Sunday, December 31, 2006

Suse 10.2, part 8: Multimedia support updated

A comment from The Diabetic Geek about part 7 pointed me towards "Hacking openSUSE 10.2" and a laundry list of things to do to 10.2 in order to enhance its basic capabilities. I read Hacking several times, paying particular attention to the sections dealing with multimedia playback support. I'd already installed libdvdcss, so I followed two other steps: I added packman.unixheads.com/suse/10.2 to my repository sources and then I installed the win32 codecs from packman. But the act of adding the packman repository triggered the software updater, and informed me I needed to update what appears to be the core of the multimedia system on openSuse. What follows are two side-by-side screen shots of all the packages that I eventually upgraded.



While in the process of performing its dependency checks, the following little dialog popped up on the screen.



Note the removal of xine-lib. After all was said and done by the updater, I was able to play movies with Kaffeine as you can see below.



Other Types of Media

Experimenting a bit more, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could play back Quicktime movies, specifically a collection of clips I've picked up over the last 18 months. Simply clicking on them invoked Totem, which played them back without any issues.

I then went searching for other types of media available on the web. I discovered that even though Totem will play back a Quicktime file if its local, it does no good to go to Apple's Trailer page and try to play back Quicktime clips directly. I then when to two sites that provide flash video, YouTube and John Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. YouTube videos played fine, but The Daily Show refused to play any content, informing me I needed to upgrade my Flash plugin to Version 7. Note that Version 7 is installed by default during the initial DVD installation.

Final Thoughts

I've messed with this enough. I've finally got what I really wanted, which is decent automatic DVD playback along with music CDs and MP3s. By adding the packman repository I got additional support for local Quicktime files, which I consider icing on the cake. But it took far more effort than I feel was necessary.

All this effort violates an unspoken need on my part; I want it to work as soon as the initial installation is finished. All this running around and adding additional repositories to get decent multimedia support is what turns the average Windows user off. This is the kind of annoyance that keeps Linux off the average Jane and Joe desktop computer.

Suse 10.2, part 7: Multimedia support, mixed at best

There are two key features that today's personal computers running Windows and Mac OS X are expected to have as soon as they're turned on; playback of audio and video. And it's been this way for quite some time. Audio playback can range from music CDs to MP3s ripped from those CDs, to DRMed content purchased from any number of on-line stores. Video playback ranges from proprietary formats such as Quicktime and Windows Media, and DVDs. When I installed Suse 10.2, I knew I wasn't going to get rich multimedia support out-of-the-box (or off-the-DVD). With my lowered expectations all I'm looking for are music CD playback, MP3 playback, and DVD playback. And Suse 10.2 didn't even meet those lowered expectations.

The Good News: Music CDs

Music CD playback is just about perfect. When you insert a music CD you get a dialog allowing you to select among a number of options, including several applications for playback. I chose Amarok 1.4.4, and it appears I chose wisely. As you can see below the application provides an excellent interface for navigating the CD, and provides nice touches such as the cover fetch for the CD.



The Good News: MP3 Playback

MP3 playback is supported by not one but two applications. There's Real Audio's RealPlayer 10 and the open source version of RealPlayer, Helix Banshee 0.11.2. If you click on an MP3 file the RealAudio player is chosen by default and a small window appears on the desktop playing your selection.



To kick off Banshee, you have to deliberately select it from the file's right-click property dialog from the open-as selection menu. In the example below I selected the same MP3 for playback.



Testing on my system seems to indicate no difference in quality (a subjective test, I know), which is a Good Thing. What's more significant about Banshee, however, is its ability to rip music CDs. As you can see below banshee shows every song on the "I Am Sam" music CD, just like Amarok did. What I like is the ease with which it rips (imports) any or all songs (note the 'Import' button at the top right corner of the application).



Banshee is my application of choice for ripping music CDs. It has yet to fail to rip anything I've given it, including CDs that were mastered such that they would not play under Windows XP on the exact same hardware.

So for basic music listening pleasure you've got three solid applications (KDE's Amorak, Gnomes Banshee, and Real Audio's RealPlayer). I don't know how they work with other encoding formats, and I don't much care. I try to avoid proprietary encoding as much as possible.

The Bad News: DVD Playback

I'll get to the point. Totem and Kaffeine can't play back DVDs. They both depend up libxine, and libxine needs libcssdvd in order to play back the typical DVD you buy just about everywhere. When you insert the DVD into the player, you get this from KDE:



So far so good. But if you choose Kaffeine, you begin to read the bad news real fast. At the end of the initialization process you finally get this gentle message:



If you bother to follow up and go to the XINE section of openSuse, you hit this not-so-funny joke of a page:



Ha. Ha. Ha. OK. I first attempted to download and install the libdvdcss RPMs from VideoLAN. That didn't work. Then I attempted to install VLC from VideoLAN. That almost worked. I was able to start up DVDs manually, but when I attempted to skip from chapter to chapter, it crashed. Great. My final solution was to download the sources to libdvdcss, libxine, and xine-ui, and build them all from source in my home directory. When I finished I had a DVD player that would do exactly what I wanted, reliably play DVDs on my machine.



I guess I could have hunted down the RPMs for Xine and its support libraries, and added those repositories to my other repositories being managed by YaST. But that can turn out to be more trouble than it's worth. Besides, it doesn't forgive the sin of not having libdvdcss available in the first place, or of having an RPM available that when installed informed the existing libxine that it was whole enough to play back DVDs.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Suse 10.2, part 6: What is going on with beagled-helper?

Beagle is Gnome's answer to built-in desktop indexing and search. The heart of Beagle appears to be beagled, the Beagle daemon. I went out earlier today to run a number of errands leaving europa on and running with openSuse. When I returned home several hours later, I came back to an unresponsive machine. The display was corrupt, with random pixels all over the screen. No jiggling of the shift keys on the keyboard or the mouse would bring up the desktop.

I quickly noticed that the hard drive activity light was on constantly. I switched from hitting the Big Red Switch to attempting to gain access to a basic text-only window (Ctrl Alt F1) and logging into root. I wanted to find out what was happening on the system. I hit CAF1 and waited about 30 seconds before the screen cleared and I got a login prompt. Good! I had to wait another 15-20 seconds to log in as root and get a shell prompt. I fired up top and saw that beagled-helper had 99% of the CPU. I killed it not once, but twice; it restarted the second time as I was watching top. Once beagled-helper was fully dead, europa's normal responsive returned.

When I got control of the graphical desktop again I ran free in a terminal window to see how much swap space got chewed up. As I suspected, beagled-helper had eaten up a good chunk of swap; nearly 200MB worth. Under normal circumstances my system uses an order of magnitude less, and that's with Java and/or a number of gcc compiles running on other desktops. I don't know what beagled-helper was doing, but the high swap use coupled with whatever it was attempting chewed up CPU cycles and hard-drive bandwidth.

My final step is to hunt down and keep beagled and beagled-helper from ever starting again. It's not a part of regular services, but looks to be started by something within the KDE login process. And for the record, there is an Ubuntu bug (64326) that was logged against a similar problem back in October. Whatever, I don't see a need for this, and I will shut it down permanently.

Suse 10.2, part 5: Fixing an annoying boot splash screen

When you first start Suse Linux, you're presented with a Grub splash screen menu that allows you to select between one or more boot options. If you're like me, you've got at least three; Windows XP, openSuse 10.2, floppy, and openSuse 10.2 failsafe. I like my menus clean and easy to read. The basic Suse boot screen is great for that. The problem with the openSuse 10.2 boot screen is somebody decided it would be cool to have the bland-but-clear blue Suse boot screen 'randomly' trade places with a considerably busier penguin-themed boot screen background, complete with running and tumbling penguins. Gee, thanks.

Below is the boring old Suse background, the one I actually want, especially for work.



Followed by the sooper-kool penguin-themed background, which I detest.



Because of my advanced age I no longer appreciate the finer points of geek humor, especially when I can't easily control when it pops up on my machine. It was with that motivation that I sought to eliminate the penguin background from every showing its ugly face on my machines. I got my first clue about how to remove it when I hit the Help (F1) key during the Grub boot phase and got this cryptic and cheeky clue:
Like it or hate it? Edit gfxboot.cfg in /boot/message to have it always or to get rid of it.
I could tell immediately that the author of this little boot screen animation has gotten at least one criticism of his work. The problem with the rest of the message was no link on how to get to gfxboot.cfg in the message file. Ah, but figuring out those details, that's all part of geek fun!

After booting into Linux, I checked message's file type and discovered it was a cpio file. I copied it over into a working folder in my home directory and broke it open. What follows is a quick rundown of the steps (it's simple to unpack):
  1. cd ~
  2. mkdir Grub
  3. cd Grub
  4. cp /boot/message .
  5. mkdir msg
  6. cd msg
  7. cpio -iv < ../message
  8. vi gfxboot.cfg (and modify as indicated below)
  9. find | cpio -o > ../newmessage
Sure enough, inside the message archive, there was gfxboot.cfg.
# penguin theme likelihood in percent; -1 = auto
penguin=0
I've already modified mine to not show it; that's why 'penguin' equals zero. I put the message file back together again with cpio, and then moved it back into /boot (as root), making a second backup of the old message file just-in-case (old geeks get paranoid with age).

I know what you're going to say. It's openSuse, it's the community version, and I probably won't see the penguin boot screen in the boxed shipping version (or at least I certainly hope not!). But considering all the really important problems that need to be fixed in any distribution, let alone openSuse, who in the hell thought it was necessary to even add this right up front in everybody's face? I hear complaints about not enough maintainers for this and that project (such as Gnome) and then this comes out. I think that's why the penguin splash screen bothers me so much. Too many want to play, not enough want to work.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Substance over style

The genesis of this post goes back over a month, to November 26th, when Slashdot reported about an article "The NeoSmart Files" published titled "Firefox 2.0 Recap". The author complained about the new theme (too ugly for his tastes), the first-run website (too ugly again) and RSS support (too poor for his tastes). All those flaws just seemed to ruin his day. So I bookmarked that article for future comment (in Firefox 2, of course) and then installed Opera 9. I'd already upgraded to IE7 and Firefox 2. Then I spent the past month extensively using Firefox and Opera, with some limited use of IE7.

Windows Usage

The screenshot below shows all three browsers running on Windows XP SP2, with a shot of Windows Task Manager showing the memory footprint of all three browsers. I'd opened up all the browsers and loaded them up with multiple pages in multiple tabs, and then I'd let them sit and 'cook' for a while, moving around from site to site to let them soak up even more system memory. Why a memory check? Because I've heard more gripes about Firefox's penchant for using 'too much' memory.



I've been using the browsers over the past month, especially Firefox and Opera, on both Windows as well as Linux. From a work-a-day perspective I can't find any real faults with all three on Windows, or Firefox and Opera on Linux. That even includes memory usage. You would look at Windows Task Manager and conclude that Firefox has the smallest footprint, but you'd be wrong. The right answer is that all three browsers consume the same amount of memory if operated long enough. The typical browser footprint (from my usage) is between 100 to 150MB with multiple open tabs. That's with Yahoo, Google Mail, CNN, YouTube, and other AJAX-enabled sites running in their own tab.

Personal Favorite

My personal favorite is Firefox 2.0, the very same version that everybody wants to take potshots at. It runs the plugins are essential to me; Adblock Plus and Adblock Filterset.G. Why are they imporant? Let me answer by way of an example; TheInquirer as rendered by a browser without ad blocking, and one with. The first screenshot is IE7 with all ads in the article, and the second is Firefox 2 running with Adblock Plus and Filterset.G.



As you can see above, the story is chock-a-block full of advertisements. One of them (about the London Stock Exchange), so typical of TheInquirer, fills the center part of the page such that it squeezes the text and distracts from reading the story.



The Firefox rendering of the same page through AdBlock filtering is cleaner and a heck of a lot easier to read. But then I guess I'm unusual; I like to read my web pages instead of looking at 'pretty pictures'.

As for the theme, who cares? That's why the theme is configurable (something that can't be said for Opera or IE). And RSS? RSS is a solution looking for a problem. Sorry, but if you go to the lead news sites (CNN and Google News, just to name two), you get all the 'aggregation' you need or can stand. In the end all RSS does is give you a link to go back and read the article anyway. Why not start at the beginning? I know, I know. I probably Don't Get It.

Close Runner Up

Opera is a very close second. The only computer I own using Opera exclusively is the Nokia 770, and that's because it's bundled with the device. There are no other decent choices for the 770; but that's no problem since Opera works quite well in that environment. Why not use Opera everywhere? Because of an inability to install plugins, especially the two that make Firefox so useful to me. If I could get that feature, then there'd be no real difference between Firefox 2 and Opera 9. None whatsoever.

Last Place (Because I Have To)

It's IE7. The only reason I use IE7 is because I'm forced to by my bank. If I want to pay bills on-line with my bank I have to use IE. That means Windows. Period. No Firefox, no Opera. So I keep IE7 on my Windows system for when I absolutely have to use it. I don't go anywhere else on the web with IE7. I don't trust IE's security. It seems quite fast and stable, and I've had absolutely no problems testing it with many of the sites I normally visit (in spite of dire warnings about IE7 incompatibilities). I just don't trust IE's security out on the web.

Choice is Good

As so many are wont to yell at me, choice is good. And in this particular case it is. For Windows at least I have a choice (finally) between three excellent browsers. You can stick with the default if you upgrade to the latest version, or you can select between Firefox and Opera.

For other environments, it's still good to have choices. My youngest daughter got a 17" iMac for Christmas (to use up at FSU), and tried to update her Facebook entry using Safari. For whatever reason Safari wasn't up to the task, so Megan went to the Firefox site and downloaded Firefox for Mac. A few minutes later she had it installed and had no more problems. She'll probably wind up like me on Windows; using Safari where she has to, and Firefox for everything else.

And for Linux? For consistency sake I use Firefox. It behaves the same across Windows and Linux.

Oh. Right now, Market Share shows IE with 80%, Firefox with 13%, and Safari with 4%. Both Firefox and Safari keep going up.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Suse 10.2, part 4: KDE's Konqueror

I've grown to really like KDE. Working with KDE is, in a word, fun. Yes, fun. Enjoyable. A pleasure to work with. Easy to approach. Provides pleasant surprises and wonderful answers to problems I never new I really had. That's why I keep posting about Suse and KDE, especially this release.

I'm digging a little deeper into Konqueror. Konq has a tremendous flexibility missing in Nautilus. It can list files in any number of organized ways, allow for viewing images (JPG, GIF, PNG, etc) as a slide show, even open up RPM files for viewing of their contents and then allow them to be installed via YaST. It's a powerful, rich, polished Swiss-army-knife of an application.



When Konq is first opened by clicking the "My Computer" icon on the desktop, it displays a cleanly organized synopsis of your system's resources, with links to some elements that can be further examined. It would be nice if every item presented had links to every application that could manipulate it; for example, clicking on the Display Info would bring up Sax2. But what is presented is quite adequate, and I'll wait patiently for future releases to see if additional functionality is added.

One of the first features I discovered is that Konq has tabs. This, of course, is the result of the Tab Wars between Firefox and Microsoft's IE. For their own protection the Konq developers felt they had to have some too (joke). Tabs are simple to open; simply right-click on any folder (or just about anything else, for that matter) to bring up the properties menu (see below) and click "Open in New Tab".



I don't know when tabs first showed up in Konq, but the ability to have multiple tabs with multiple file views into multiple areas is a feature I never knew I missed until I found it here. You can even split a tab, horizontally or vertically, to view different directory structures. The ability to drag-and-drop or simply compare (visually) between the two is obvious.



The view above is in my home directory, with hidden files shown. The icons come from Vista Inspirat. Those icons, coupled with the Polyester widget set and the Keramik White color theme make my desktop quite pleasurable to use, at least to my personal tastes. As usual, your mileage will vary. The icons and widget set came from another article by Thom Holwerda and OSNews.



Once again I'm looking at pretty pictures using the Image View, available from the control bar. No hunting through menus or another application. It's Just There and It Just Works.



Here, on yet another tab, I've clicked an RPM file (the file that contains the Polyester widget set). Konq not only gives me the RPM's details, but presents a button that conveniently allows me to launch YaST and install the RPM if I so desire. Sweet.



Finally, I've got a split view between two different directories. I could move files about between the two area. The cursor hover provides excellent detail when over a given file, such as this image file. I get a more-detailed view of the image as well as information about the file. This view, as well as all of Konq, is a very usable, quite powerful, and a real pleasure to work with.



What about using Konq as a web browser? Take a look at the side-by-side comparison above of Firefox and Konq; Firefox 2 is on the left and Konq is on the right. Both are showing CNN's home page. I can't tell the difference between the two as far as page rendering is concerned. For straight-forward HTML and web graphics, both show excellent and equal quality.

The problem with Konq, however, is with AJAX applications. For example, I opened up my Google mail account in Konq and got the following.



There's a big fat warning right across the top: "For a better Gmail experience, use a fully supported browser." That's why I'll stick with Firefox for most needs. And that's a shame, really, because I believe that Konq should be supported. Maybe it is, and I just need to tweak Konq to identify itself as some other browser that is fully supported. Time will tell.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nokia 770: Nine months later

Well, it's December, and I've been using my 770 for nine months. I've grown quite familiar with it's capabilities and its quirks. I've lamented it's many shortcomings (just click on the Nokia770 label to read them all). I'm not here to heap more criticism, I'm actually here to praise one of its finer points: its display.

The display on the 770 is one of the best, if not the best, I've ever seen. It's resolution of 800 by 480, its 65K color depth, and the small size of the screen help to create a visually stunning experience. The 770 developers even seem to have cleaned up one of Linux's more noticeable annoyances; font rendering. The two screen shots that follow give you some idea as to how fonts look on the 770.





The Opera browser does a magnificent job of rendering text as well. I don't know if it's using the same fonts and font engine as the rest of the 770's OS and applications (I assume that it is). It's a decent little news reader when I'm out of the office at lunch at a place that has local WiFi connectivity.

I've been reading a lot of comments about why Linux has uneven quality with regards to font rendering. I've seen it myself. I'm just wondering if the developers on the other distributions have looked at what the 770 developers have done, and if it can help enhance font quality everywhere in the Linux world.

Suse 10.2, part 3: Looking at KDE

This post comes at the convergence of a number of events. First, there was the story on OSNews titled "Has the Desktop Linux Bubble Burst?" That generated a number of responses, one of them from Aaron J. Seigo. With all the drama buzzing in the background, I went back to my Suse 10.2 installation and started to look at the KDE desktop.

When I installed 10.2 I installed both Gnome and KDE with an eye towards really testing and comparing both. I've slowly grown dissatisfied with Gnome over the past year, and I'm ready for a real change. I've played with KDE in the past, and I've started to use the underlying GUI toolkit, Qt from Trolltech. I've wondered if I should switch and use KDE as my default desktop. With Suse 10.2 it looks like the answer is yes.



With both environments installed it was a simple matter to log in using KDE. The first thing I did to my KDE desktop was to change the blue background into something, anything, a little livelier. I like a mix of colors in my desktop theme, with some warmth to it, not shades of blue all over everything (but I am not a fan of Ubuntu's themes). I've been over-exposed to blue for 17 years, starting with OS/2 and extending through Windows. I'm tired of blue. With the KDE desktop I was able to go out to the net and get this particular desktop image via the applet functionality that lets you change the background.



I then fired up Firefox and played with it a bit. The first thing I noticed was the rendering of the tabs on Firefox. On every distribution I've played with that came before Suse 10.2, the rendering of the tabs (and other controls) on Firefox looked pretty poor on the KDE desktop. If you wanted Firefox to look decent, you ran it under Gnome not KDE. And I say this having experienced Firefox 2 on both Suse 10.1 and Suse 10.2. With Suse 10.2 Firefox 2 looks equally good under either KDE or Gnome. For my Firefox comparisons I was using ClearLooks on Gnome and Plastik on KDE.

That lovely shade of red for the window border was picked by me. The ability to pick your window border color for a desktop theme doesn't exist in Gnome. It does for Windows, it did for OS/2 and CDE on Solaris, but I've never been able to do something that simple on Gnome. Like a lot of other simple things I should be able to easily do under Gnome, but can't.



I've read many comments about the KDE desktop menu, some good and some not. I like it. I like it a lot. It responds quite nicely as the mouse moves over the tabs, and I like that fact that it doesn't grow all over the desktop as you drill down multiple layers. On a constrained desktop (such as a compact notebook) it makes efficient use of the available space, and it's just a lot easier (for me anyway) to quickly find what I'm looking for. It's a good unique addition to KDE and Linux desktop navigation.

Konqueror has grown quite polished over the years. My only complaint, the same one I always have with Nautilus, is the default view does not have tree navigation on the left side. Unlike Gnome, however, I don't have to hunt down a second application to change the view. The ability to enable this feature is on Konqueror under Window | Show Navigation Panel, or you can press F9 when Konqueror has the focus to enable it.



Navigation isn't limited to just a narrow tree down the side. Using the image viewing mode, I've got both the navigation on the far left and a narrow strip next to it to quickly look at images. The rest of the screen at the right lets me view the image. This image viewing capability comes in quite handy when browsing my every larger collection of digital images from my Olympus. Konqueror has moved far beyond just being a file listing utility into a valuable tool in its own right. I still don't care for it as a web browser (I turn to Firefox), but for just about everything else it's as good if not better than the other alternatives.

The final reason (out of many) why I'm moving to KDE is Java. Up until Suse 10.2 and this release of KDE, I could not get anti-aliased fonts by default with Java under KDE. Now, with this version of KDE and Java 6, I get the same level of rendering quality under both platforms.



In this example I've created a simple C++ project inside of NetBeans 5.5. It might not be obvious from the screen capture, but the font rendering is very good and easy enough to read and work with for hours on end. With the high performance of Java 6, the right plugins for NetBeans, and the good looking font rendering, KDE can now be my default desktop, at least on this machine. It goes without saying that I need to install 10.2 on my Gateway notebook to fully test it's capabilities, but I have high confidence it will do just fine.

Thom Holwerda spoke of a problem with Gnome in his article, the lack of core maintainers for Gtk+. I agree with him that the lack of Gtk+ maintainers has a negative impact on the overall quality of Gnome. Gtk+ is the foundation for Gnome, and frankly, that foundation has collapsed. Gtk+ and Gnome were a response to KDE and Qt in the early days of the KDE desktop because Qt was not released under the GPL. Trolltech, the owners and maintainers of Qt, have long since addressed that issue, and Trolltech has continued to drive the features, performance, and overall quality of Qt to the point where it is one of the most polished multi-platform GUI toolkits around. And that quality adds to the quality of KDE. The motivation for Gtk+/Gnome's existence is gone, and has been gone for some time. The result has been the gradual eclipsing of Gnome by KDE, and it will only grow greater over time.

I believe that there's nothing that can be done for Gtk+, even if a miracle occurred and the right number of highly organized, superbly qualified software engineers suddenly appeared with a plan to fix the problems that beset Gtk+ and Gnome. Unfortunately finding such a group is nigh on impossible; they're already working for Redhat, Novell, Trolltech, Apple, and even Microsoft. The GUI toolkit is the foundation, the cement that helps build a great desktop environment. It takes years of vision and hard work to create it, and even more time to use it to build a great desktop and corresponding desktop experience. And all along the way the GUI toolkit needs nurturing to fix problems and evolve solutions to new challenges. Trolltech's Qt has this. Gtk+ does not.

Starting with Suse 10.2, KDE has my vote. It's fast, good looking, polished, and it works in ways I've come to expect from working in other environments. Unless KDE does something truly horrible to mess things up, then that's where I'll stay from here on out.

Update Dec 25th:
At 8:40 AM, frdrx said...
You can easily bring up the side pane directory tree in Nautilus by pressing F9 and choosing `Tree' from the pull down menu in the side pane.
That's true, after you've gone to the trouble to bring up gconf-editor, navigated down to /apps/nautilus/preferences, and then enabled always_use_browser. Once you've done that then you can toggle the side panel tree navigation via F9. But until you take that first step with gconf-editor, you've got spatial view and there's nothing available in Nautilus while it's in spatial mode to put it in browser mode. Toggling back and forth between spatial and browser is no big deal with Konqueror. The odd fact is that toggling between spatial and browser directly with Nautilus was available with Suse 10 (right before it became Open Suse). Why it was dropped from the application in later releases is an infuriating mystery.

Update Dec 26th:
At 12:36 PM, Behrang said...
Hi there,
Could you please let us know where have you found that background wallpaper? I want to download it :p
The wallpaper is known as known as Landscape Keltern #2. You can get it via the "Configure - KDesktop" utility when you right-click on the desktop and select it from the properties menu, as shown below.



This brings up the "Configure - KDesktop" dialog. The first selection on the left is of course the background image. On the lower right click the "Get New Wallpapers" button.



As you can see below, the "Get New Wallpapers" dialog presents a long list of wallpapers via the KDE-Look.org wallpapers section. Just click the one you want, and click the "Install" button in the lower right corner.



After installing the wallpaper, click 'OK' on the Configure dialog, and you're on your way.

FC6 Zod LiveCD: You win some, you loose some

Just in time for Christmas... The Fedora Project released a LiveCD of Fedora Core 6. I was able to download the 680MB CD ISO in about 20 minutes (broadband is a wonderful thing), then burn a CD and try it out on a few machines around the house.

A live CD is an opportunity to test-drive a distribution without having to perform any permanent installation to get it to work. Live CDs have been around for quite some time; I was introduced to Yggdrasil Linux via a live filesystem on a CDROM back in 1994. It was fortunate that long-time friend Jim Smith had a machine on which it would work at the time. It was a truly magical moment to see it boot and run from the CDROM. Now I take such functionality for granted, so much so that I expect it to come up and Just Work with the hardware as well as network resources such as a LAN and the web.

First the bad news: it failed to completely boot on my Gateway notebook. The part of the distribution that failed (as usual) was the graphical desktop. I was able to go to a text login and log in as root, just to check out the underlying OS. That part seems to have started just fine. But the desktop, or more specifically, Xorg, refused to play properly with the nVidia GeForce Go 7800 that's part of the notebook. More's the pity, I suppose. I managed to copy the dmesg and Xorg log files, and I'm mulling if I should file a bugzilla report.

Next, the good news. I popped it into europa, the home of OpenSuse 10.2 and Windows XP, and fired it up. This is the second time I've tried to run FC6 on europa. The first time I tried to install it on europa it failed. This time the LiveCD came up cleanly and the desktop worked the way it was intended to. In fact it worked almost too well: it came up in 1920 by 1440 resolution at 60Hz. I've got an aging Viewsonic P90f 19 inch monitor plugged in, and even though I could read it, the tiny text combined with 60Hz refresh drove my aging eyes crazy. I dropped the resolution down to 1280 by 1024 at 75Hz, and viewing became excellent and tack-sharp.



I like the desktop image for the LiveCD a lot better than I do the original DNA image for FC6. Somebody did a really good job on the photo. I don't even mind that it's blue. As you can see the desktop is clean, with a limited number of icons on the desktop. Note that my Western Digital Passport USB drive was automatically mounted and shows up on the desktop. It's a little touch, but it's a very nice touch. Current Linux distributions are filled with such nice little touches.

The first thing I had to try was Nautilus. Sure enough, it came up in crippled mode.



I know, I know. The 'crippled' view is supposed to be the 'right' view. Well, for quite a few of us it's not. We want the old fashioned Microsoft file-explorer view with a tree navigation pane on the left, not the older OS/2 file explorer view. As usual I fired up the Gnome configuration tool, and navigated down to the necessary flag and set it. The reader should note the fact that the Gnome configuration tool has the tree navigation view on the left.



With this version of Gnome on FC6, all it took was one setting (enable always_use_browser) to configure Nautilus to look and behave the way I've grown used to.



In fact, not only did I get the tree view, but I got magnification icons and the icons-vs-detailed view control back on the window. They seemed to disappear with Gnome 2.14, or at least the versions that shipped with OpenSuse 10 and 10.1.

After 'fixing' Nautilus I clicked on the system desktop link.



Right there on the computer view I noticed the Network icon, so like a monkey with any shiny object, I clicked it. The Network icon invokes the SMB services that turn on by default, and I was able to navigate to my daughter Megan's Windows XP shares.



As you can see, my daughter has a penchant for Monty Python and the Evil Dead movies (primarily because of Bruce Campbell). Among other things. The take-away from this is the ease of integrating with current Windows XP systems, at least in the home. I didn't have to configure anything at all. I just simply clicked my way to where I wanted to go. It Just Worked.

Of course I wanted to fire up Firefox and Gaim, two applications I use quite a bit. I was disappointed and surprised that Firefox 1.5 is still being used instead of 2.0



Although I can't state as an absolute fact, I'm pretty certain this is fallout from the Ice Weasel madness. This LiveCD is made from "all-free software", and that applies even to the logos of the applications. I'd like to think that Fedora Core is drama-free, but perhaps not.

I was also surprised by Gaim. In contrast to using only a prior release, FC6 LiveCD is using version 2.0 beta 5.



An interesting contrast between trailing edge Firefox and bleeding edge Gaim. As you can see It Just Worked. Which leads to the implication that the networking drivers and supporting subsystems (DHCP) also work out-of-the-box without any intervention on my part.

Conclusions

You're better off trying to run FC6 LiveCD on a desktop box as apposed to a very current notebook, such as the Gateway M685 (note that the Gateway runs Open Suse 10.1). When it runs, it runs extremely well. This is probably the best Gnome-based distribution I've seen to date, and that includes Ubuntu's latest stable release, 6.10. The FC6 LiveCD provides an excellent experience and introduction to Linux in general and Fedora Core 6 in particular.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Suse 10.2, part 2

I installed Suse 10.2 December 10th on my home system, europa. I've been working on it as time and schedule permit, documenting my experiences.

New Software

Java 6 was released one day after finished installing Suse, December 11th. I was able to download versions for both 32-bit Linux as well as Windows, and to put them on my Western Digital Passport (80GB) via my notebook. I plugged in the Passport into my home system, and as usual, Suse mounted the hardware without any problems. I was then able to install Java 6 for Linux off the Passport.

Why install Java 6? After all Java 5 (1.5.0) update 8 already installs with Suse 10.2. Why not use the installed Java 5? The short answer is that as good as Java 5 may be, Java 6 is demonstrably better than Java 5. I've been working with every release of Java 6 since June 2005, and it has gone from good to better to best to outstanding. It's a simple matter to run Java 6 side-by-side with Java5, and there are a number of applications (such as Open Office) that are dependent upon Java 5 being on the machine. I have no problems with that.

But there's a key feature available with Java 6 by default that is not available with Java 5; anti-aliased fonts. That feature comes in quite handy (along with many other new features) when running Java 6 with, say, NetBeans. After installing Java 6, I installed NetBeans 5.5 along with the profiler and the C/C++ pack. What follows is a screenshot of NetBeans with an empty C++ project.



There's a lot of good things to say about Java 6 and NetBeans. I'll start off by saying how fast both are. NetBeans starts up faster than any IDE I've yet seen, and it starts up faster than other NetBeans installations I have. It starts considerably faster under Suse 10.2 than when on Windows, and it starts faster than my NetBeans installation on Suse 10.1 and running on a Core Duo notebook. I don't know what's so special about the combination of Suse 10.2, Java 6, and NetBeans 5.5, but for this particular machine they all fly.

And, of course, there's the great performance I find when just working with NetBeans. It's a real pleasure to develop Java with this combination, and I look forward to moving some of my C++ projects over to NetBeans and its C++ pack and see how that works out.

Qt Surprise

One of the many surprises I found with Suse 10.2 is that Qt 4.2.1 is installed, not Qt 3. Qt 4.2.1 is the latest version from Trolltech, and I was mightily pleased to see it installed as the foundation for KDE. It's also one of the reasons I did not install KDevelop, and why I went with NetBeans for C++ development. The version of KDevelop that ships with Suse 10.2 still uses Qt 3, and installing KDevelop drags all of that onto the system. No thanks. One of the tasks I need to do in the near future is to try out the QtRuby bindings, and see how QtRuby looks with Qt 4. And maybe see what's new with QtRuby and Qt 4.



Mounting Other Filesystems

My first Suse 10.2 post wound up as part of a story on OSNews. One of the comment's made concerned the inability to mount and read NTFS and FAT32 file systems. I can assure folks that out-of-the-box, Suse 10.2 (like so many other releases before it) can mount them both, and can read and write FAT32 without any problems whatsoever (NTFS is mounted read-only, but it is quite readable). I close with a Nautilus view of my USB Passport, which as mentioned earlier was mounted and read just fine, thank you very much. And yes, I can perform every other operation you'd expect on that device.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Suse 10.2 first impressions

Suse is my distribution of choice. Up until Suse 10.2 I've never had any installation problems. But this time I did. It took me two days to figure out what the problem was that kept me from installing it. That's not to say I spent that entire time trying to install it; it is December, after all, and there's a lot going on this time of year.

System Setup

My primary home system is built around a Chaintech motherboard using the nVidia NForce 2 chipset, an AMD XP 3200+ (Barton core) processor and 1GB of DDR400 memory. The video card is an ATI 9700 Pro. All drives (hard and CD/DVD) use parallel ATA. All components were ordered from New Egg three years ago, with the upgrade to the 3200+ processor a year later. It dual boots between Windows XP and Linux. I didn't overclock anything, preferring rock-solid stability over trying to squeeze out that last percent of raw synthetic performance. It has been a rugged and reliable performer from the first time it was powered on.

Installation

When I attempted to install Open Suse 10.2 over 10.1, my first problem was trying to use a newer internal DVD burner as the installation device. It's a NEC DVD +/-R (ND-2510A) drive. I got it nine months ago in order to burn DVDs. Neither Windows/Nero nor Suse 10/K3B have had any problems using the drive, but trying to use the drive to boot Open Suse 10.2 ended in failure. The failure came while packages were being read off and installed on the system. The installer would randomly stop, saying that such-and-such a package failed an integrity check.

This wasn't the first time I experienced installation failure using that drive. I experienced a similar problem when attempting to install FC6. I stopped the FC6 installation when it failed to find a key package during installation. What makes it really annoying with Open Suse 10.2's failure is that I checked the newly burned DVD with the built-in media check. The media check said it was clean. The eventual solution was to use the older Lite-On drive (LTC-48161H) that was still on my system. Using the Lite-On I was able to install 10.2 without any issues.

I got lucky by having two DVD drives on my machine. After all, most normal users have only one. The only reason I have two is because I was too lazy to remove the original. I suspect the problem is buried within a kernel driver. Both FC6 and OS 10.2 are using kernel 2.6.18. It wouldn't surprise me if bit-rot has taken hold in some obscure corner of some obscure driver, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what it is.

I've got a 160GB drive on which to install Linux. From previous Suse usage the drive is partitioned into a root slice, a home slice, and an opt slice. I format and install onto the root and opt slices, but leave the home slice alone. With so much drive space I installed Gnome and KDE, with Gnome being the primary environment. I also installed gcc, the kernel sources, and various and sundry other development bits.

Running

I booted into the Gnome side. Although I started out using KDE years ago, I've since moved over to Gnome as my preferred desktop. I prefer Gnome's cleaner, uncluttered look. Before I did much of anything I went to Gnome Art and picked up "Clearlooks With A Cherry On Top" for the window border and then to Gnome Look for a set of OSX 3.1 icons. I installed both, tweaked my desktop theme to use them, and was good to go. There's a simple shot below.



The background came from Mandolux.

While I was tweaking around, playing with the window borders colors, I got this little pop-up on the desktop.



I've never gotten Gnome to crash before, and I've never seen a Bug Buddie until now. When Gnome crashed, it took out all the running applications on the desktop, and then left a 'hidden' Nautilus process chewing up 100% of the CPU. Great. I found it via my old buddy top, and killed the sucker. Bug Buddie wrapped up the crash into a message with a trace, and then sent it off to Gnome Bugzilla, where Bug 384263 was created.

Of course I restarted everything, and that's when I noticed that my choice of green may not be a good choice for Gnome. Gnome has adopted a new style for displaying collections of applications. You can see it if you look at the Application Browser and the Control Center. The problem with choosing green (Gilouche for example) is that it's used in surprising ways, such as the text color for labels. I show the Control Center below, the first in green, then in blue.





If you'll notice, the titles for 'Filter', 'Groups', and 'Common Tasks' all but disappear when green is selected. Black would have been fine, but somebody decided colored text was better.

Performance

As I've read elsewhere, the system seems more sluggish with this release than it was under 10.1. And it certainly is with the eye candy (XGL) enabled. I will say that this is the first time that XGL recognized my card and enabled the effects out-of-the-box. I've since turned it off, but I have a strong feeling that if I want it to perform faster then I'll have to install the ATI driver.

Tools

I've noticed that Ruby is now up to version 1.8.5, Python is up to version 2.5, and Java is at version 1.5 update 8 (Java off of Sun's site is at update 10). I was surprised to see gcc at 4.1.2 prerelease. The inclusion of the gcc version is a far cry from other distributions in the past, who lagged even the regular release versions by one, and sometimes two, major releases.

Initial Thoughts

There's more to investigate with Open Suse 10.2. I'm a bit annoyed that a number of fonts I use are missing in action. I'm curious about how this kernel is going to really work out. And I need to install the ATI driver and see if the desktop performance picks up. I've basically turned off XGL because of it. I know that this system is quite capable of good graphics-based performance, because I can see it and use it under Windows XP.

I don't know what to say about the initial problems with installation, of the single odd crash. I've already gotten mail back from the Gnome developers asking if I can add more information to the stack trace. Yeah, right. Like I can easily trigger the fault. I will say this about Bug Buddy and the responses I've gotten so far. It beat the hell out of Windows crash reporting, where it sends out the crash report and then sends me to a web page with very little useful information.

Open Suse 10.2 is a keeper on this system. I have my work notebook, a Gateway running a Core Duo, that has 10.1 installed on it. I'd like to step the notebook up to 10.2 just to see if the latest kernel can finally enable sound with the Intel chip set, but I don't want to risk having any installation problems with the notebook's DVD drive. And I've heavily tweaked and updated key subsystems already that give me a lot of what is installed with 10.2.

I'm going to keep looking at 10.2 on this system, and file more reports as time and circumstance permit.