Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How To Add a Battery Applet To LXLE

I noticed after some use of the excellent LXLE distro on my Dell D430, that there was no battery monitor installed by default. There is an ASCII type monitor in the menu but not an applet, so I did a bit of Googling and found this little how-to for LXDE in Lubuntu/Mint. I had to modify that a little. I shall reproduce the entire method here anyway in case that page disappears.

Install fdpowermon in the same way with:

sudo apt-get install fdpowermon

Next up it's slightly different since the sessions are different in LXLE. There are 5 sessions: G2-Paradigm, Netbook-Paradigm, OSX-Paradigm, Unity-Paradigm and XP-Paradigm so replace as appropriate.

gksu gedit /etc/xdg/lxsession/XP-Paradigm/autostart 

Then append @fdpowermon as in the original how-to like so:

Save the file and exit, then logout and login and you'll now have a battery monitor applet, and we're done!

Monday, 21 April 2014

LXLE on a Dell Latitude D430

Until a few days ago, my Dell Latitude D430 was running Elementary OS, but I was getting frustrated at it's layout and decided to have a change of distro. A friend of mine recommended a distro called LXLE. It's a lightweight distro always based off the LTS release of Lubuntu, the LXDE desktop flavour of Ubuntu. It has various PPAs added and extra software, (useful codecs, applets etc) added. I've tried Lubuntu before but I didn't really like it for some reason. However, upon trying LXLE as a virtual machine in Virtualbox, I found LXLE to have a much better out-of-the-box experience than Lubuntu, so I decided it would be ideal for my D430.

LXLE feels more more consistent and overall neater than Lubuntu. Also Firefox is the default browser rather than Chromium. My only real criticism is I can't seem to find the shortcuts for switching desktops, which is usually Ctrl + Alt + Cursor keys for Lubuntu. I also think there are too many little games installed by default though that's only a minor point. Oh and there's no battery applet installed by default. Out the box, there's a panel at the bottom like Windows and a dock-style panel on the left that is set to auto-hide. I have changed the layout slightly, moving the lower panel to the top and the side one to the bottom, (keeping the lower panel in auto-hide mode). I have also installed Guake terminal and Dropbox.

LXLE has lots of tweaks and add-ons by default than Lubuntu like Aero Snap, Quick Launch, and there are "Four familiar desktop layout paradigms" though I stick with the XP paradigm, these can be chosen at the login screen under Sessions. The desktop system monitor and weather applet are neat touches too.

My Dell Latitude D430 has a 1.33Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU with 2GB of RAM which is the maximum supported, which I have found previously to struggle with "full fat" desktop OS and lots of browser tabs open, but it really flies on LXLE! Much like all *buntu flavours, it uses the same familiar installer and all the hardware works out the box. It feels even faster than Xubuntu 12.04 and Elementary OS, and I shall keep LXLE on it for now, I'd definitely recommend it for low end laptops and desktops and ideal to replace the recently unsupported Windows XP.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Upgrading from Xubuntu 12.04 to 14.04

I have just upgraded my Samsung N145 netbook from Xubuntu 12.04 LTS directly to 14.04 LTS using "sudo do-release-upgrade -d" - which needs the "-d" because usually you are supposed to wait for the point release (14.04.1) before upgrading from the previous LTS.

The upgrade went very smoothly, mainly because I only have a couple of PPAs added, most of the other software is from the default repos. The main new features I noticed were the much better looking login/lock screen (Light Locker), prettier boot screen and the new Whisker Menu which replaces the old menu. Note if you have upgraded from 12.04 you will have to replace the old menu yourself by removing the old one from the panel and adding the new one. Sean Davis has already done a nice rundown of the new features in 14.04. Overall it seems to be worth the upgrade, a good solid release.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ubuntu 14.04 and it's other flavours have been released

The latest LTS from Canonical has now been released, Ubuntu 14.04 "Trusty Tahr" and of course the Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu versions should all be available. I managed to download the Ubuntu version in just 15 minutes, by direct download, and have also downloaded the Xubuntu version. Next up I'll be upgrading some of my machines from 12.04 LTS directly and hopefully do a review.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Windows 9: Microsoft’s Latest Effort to Stay Relevant

Microsoft will announce Windows 8′s successor, codename “Threshold”, at their annual build conference in April this year, and most likely release it as Windows 9 in April 2015.

Windows 9, Windows 8, laptop

First a little history lesson. After the poorly received Vista and popular Windows 7, and after having missed the smartphone and tablet boom of the Apple iPad and Google’s Android systems, Microsoft decided to muscle in on the smartphone and tablet market with Windows RT and Phone 8 operating systems. But Microsoft made the big mistake of forcing the Metro (“modern”) interface in Windows 8 onto every platform, including non-touchscreen desktop and laptop computers. This has confused and frustrated a lot of users, no matter how many expensive TV adverts Microsoft put out. Microsoft Surface and Windows Phones have not made much of a dent either.

Windows 9, Windows 8, AOL Repeat

First Microsoft already has a  minor fix for 8 called 8.1, which merely brings back the Start button as well as some other fixes. This is a mistake since users don’t only miss the Start button, but actually miss the Start Menu too. As I have said before, switching from the touch-friendly Metro to the not very touch friendly desktop and back again feels awkward. Doing that every time I want to search for an application gets old fast! Both Apple and Google have sensibly, generally, kept desktop and mobile devices on separate operating systems (OSX and iOS, ChromeOS and Android) although Android seems to have jumped to all-in-one desktops at CES2014. However Android with it’s many OEMs, is far more flexible than Windows when it comes to custom interfaces. With the right skin, Android could make some inroads into all-in-one or laptop markets.

Lenovo ThinkVison-28

As Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott states here, Windows 9 “needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.” Although nothing has been set in stone yet, it will most likely have a windowed version of Metro that will work better on the desktop. This will supposedly make Metro apps, however few and little-used they are, integrate better into the desktop.

Microsoft’s backtracking fix to Windows basically makes Windows 8/8.1 the new Vista/SP1, but it might be too late for Windows to stay relevant for long. Google Chromebooks have outsold Macbooks in the US, and iPads are still leading tablet sales in the US. With Android dominating smartphones worldwide and making fast inroads into desktops and hybrid laptops, Microsoft Windows seems to becoming increasingly irrelevant. As Thrurrott put it, “Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.” With many home users only needing browser based web apps and social networking sites, a Chromebook or Android desktop/laptop/tablet could be all they need. Even in the usually Windows dominant gaming market, Steam boxes that run Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS could eventually replace Windows once enough games are available in Steam for Linux. In the corporate world, most businesses will probably stick with the familiar Windows 7 until mainstream support for it ends in January 2015 while planning a switch away from Windows to a more secure, flexible platform, be that Chromebook and server based apps, Ubuntu or other desktop Linux, Android or OSX. One thing’s for sure, Microsoft Windows has a treacherous rocky road ahead.

Google Notifier Has Finally Been Retired

Although Google had warned on the 10th January earlier this year, Google Notifier Beta had still been working fine for some until a day or so ago. The email stated that “Starting on January 31, 2014, Google Notifier Beta will no longer be supported, meaning the app will no longer show recent emails and calendar events.” Google now recommends enabling Desktop Notifications in Gmail and Calendar or installing the Gmail Checker Chrome app, though the minority who still use PowerPC Macs (such as myself) will be out of luck since Chrome is of course Intel only which is kind of a shame really.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thoughts On Convergence and Why Google and Apple Got It Right and Microsoft Got It Wrong

In a brief interview with Macworld to mark the 30th anniversary of the Mac, Apple's executive Phil Schiller (and his cohort Craig Federighi, I keep misreading his name as Ferengi...) affirmed that the Mac still has a bright future "as far as our eye can see." Federighi went on to say “It’s obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience? We believe, no.” Obviously the Mac will stick around as it would hardly be practical to write iOS apps (or lots of other heavy desktop work) on an iOS device.

Now I may not be a massive fan of Apple and I particularly get riled up when it comes to their attitude to patents, but as far as the desktop computer is concerned, Apple have got one thing right. Despite the massive success of the iPhone and iPad, they have kept OSX and iOS seperate, with just a little convergence between the two. There is Dashboard, iMessage, trackpad gestures and the admittedly silly "Natural Scrolling" but that's about it. OSX is still a reasonably usable desktop OS, albeit a fixed, non-customizable one.

Microsoft on the other hand, have, in my opinion, got things very wrong! They basically shovelled the Metro (I refuse to call it "Modern") interface onto phone, tablet and, most annoyingly, desktop with Windows 8. Microsoft has confused and annoyed a lot of users with this abomination. Even 8.1 does not really fix things, it merely brings back the Start button rather than what a lot of desktop users actually want which is the Start menu. Windows 9 will supposedly fix things by putting Metro apps in a windowed app on the desktop but we shall see. By then though it may be too late and Windows will be irrelevant, perhaps it already is...

Google have ChromeOS and Android. They have, at least on their own devices, kept them separate. ChromeOS is aimed at laptops and desktops as the browser is the desktop to Google. Chromebooks are great for those who need a second machine for writing, browsing and other light work. Despite Microsoft's FUD, Chromebooks are actually useful offline too. Things have taken a slightly different approach recently with some OEMs like Lenovo and HP putting Android onto all-in-one desktops and laptops, presumably to take advantage of the huge amount of apps in the Play store. I am not quite sure how I feel about this yet, I have yet to see what they are like in the flesh. If, and that's a big if, they have skinned Android to make it more desktop-like, they might be onto something but I don't think Android is quite right in it's stock form for a desktop PC, at least as a work computer, though it would be great as a touchscreen jukebox or media centre.

For things like photo and video editing, music production though I would rather have a full OS such as a 'proper' Linux distro, my personal preference at the moment being Linux Mint with Cinnamon desktop. With Linux, and pretty much any desktop, I like a top panel with the usual indicators, a searchable menu on the left and a dock at the base of the screen on one monitor, the great thing about Linux is it is so customizable!

Again I am not really keen on Ubuntu's Unity or Gnome Shell as I think it gets in the way of what I want to do, I don't like massive fullscreen menus covering almost a whole screen, which is one reason I hate Metro on Windows 8. And one day Ubuntu Touch might work well on phones and tablets but I just cannot get on with it on the desktop and I really have tried to like it. One thing I would (or would have liked) from Canonical is Ubuntu for Android, it would be great to take my phone, dock it to a HDMI monitor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and have Ubuntu instantly load up on the monitor and still be able to use Android apps in a window on the desktop. This would be cool for travelling light for cubicle people.

I love having a (reasonably) powerful, multi-monitor desktop for AV stuff, Steam games etc, then switching over to a laptop for late night blogging and browsing. My Nexus 7 is great for light browsing and casual gaming and my Galaxy S3 is my camera, on-the-go browser, info-finder and above all, phone! Firefox syncs browser history and tabs between all three devices and my files are never far away with Dropbox or Copy or Linux home server on the LAN.

I have also been using PushBullet to receive Android Notifications on the desktop from phone and tablet. It's also good for quickly sending links between devices. It works OK but I wish there was a proper, fully formed desktop app on Linux that would do it better. Something like KDE Connect, but not so tied to KDE, would be great. Overall, I like having different devices and form factors for different purposes but with some synchronicity between them.