. I will however personally start by setting a recurring event in my calendar that reminds me to contribute, in some way or another, every week or month. If we all did something similar imagine the rapid improvements we could see in a short time.

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).

Trying out the Chakra Project

August 24th, 2010 1 comment

After a little bit of pressure from the people responding to my previous post (My search for the best KDE Linux distribution), I have finally given in and tried out Chakra. The Chakra Project starts with Arch Linux as a base but, instead of forcing you to build your own distro piece of piece, Chakra comes more or less pre-packaged.


The installation was one of the best I’ve ever seen. For alpha software this distribution’s first point of interaction is already very polished – even warning me that it is not stable software and might therefore eat my hamster.

The install process even let me decide to install some very useful packages, like Microsoft Core TTF Fonts and Adobe Flash, right away. Even the Language & Time step was incredible, offering a rotating globe that I could drag around and manipulate.

The only issue I had was trying to create a disk partition to install the OS to. This was because I was trying this out inside of VirtualBox, and the virtual hard disk did not have any partitions on it whatsoever. There is a bug and (thankfully) work-around for this known issue with their Tribe installer, and after reading a quick walk-through I was once again ready to install.

The Desktop

The desktop is standard KDE version 4.4.2 after install. Opening up Pacman (or is it Shaman?) showed me a list of brand new software that I could install, including the newest KDE 4.5. One of Project Chakra’s great strengths will be in this rolling release of new software updates. The concept of installing once and always having the most up-to-date applications is very intriguing.

Unfortunately, as with most alpha software, Shaman is still pretty buggy and often crashed whenever I tried to apply the updates. Also unfortunate is that Shaman started a trend of applications simply crashing for no reason. I don’t want to give this distribution a bad reputation, because it is still pre-release software, but I think it goes without saying that the developers have some bug squashing to do before a stable release will be ready. Something I found rather strange is that the current default software selection that Chakra ships with includes two different browsers, Konqueror and rekonq, but no office software whatsoever.

Google Chrome much?

Final Thoughts (for now!)

The Chakra Project looks very promising, albeit very unpolished at the moment. If they can manage to fix up the rest of the distribution, getting it just as polished feeling as the installer, this will definitely be one to look out for. I look forward to trying it out again once it hits a stable release.

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: , , ,

A Matter of Opinion

July 19th, 2010 No comments

Tonight I installed VirtualBox, an incredibly handy virtualization program that lets me run instances of Windows and other Linux distributions from the comfort of my Linux Mint 9 Isadora desktop. Upon installing the latest version in my repositories, I launched the program, only to be confronted by a dialog box offering a link to a newer version of the program available on its website. So I clicked the link, and downloaded the *.deb of the new version. My package manager started up, tried to install the new package, and complained that it conflicted with the existing VirtualBox install. So I opened synaptic, uninstalled the version of VirtualBox that I got from my repositories, and finally installed the most recent version from the website.

So here’s my question, and please feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below: Should Linux applications warn the user about updates that are not available from their repositories?

On one hand, I like having up to date software, but on the other, package maintainers work hard to ensure that everything that ships with a stable distribution plays well together, and probably don’t appreciate these apps leading users outside of their carefully curated repositories. From a security-oriented point of view, this is also bad practice, as much of the security that is inherent in Linux comes from the fact that the vast majority of the software that you install has been vetted by the package maintainers who work to ensure that your distribution is safe and stable. And surely the guys who program VirtualBox, being the insanely awesome ninja-powered pirate wizards that they are, could have come up with a way to update my install without my having to uninstall and re-install an entirely new version. Just sayin’

Chime in with your opinion in the comments below.

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.

Very short plug for PowerTOP

July 4th, 2010 1 comment

Recently I decided to try out PowerTOP, a Linux power saving application built by Intel. I am extremely impressed by how easy it was to use and the power savings I am now basking in.

PowerTOP is a terminal application that first scans your computer for a number of things during a set interval. It then reports back which processes are taking up the most power and offers you some options to improve your battery life. All of these options can literally be enabled at a press of a button. It’s sort of like an experience I once had with Clippy in Microsoft Word; “it seems you are trying to save power, let me help you…” After applying a few of the suggestions the estimated battery life on my laptop went from about 3 and a half hours to almost 5 hours. In short, I would highly recommend everyone at least try out PowerTOP. I’m not promising miracles but at the very least it should help you out some.

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).

lua + nginx + FastCGI on Debian

June 22nd, 2010 2 comments

(This was originally posted here on my personal blog.)

I’ve recently been doing some testing in lua, and have been comparing the results to the EdgeLink Consulting CMS that we’ve designed in PHP. So far this solution is able to serve substantially more requests per second than our current CMS. However, we haven’t really spent much time optimizing the CMS. The goal is to have a working copy first before any optimizations are done. We’ve also been working on some eCommerce modules for the platform.

With all that being said, I’d like to post a quick tutorial on how I got this setup. It was quite the task. Although there was a tutorial I found to do the same task, it was a little bit confusing. My tutorial will have a lot of the same steps, with some minor adjustments. This tutorial is written at an intermediate level. Some trivial steps have been omitted.

NOTE: This has been tested with Debian 5.0.4 (Stable)

  1. Install nginx

    apt-get install nginx

    We’ll have to do some modifications later on to add the FastCGI handler. For simplicity we will keep the web path to “/var/www/nginx-default” and listen on port 8081 in case you have another webserver running on port 80.

  2. Install lua 5.1 (and WSAPI libraries)

    apt-get install lua5.1 liblua5.1-wsapi-fcgi-0 liblua5.1-coxpcall0 liblua5.1-filesystem0

    apt-get install liblua5.1-wsapi-doc

    Can’t do much testing without this. Note: The second line is not necessary if you are running Debian testing, and get the liblua5.1-wsapi-fcgi-1instead.

    EDIT: You’ll notice that I added in liblua5.1-filesystem0. Steve pointed out that there is a bug in liblua5.1-wsapi-fcgi-0. It doesn’t include it as a dependency. He reported this as a bug here, and it was fixed in liblua5.1-wsapi-fcgi-1.

  3. Install spawn-fcgiIf you’re running Debian testing you may be able to get spawn-fcgi through the distribution, however, I just downloaded it and compiled from source.

    tar -xzvf spawn-fcgi-1.6.3.tar.gz
    cd spawn-fcgi-1.6.3.tar.gz
    make install

  4. Create a FastCGI Socket

    spawn-fcgi -F 4 -u www-data -s /var/run/nginx-fcgi.sock -P /var/run/ — /usr/bin/wsapi.fcgi

    For the sake of simplicity, we will just spawn it manually for now. If you’re feeling crafty you can add the above line to the start condition in/etc/init.d/nginx, and the line below to the stop condition. You can add both of them to restart.

    cat /var/run/ | xargs -n 1 kill

  5. Create a lua file in /var/www/nginx-default/In this tutorial, use hello.lua. You can change this to whatever, you want but just make sure you make the modification in the nginx configuration below as well.
  6. Edit /etc/nginx/sites-available/defaultNow let’s add the code that will point nginx to the correct file. For simplicity, we will simply point it to hello.lua. You can change this to anything, or simply modify the code to accept any *.lua file, as seen in the tutorial listed above. Here is the top of my default file:

    listen   8081 default;
    server_name  localhost;
    access_log  /var/log/nginx/localhost.access.log;

    location / {
    fastcgi_pass    unix:/var/run/nginx-fcgi.sock;
    fastcgi_param   SCRIPT_FILENAME “/var/www/nginx-default/hello.lua”;
    fastcgi_param   PATH_INFO       $request_uri;
    fastcgi_param   QUERY_STRING    $query_string;
    fastcgi_param   REQUEST_METHOD  $request_method;
    fastcgi_param   CONTENT_TYPE    $content_type;
    fastcgi_param   CONTENT_LENGTH  $content_length;

  7. Restart nginx

    /etc/init.d/nginx restart

  8. Visit http://localhost:8081/Congratulations! You should now see hello.lua.

If you have any problems, post in the comments. Stay tuned for more related posts.

Linux Media Players Suck – Part 1: Rhythmbox

May 5th, 2010 50 comments

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.

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.

Vorbis is not Theora

April 21st, 2010 17 comments

Recently I have started to mess around with the Vorbis audio codec, commonly found within the Ogg media container. Unlike Theora, which I had also experimented with but won’t post the results for fear of a backlash, I must say I am rather impressed with Vorbis. I had no idea that the open source community had such a high quality audio codec available to them. Previously I always sort of passed off Vorbis’ reason for being regarded as ‘so great’ within the community as simply a lack of options. However after some comparative tests between Vorbis and MP3 I must say I am a changed man. I would now easily recommend Vorbis as a quality choice if it fits your situation of use.

What is Vorbis?

Like I had mentioned above, Vorbis is the name of a very high quality free and open source audio codec. It is analogous to MP3 in that you can use it to shrink the size of your music collection, but still retain very good sound. Vorbis is unique in that it only offers a VBR mode, which allows it to squeeze the best sound out of the fewest number of bits. This is done by lowering the bitrate during sections of silence or unimportant audio. Additionally, unlike other audio codecs, Vorbis audio is generally encoded at a supplied ‘quality’ level. Currently the bitrate for quality level 4 is 128kbit/s, however as the encoders mature they may be able to squeeze out the same quality at a lower bitrate. This will potentially allow a modern iteration of the encoder to achieve the same quality level but by using a lower bitrate, saving you storage space/bandwidth/etc.

So Vorbis is better than MP3?

Obviously when it comes to comparing the relative quality of competing audio codecs it must always be up to the listener to decide. That being said I firmly believe that Vorbis is far better than MP3 at low bitrates and is, at the very least, very comparable to MP3 as you increase the bitrate.

The Tests

I began by grabbing a FLAC copy of the Creative Commons album The Slip by Nine Inch Nails here. I chose FLAC because it provided me with the highest quality possible (lossless CD quality) from which to encode the samples with. Then, looking around at some Internet radio websites, I decided that I should test the following bitrates: 45kbit/s, 64kbit/s, 96kbit/s, and finally 128kbit/s (for good measure). I encoded them using only the default encoder settings and the following terminal commands:

For MP3 I used LAME and the following command. I chose average bitrate (ABR) which is really just VBR with a target, similar to Vorbis:

flac -cd {input file goes here}.flac | lame –abr {target bitrate} – {output file goes here}.mp3

For Vorbis I used OggEnc and the following command:

oggenc -b {target bitrate} {input file goes here}.flac -o {output file goes here}.ogg


I think I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t tell you to just listen for yourself… The song in question is track #4, Discipline.

Note: if you are using Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or anything else that supports HTML5/Vorbis, you should be able to play the Vorbis file right in your browser.

45kbit/s MP3(1.4MB) Vorbis(1.3MB)

64kbit/s MP3(2.0MB) Vorbis(1.9MB)

96kbit/s MP3(2.9MB) Vorbis(2.8MB)

128kbit/s MP3(3.8MB) Vorbis(3.6MB)

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).

Empathy: What a Piece of Garbage

March 20th, 2010 17 comments

The Empathy instant messaging client for Gnome is not yet ready to be the default client on your favourite Gnome-based distribution. In fact, I can’t even make it work! Tyler B originally posted about this problem way back in October, but it doesn’t seem to have been fixed during the interim.

To demonstrate my point, allow me to walk you through the process of adding an MSN account, one of the officially supported protocols, to a clean install of Empathy:

  1. After launching Empathy, select Accounts from the Edit menu:

    The accounts manager for Empathy

    Hey guys, nice UI. Way to give that listbox a default width. And why the hell is this dialogue box so big, anyway?

  2. Select the MSN protocol from the dropdown menu, and hit the create button:

    The list of protocols that Empathy "supports"

    Wow, way to get icons for every protocol, guys. Either have icons, or don't, ok?

  3. Enter your MSN email address and account password, and hit the Connect button:

    Adding my account details to the new MSN account in Empathy

    Hey, see that Add button under the listbox? If I click that, I can add a new account, before even finishing with this one! Wow, recursion in a GUI! Sweet!

  4. With the new account created, hit the Close button, and watch as the authentication of your newly added MSN account fails:

    Authentication of my newly added account failed

    Wouldn't you know it, my freshly minted account failed to authenticate. I wonder what the problem is...

  5. Hit the Edit Account button, and open up the Advanced area of the Account Manager window that pops up:

    The Advanced area of the Account Manager window in Empathy

    Have you ever seen anything communicate over port 0? I haven't

  6. Open up your working copy of the trusty Pidgin instant messenging client, put the correct port number into the Port textbox in Empathy, and try to figure out how to save your changes:

    Empathy notifies me that I have unsaved changes

    Since I couldn't click apply, I hit Close. Empathy warned me that I hadn't saved my changes, and only then enabled the Apply button in the Account Manager window... Fuck me

  7. Watch as, even with the correct Server and Port information, Empathy continues to fail miserably at connecting to an MSN account:

    The contact list again

    Hey, it's still failing to connect. Imagine that.

The Bottom line? This application is buggy, untested, incompatible, falsely-advertised garbage. I want my Pidgin back. It may have some rough edges, but at least it connects. How these glaring errors and this horrible GUI design ever got past the community is beyond me. I do hope that Empathy has something even somewhat mediocre up their sleeves for their 2.29 release, but until then, I’m headed back to Pidgin.

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.

Installing Apache on Ubuntu 9.10

March 9th, 2010 2 comments

Tonight I decided that I’d like to be able to do some web development from home. The basic suite is called LAMP, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP; the standard web developers toolkit. After a little bit of googling, I found this great guide from Tux Tweaks that walked me through the entire process. Once installed, my system hosted any files in the /var/www/ directory, and had MySQL and phpMyAdmin installed for database access.


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.

My search for the best KDE Linux distribution

March 3rd, 2010 41 comments

As some of you already know, I am a big fan of the KDE desktop environment (or KDE Workspaces or whatever they’re calling it these days). In my search to reach Linux KDE perfection I have tested out a number of different distributions. First there was Fedora, which I happily ran throughout the length of the experiment. Once that was finished I attempted to install and try both Kubuntu and openSUSE. Unfortunately I was unable to do so after openSUSE decided not to play nice. However my search did not stop there, and once the community edition was ready I jumped over to Linux Mint KDE CE. Finally I decided to once again try openSUSE, this time installing from a USB drive. This somehow resolved all of my installation issues.

Now that I have tried out quite a few of the most popular distributions I figured I would write a little bit to tell you fine people my thoughts on each, and why I will be sticking with openSUSE for the near future.

Fedora 11

  • KDE Version: 4.2 – 4.3
  • Pros: very secure, not too many modifications of the KDE source, cutting edge
  • Cons: could have really used some more modifications of the base KDE packages in order to better integrate GTK+, Bluetooth problems, not always stable
  • Thoughts:

    I have written at length about my experiences with Fedora during this experiment. Without re-writing everything again here let me simply say this: Fedora is primarily a GNOME distribution and I could never shake the feeling that KDE got the left-over treatment.


  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very easy to use, nice integration of GTK+ and GNOME notifications, access to Ubuntu support
  • Cons: the hardware drivers application (jockey) simply did not work, very bad sound issues, Firefox could not handle opening file types
  • Thoughts:

    When I first installed Kubuntu I was thrilled. Ah, this must be what it’s like to use a real KDE distribution, I thought. Everything seemed smoother and far more integrated then it did in Fedora. For example: had a KDE theme and it’s file browser actually used the native KDE one. Furthermore the notification system was awesome. Now instead of a GNOME application, like Pidgin, generating GNOME notifications, it instead integrated right into the standard KDE equivalent.

    Then the problems started to show up. Oh I’ll just download this torrent file and… hmm Firefox doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Why can’t I set the file type options inside of Firefox for torrents? Why doesn’t it use the system defaults? Then the sound issues came. YouTube stopped putting out audio all together and all of my attempts to fix it were futile. Maybe it’s just my hardware but Kubuntu just could not handle multimedia at all.

    While Kubuntu is definitely one of the better KDE experiences it is by no means problem free.

Linux Mint KDE CE

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: excellent package manager, easy to use
  • Cons: sound issues, WiFi issues, is this actually a KDE desktop? there are so many GTK+ applications in it…
  • Thoughts:

    After hearing much praise for Linux Mint I decided to give the newly released KDE community edition a go. I must say at first I was very impressed. The package manager was far superior to KPackageKit and even included things like user ratings and comments. It also came bundled with many tools and applications designed specifically for Linux Mint. Sadly very few of these were re-written in Qt and so I was forced to deal with GTK+ skinning almost everywhere.

    Sound issues similar to those in Kubuntu (maybe it’s something in the shared source?) started to crop up almost immediately. Again YouTube just did not work no matter how much I tried to fix it. Finally the WiFi connection was very poor, often disconnected on what seemed like a  specific interval.

    While I think this distribution has a lot going for it I can only suggest the GNOME desktop for those who want to give it a try. The KDE version just does not seem polished enough to be recommended for someone looking for the ultimate KDE distribution.


  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very responsive, a lot of streamlined tweaks, rock solid WiFi, excellent audio
  • Cons: slower to boot, uses quite a bit of RAM, too much green 😛
  • Thoughts:

    Installing openSUSE seemed like an awful idea. After reading all of the complaints that both Phil and Dave had written over the course of the experiment I have to admit I was a little hesitant. However, I am very happy I decided to try it anyway; openSUSE is an excellent KDE distribution.

    Everything about it, from the desktop to the little helpful wizards, all seem to be designed with one purpose in mind: make openSUSE the easiest, or at the very least most straightforward, distribution possible. YaST, often a major source of hate from my fellow Guinea Pigs, does indeed have some quirks. However I honestly think that it is a very good tool, and something that streamlines many administrative tasks. Want SAMBA network sharing? Just open up YaST and click on the wizard. Want restricted codecs? Just hop on over to openSUSE-Community and download the ymp file (think of it like a Windows exe).

    My time with openSUSE so far has been wonderful. My network card seems to actually get better range then ever before, if that’s even possible. My battery life is good and my sound just plain works without any additional effort. If I had one complaint it would be with the amount of RAM the distribution uses. After a quick reboot it takes up a very small amount, around ~350MB or so. However after a couple of hours of general use the RAM often grows to about 1-1.5GB, which is far more than I have seen with the other distributions. Thankfully I have 4GB of RAM so I’m not too worried. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am running the x64 version and not the x86 version. Perhaps it assumes I have at least 4GB of RAM for choosing the newer architecture.

    Whatever the case may be I think I have finally found what I consider to be the very best KDE Linux distribution. Obviously your results may vary but I look forward to hearing what you think.

This piece was cross-posted over at my person website ‘TylerBurton.Ca‘.

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 Great Linux Browser War (Well… sort of)

February 13th, 2010 1 comment

Recently while browsing the Internet I noticed that Mozilla Firefox was taking up an awfully large amount of RAM. In fact it’s RAM use continued to grow even though I had not navigated to any new website or even touched it at all! Being a KDE user I decided to try the same website within Konqueror, the KDE web browser that everyone seems to toss to the side right after install. To my amazement Konqueror seemed to render the same website, using much less RAM, and better yet it’s RAM use remained static. Perhaps there was something more to this ‘throw-away’ browser than I had first thought. And thus began my idea for a series of comparisons of four of the most popular Linux web browsers: Firefox, Chromium, Konqueror and Epiphany.

Note: The numbers you are going to see below are purely anecdotal and are based on my own personal experiences, which might not represent your own.  For the record I am running Kubuntu 9.10 with the 2.6.31-19 kernel.

Packages I had to install

This is simply a list of packages I installed for each browsers to sort of give you an idea of what to expect.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
firefox-3.5, firefox-3.5-branding konqueror chromium-browser ephiphany-browser, epiphany-browser-data

Startup speed (from a cold start – i.e. from reboot)

To test this I rebooted the computer and then opened the browsers for the first time.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
~4.5 seconds ~2.1 seconds ~3.7 seconds ~2.8 seconds

Startup speed (from a cached start – i.e. after opening and closing the program)

To test this I rebooted the computer, then opened the browsers for the first time and closed them. Then I opened them a second time and recorded the time.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
~1.5 seconds ~1.2 seconds ~1.1 seconds ~1.2 seconds

Memory usage (about:blank)

This is how much memory the browser took to display the web page in brackets. The memory inside of the brackets is the amount of shared memory each browser uses. This of course could change depending on your system and setup. Where there are multiple numbers separated by plus signs it means that the browser spawns multiple processes which each take up memory.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
24.6MiB (22.7MiB) 10.8MiB (20.8MiB) 6.6MiB (21.5MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.6MiB) + 2.3MiB (6.4MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 9.4MiB (20.5MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank ->

For this test I first loaded the browser to the homepage, in this case about:blank, and then navigated to the website In Konqueror’s case it spawned a few small KIO processes which I assume did the actually downloading of the webpage. I have averaged their values below.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
35.7MiB (24.1MiB) 22.6MiB (23.3MiB) + 4 x kio_http: 5.05MiB (6.2MiB) 7.9MiB (18.2MiB) + 13.6MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 18.3MiB (23.1MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> | |

For this test I once again started with the about:blank homepage and then opened the websites in different tabs.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
41.7MiB (24.6MiB) 30.5MiB (24.0MiB) + 4 x kio_http: 5.3MiB (6.4MiB) 9.0MiB (28.8MiB) + 11.4MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 6.8MiB (11.0MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.5MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 21.8MiB (24.8MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> | | 2 minutes later

For this test I started with the above test and then waited two minutes and re-recorded the memory usage. This was to see if the browsers suffer from any sort of memory leaks, something Firefox has been famous for over the years.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
38.45MiB (24.6MiB) – a decline of about 0.03MiB. 30.7MiB (24.0MiB) – a growth of about 0.002MiB/second. The kio_http’s stayed the same. 13.2MiB + (20.8MiB) + 11.4MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 6.8MiB (11.0MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.5MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second. 21.8MiB (24.8MiB) – no change

Memory usage (about:blank -> | | |

Same as above but with one more tab.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
46.0MiB (24.9MiB) 45.1MiB (24.0MiB) + 6 x kio_http: 5.22MiB (6.4MiB) 9.3MiB (24.4MiB) + 14.2MiB (16.2MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.4MiB) + 13.5MiB (11.2MiB) + 11.6MiB (10.8MiB) + 1.6 (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 29.0MiB (24.9MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> | | | 2 minutes later

Same as above but with one more tab.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
77.8MiB (24.9MiB) – a growth of about 0.27MiB/second 50.2MiB (24.0MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second. The kio_http’s stayed the same. 9.3MiB (24.4MiB) + 23.7MiB (16.2MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.4MiB) + 13.5MiB (11.2MiB) + 11.6MiB (10.8MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) – a growth of about 0.08MiB/second 33.2MiB (24.9MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second

Noticeable rendering glitches in pages viewed

None of the browsers had rendering glitches except for Konqueror. In Konqueror Bing’s search bar was offset from where it should be and on Kubuntu’s website the header image was overlapping text that it shouldn’t have.

Acid 2 test (

The (now old) Acid 2 test.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
100% 100% 100% 100%

Acid 3 test (

How well did the browsers handle the Acid 3 test?

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
93% 89% (linktest failed) 100% 100%

SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark (

The classic JavaScript benchmark test!

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
Total: 2380.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 2940.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 445.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 794.8ms
Click here to see full results.


Well there you have it. Rather than ‘rate’ each browser I’m going to leave it up to you to weigh the merits of each given the above information. Even though Firefox might not be the most technically superior browser it does have the advantage of being very popular and having an excellent add-on system. Then again Epiphany can use most of those add-ons as well. Chromium, based off of Google’s Chrome browser, is also a new favourite for a lot of people and is obviously the fastest in terms of JavaScript. Being a KDE user, Konqueror might be the best browser for you thanks to its infinite customization and uniform look.

Linux is all about personalization and I think everyone should extend that to the browser they use. Who knows you might just find one you like even more.

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).

Using KDE on Windows

February 11th, 2010 2 comments

Since the end of The Linux Experiment I have started dual booting my laptop, switching between Kubuntu 9.10 and Windows 7 as needed. While this solves all of my compatibility issues, it does pose some more annoying issues. For example after setting up one operating system just the way I like it I now need to do the same for the other. Furthermore after becoming used to using particular applications under Linux I now have to find alternatives for Windows. Well no more! The KDE guys and gals have ported the libraries to Windows!


To install KDE on Windows all you need to do is head over to and grab a copy of the installer exe. This will more or less walk you through the initial setup and then present you with a list of packages you can choose to install. Most applications are there including things like KTorrent, Konqueror, Konversation and more! Simply select them and watch as they are easily installed.

Image Walkthrough

The first screen you'll see when installing

The package list

kdebase-apps includes things like Konqueror

The installer downloads the source and compiles it locally

After installing the applications show up right in your start menu

The final result. Konqueror and KWrite running on Windows

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: Free Software, KDE, Tyler B Tags: ,

Enabling Video Thumbnail Previews in Dolphin

January 31st, 2010 3 comments

Just a quickie here – if you keep video of any kind on your Kubuntu 9.10 system, you may have noticed that the Dolphin file manager doesn’t show thumbnail previews of video files by default.  Turns out that it’s a very easy (if non-obvious) feature to enable. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Open up kPackageKit
  2. Search for and install the package mplayerthumbs – it has three dependencies, which include mplayer itself (I use VLC, but to each his own)
  3. Back in Dolphin, navigate to Settings > Configure Dolphin > General > Previews Tab
  4. Scroll down in the list, and you should be able to see an option called Video Files (MPlayerThumbs) – Check that box
  5. Drag the Maximum file size slider all the way to the right, and hit apply

Navigate to a folder that contains video files, and watch as they slowly begin to populate. Be patient though, it can take a few minutes if you have a lot of media. You should also note that it doesn’t work with all WMV files.

Thanks to youTube user gotbletu for the following informative video that I ripped these instructions off from:

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.

Restore the default Linux Mint 8 theme and colours

January 18th, 2010 3 comments

After playing with the GNOME Appearance preferences on my new Mint 8 installation, I managed to completely lose the color scheme, window decorators and other options for the default Helena theme – which I actually liked.

Due to an unrelated incident that I will blame on an abuse of Compiz (which really doesn’t play nice with the Xinerama extension), I recreated my GNOME profile this morning and saved out the default theme. For my own future reference (and anyone else who doesn’t want to nuke their profile), I’ve uploaded the default Mint 8 theme. Extract it to your ~/.themes/ directory and it will appear in Control Center > Appearance as “Default Mint Theme”.

This theme should theoretically work on any Linux distribution with GNOME, as well, but you’ll need the “Shiki-Wise” control set, “Shiki-Colors-Metacity” window border, and the “GNOME-Wise” icon set for more than just the gray and green hues.

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Trying Mint – I likes what I sees.

January 16th, 2010 8 comments

While my initial plan for January was to stick with Windows 7 and perhaps try out Fedora 12, a bad DVD interrupted the Fedora install progress. Out of sheer convenience, I’d planned on running Linux Mint in a VM and had pulled the ISO earlier in the week. “Aha!” I thought. “I’ll install this instead of Fedora and see what’s what.”

My initial impressions are that Mint is perhaps the first Linux distribution that I’d enjoy using on a day-to-day basis. With only a few minor tweaks (activating multiple monitors and using optical out for sound), I have a completely functional desktop environment. Compiz is totally integrated into the experience, degrades gracefully if needed, and is used to enhance the UI rather than provide unneeded eye candy.

Taking a page out of Jon’s book, I also installed Banshee for media playback. What a difference from previous media player experiences – my BlackBerry was automatically detected, synced with my library and folders were built properly in the MediaCard/BlackBerry/music directory. Now, all I need is some better music and I’ll be set!

I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Pulse Audio Nonsense

January 4th, 2010 3 comments

Just a heads up: This isn’t the kind of post that contains answers to your problems. It is, unfortunately, the kind of post that contains a lot of the steps that I took to fix a problem, without much information about the order in which I performed them, why I performed them, or what they did. All that I can tell you is that after doing some or all of these things in an arbitrary order, stuff seemed to work better than it did before.

It’s funny how these posts often seem to come about when trying to get hardware related things working. I distinctly remember writing one of these about getting hardware compositing working on Debian. This one is about getting reliable audio on Kubuntu 9.10.

You see, I have recently been experiencing some odd behaviour from my audio stack in Kubuntu. My machine almost always plays the startup/shutdown noises, Banshee usually provides audio by way of GStreamer, videos playing in VLC are sometimes accompanied by audio, and Flash videos almost never have working sound. Generally speaking, restarting the machine will change one or all of these items, and sometimes none. The system is usuable, but frustrating (although I might be forgiven for saying that having no audio in Flash prevents me from wasting so much time watching youtube videos when I ought to be working).

Tonight, after some time on the #kubuntu IRC channel and the #pulseaudio channel on freenode, I managed to fix all of that, and my system now supports full 5.1 surround audio, at all times, and from all applications. Cool, no? Basically, the fix was to install some PulseAudio apps:

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pavucontrol padevchooser

Next, go to System Settings > Multimedia, and set PulseAudio as the preferred audio device in each of the categories on the left. Finally, restart the machine a couple of times. If you’re lucky, once you restart and run pavucontrol from the terminal, you’ll see a dialog box called Volume Control. Head over to the Configuration tab, and start choosing different profiles until you can hear some audio from your system. Also, I found that most of these profiles were muted by default – you can change that on the Output Devices tab. If one of the profiles works for  you, congratulations! If not, well, I guess you’re no worse off than you were before. I warned you that this was that kind of post.

Also, while attempting to fix my audio problems, I found some neat sites:

  • Colin Guthrie – I spoke to this guy on IRC, and he was really helpful. He also seems to write a lot of stuff for the PulseAudio/Phonon stack in KDE. His site is a wealth of information about the stack that I really don’t understand, but makes for good reading.
  • Musings on Maintaining Ubuntu – Some guy named Dan who seems to be a lead audio developer for the Ubuntu project. Also a very interesting read, and full of interesting information about audio support in Karmic.
  • A Script that Profiles your Audio Setup – This bash script compiles a readout of what your machine thinks is going on with your audio hardware, and automatically hosts it on the web so that you can share it with people trying to help you out.
  • A Handy Diagram of the Linux Audio Stack – This really explains a lot about what the hell is going on when an application tries to play audio in the Linux.
  • What the Linux Audio Stack Seems Like – This diagram reflects my level of understanding of Linux audio. It also reminds me of XKCD.
  • Ardour – The Digital Audio Workstation – In the classic tradition of running before walking, I just have to try this app out.

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.

Kubuntu 9.10 (Part II)

January 4th, 2010 No comments

Well I managed to fix my compositing problem but I honestly don’t know why it worked. Basically I went into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and manually turned off all desktop effects. Next I used jockey-text to disable the ATI driver. After a quick restart I re-enabled the ATI driver and restarted again. Once I logged in I went back into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and enabled desktop effects. This magically worked… but only until I restarted. In order to actually get it to start enabled I had to go back into System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects and then click on the Advanced tab and then disable functionality checks. I am sure this is dangerous or something but its the only way I can get my computer to restart with the effects enabled by default.

I’m really starting to hate this graphics card…

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).