Archive

Archive for the ‘Blast from the Past’ Category

Blast from the Past: Installing Gnome Do with Docky on openSUSE

January 19th, 2017 No comments

This post was originally published on September 28, 2009. The original can be found here.


Before I switched to Windows 7 for my laptop, I used a a dock software called RocketDock to manage my windows and commonly used desktop shortcuts. I liked being able to see my whole desktop ever since I found a good wallpaper site. Back when I rolled Ubuntu, I installed this application called Gnome Do. It’s a Quicksilver like program that just works. However, the newest feature of Gnome Do that I loved was its Docky theme. It puts a dock similar to RocketDock on the bottom of your screen, and integrates it’s OS searching features right into the dock.

I decided to install the application from YaST, the default system administration tool. It indexes a fairly large number of repositories, and it did have Gnome Do. A few minutes later I had the app running, but unfortunately the version was way out of date. Gnome Do is on roughly version 0.8.x, and YaST gave me 0.4.x.

So off I went trying to find a .rpm for Gnome Do that would install. I was met with a lot of failure, with a ton of dependencies unable to be resolved and so on. Next I tried the openSUSE file from Gnome Do’s homepage, but for some reason the servers were down and I was unable to install that way either.

Frustrated and not knowing what to do next, I decided to hop on IRC and see if anyone in #SUSE on irc.freenode.net could help me out. They told me about this service called Webpin. There I found a .ymp [which is an openSUSE specific installer file like a .deb or .rpm] for Gnome Do, and a ymp for Gnome Do’s plugins. Downloading and opening the files installed the programs without any problems. The last step I had to take to enable Docky was to install compiz and enable desktop compositing. After that, a quick trip to Gnome Do’s preference dialog allowed me to use the Docky theme, and I was up and running!




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: The Distributions of Debian

January 12th, 2017 No comments

This post was originally published on August 21, 2009. The original can be found here.


Like many of the other varieties of Linux, Debian gives the end user a number of different installation choices. In addition to the choice of installer that Tyler B has already mentioned, the Debian community maintains three different distributions, which means that even though I’ve picked a distribution, I still haven’t picked a distribution! In the case of Debian, these distributions are as follows:

  1. Stable: Last updated on July 27th, 2009, this was the last major Debian release, codenamed “Lenny.” This is the currently supported version of Debian, and receives security patches from the community as they are developed, but no new features. The upside of this feature freeze is that the code is stable and almost bug free, with the downside that the software it contains is somewhat dated.
  2. Testing: Codenamed “Squeeze,” this distribution contains code that is destined for the next major release of Debian. Code is kept in the Testing distribution as long as it doesn’t contain any major bugs that might prevent a proper release (This system is explained here). The upside of running this distribution is that your system always has all of the newest (and mostly) bug free code available to users. The downside is that if a major bug is found, the fix for that bug may be obliged to spend a good deal of time in the Unstable distribution before it is considered stable enough to move over to Testing. As a result, your computer could be left with broken code for weeks on end. Further, this distribution doesn’t get security patches as fast as Stable, which poses a potential danger to the inexperienced user.
  3. Unstable: Nicknamed Sid after the psychotic next door neighbour in Toy Story who destroys toys as a hobby, this is where all of Debian’s newest and potentially buggy code lives. According to what I’ve read, Sid is like a developer’s build – new users who don’t know their way around the system don’t generally use this distribution because the build could break at any time, and there is absolutely no security support.

I’m currently leaning towards running the Testing distribution, mostly because I like new shiny toys, and (I think) want the challenge of becoming a part of the Debian community. Since we’ve been getting a lot of support from the various development communities lately, perhaps some of our readers could set me straight on any information that I might have missed, and perhaps set me straight on which distribution I should run.




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: Of filesystems and partitions

January 5th, 2017 No comments

This post was originally published on August 25, 2009. The original can be found here.


Following from my last post about finalizing all of those small little choices I will now continue along that line but discuss the merits of the various filesystems that Linux allows me to choose from, as well as discuss how I am going to partition my drive.

Filesystem?

For a Windows or Mac user the filesystem is something they will probably never think about in their daily computing adventures. That is mostly because there really isn’t a choice in the matter. As a Windows user the only time I actually have to worry about the filesystem is when I’m formatting a USB drive. For my hard drives the choices are NTFS, NTFS, and.. oh yeah NTFS. My earliest recollection of what a filesystem is happened when my Windows 98 machine had crashed and I had to wait while the machine forced a filesystem check on the next start up. More recently FAT32 has gotten in my way with it’s 4GB file size limitation.

You mean we get a choice?

Linux seems to be all about choice so why would it be surprising that you don’t get to pick your own filesystem? The main contenders for this choice are ext2, ext3, ext4, ReiserFS, JFS, XFS, Btrfs and in special places Fat16, Fat32, NTFS, and swap.

Ext2

According to the great internet bible, ext2 stands for the second extended filesystem. It was designed as a practical replacement for the original, but very old, Linux filesystem. If I may make an analogy for Windows users, ext2 seems to be the Linux equivalent to Fat32, only much better. This filesystem is now considered mostly outdated and only really still used in places where journaling is not always appropriate; for example on USB drives. Ext2 can be used on the /boot partition and is supported by GRUB.

Ext2 Features

  • Introduced: January 1993
  • File allocation: bitmap (free space), table (metadata)
  • Max file size: 16 GiB – 64 TiB
  • Max number of files: 10^18
  • Max filename length: 255 characters
  • Max volume size: 2 TiB – 32 TiB
  • Date range: December 14, 1901 – January 18, 2038

Ext 3

Ext3 is the successor to ext2 and removed quite a few of the limitations and also added a number of new features, most important of which was journaling. As you might have guessed it’s full name is the third extended filesystem. While ext3 is generally considered to be much better than ext2 there are a couple of problems with it. While ext3 does not have to scan itself after a crash, something that ext2 did have to do, it also does not have a an online defragmenter. Also because ext3 was primarily designed to shore up some of ext2’s faults, it is not the cleanest implementation and can actually have worse performance than ext2 in some situations. Ext3 is still the most popular Linux filesystem and is only now slowly being replaced by its own successor ext4. Ext3 can be used on the /boot partition and is fully supported by GRUB.

Ext3 Features

  • Introduced: November 2001
  • Directory contents: Table, hashed B-tree with dir_index enabled
  • File allocation: bitmap (free space), table (metadata)
  • Max file size: 16 GiB – 2 TiB
  • Max number of files: Variable, allocated at creation time
  • Max filename length: 255 characters
  • Max volume size: 2 TiB – 16 TiB
  • Date range: December 14, 1901 – January 18, 2038

Ext4

Ext4 is the next in the extended filesystem line and the successor to ext3. This addition proved to be quite controversial initially due to its implementation of delayed allocation which resulted in a very long time before writes. However ext4 achieves very fast read time thanks to this delayed allocation and overall it performs very well when compared to ext3. Ext4 is slowly taking over as the defacto filesystem and is actually already the default in many distributions (Fedora included). Ext4 cannot be used on the /boot partition because of GRUB, meaning a separate /boot partition with a different filesystem must be made.

Ext4 Features

  • Introduced: October 21, 2008
  • Directory contents: Linked list, hashed B-tree
  • File allocation: Extents/Bitmap
  • Max file size: 16 TiB
  • Max number of files: 4 billion
  • Max filename length: 256 characters
  • Max volume size: 1 EiB
  • Date range: December 14, 1901 – April 25, 2514

ReiserFS

Created by Hans ‘I didn’t murder my wife’ Reiser, in 2001 this filesystem was very promising for its performance but has since been mostly abandoned  by the Linux community. It’s initial claim to fame was as the first journaling filesystem to be included within the Linux kernel. Carefully configured, ReiserFS can achieve 10 to 15x the performance of ext2 and ext3. ReiserFS can be used on the /boot partition and is supported by GRUB.

ReiserFS Features

  • Introduced: 2001
  • Directory contents: B+ tree
  • File allocation: Bitmap
  • Max file size: 8 TiB
  • Max number of files: ~4 billion
  • Max filename length: 4032 characters theoretically, 255 in practice
  • Max volume size: 16 TiB
  • Date range: December 14, 1901 – January 18, 2038

Journaled File System (JFS)

Developed by IBM, JFS sports many features and is very advanced for its time of release. Among these features are extents and compression. Though not as widely used as other filesystems, JFS is very stable, reliable and fast with low CPU overhead. JFS can be used on the /boot partition and is supported by GRUB.

JFS Features

  • Introduced: 1990 and 1999
  • Directory contents: B+ tree
  • File allocation: Bitmap/extents
  • Max file size: 4 PiB
  • Max number of files: no limit
  • Max filename length: 255 characters
  • Max volume size: 32 PiB

XFS

Like JFS, XFS is one of the oldest and most refined journaling filesystems available on Linux. Unlike JFS, XFS supports many additional advanced features such as striped allocation to optimize RAID setups, delayed allocation to optimize disk data placement, sparse files, extended attributes, advanced I/O features, volume snapshots, online defragmentation, online resizing, native backup/restore and disk quotas. The only real downsides XFS suffers from are its inability to shrink partitions, a difficult to implement un-delete, and quite a bit of overhead when new directories are created and directories are deleted. XFS is supported by GRUB, and thus can be used as the /boot partition, but there are reports that it is not very stable.

XFS Features

  • Introduced: 1994
  • Directory contents: B+ tree
  • File allocation: B+ tree
  • Max file size: 8 EiB
  • Max filename length: 255 characters
  • Max volume size: 16 EiB

Btrfs

Btrfs, or “B-tree FS” or “Butter FS”, is a next generation filesystem will all of the bells and whistles. It is meant to fill the gap of lacking enterprise filesystems on Linux and is being spearheaded by Oracle. Wikipedia lists its new promised features as online balancing, subvolumes (separately-mountable filesystem roots), object-level (RAID-like) functionality, and user-defined transactions among other things. It’s stable version is currently being incorporated into mainstream Linux kernels.

Btrfs Features

  • Introduced: 20xx
  • Directory contents: B+ tree
  • File allocation: extents
  • Max file size: 16 EiB
  • Max number of files: 2^64
  • Max filename length: 255 characters
  • Max volume size: 16 EiB

So what’s it all mean?

Well there you have it, a quick and concise rundown of the filesystem options for your mainstream Linux install. But what exactly does all of this mean? Well, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. Many people have done performance tests against the mainstream filesystems and many conclusions have been drawn as to what is the best in many different circumstances. As I assume most people would chose either XFS, ext3, ext4 or maybe even Btrs if they were a glutton for punishment I just happen to have found some interesting pictures to show off the comparison!

Rather than tell you which filesystem to pick I will simply point out a couple of links and tell you that while I think XFS is a very underrated filesystem I, like most people, will be going with ext4 simply because it is currently the best supported.

Links (some have pictures!):

EXT4, Btrfs, NILFS2 Performance Benchmarks

Filesystems (ext3, reiser, xfs, jfs) comparison on Debian Etch

Linux Filesystem Performance Comparison for OLTP with Ext2, Ext3, Raw, and OCFS on Direct-Attached Disks using Oracle 9i Release 2

Hey! You forgot about partitions!

No, I didn’t.

Yes you did!

OK, fine… So as Jon had pointed out in a previous post the Linux filesystem is broken down into a series of more or less standard mount points. The only requirements for Fedora, my distribution of choice, and many others are that at least these three partitions exist: /boot for holding the bootable kernels, / (root) for everything else, and a swap partition to move things in and out of RAM. I was thinking about creating a fourth /home partition but I gave up when I realized I didn’t know enough about Linux to determine a good partition size for that.

OK, so break it down

/boot

Fedora recommends that this partition is a minimum of 100MB in size. Even though kernels are each roughly 6MB in size it is better to be safe than sorry! Also because ext4 is not supported by GRUB I will be making this partition ext3.

LVM

I know what you’re thinking, what the hell is LVM? LVM stands for Logical Volume Manager and allows a single physical partition to hold many virtual partitions. I will be using LVM to store the remainder of my partitions wrapped inside of a physical encrypted partition. At least that’s the plan.

swap

Fedora recommends using the following formula to calculate how much swap space you need.

If M < 2
S = M *2
Else
S = M + 2

Where M is the amount of memory you have and S is the swap partition size in GiB. So for example the machine I am using for this experiment has 4 GiB of RAM. That translates to a swap partition of 6 GiB. If your machine only has 1 GiB of RAM then the formula would translate to 2 GiB worth of swap space. 6 GiB seems a bit overkill for a swap partition but what do I know?

/ (root)

And last but not least the most important part, the root partition. This partition will hold everything else and as such will be taking up the rest of my drive. On the advice of Fedora I am going to leave 10 GiB of LVM disk space unallocated for future use should the need arise. This translates to a root partition of about ~300 GiB, plenty of space. Again I will be formatting this partition using ext4.

Well there you go

Are you still with me? You certainly are a trooper! If you have any suggestions as to different disk configurations please let me know. I understand a lot of this in theory but if you have actual experience with this stuff I’d love to hear from you!




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: 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.

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.

Blast from the Past: Automatically put computer to sleep and wake it up on a schedule

December 26th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on June 24, 2012. The original can be found here.


Ever wanted your computer to be on when you need it but automatically put itself to sleep (suspended) when you don’t? Or maybe you just wanted to create a really elaborate alarm clock?

I stumbled across this very useful command a while back but only recently created a script that I now run to control when my computer is suspended and when it is awake.

#!/bin/sh
t=`date –date “17:00” +%s`
sudo /bin/true
sudo rtcwake -u -t $t -m on &
sleep 2
sudo pm-suspend

This creates a variable, t above, with an assigned time and then runs the command rtcwake to tell the computer to automatically wake itself up at that time. In the above example I’m telling the computer that it should wake itself up automatically at 17:00 (5pm). It then sleeps for 2 seconds (just to let the rtcwake command finish what it is doing) and runs pm-suspend which actually puts the computer to sleep. When run the computer will put itself right to sleep and then wake up at whatever time you specify.

For the final piece of the puzzle, I’ve scheduled this script to run daily (when I want the PC to actually go to sleep) and the rest is taken care of for me. As an example, say you use your PC from 5pm to midnight but the rest of the time you are sleeping or at work. Simply schedule the above script to run at midnight and when you get home from work it will be already up and running and waiting for you.

I should note that your computer must have compatible hardware to make advanced power management features like suspend and wake work so, as with everything, your mileage may vary.

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: Linux from Scratch: I’ve had it up to here!

December 23rd, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on November 27, 2011. The original can be found here.


As you may be able to tell from my recent, snooze-worthy technical posts about compilers and makefiles and other assorted garbage, my experience with Linux from Scratch has been equally educational and enraging. Like Dave, I’ve had the pleasure of trying to compile various desktop environments and software packages from scratch, into some god-awful contraption that will let me check my damn email and look at the Twitters.

To be clear, when anyone says I have nobody to blame but myself, that’s complete hokum. From the beginning, this entire process was flawed. The last official LFS LiveCD has a kernel that’s enough revisions behind to cause grief during the setup process. But I really can’t blame the guys behind LFS for all my woes; their documentation is really well-written and explains why you have to pass fifty --do-not-compile-this-obscure-component-or-your-cat-will-crap-on-the-rug arguments.

Patch Your Cares Away

CC attribution licensed from benchilada

Read more…




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: 10 reasons why Mint might not fail in India

December 21st, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on July 7, 2010. The original can be found here.


Last evening while reading the SA forums, I encountered a thread about Linux and what was required to bring it to the general public. One of the goons mentioned a post that indicated ten reasons why Ubuntu wasn’t ready for the desktop in India. I kid you not – the most ridiculous reason was because users couldn’t perform the important ritual of right click/Refreshing on the desktop five or more times before getting down to work.

Here are Bharat’s reasons why Ubuntu fails, followed by why I think Mint might succeed instead in its place (while still employing his dubious logic.) When I refer to Indian users, of course, I’m taking his word for it – he’s obviously the authority here.

GRUB Boot Loader does not have an Aesthetic Appeal.

Bharat complains about the visual appearance of Grub – how it does not create a good first impression. This is, of course, in spite of Windows’ horrible boot menu when there’s more than one operating system or boot option to select. Apparently Indian users all have full-color splash screens with aesthetic appeal for BIOS, video card and PCI add-in initialization as well; this is just the icing on the cake that makes them go “eurrrgh” and completely discount Ubuntu.

To improve relations with India and eliminate this eyesore, Mint has added a background image during this phase of boot. My good friend Tyler also informs me that there’s a simple option in the Mint Control Center called “Start-Up Manager” that alllows easy configuration of grub to match a system’s native resolution and color depth.

Login Screen-Users are required to type in their username.

Again, another seemingly impenetrable barrier. Has nobody in India worked in an environment where typing in usernames AND passwords is required – like, for example, posting a blog entry on WordPress or signing into Gmail? In any event, Mint’s GNOME installation definitely gives a clickable list for this awfully onerous task.

Desktop-The Refresh option is missing!

I’m just going to directly lift this description as to the burning need for right click / Refresh:

What does an average Indian user do when the desktop loads in Windows?He rights clicks on the desktop and refreshes the desktop about 5-6 times or until he is satisfied.This is a ritual performed by most Indian Users after switching on the computer and just before shutting down the computer.
When this average user tries to perform his ‘Refresh’ ritual in Ubuntu,he is in for a rude shock.The Ubuntu Desktop does not have a Refresh Option or any other simliar option like Reload in the Right Click Menu.
So I advice Ubuntu Developers to include to a Refresh or a Reload option in the right click menu on the Desktop and in the Nautilus File Manager.The option should be equivalent of pressing Ctrl+R.As of now ,pressing Ctrl+R refreshes the Desktop in Ubuntu.

Mint’s developers have unfortunately not come around to this clearly superior way of thinking by default yet.

Read more…




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: Linux Saves the Day

December 19th, 2016 No comments

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


Earlier this week I had an experience where using Linux got me out of trouble in a relatively quick and easy manner. The catch? It was kind of Linux’s fault that I was in trouble in the first place.

Around halfway through November my Linux install on my laptop crapped out, and really fucked things up hard. However, my Windows install wasn’t affected, so I started using Windows on my laptop primarily, while switching to an openSUSE VM on my desktop for my home computing needs.

About a week back I decided it was time to reinstall Linux on my laptop, since exams and my 600 hojillion final projects were out of the way. I booted into Win7, nuked the partitions being used by Linux and… went and got some pizza and forgot to finish my install. Turns out I hadn’t restarted my PC anywhere between that day and when shit hit the fan. When I did restart, I was informed to the merry tune of a PC Speaker screech that my computer had no bootable media.

… Well shit.

My first reaction was to try again, my second was to check to make sure the hard drive was plugged in firmly. After doing this a few times, I was so enraged about my lost data that I was about ready to repave the whole drive when I had the good sense to throw in a BartPE live CD and check to see if there was any data left on the drive. To my elation, all of my data was still in tact! It was at this precise moment I thought to myself “Oh drat, I bet I uninstalled that darned GRUB bootloader. Fiddlesticks!”

However, all was not lost. I know that Linux is great and is capable of finding other OS installs during its install and setting them up in GRUB without me having to look around for a windows boot point and do it myself. 20 minutes and an openSUSE install later, everything was back to normal on my laptop, Win7 and openSUSE 11.1 included!

As we speak I’m attempting an in-place upgrade to openSUSE 11.2 so hopefully I get lucky and everything goes smoothly!

 




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.

Blast from the Past: Phoenix Rising

December 14th, 2016 No comments

This post was originally published on December 12, 2009. The original can be found here.


As we prepare to bring The Linux Experiment to a close over the coming weeks, I find that this has been a time of (mostly solemn) reflection for myself and others. At the very least, it’s been an interesting experience with various flavours of Linux and what it has to offer. At its peak, it’s been a roller-coaster of controversial posts (my bad), positive experiences, and the urge to shatter our screens into pieces.

Let me share with you some of the things I’ve personally taken away from this experiment over the last three-and-a-half months.

Fedora 12 is on the bleeding edge of Linux development

This has been a point of discussion on both of our podcasts at this point, and a particular sore spot with both myself and Tyler. It’s come to a place wherein I’m sort of… afraid to perform updates to my system out of fear of just bricking it entirely. While this is admittedly something that could happen under any operating system and any platform, it’s never been as bad for me as it has been under Fedora 12.

As an example, the last *six* kernel updates for me to both Fedora 11 and 12 combined have completely broken graphics capability with my adapter (a GeForce 8600 M GS). Yes, I know that the Fedora development team is not responsible for ensuring that my graphics card works with their operating system – but this is not something the average user should have to worry about. Tyler has also had this issue, and I think would tend to agree with me.

Linux is fun, too

Though there have been so many frustrating moments over the last four months that I have been tempted to just format everything and go back to my native Windows 7 (previously: release candidate, now RTM). Through all of this though, Fedora – and Linux in general – has never stopped interesting me.

This could just be due to the fact that I’ve been learning so much – I can definitely do a lot more now than I ever could before under a Linux environment, and am reasonably pleased with this – but I’ve never sat down on my laptop and been bored to play around with getting stuff to work. In addition, with some software (such as Wine or CrossOver) I’ve been able to get a number of Windows games working as well. Linux can play, too!

Customizing my UI has also been a very nice experience. It looks roughly like Sasha’s now – no bottom panel, GnomeDo with Docky, and Compiz effects… it’s quite pretty now.

There’s always another way

If there’s one thing I’ve chosen to take away from this experiment it’s that there is ALWAYS some kind of alternative to any of my problems, or anything I can do under another platform or operating system. Cisco VPN client won’t install under Wine, nor will the Linux client version? BAM, say hello to vpnc.

Need a comprehensive messaging platform with support for multiple services? Welcome Pidgin into the ring.

No, I still can’t do everything I could do in Windows… but I’m sure, given enough time, I could make Fedora 12 an extremely viable alternative to Windows 7 for me.

The long and short of it

There’s a reason I’ve chosen my clever and rather cliche title for this post. According to lore, a phoenix is a bird that would rise up from its own ashes in a rebirth cycle after igniting its nest at the end of a life cycle. So is the case for Fedora 12 and my experience with Linux.

At this point, I could not see myself continuing my tenure with the Fedora operating system. For a Linux user with my relatively low level of experience, it is too advanced and too likely to brick itself with a round of updates to be viable for me. Perhaps after quite a bit more experience with Linux on the whole, I could revisit it – but not for a good long while. This is not to say it’s unstable – it’s been rock solid, never crashing once – but it’s just not for me.

To that end, Fedora 12 rests after a long and interest-filled tenure with me. Rising from the ashes is a new user in the world of Linux – me. I can say with confidence that I will be experimenting with Linux distributions in the future – maybe dipping my feet in the somewhat familiar waters of Ubuntu once more before wading into the deep-end.

Watch out, Linux community… here I come.

 




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.

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.

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.