Sunday 24 October 2010

Rhythmbox Annoyances

I've seen a lot of swish looking mock-ups and modified versions of Rhythmbox such as Rhythm-e and others but they all seem to concentrate on it's looks and layout. What I'd like to see is the annoying little bugs and improvements in performance and features which have been in Rhythmbox for years but still haven't been fixed. I only use Rhythmbox for adding music to my mp3 players and mainly use Gmusicbrowser for playing music. Here's a not-exhaustive list of Rhythmbox annoyances and feature requests:

Rhythmbox can only have one music folder.

I've recently discovered this since my 250GB hard drive I store music is nearly full so I have some music on another hard drive but there's no option to add another folder, unlike my preferred player, Gmusicbrowser. This means if I want to add music to my Mp3 player I have to find another option. I could use sym-links but that's inelegant and a new user shouldn't have to do that either. (Apologies for the blurryness of the images, click for a better view, having trouble with Bloggers uploader)

Compare that with Gmusicbrowser with multiple folders:

Erroneous import errors

When scanning or rescanning the music folder, rhythmbox shows "Import Errors" with a red 'no entry' symbol, which makes it hard to ignore, but when you look at them they are mostly album covers. Gmusicbrowser has an option in preferences: "Do not add songs that can't be played" as you can see in the above screenshot.

Visible Columns has no option to change the order they appear.

Pretty much every opther player has the option to move the columns either by dragging them or in preferences. I want Artist, Title, Album, Time, Quality in that order!

There are some things Rhythmbox does do well like handling devices, it works better with mp3 players than Gmusicbrowser (which seems to have no support) and Banshee which has trouble with the SD card in my Sansa Fuze. Also I have recently found out Rhythmbox actually transcodes FLAC and ogg on-the-fly to iPods and accessing DAAP shares works well. But Rhythmbox's school report would read: "Has been essentially coasting for several years, has improved in some areas but needs to buckle up and get this sorted! Must do better."

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Unboxing My Newly Arrived (and early) Birthday Present - a 4GB Sansa Fuze

My main birthday present this year arrived early, it's a 4GB Sansa Fuze mp3 player. I requested a Fuze rather than the new Fuze+ for two reasons. For one you can pick up the 4GB version for around £35 through Amazon and I think it's a backward step removing the scroll-wheel for the Fuze+. My Fuze was nicely packaged in a plastic bubble-pack that arrived in a Jiffy bag that actually fitted through the letterbox, for once. I would have liked to have preserved the packaging a bit but I had to hack it about with scissors to free the little beauty. The back of the pack has the player's specs on and I noticed they don't even mention that it can play FLAC for some reason. It does actually play the usual mp3 and WMA, plus ogg and FLAC, which is another thing it has over an iPod. It's also a lot cheaper than a similar sized Nano and has a microSD card slot for expansion. I'm using my 8GB card that I had in my Sansa Clip+.

Package Contents:

  • 4GB Sansa Fuze Player
  • Proprietary USB lead
  • Earphones
  • 8cm driver disc
  • Pretty little flip booklet for quick usage instructions
  • Instruction booklet

The player feels nice to hold, it's rubberised backside preventing it from slipping out of my hand and the 'piano black' finish to the upper surface looks nice but as usual attracts finger prints very easily. The iPod-like click-wheel is also rubberised. There is a slight rough plastic edge at the base of the player but that's not much to grumble about and it does feel more durable than the Clip+ The power-on slider is on the right-hand side of the player and you slide it down for the Hold function to prevent the buttons being pressed while it sits in your pocket. This is a 'physical' hold function that's much preferable to the smaller Sansa Clip+'s software hold function. I'm not quite sure why the headphone socket is on the bottom edge of the player but it's not much bother, I'll just have it upside down in my jacket pocket.

On turning on the player, I was greeted with a nice little graphic and it booted fast. I checked the firmware version in System -> Settings -> info and no surprises that it isn't the latest version. Upgrading firmware was easy, and much easier and quicker using the manual method rather than using the Windows only update tool. I followed the instructions on Sansa forum, just extract the two files into the root directory of the player, safely remove the player and wait while it updates, which took only a few seconds. The new firmware restricts the volume of the player (to comply with EU regulations) if you set it to English/EU region, so it's best to set the language to English but then set location to "rest of the world" so you can actually hear it properly in noisy areas!

The user interface is rather nice looking, though it takes a little getting used to if you are switching from using an iPod as there are slight differences in navigation. Like the iPod, the Now Playing section shows the album cover and info and click the middle button to show just the album cover or info plus graphic etc. Another thing I like about the Fuze (and other Sansa players) is that you can delete tracks from the player interface and it can show you the info about the track - bitrate, filesize, format etc - which the iPod cannot. As with other Sansa players, the Fuze works best in MSC (mass storage device, like a USB stick) mode when using it with Linux, working well with Rhythmbox on Ubuntu. I find it's best to set the player to only use MSC mode rather than setting it to auto or MTP.

The sound quality is excellent, certainly as good as my iPod Mini, but like the iPod, you're best of ditching the little earbuds you get with it, to take advantage of it. It would be nice if it used a normal micro-USB connector rather than the proprietary connector, much like the iPods, but unlike my iPod's connector, this one stays in better thanks to release clips either side. Also I've seen them on Ebay for about £3 so it's handy to get a spare/replacement cable.


So far I'm very impressed with the Fuze, it's good value for money, particularly compared with an iPod Nano. I like it's interface, great sound quality, codec support, look and feel. As long as it's reliable and the battery life is usable (24hr while playing audio, according to the manual) I'll be happy.


I've installed alternative firmware - Rockbox - on my Fuze to achieve perfect gapless playback - and I've detailed that in a new blogpost.

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Monday 11 October 2010

Ubuntu 10.10 - First Impressions

Ubuntu 10.10 (codename: Maverick Meercat) was recently released at 10:10am on 10/10/10. I upgraded from 10.0.4 on my HP nc4400 notebook (2.0ghz Core 2 Duo, 2.5GB RAM, 120GB HDD) and the upgrade went very smoothly. After upgrading all I had to do was re-enable or re-add my PPAs/ software repositories, including adding the new Medibuntu repo. The main things I noticed immediately are slight changes like tweaked login screen, "Ubuntu One - Syncronize this folder" in the Documents folder and the nice new font, so I decided to install Maverick in Virtualbox to experience a fresh install.

After the the live CD has finished booting you are greeted with the new installer. It is even simpler to use than it was previously. As usual you can try the live desktop or start installing straight away.

Next up Ubuntu now has a check list to ensure a smooth install. Also tick "Third Party Software" and you get mp3 playing 'out-the-box'! Also very useful is being able to download updates while installing which saves a bit of time.

Then choose your partitioning - going for fresh install and letting Ubuntu choose automatically here.

..and next a confirmation page, last chance to check your settings before your hard drives are formatted...

User Settings: Here is where I noticed that Ubuntu starts installing whilst you fill in your details, which saves time yet again. After choosing keyboard settings, username password, the installer moves on to....

..the new installer slideshow, which you can now move backwords and forwards in, with a nice little effect. It highlights the new version of Software Centre, Shotwell photo manager (which replaces F-Spot, which I never liked), Ubuntu One's new mobile syncing abilities and Rhythmbox integration, it's new sound applet, Firefox, OpenOffice, and Ubuntu's built-in social networking (Gwibber, Evolution, Empathy, MeMenu).

And soon after (install on a fast machine can be as quick as 10-15 minutes) it's time to reboot into the install.

After a sprightly boot-up this is the fresh Ubuntu desktop. Not sure about that wallpaper but it's much better than the one seen previously during the beta.

The window controls are still in the 'wrong' place!

This is fairly easily sorted though. Do CTRL + F2, type "gconf-editor" and press enter. Navigate to Metacity -> general and then double click on the entry beside "button_layout" and change it so it looks like the screenshot below. Alternatively you can also switch to an older theme like Clearlooks that uses the normal button arrangement.


I have to say on trying a fresh install, this is the smoothest Ubuntu install I've experienced and possibly one of the smoothest OS installs out there. I'm starting to notice new little things like the waste basket/ trash is now the Rubbish Bin (in UK language settings) and I love the new font. The new sound applet is better than I expected, much improved over early versions, I might actually find it useful now with Rhythmbox. Hopefully it will eventually work with my favourite player Gmusicbrowser at some point. Also I notice deb files now open with the Software Centre by default.

My only niggle is that since I upgraded my laptop, it has upgraded Deluge to version 1.3.0, which isn't in the Deluge PPA, which means it won't connect to my Deluge daemon on my server, since they have to be the same version. I'm keeping my server on the LTS release so I'll see if I can downgrade my laptops Deluge client. At the moment I can make do with using the web interface instead. Update 14/10/10: version 1.3.0 has now arrived in the Deluge PPA.

Many of 10.10's new features are under the surface and on an upgrade from 10.0.4 it's harder to spot them at first. On a fresh install though you can see that a lot of work has gone into making it as easy and smooth as possible. I'm going to explore 10.10's features as I go along on this laptop but I'm keeping my desktop on 10.0.4 and servers which will only be upgraded when the next LTS arrives.

Download Ubuntu here

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