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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Linux Mint 7 has arrived, which means that this very popular distribution has been updated in almost every way.  Just as Linux Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu 8.10, Linux Mint 7’s core is Ubuntu 9.04.  This means that Mint has everything that Ubuntu has and more.  The new notification system, better hardware support, and all of the new releases of our open-source favorites are included in Mint, as well as a few Mint specific applications like mintMenu and mintBackup.

Appearance

Out of the box, Linux Mint is beautiful.  It is what Ubuntu should aim to look like.  The theme is very nice and fits in well with the look of older Mint releases.  The Linux Mint wallpapers are also spectacular, the default being the best in my opinion.  It just screams professional.  Compiz Fusion works fine and can easily be configured with the included CompizConfig Settings Manager.  Mint includes a simple version as well if you, for example, just want the Compiz Cube instead of the Desktop Wall.

Mint's Custom Menu

Mint's Custom Menu

The fonts are the best I have seen on any distro other than Fedora.  They are readable and look great.  The default icon theme is the same as Xubuntu 9.04’s which I personally think is one of the best out there.  Mint comes with GNOME by default.  If you use another desktop environment like KDE, there are community created versions that will soon be upgraded to Mint 7 for you.  There’s even a Fluxbox edition if you want a light desktop.

Applications

Linux Mint 7 comes with the same applications Ubuntu does and a few more as well.  Some applications are modified too.  For example, Thunderbird comes with Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar installed.  It has a few Mint applications like mintBackup which backs up your home directory and mintNanny which blocks domains you don’t want anyone to visit on your computer.  Mint’s version of Add/Remove software is called mintInstall.  It is perfect because it gives you extensive information on the applications, screenshots, and even recommends applications like Opera.

mintInstall in Action

mintInstall in Action

One of Mint’s claims to fame is the included multimedia codecs.  I am not going to go too into detail, but basically, you can play Mp3s and other proprietary codecs without having to install them yourself.  This is great because it doesn’t confuse new users.  All they have to do is import their music collection and they are done.  Other notable applications included with Mint are Gufw, a graphical interface for setting up a firewall, GNOME Do, an application launcher, and Giver, a file sharing program.

What I Like

  • Default look and feel
  • Included Applications
  • Fonts
  • mintInstall
  • Codecs
  • Configuration Tools
  • Features carried over from Ubuntu
  • Funny terminal messages
One of Mint's Odd Jokes That Are Printed Everytime You Open A Terminal

One of Mint's Odd Jokes That Are Printed Everytime You Open A Terminal

What I Don’t Like

  • The Firefox add-on that turns Google searches into Mint’s custom Google search
    • It only does this with searches entered into the Google box in Firefox

Is Mint Worth It?

Mint is a solid distribution and should be downloaded and tried out by any Ubuntu or Debian user.  It is what a Linux distribution should be.  While I will download and try Fedora 11, Mint is really making me question if Fedora’s excellent ext4 support is worth it or not.

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Yes, I am now using Linux Mint 7 and I must say that I’m impressed.  It looks amazing, it is stable, and the custom applications, like the menu, that are included with it are impressive.  Yesterday I downloaded it using Transmission and immediately installed it.  While I’m not ready for a full review, I can say that Mint 7 is definitely worth a look.  My review will be posted in the next few days.  I’ve been quite busy lately.  So, in the meantime, go check it out!

My Linux Mint Desktop

This is just a quick little update to my VirtualBox post a few days ago. If your distro is Debian-based, you should follow the instructions on the bottom of this page. Basically, it tells you to add a repository to your sources.list, add the key using apt-key, and then  sudo apt-get install virtualbox-2.2.  Also, run sudo apt-get install dkms before you do anything.  This way, the kernel will recompile the VirtualBox module after a kernel update.

Adding The VirtualBox Repo

I was quite bored yesterday, so I decided, why not try to see if a virtual machine would run on a mere netbook?  Now, I must admit, I did upgrade my Acer Aspire One with 2gb of RAM, but RAM really isn’t too big of an issue.  The Atom processor is.

I downloaded VirtualBox from the official site and in about a minute or two, it was installed.  There is no need to compile it, as VirtualBox has binaries for most popular distributions.  The only step left is to add yourself to the vboxusers group which can be done by going to System and then Users and Groups.  After a reboot, you are ready to use it.

Before you even start VirtualBox, you should have an operating system ready to use, either as an .iso, a disk, or a virtual machine image.  On a netbook, I recommend you use Arch Linux, but if that is too hard to set up, Xubuntu works just fine, as does CrunchBang.  Once you have your OS, start up VirtualBox.  The main user interface should look something like this:

VirtualBox's User Interface

You are now ready to create a virtual machine.  To do so, click New.  The virtual machine wizard should come up.  Click Next and choose your operating system.  If your operating system is not listed, look in Other, or if it is Linux, choose the OS’s kernel version or Other Linux.

Choosing An Operating System

Now, you have to choose how much memory you want to allocate to the VM.  If you have 1gb of RAM, I would suggest 512mb maximum, but if you have 2gb, 1gb should be fine.  Next you are asked to make a virtual hard disk.  I recommend you just make a dynamically-expanding drive and leave it as the default size.  This way, if you run out of space in the VM, the drive will just expand.

You should now be done making your VM.  If you want to, you can change more settings by selecting your VM and clicking on Settings, but the defaults work fine unless you want to run a server.  Look in the user manual if you need an explanation of why.  When you are ready start your VM on your netbook, close all CPU and RAM intensive programs you have open, select your VM, and click Start.  It will ask you for an image, so just locate it, and VirtualBox will mount it for you.  You should be able to go on though the installation, albeit I little slower, but otherwise, everything should work the same.

After you have your OS installed, you should install the Guest Additions.  These are kernel modules that make VirtualBox smoother and more usable.  To do this, while your virtual machine is running, go to Devices, and Install Guest Additions.  It will mount an .iso image full of installation scripts.  On Xubuntu, it ran automatically, but if it doesn’t for your distribution, just go into it using the terminal, run chmod +x <filename> on the script for your operating system.

You can now use VirtualBox.  On my Acer Aspire One, it actually takes only 50% of my CPU, which is good considering how weak it is.  As long as you stay with either Windows XP and lower, an OS with a lightweight desktop environment, or no GUI at all, everything should run just fine in VirtualBox.  The ability to use VMs on a netbook is amazing for everyone.  Even if you aren’t a developer, showing your friends that your little $400 netbook can run VirtualBox is pretty cool.

Working in the command-line can be tough, because the application you are using takes up the entire window, making you have to open another in a tab or use the application screen just so you can do two things at once.  There is a very simple solution to this problem.  It is called Terminator.

Terminator is a terminal emulator, just like GNOME Terminal or Konsole.  The only difference is, Terminator allows you to have many terminals open in the same window.  So, you could have nano open in one area, irssi in another, and mplayer in yet another.  They are adjustable, so one area can be bigger than another.

Terminator With Three Terminals Open

While some users may not find this useful, if you mostly work in the command-line, it’s not a bad option.  Other applications do the same thing, but with Terminator, all it takes is one right-click to open a new terminal.  If you are a programmer, this will be extremely useful.  Also, if you just like having everything open and available to you in one window, Terminator is the right app for you.

If you use iTunes or something else like the dreaded Windows Media Player for your music, you aren’t getting the best sound out of your CDs.  The Mp3 encoders that these programs use are inferior.  Music encoded with them sounds terrible and a lot of the original file has been taken out for compression.  This loss of quality is most noticeable with cymbals.  They have a very weird sound when poorly encoded or compressed.  In other words, your music doesn’t sound like it is supposed to.

LAME fixes this problem, by basically doing a better job.  The algorithms LAME uses are much more effective.  With the right arguments, you can achieve a sound that is very close being perfect.  If you love music, but hate large files or you have a player that doesn’t support open-source formats like Ogg Vorbis, LAME is for you.

To install LAME, go to the site and find a binary for it, download the source code and compile it, or install it (on Ubuntu anyway) by running the command sudo apt-get install lame.  If you want the best performance make sure you compile it.  After installing it, we are ready to use it.  First, rip a track off a CD as a .wav file using a CD ripper.

LAME Encoding a File

Using LAME is very simple.  Open up a terminal window and go to the directory where your .wav file is.  Once there, run the command lame (myfile).wav name.mp3. This will take your .wav file, encode it as a 128kbps Mp3, and put it in the name.mp3 file.  Now, this will not sound great.  It will be an improvement over other encoders, but to use LAME to the best of its ability, I recommend you run LAME like this: lame -V2 -vbr-new (myfile).wav name.mp3. It does the same thing as before, but instead of a 128kbps file, you will get a high-quality variable bit-rate file that sounds nearly perfect.  Many people, including me, use this setting for all of their music.  I actually got these settings from a comment on my Ogg Vorbis post.  Some other settings are recommended here.  Pick the ones that sound the best to you.

While I prefer Ogg Vorbis, my iPod doesn’t, so I have to have an alternative.  LAME is just what I was looking for.  The files are small, they sound excellent, and best of all, I don’t have to use a bloated program like iTunes to rip my music.  It is a great tool for all of us Linux users who want the excellent sound of open-source formats without having to search for an obscure player that can play them.  If you don’t have it yet, LAME is an awesome program to have on your system.

P.S. LAME isn’t Linux only.  It is on a variety of systems like Windows, but since this is a Linux blog, I will not cover them here.

Update: If you are running a recent version of LAME, you don’t have to use the -vbr-new argument.  It will use this automatically.  So, your command should look like this: lame -V2 myfile.mp3 mynewfile.mp3.

Do you program on Linux? If you do, cool, if you don’t, it’s time to start. Programming has never been easier. With high-level languages popping up everywhere, almost anyone can learn. For beginners I recommend BASH or Perl, but Python is pretty good too. For experienced programmers, I recommend C# or C++. If you have a favorite programming language for either beginners or experts, leave a comment. Let the best language win.

I’ve used GNOME for as long as I’ve been using Linux.  My first distro was Ubuntu 7.04 and I’ve only tried out other desktops for short periods of time.  This year however, I tried KDE 4 and found myself using it more and more.  I loved the user interface, especially the widgets.  Unlike GNOME, I felt that KDE really had a chance at looking better than Mac OS X.

GNOME is great.  It’s fast, stable, and it doesn’t look like it’s from 1998.  GNOME is still my favorite desktop environment.  The only issue is, it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.  GNOME still looks like it did two years ago.  Yes, it’s a little slicker, but the base appearance is still the same.  On the other hand, KDE 4 is a complete redesign from KDE 3.5.

I really like how KDE looks and acts as a desktop environment.  It’s user friendly, fast, and functional.  I did have a little issue with the way fonts looked at first, but it turns out that I needed to turn on sub-pixel hinting.  Now, everything looks much better.  KDE also has another advantage.  Everything is integrated with the user interface.  When I download a file using Konqueror, the notification system pops up from the taskbar, showing the progress of my downloads.  This and other little things make KDE feel complete.

KDE with Twitter Client and Notepad

The desktop effects really make KDE shine too.  While I do think that Compiz Fusion has better effects, KWin is really close in comparison.  It’s just one more thing that improves the user interface.  The window borders look clean, as does the taskbar.  KDE is way ahead of GNOME in appearance in my opinion.

The KDE applications are good.  GNOME does have a little advantage here, but if you don’t include Firefox or Pidgin, they match up very well.  Konqueror is much better than Epiphany, but Firefox is much better than both.  So much better in fact, that I’m using it instead.  Amarok used to be the best audio player, but the new interface is not that great.  According to various sources though, this will be fixed in future releases.  KDE’s Twitter widget is awesome and is my favorite application included with KDE.

Not much is wrong with KDE in my opinion.  The font issue I had was probably my fault and I experienced no other bugs.  KDE is slower than GNOME.  There is no argument about that.  GNOME has the speedy interface down.  But, if you want something different, KDE is not a bad option.  It’s not as good as GNOME for me, but I’m using it because there is something about it I like.  It just “feels” right to me.  So, if you hate KDE, that’s fine, but don’t judge a book by its cover.  If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl.  You might like what you see.

Throughout my computer using “career”, I have usually used only CDs and WAV files for my music.  I can’t stand compressed music.  My ears are cursed I guess.  Compressed formats just sound terrible to me.  The cymbals sound really bad and the guitars sound tinny.  Let’s just say that Mozart sounds like noise in a compressed format to me.  In an uncompressed format, it sounds spectacular.

After being on Linux for a few years, I decided that it was about time to try the free codecs for my music.  FLAC was my favorite.  It, like WAV, doesn’t degrade the sound quality.  The only difference is that FLAC compresses the file to make it smaller.  I was about ready to just use FLAC when I found Ogg Vorbis.  Ogg Vorbis is a compressed format that degrades the audio quality.  So, I didn’t expect much from it.

I encoded a few songs from Pearl Jam’s Rearviewmirror using Ogg Vorbis at 160KB/sec.  This is a low bitrate, so I knew that my ears were going to hurt.  I put on my Bose headphones and played “Nothingman”.  I was blown away by how good it sounded.  While it wasn’t as good as FLAC, it was 10x better than any other “lossy” format.  The cymbals sounded like cymbals and it was clean.  I could detect a little degradation, but considering most cannot detect any from an Mp3, this should not be a problem.

An Ogg Vorbis File in Banshee

So, I then compared that track to a version I had previously encoded in the Mp3 format.  The difference was like night and day!  I could actually listen to the Ogg file.  The Mp3 hurt my ears.  I immediately said to myself that my music library was going to be Ogg files only.  Then I looked at my iPod and realized that if I was going to, I needed a player that would support it.  The best ones I could find were from Cowon, so I’m planning on buying one as soon as possible.  My days with trashy music formats will soon be over.

If you like music, you owe it to yourself to tryout Ogg Vorbis.  Every Linux music player has support for it, so it’s not like it’s hard to do.  I used to have to deal with large uncompressed files, but now my music only has to be a few megabytes.  Ogg Vorbis is superior in every way.  It bridges the gap between uncompressed and “lossy” formats.

P.S. Just a little note here, my next post might be a video post, so if you have a recommendation for a video, leave a comment.  Thanks.

As a Linux user who absolutely loves the command-line, I find myself usually preferring command-line tools. Instead of System Monitor I use top, instead of Pidgin I use irssi, and instead of 3D games I play Nethack. One application stands out though and this application—is MPlayer.

Most of you know that MPlayer can either be used on the command-line, or with a GUI front-end. As usual, the command-line seems more functional to me. Installing MPlayer without a GUI isn’t hard, but you have to remember to use sudo apt-get install mplayer-nogui. If you run sudo apt-get install mplayer, you might get a GUI.

After you have installed MPlayer, try it out using a video file.  Do this by running mplayer (insert file name here).  A window will pop up and your file will play.  You’re probably thinking right now that, great, it plays videos.  So do hundreds of other applications.  Well, if you check out the man pages for MPlayer, its plethora of options will be revealed.  To do this, issue the command man mplayer.  To leave the documentation, just press q.

MPlayer is stable.  It hasn’t crashed on me yet and I’ve been using for a long time.  So, if you want a versatile video and audio player with no GUI, you’ve found the right application.  If you don’t like using the command-line, then I recommend you pickup SMPlayer.  It is a GUI version of MPlayer.  VLC Media Player is good as well, but after using MPlayer for so long, switching would be pointless.  Besides, MPlayer is best video player on the Linux platform.