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Monthly Archives: April 2009

GNOME Do Logo

GNOME Do is my favorite application.  Basically, it is an application launcher, but with the appropriate plug-ins, it becomes much more.  After using it for a day, you will wonder what you ever did without it.  Seriously, this application is better than anything you have ever used before.  The sad thing is, since it eventually becomes essential to your work flow, especially on a laptop, you really forget how amazing it is.

Installing GNOME Do is extremely simple.  In Ubuntu and Debian, just do sudo apt-get gnome-do gnome-do-plugins.  After installing it, go to the Applications menu and then the Accessories menu.  Click GNOME Do and now it is running.  To use it, press Win+Space, then type in the name of the application you want to use, and press Enter.  The application will load normally, just as if you had clicked the icon.

To get unleash the true power of GNOME Do, you have to enable some plug-ins.  To do this, press the Win+Space combination and instead of typing, select the little down arrow in the top-right corner and click Preferences. A window should pop up, giving you access to the options.  This is where you make GNOME Do work for you.

GNOME Do Menu

Before enabling plug-ins, first go to the General tab.  Now, make sure you select Start GNOME Do at login, as well as Hide window at first launch.  I recommend that you also go over to the Appearance tab and chose a theme you like.  If you want a dock like AWN Dock, as well as a launcher, make sure you select the Docky theme.  After you’re done, it’s time for plug-ins.

Since there are so many, I’m not going to list them all, but I will tell you my favorites.  First off, the Banshee plug-in is essential if you use Banshee for music.  Basically you control Banshee from GNOME Do, which is simple, but becomes such a time saver.  No more Alt-Tab or clicking, just use GNOME Do.  Another great plug-in is GNOME Session Management.  This allows you to Suspend, Hibernate, Shutdown, Restart, or Log Out in five seconds with a text command.  Files and Folders, which allows you to open and find files and folders, is another great one.

GNOME DO Plugins Menu

Overall, GNOME Do is one of, if not the, most versatile applications on the Linux desktop.  It can do everything you could possibly want and more.  Once it is configured, nothing comes close to it on any platform.  The only application that can even compare is the Mac app Quicksilver.  If you haven’t tried GNOME Do, you don’t know what you are missing.

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Before I begin, I think that I should tell you that this is a rant.  With that out of the way, here we go.  Linux, while much better than it used to be, has bad hardware support.  This is not a problem with Linux however.  The problem lies with the hardware companies.

Those who run Windows or Mac OS X will rarely have a problem with drivers, but we Linux users are not so lucky.  Wireless cards can be flaky, audio cards can have problems, hotkeys on laptops might not work, and sometimes video cards don’t work as they should.  Many new to Linux jump to the conclusion that Linux is inferior, but those who have used it for a long-time know that Linux is not to blame.  Hardware manufacturers withhold documentation and drivers from open-source developers and projects, trying to protect their designs and make money on licensing.  Yes, they have every right to, but in the process, they turn their backs on their users.

If you buy a piece of hardware, it should work with whatever operating system you choose to use.  It should work the same on every platform.  It is absolutely ridiculous to say that open-source users cannot use their hardware because the company needs to protect it.  Why must I use proprietary software just to use it?  I should not have to buy a Windows license just to use something I bought.

I bought the hardware, last time I checked, I didn’t buy the right to use it.  I bought a physical device, not a license.  I should have every resource available to me to make the hardware work.  Documentation should be included with it.  This way, either someone in the Linux community can write a driver, or I can.  This way I can actually use what I purchased.

Not only do consumers benefit from “open” hardware, the companies do as well.  They don’t have to develop software or drivers, making the cost to produce it lower.  Also, people will embrace companies that do this.  If someone buys a product and finds out that it either works or has the ability to work with their software, they will likely buy more of that company’s products.  Now with the opposite approach, is a person likely to buy something that isn’t going to work well or at all with their operating system?  No, of course not, but for one reason or another, this is exactly what many companies do.  They limit their user base by restricting their products.

So, what are companies to do?  Well, for starters, do what your customers want.  Develop a Linux driver, support a project working to do so, or give developers all of the information they need.  It’s simple, but the next question is, what if companies don’t want to share how their product works with their competitors?  Easy, either patent or copyright the design, therefore stopping anyone from legally copying the design to make their own.  The companies need to understand, we just want our devices to work the way they should, everywhere.

As sort of a follow-up on a yesterday’s post about setting up a music server, I thought I would go over some music management applications for Linux.  Now, almost everyone who runs a GNOME desktop has Rhythmbox installed, while every KDE user has Amarok.  Rhythmbox, in my opinion, doesn’t even come close to Amarok.  Amarok is nearly perfect and is considered to be the best music management application by many users on both KDE and GNOME.  Yes, Rhythmbox does work fine and it is a native GTK application, but Amarok is much better, even on GNOME.

My favorite music management application is a Novell project called Banshee.  Banshee is fast, stable, and feature rich, making it an awesome music player for those using GNOME.  KDE users should probably stick with Amarok.  Banshee plays just about any music format using the GStreamer libraries, but I recommend either Ogg Vorbis or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files.  The interface is very clean and functional.  Nothing is over-complicated or odd to use.

bansheescreen

Banshee’s feature list is impressive.  It has the ability to rip CDs into either Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Waveform PCM, or Wavpack,  it has track bookmaking (the ability to remember where a track left off), cover art, iPod support, podcast management, and more.  Basically, everything you can do in other media applications can be done in Banshee.  There’s even a plug-in for GNOME Do that allows you to control it using text commands.

I do have to give another shout out to Sockso though.  While it is a personal music server, it technically does music management.  You can make playlists, search its database, and it is all done in the same interface  Sockso is amazing and absolutely has the potential to become extremely successful.  So, if you have a free server and you want to use the web to manage your music, Sockso is the way to go.

With music becoming an essential part of our lives, projects like Sockso will take off.  They are the future of music.  Do you know how much cheaper an Mp3 player would be if it only had a network card and just enough memory for the operating system and cache?  Trust me, everyone could get one for almost nothing.  Until then, we’re just going to have to deal with copying our music to every music device and computer we have, using music managers.

I absolutely love music.  The only issue is that it can be more than just a little annoying to have to move my library everywhere.  So, I did what any sensible Linux user would do.  I went looking for a music server.  This way, I could play any song I wanted on any computer on my LAN (local area network) without having to have a copy of the file on it.  What I found—was Sockso.

Sockso is a free and open-source personal music server for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but we’re all Linux users here right?  Anyway, to get started, go to their site at http://sockso.pu-gh.com/.  Here, download the Linux server.  You’ll get a .zip file.  Before you go any further, make sure that you have the Java Runtime Environment installed.  If not, get it from your distribution’s repository.

After you unzip the files, go to the sockso-(insert version number here) directory in your Terminal.  You should see a file called linux.sh.  Run chmod +x linux.sh and then run sh linux.sh.  This starts the server.  Go through all of the options and make sure they fit your needs.  Also, specify which directory you’re music is in, using the Collection tab, and make sure that you update the database by clicking Scan Now.  Finally, go to a different computer, and open up whatever the ip address of your server is on your LAN, (if you are unsure, look at your router and find your server’s hostname in the device list) with the port number the server is running on in your web browser.  An example of this would be: 127.0.0.1:4444.  You should be at the web interface, and the rest is self-explanatory.

Now, you may have noticed that I set this up to work on a LAN, not a WAN (wide area network a.k.a. the Internet).  This is because my music is mostly copyrighted and it is illegal to share your copyrighted music over the Internet to people who aren’t paying for it, unless I pay royalty fees for each time a track is played.  While I do understand it is a little more complicated than that, my basic explanation will do.  If you require a login and you disable registering from the web interface,so that only you can listen to and access the files, then I believe you can put the server on the Internet, just don’t take my word for it.  Now, if you want to do it, you can, but I strongly recommend that you keep it on a LAN.  Otherwise, happy listening!

Whenever a new distro is released, people have problems with their install.  Crashes, errors, drivers and much more usually confuse new users.  Many don’t know how to get support quickly.  Sure, you can Google it, but that can produce mixed results.  So, I recommend the Ubuntu chat room.

In order to join the chat, you need an IRC client.  All standard Ubuntu installs come with Pidgin, which will fair just fine for this purpose.  Go to the Applications menu and go down to Internet.  From there select Pidgin.  When you first start Pidgin, close all windows except for your Buddy List.  Then select the Accounts menu and click on Manage Accounts.

pidginscreen

At the Manage Accounts menu, select Add and in the next dialog box, select IRC from the Protocol menu.  Make up a username and then change the server to irc.freenode.net.  Then click Add and select the checkbox next to the account in the Manage Accounts dialog.  When your client connects to the server and you see a green circle with “Available” next to it, you’re good.  Close any chat windows that pop up, go to Buddies and then Join a Chat…, and a dialog box will pop up, prompting you for a channel.  Type in #ubuntu and click Join.  Then ask your question.  You should get many responses very quickly and the great thing is, most responses you receive will be correct.

With netbooks becoming extremely popular, many are questioning their usefulness.  Some say that the screens are too small, others say the keyboards are unusable, and some critics say that they are just too slow.  When I read these comments or reviews, I start to wonder, have these people actually used one?

My first netbook was a white 16gb ASUS Eee PC 900 with Xandros Linux.  When I first pulled it out of the box, I did think that it might be too small.  I don’t think I had ever seen such a small keyboard.  Then I actually used it.  It was spectacular.  Everything was quick and functional.  It was completely usable.  With its portability, I took it everywhere I could.  Soon after I received it, I installed Ubuntu 8.04 on it.  It was even better after that because I could have all of my favorite software wherever I went.  I used it as my main development PC.  The only complaint I had was with the slow write speed which made Firefox page loads slow, but otherwise, it was great.

After having such a good experience with the Eee, I decided to buy an Acer Aspire One with a 10 inch screen.  All of my issues with the Eee are non-existent with the Aspire One.  Fedora 10 and the Ubuntu release candidate work flawlessly.  The keyboard is excellent and the hard drive is extremely quick.  It literally is the best computer I have ever used.  The screen produces vivid color and the battery life is spectacular.  This cheap netbook is just as close to perfect as one can get.

So when people say that netbooks are a fad, I just don’t understand.  They are excellent and are much more portable than a laptop.  You can do nearly everything you do on a desktop computer on a netbook as well.  So yes, netbooks really are useful.  You can blog on them, write documents, edit photos, write code, listen to music, watch movies, check e-mail, and just about everything else.  Netbooks are the future of portable computing.  If you don’t think so, try one.  While your doing that, I think I’m going to play Frozen Bubble, check my Twitter updates, and maybe watch Diggnation, all on my Acer Aspire One.

tweetdeckscreenshotTwitter is a spectacular service.  The only issue I have is the slow web interface.  Pages load very slowly and it is not exactly fun to use.  This is all fixed with the Twitter client TweetDeck.  Friend’s updates come nearly immediately unlike Twitter’s web UI which requires a refresh of the page.  It also has a column-based UI which allows users to see all of their friend’s updates, replies, and direct messages in one look.  This makes Twitter efficient and fun.  It makes it feel like a conversation.  Also, unlike most applications I use, I have never had TweetDeck freeze or crash on me.  I have not one complaint with it.  In other words, TweetDeck is awesome.  Not just good, but awesome.

Like most Linux users, I use a multitude of applications, and many of them are terminal-based.  For example, I use vi for most of my text editing.  It is simple and it works.  Almost no resources are used by it and I can actually get work done in it.  Another great screenshot_of_terminalexample of a terminal application being better than a GUI application is irssi for chat.  It does one thing and it does it very well.  When I use Pidgin, which is a very nice GUI chat client, I feel like it is too much.  Simplicity is key in an application (for me anyway) and it seems as if GUI programs just keep getting too many features.  An application should serve a purpose.  A single purpose, not twelve.  I think this is the problem with many programs.  They just become too complicated.  That is why terminal applications are usually better than their GUI counterparts.  They do a single job and do it well.

So, I’ve been using the Ubuntu 9.04 RC on an Acer Aspire One for the last two days and even though I’ve used it for a short time, I think I should review it.  Without ruining the rest the review, I must say, this release is very, very, good.  The last release of Ubuntu was 8.10, which I did try and felt like it was quite bad.  It was a very unexciting upgrade and it felt old compared to other distros at the time.  I did not use it long, as Fedora 10 was by far superior in nearly everyway except for package management.  With Ubuntu 8.10, I thought that the Ubuntu team had taken a step back.

This is not so with 9.04.  It feels new and it really is a worthy upgrade.  The GNOME desktop feels fast, apps load up very quickly, and it looks professional.  The wallpaper is classy, instead of being very odd like in the previous releases.  The new notification system is spectacular and well done.  Hardware support is excellent.  There are a few bugs in the RC, but these will be fixed in the final release.  The distro is just fantastic.

Ubuntu 9.04 Desktop

Ubuntu 9.04 Desktop

Now for the bad parts.  While there aren’t many, they do stand out.  First of all are the themes.  Why can’t there be a good theme in Ubuntu?  I don’t mind the default human theme, but it is nothing special.  The other included themes are just ugly to me.  I really hope that this is changed because appearance is a major consideration for most people when they look at an operating system.  Also, ext4 support is not really there yet.  Fedora 11 is promising to use the filesystem by default, but Ubuntu’s implementation is not ready for real use.  Hopefully the issues they have with it are fixed soon, otherwise Ubuntu will be very slow in comparison to distros like Fedora 11.

Overall, Ubuntu 9.04 RC is a higly recommended download and if the bugs are fixed, Ubuntu 9.04 final will be a must-have distro.  I feel that Ubuntu really stepped it up from previous releases.  If they can just get ext4 working without issue, I’m sure that Ubuntu will be an extremely strong competitor against Windows 7 and Mac OSX in the future.

Ubuntu: For Desktops, Servers, Netbooks and in the cloud