Saturday 5 November 2011

HTC Hero - My First Android Phone

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me....yes it's my birthday and this HTC Hero is my main present, it's also my first proper smartphone (my previous phone being a Samsung Monte S5620) and it's my first Android phone. Don't worry, I've scheduled this post and I'm really out having fun and hopefully I'm fairly merry right about now! Oh and sorry about the quality of the photo, took it in low light on my Monte.

I've actually had it for a week or so now and I love it! When I first got it, I played with the stock HTC version of Android for a bit, but found it a bit limiting settings-wise and me being a tinkerer and Linux user, I wanted to have a good rummage and tweak! I tried a few different alternative firmwares starting with Cyanogenmod and finally settled on VillainROM. It's based on Cyan but has the Google apps included by default and has some extra tweaks, including LauncherPro installed by default. The only thing I miss from the original firmware is part of HTC Sense, that nice weather widget that shows drops of rain and a wiper when it rains!

Here's what I love about my Android phone so far:

  • Being able to customise almost everything! Almost every little thing about the OS is tweakable! (though I do forget how I've done things sometimes!)
  • Ability to disable mobile data and just use WIFI, this is important for me as I'm on Pay As You Go, and as far as I know, this isn't possible on the iPhone. (Update: Is possible on iPhone 3GS, 4, and 4S) On my previous phone some apps would turn on the 3G without asking, sapping my credit.
  • Install apps from Android Market using the browser on my computer, as well as on the phone itself, so it's very convenient and easy to keep track of what's installed. AppBrain is another useful site to discover new and interesting apps to install through their app that connects to Market and gives more info and stats for apps I also like being able to install single apps from other places. It's also quite handy to upload the odd app to Dropbox for install on the phone via the Dropbox app.
  • Store Apps on MicroSD card. This is a great feature of Android. It saves on onboard memory enabling me to have over 70 apps!
  • Gmail app - It's such a good app that I pretty much only check my emails on my phone now, I haven't opened Thunderbird in days!
  • Uploading photos as soon as they are taken. The Hero has a reasonable 5MP camera and I like the convenience of not having to connect via USB to upload my photos. They automatically upload to Google, but I also use the UbuntuOne app that also uploads automatically as soon as I get a connection, very handy!
  • Enable Quiet Hours. I don't know whether this is available on iOS, Blackberry etc, but this is a great feature, it means that no one can wake me up in the middle of the night by calling me but I'll hear it ring when it gets to a reasonable time

Favourite apps:

Tomdroid: Android version of Tomboy that I use on Ubuntu. Although you cannot edit the notes on the phone, it is still handy to have access to them.

Dropbox, UbuntuOne, and Wuala: 3 very useful apps for accesssing online storage.

TaskOS: Shopping list type app that syncs with Google Tasks. This along with the Google Calendar app have replaced my Palm Tungsten for keeping appointments, shopping list etc.

Quickmark: The nicest free bar code scanner that I've tried so far.

Cubed: Music player that has a great coverflow-style view option for flicking through albums, scrobbling to (via either Scrobble Droid or Simple Scrobbler) and good album art support. It can use local or embedded art or download it. And of course, like a lot of Android players it supports Ogg and FLAC aswell as the usual Mp3 and AAC. I prefer not to use AAC as it seems it's tags are not supported on Android. I also quite like the Songbird Android app but it doesn't have any way to manually add or change album art.

And many more!
Google+, Reddit Mobile, Overlook Fing (awesome network info tool), ConnectBot and sshdroid ssh client and server, Wifi Analyzer, Maverick (another wifi tool for wardriving), Android VNC, SCDB (warns of speed cameras), ElectroDroid (gives pin outs for electrical cables, conversion tools etc). These are just some of the apps I have installed, you can see all of them on AppBrain.

All the apps I've listed here are all free on the Android Market. If you have any suggestions of interesting and useful apps please feel free to mention them in the comments.

Update 01/12/11
I've replaced LauncherPro, which comes with Villainrom, and handles the desktop, with GoLauncher as it has nicer options and seems more responsive and less inclined to crash. I've also just installed Beautiful Widgets (which can be had from GetJar for free) as it has clock and weather widgets much like HTC Sense has.

Friday 14 October 2011

Ubuntu 11.10: The Good, The Bad and The Unity (Revisited)

Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) is now out, and since I needed to change the hard drive on my Dell latitude D505 (the previous one having serious errors) I thought I'd try a fresh install of Oneiric. The LiveCD installer feels more polished than ever before, so the install started on a positive note.

One neat feature is a new screen that gives you the choice of a fresh install, install alongside and now also offered an upgrade from 10.0.4 to 11.10 which used to be not possible unless you installed the inbetween releases too. You used to be only able to skip versions by upgrading from LTS to LTS. The install was speedy as usual, even on this Pentium M 1.6ghz laptop with a Gig of RAM and slow 4200rpm 30GB hard drive.

Once the install completed, I rebooted, or rather i tried to, for some reason it hung on the shutdown. I had to force to power off and start it up again. Some blank screen and a nice Ubuntu logo and then a swish new login screen greeted me. Looks great but it's yet another login screen i have to get used to, after going from GDM to GDM2 then this, LightDM. This probably won't bother new users, however who may appreciate the eye candy but it's annoying to keep having to relearn how to edit and tweak it each time! For instance I prefer to not have the users names on the login screen, it's more secure, one more thing for a thief to guess.
Update: How to hide user list in LightDM

This release comes with the latest Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird is now default mail client in 11.10, instead of Evolution, and I actually really like it now! It actually works very well, much better than it used to, so much that I may not even install my previously favourite, Evolution. It looks great and it helps that Thunderbird is also my default mail client on my Powerbook G4.

Also on the good side of things, Software Centre looks better, more polished, and works just fine. On the bad side of things, UbuntuOne sync is refusing to sync my Tomboy Notes. File syncing works fine but I really rely on Tomboy Notes being synced, it's ideal for planning my blogposts. This is especially annoying as Tomboy syncing was working fine in previous releases! Another bug I notice for some reason Dropbox doesn't seem to be integrated into nautilus anymore, whether this is an incompatibility with Oneiric or something else I'm not sure.
Update: Oddly this only occurred on a fresh install, worked fine on upgrade from 11.0.4 to 11.10 after deleting the dropbox-dist folders.

Sadly the most annoying change in this release is the lack of a "Gnome Classic" login by default. It is possible to install it, as in this post, but it's more like Gnome3 Fallback which, as I've mentioned in a previous blogpost, I'm also not keen on this either! It just isn't quite like Gnome2 enough.

As I've said in a previous post, I'm not keen on Unity, it really stifles my productivity! I like being able to see and use more than one app at the same time and if i wanted a big-buttoned tablet-optimized interface I'd use a tablet OS like Android!

Thankfully, there is another option.....

Xubuntu To The Rescue!

After putting up with Unity for around 30mins, I could take no more, I installed the Xubuntu desktop (sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop). I have not used XFCE in awhile and was quite surprised how much smoother and slicker it is. It feels like a much more traditional, saner desktop that Unity/Gnome Shell. Some things are still a little confusing at first like adding items to panels. You have to right click, add items, add a launcher, then right click the launcher, add item, search for the app(s) you want and add them. Xubuntu by default uses two panels, the top one has the XFCE menu, open apps, and Indicator tray, MeMenu, clock and session menu. The lower panel is set up like a dock that auto-hides and is set translucent. it's really quite attractive and there are plenty of nice themes. XFCE's System info in Settings looks and works much better than it used to, such as the Background settings allows a different wallpaper each time you log on. I used to use (now defunct) wallpaper-tray app for this on Gnome2.

Update: Although XFCE's default file manager, Thunar, isn't bad, I've switched to nautilus which you can change in the Settings Manager. I've also switched from the painfully slow Ristretto, XFCE's default image viewer, to Gthumb.



To me, this release is more of a polished version of 11.0.4, but with the disadvantage of not having the Gnome2 login option, and being stuck with Unity. So those who like Unity in 11.0.4 will probably love this release but for those who don't, like me, this release is merely another reason to switch to Xubuntu or another distro. I'm quite happy with Xubuntu for now, as Linus Torvalds said, "it's a step down from Gnome2 but a step up from Gnome3" and it's certainly a step up from the Unity interface!

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Using an Apple Powerbook G4 in 2011

Having recently acquired a 667Mhz "TiBook" Powerbook G4, I set about bringing it up to date, software-wise. The previous owner has already maxed out the RAM to 1GB and installed a faster, 60GB, hard drive. Most Tibook's have a DVD ROM or combo drive, but mine has the optional CD writer. It arrived with OSX Panther installed, so using a Firewire DVD writer, I did a fresh install of Leopard using Leopard Assist to get around it's 867Mhz minimum requirement. It tricks the Open Firmware into reporting 933Mhz to the OS. Once complete, this can be reset by resetting the PRAM and NVRAM.

It's surprising how usable how this 9 year Powerbook is for every day use. I mainly use it for general web browsing and with MIDI music software. Native Instruments B4 (Hammond organ emulator) works perfectly with no lag using a USB (1.0!) MIDI keyboard with the onboard audio (on a PC, with Windows, I had to install a Creative Soundblaster Audigy2). The only problem these days is finding apps that still work with PowerPC Macs, thankfully there are quite a few free and/or open source apps around, here's the main free apps I use:

Web Browser: TenFourFox
For web browsing, Firefox and Opera no longer support PowerPC Macs. Luckily, there's TenFourFox, an upto date version of Firefox for older G3 and G4 Macs, of course there's still Safari, however although it's quick, I don't find it as useful and my favourite add-ons are not available for it.

E-mail: Thunderbird
I'm not that keen on Apple Mail, I prefer Mozilla Thunderbird. Since the latest version does not support PPC, I'm using version 3.1.15. I've also tried Eudora but I find Thunderbird easier to use.

Instant Messenger: Adium
Adium uses the libpurple core of Pidgin to support multiple IM networks. I also use Skype which still currently supports PowerPC Macs.

Twitter Client (Updated): YoruFukurou (NightOwl) Twidget
This was the hardest thing to find. Since the last Authocalypse, there are very few Twitter clients left standing that still run on PowerPC Macs, particularly native clients. I had settled on Syrinx donation-ware, and i found it thanks to this blogpost. However due to lack of RT or Retweet in the app, I've been looking for alternatives and I've now found YoruFukurou which is a much nicer, more usable app. Unlike Syrinx, NightOwl has real time updates, multiple accounts, it's what you'd call fully featured! Update 31/12/12: Alas Yorufukuru seems to have lost PPC support so I'm without a full Twitter client, as I can't find a working free client (with a gui at least) for PPC Mac, apart from Twidget which is useful for a quick check but a bit uncomfortable to use for some serious tweetage.

YouTube: MacTubes
Probably one of the best YouTube viewing/downloading apps I've used, MacTubes is a very useful app (especially if/when Flash on PPC becomes unavailable in the browser).

Video Player: VLC
Quicktime stutters with downloaded YouTube videos, that play perfectly in VLC Media Player which also happens to pretty much play anything!

iTunes Alternative: Vox
iTunes is OK on OSX, but for when I need a quick, lightweight music player there's Vox which can play much more than iTunes, including FLAC, Musepack, Monkey's Audio, OGG Vorbis, and many others. It can even export to AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, NeXT/Sun and WAV.

VNC Client: Chicken Of VNC
Chicken Of VNC is a fast, lightweight VNC client for OSX.

Music Player Daemon Client: Theremin
For accessing music on a server, Music Player Daemon or MPD is very useful and has plenty of clients. My favourite client for OSX is Theremin (named after the groovy hand-waiving instrument).

CD Ripper (Updated 31/12/12): X Lossless Decoder
I used to prefer Max, but I've since discovered X Lossless Decoder (XLD) which is a much more capable app, especially as I have recently had trouble with Max not downloading CDDB info. XLD is very much like a Mac version of Exact Audio Copy, and ideal for those who appreciate quality audio rips.

Mp3 tag Editor: MusicBrainz Picard
Picard is one of the only tag editors I could find that still supports PowerPC with a Universal Binary.

Office Suite: LibreOffice
LibreOffice is the free open source cross-platform office suite based on OpenOffice, I also considered NeoOffice although their latest PowerPC version is not as upto date as their Intel Mac version.

Audio Editor: Audacity
Audacity is possibly the best free audio editor available for all Mac, Windows or Linux and there is a Universal binary available for OSX.

Overall, I'm rather pleased with my Powerbook, it's just about quick enough for most basic stuff and I've been using it as my main laptop since I got it. It's lighter, thinner, more comfortable and has a nicer screen than my other main workhorse laptop, my 1.6ghz Dell latitude D505. I also like the way the Powerbook suspends and resumes perfectly. Don't get me wrong, I still love Linux and I love my Ubuntu desktop machine! I'd almost consider dual booting with Linux on the Powerbook if it wasn't the lack of flash browser plugins for PPC Linux. Also I still miss Hotot which is only available natively in Linux or as a Chrome/Chromium app (which won't run on PPC OSX).

Update 31/12/12

I now have a later 1Ghz Tibook with 1GB of RAM and it runs much nicer with 1GB of RAM (it came with 512MB). I'm dual booting with Leopard and Xubuntu 12.04 and both run very well. I'm using it more than my main laptop (Dell Latitude D430) as I prefer the larger screensize and keyboard of the TiBook, though I often end use my tablet for YouTube. The Tibook is fine for general browsing (Facebook, G+, Twitter web etc). I can't decide which I prefer using on it, Linux or OSX, as they both work well, OSX still has (an old version of) Flash but at least on PowerPC Linux there are proper Twitter clients I can use like Turpial.

Monday 12 September 2011

A HP dc7800 And A Stubborn Card Reader

Since my home-built PC's cheapo Asrock Alive VSTA AM2 motherboard seemed to be dieing a slow death (one of it's 2 RAM slots having already failed) I needed a replacement. Not having enough money to replace the motherboard and/or CPU, I chanced upon a bargain, an ultra low priced HP dc7800. Although it's not brand new, this machine is still a beast, built solidly and is powerful enough for my liking. It has an E6750 Core 2 Duo CPU (2.66 GHz, 4 MB L2 cache, 1333 MHz FSB) and can take up to 8GB of RAM in it's 4 slots. Since my old boards one remaining slot supported only 4GB and I only had 2GB DDR2 sticks, this was a nice upgrade. So I installed all the DDR2 I had, 2x 2GB and 2x 1GB, for an awesome 6GB of RAM, this machine runs Ubuntu much smoother and gives me enough oomph for some VirtualBox virtual machines. Also, unlike my old board, this has plenty of PCI/PCI-Express slots.

I installed my Nvidia 8400GS graphics card (connected to 19" 16:10 Acer and 19" 4:3 HP monitors), along with the 1TB SATA and 200GB IDE hard disks from my old rig. I also added an 80GB SATA too for extra space. I had to use adapters in the optical drive slots, since I only have one set of "isolation mounting" screws for the two quick change hard drive bays. I also needed to enable VTx and VTd in BIOS. This can be found hidden away in Security, System Security, enable VTx and VTD. Press F10 to save and we're done.

Naturally, once I set the right boot devices in the bios, Ubuntu 10.0.4 (64 bit) booted straight away without any real problems, I just had to do 'sudo sensors-detect' to get lm-sensors to find the new temperature monitors onboard this new rig.

I've been using an external USB card reader for awhile and wanted a tidier, internal reader instead. Having had one lying about in spares for awhile I thought I'd fit it into my 'new' HP dc7800. This turned out to be easier said than done! The floppy bay on the dc7800 only locks a drive in place if the screw holes are in the right place, and the ones on the card reader are nowhere near the right place. After a lot of swearing and sliced fingers, and having accidentally got the reader stuck too far back several times and having a nightmare removing it again, I had a MacGyver moment! I had to put something between the first locating screw and one of the metal guides and found this weird metal ring that was just the job, using the spare screws nearby to lock it in place.

Then I connected the reader to internal USB connectors. After I put everything back together and licked my sharp-PC-case-related wounds, I tried it out with my 4GB SD card from my camera. Nothing. Turns out this card reader was made before the introduction of SDHC cards! Typical! I think I learnt a vital lesson here, fully test a component before MacGyvering it into ones PC's case! I'm still very pleased with this machine and it should serve me well for awhile. One day I'd like to max out the RAM to 8GB and install a decent card reader!

Thursday 18 August 2011

5 Great Linux Music Player Daemon Clients

Music Player Daemon is a server-side music playing application which means it can be controlled over a network or locally using desktop apps. I've covered MPD before and I thought I'd expand on it since I have recently rediscovered how useful it really is. I like how you can control it from anywhere, the desktop, web, phone etc, and it has gapless playback and light resource usage. There's a massive amount of clients to control MPD, these are my favourites: (although some of these are essentially platform independent, I've focused on those that work on/with Linux)


My favourite desktop client is Ario, which runs on various UNIX/Linux desktops, and also Mac (using Fink) and Windows. It can find covers in the directory, amazon or and can also 'scrobble' tracks to too, though I usually use a server-based scrobbler such as mpdscrobble. It has a nice tray icon for controls and I find it the most usable of the desktop clients.

Client 175

Client 175
is a browser based client that looks and acts like a desktop one. Make sure you have python-json installed and then download the latest Client175, then extract it (I used ~/home/carl/apps/client175) then you can run it from the command line with "python ~/apps/client175/" (without the qoutes, obviously). To make it run as soon as my computer logs in, I added that command to Gnome's Startup Applications (System, Preferences), though there is a more complicated, proper way to do that here.


PhpMpReloaded is essentially a collection of basic web clients in one package and can be especially useful for browsing on basic low resource web browsers.

Maemo Music Player Client

MMPC is a version of the Gnome Music Player Client, with a focus on maximising screen usage and touchscreen usability. I have it running on my Nokia N800:


BitMPC is the only client that I cannot try myself at the moment since I don't have an Android device to try it on (donations welcome!) but I thought I'd include it anyway since I know many Android users who would find it useful. Also worth a try is PMix.

Monday 8 August 2011

Classic Computers In Only Fools And Horses Episodes

I've recently started watching the entire Only Fools And Horses box set from beginning to end. Not only is it a brilliant sitcom but it also often captures the time it was made very well, such as in the Yuppy era of the late 80s. I've watched them many times but have only now started spotting all the old computers and tech.

In the 1987 Christmas special, "A Frog's Legacy", Del Boy has a consignment of hooky computers, badged Raja 2000 but actually BBC Model B's a BBC Master in a 3rd party Viglen case, (thanks to Andy Taylor for the info) Del flogs one to a vicar.

In 'Yuppy Love' (1989), Rodney goes on a computer Diploma course and here he's using an Amstrad cpc 6128, with green screen, the "best 8 bit computer ever!" according to Andy Taylor of Retro Computers, who kindly identified it for me.

Rodney eventually gets a job working for Cassandra's dad, Alan, in an office. In "The Jolly Boys Outing", Rodney's having a bit of trouble with his Apple SE/30, Apple Macintosh SE (thanks David), he keeps wiping out his spreadsheets! Both he and his colleague (played by Alan Hunter, who is now Max Branning in Eastenders) both have SE/30's on their desks.

I will keep updating this post when I spot more old computers in later episodes.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Wuala - A Dropbox Alternative

Since my Dropbox is pretty full (I'm using nearly all of my 4.4GB of storage) I'm always on the look-out for alternative file syncing apps, so I was intrigued when a fellow Google+ member mentioned Wuala by hardware storage makers Lacie. Just like Dropbox, it's cross-platform, it runs on Linux, OSX, Windows, iPhone and Android. Wuala is available for most distros and installation on Ubuntu went without a hitch with the Deb package. After installing you'll find the it in the 'Internet' menu. I found I had to manually add it to the Startup Applications by making a panel shortcut then dragging and dropping that into it. Also, thanks to the Wuala team on Twitter, I've now found out that to make the app minimise on startup, on Linux, edit the item so the command reads: 'wuala -silent'. On OSX, add a line with ' silent ' to wuala.cfg found in ~/Library/Application Support/Wuala/.

The app itself is Java based and feels a bit bulky (at least on my Dell Latitude D505), but is functional enough, though for adding files I found it quicker to drag and drop with nautilus. By default the files are in /home/user/WualaDrive/wualausername but you can change this in the app's Preferences. There is also web access through an in browser Java app, which I didn't have much luck with on Firefox (it crashed) or Chrome/Chromium (it either didn't work or was very sluggish. Dropbox has the advantage here, with their much slicker web interface.

The Initial 1GB free storage is stingy considering Dropbox, UbuntuOne and others offer 2GB free from the start, although you can start with 2GB if you follow a referral link. Perhaps my connection was a bit busy, but it seemed to take a long time to upload a small number of photos. You can tweak the upload/download limits if needed, but one thing I like in Dropbox is LAN syncing, where by it will sync between PCs on the LAN, reducing internet upload/download usage, good for those with monthly limits. Edit 05/01/12 You now get 2GB, 3GB with referrals with Wuala, bringing it into line with Dropbox and UbuntuOne.

Just like Dropbox, you can get more free storage by inviting others (up to 3GB, compared with upto 10GB with invites on Dropbox). You can also temporarily boost your Wuala storage with promo codes, which unfortunately only last for a year. I wonder how things go when they run out. Unlike Dropbox there is also a third option of trading some of your local disk space to gain more online storage, this I have yet to try since your computer has to be running for at least 17% (4hrs) of the day. Security wise, "All files get encrypted and are stored redundantly. No one unauthorized - not even Wuala as the provider - can access the files." "Every file is encrypted with a different key. The list of these keys is encrypted with your password and stored on our server. Your own password is very important here: it never leaves your computer, so we do not know it. Hence, not even we can access your data." Hopefully, this means not even the FBI can access your files...

Wuala is pretty good, considering it is still in beta, but I really would like LAN syncing and a larger initial storage would be nice and they need to make the app start and minimize on login. Oh and at the moment if you change a file it uploads the entire file again, unlike Dropbox, though apparently this will be implemented soon. Overall, this is one sync solution I'll be keeping an eye on. Thanks to Shaun Mallette on Google+ for telling me about the program.

Monday 6 June 2011

Foresight Linux (Review - Updated)

I've been meaning to try installing Foresight Linux for awhile. Their focus for the distro is to be an "intuitive user interface and a showcase of the latest desktop software". Several install DVDs are available for download with KDE, XFCE or Gnome desktops. I chose the Gnome version. After a successful test in Virtualbox, I installed it on my Toshiba 6100 (1.6Ghz, 512MB RAM, 20GB HDD) laptop.


Even on this modest hardware, the install was pretty fast for a non-live DVD install, taking only around 15 mins using a modified version of Anaconda, the installer used by Red Hat/Fedora. The partitioning and user setup is all fairly user-friendly. Foresight uses sudo for admin duties and no logging in as root, just like Ubuntu. Unlike other distros, there's a choice of EXTLINUX or GRUB as a bootloader. I chose GRUB since I am more familiar with it and I know to fix it.

First Impressions

After install and a fairly quick boot that looks like a green version of the Fedora Plymouth boot screen, there's the usual GDM login screen following by a fairly standard Gnome 2 desktop, the default green theme reminds me a little of Gnox, a long defunct Slackware live CD I used to like awhile back. I'm not sure about the combination of all the green but with blue icons but there are plenty of icons are already installed, including all the Faenza ones so plenty of theme choices.


Foresight seems to be fairly light on resources, similar speed to Debian or Slackware. There's a user guide in the System menu and an interesting choice of default applications. Skype, Pidgin, F-Spot, Banshee, Totem, Mplayer and Gnome Mplayer, OpenOffice, Gnome Do, Evolution, Ekiga, Firefox (4.0.1 after updates), Tomboy Notes, Dia, Inkscape, and GIMP amongst others. Wireless networking works out-the-box as Foresight already has madwifi, intel wireless drivers, and ndiswrapper installed which should be useful for those with tricky wireless hardware. Adobe Flash is already installed too.

Unfortunately there is no graphical package manager installed by default, and is the only real criticism I have of this distro. Foresight use a package manager called Conary, which is similar to apt-get. To install applications do 'sudo conary update appname' and to remove apps do 'sudo conary erase packagename' and for updates do 'sudo conary updateall'. It is slightly odd using 'update' to install programs, you would of thought it would use 'install' instead of 'update'.
According to the documentation, "updates are faster as Conary only downloads the updates to the file, and doesn't require a full binary for download."

Update (07-06-11) As has been pointed out in the comments, one unique feature of Conary is the ability to rollback or undo any update to any point between first and last update. To rollback one update do "sudo conary rollback 1" and to see what can be rolled back do "sudo conary rblist" Conary also has a 'repair' function along with quite a few others which you can read about in the Conary manual.

Desktop Effects

One of the most useful parts of Foresight is the custom config tool for desktop effects: System, Preferences, Desktop Effects. Then for fine tuning there's also Simple CompizConfig Settings Manager and the usual Compiz Config Settings Manager. Emerald Theme Manager is also installed.


Overall I quite like Foresight Linux, it's fairly quick and easy to install and has some useful features like the afore mentioned Desktop Effects tool and the unique Conary option to rollback and repair packages. If it had a graphical package manager already installed I'd recommend this distro to the average user, but as it is I'd say if you are fairly confident on the commandline this is a fairly good distro.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

My Nokia N800

I've recently purchased a Nokia N800 Wi-Fi-only internet tablet. I've wanted one for quite some time since I read an article in Linux Magazine on it when it was originally released back in 2007.

This one has been very well looked after, boxed, has a spare stylus, original paperwork and original 128MB memory card. Of course the first thing I did was replace that with a couple of 2GB SD cards (it takes one internally and one externally, up to 32Gb each). I haven't fully tested the battery life on it yet but it seems pretty good.

The N800 runs Maemo, a Debian based OS that Nokia used to use all the time on it's phones. It has the 2008 OS and third party repositories installed. It's built in Application Manager reminds me of that of a 'proper' Linux distro and of course it already had an X terminal installed. Since it's based on open source software there is still a thriving community for apps and mods for Maemo devices.

My favourite app for it by far is Pidgin (instant messenger), it's great to having it on all my Linux PCs (along with Adium on my Macs) and my N800. There are also various useful plugins for it in the package manager. You can also install apps using apt and dpkg just like a Linux distro.

I also love the built-in email app, it was easy to setup Gmail with IMAP and I like the way it notifies of new messages in the left panel and by flashing the 4-way pad blue, although I couldn't quite get GMX to work with it. The N800's web browser is based on Mozilla and works pretty well, and I've had no problems browsing my usual sites. It's perfectly happy browsing quite a few full sites too, like Facebook, rather than the mobile version . It also came with Skype for it's built in VGA camera which pops out the left-hand side of the unit and swivels 180 degrees. For video playback though, Mplayer is far better than the old media player it comes with, as it plays higher quality videos and newer codecs with ease. Other useful apps (along with many others) I have installed are VNC Viewer, ssh, gFTP, x11VNC, mCalendar, MediaBox and Canola (two very swish media suites) most of which can be installed either from or from the App Manager on the device.

I'm very pleased with it to say the least, it's what I've always wanted and it suits me nicely since I don't use 3G and always wanted a portable Linux device for Pidgin, VNC and ssh, the only thing that's missing is a usable Twitter client since most of the ones that are around have fallen because of the oAuth-apocalypse.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Attempting To Make Gnome 3 Fallback More Usable In Fedora 15 (updated)

I recently upgraded the hard drive on my Dell Latitude D505 from 30Gb to 60GB, so I thought i'd try Fedora 15. I had F14 on the 30GB and it worked OK but certain things were annoying me like not being able to get Hotot to work properly (I basically had to run it without installing it, which was awkward). Anyway, I installed Fedora 15 using the full DVD version, since it offers more options. After setting up user accounts, and first login I was expecting to login to a beautiful Gnome 3 desktop, however I'm now stuck with Gnome Fallback, as apparently my system isn't good enough for it. This I find strange since I should have hardware acceleration, and for playing video I do. I've found a number of things I miss from Gnome 2.

Here's what I miss from Gnome 2 and any fixes and workarounds I'm using.

1. Startup Applications missing from the Gnome menu.

Workaround: Ctrl + F2 and run 'gnome-session-properties' (I found this here) Edit: You can re-enable it using alacarte (yum install alacarte) and navigate to System, Preferences, and tick in the relevant box. Why this was disabled in the first place baffles me.

2. Unable to add applications or applets to the Gnome panels.

Workaround: Since I needed quick access to my favourite apps, I installed Cairo Dock with these instructions.

Although you have to add apps from within Cairo Dock by right clicking an item then 'Add' then 'Custom Launcher' since you can no longer drag and drop apps from the Gnome menu.

3. Poor quality fonts and there seems to be no appearance settings in the main menus.

There doesn't seem to be any way of changing the fonts in Googsystray, it looked so much better in Gnome2. Edit: I've found Gnome Tweak Tool (yum install gnome-tweak-tool) to change fonts, it can also change other things like icons, titlebars etc .

3. Seemingly no customisation options for the Login screen. I want to remove the user lists but can't even with gconf-editor.

4. Dialogue boxes open way too large and don't fit-to-screen which makes apply buttons and options off screen on my 1024x786 resolution desktop. Also some dialigue boxes keep popping up under the window I am using when they should appear on top.

Here is how my Gnome 3 desktop looks at the moment:

Some things I like about Fedora 15

1. Fast booting and shutting down - it shuts down in only a few seconds and boots pretty quick (although sometimes I think it does a fsck without notifying me).

2. Yum package manager seems to be slightly faster with less messing up, although it's still not as fast or as tidy as apt in Debian/Ubuntu.

3. Despite the usability problems, it does look good, it just needs plenty of bugfixes and smoothing of the rough edges. As usual, every Fedora release seems to be an alpha or beta for RHEL at the expense of the average home user's experience with the distro.

4. Some of the apps that didn't work in F14 now do work in F15 such as Hotot.

If you have any fixes or workarounds for the problems I have been having here then please do mention them in the comments below.

Update 05/06/11
I have wiped Fedora 15 out having tried that for awhile and thought I'd try out the iQunix re-mix of Ubuntu 11.0.4 (with Medibuntu repos already installed and a bare minimal Gnome desktop) and surprisingly it actually works without any modifications to GRUB. The most annoying thing about Gnome3, that was the final straw, was the wallpaper kept changing to 'scale' every time I switched desktops, every time I tried to change it, it would change back on the next switch or next login - highly frustrating! Oh and also it's impossible to disable the screensaver, you have to uninstall it!

Update 27/10/11
I've now done a clean install on a 'new' hard drive with Ubuntu 11.10, see my review here.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

My brief flirtation with the Kubuntu 11.0.4 KDE4 desktop

I used to love KDE, back when I first used Linux, in the KDE 3.5 days. After a brief flirtation with Red Hat 9, I used many distos with the KDE desktop such as Mepis and Vectorlinux (a Slackware derivative) and last of all Kubuntu, until KDE 4.0 was released. I got tired of KDE since the KDE 3.x on Kubuntu at the time was getting buggy so I switched to Gnome and have used it ever since. Just recently with all the Unity stuff going on quite a few users have been trying out KDE4 again. So, just on a whim, maybe just out of boredom, I thought I'd try the KDE4 desktop.

Installing KDE4 on the Ubuntu desktop only took about an 80MB download and not long to install using sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop. I selected GDM when prompted since that's what I prefer, rather than KDM. After a short time I logged out of 'Ubuntu Classic' and into the Kubuntu desktop. Login took what seemed like a long time and with many errors, such as the the desktop effects were 'too slow' and so were disabled, strange since compiz works perfectly fine on Gnome 'Classic'. I had to wait awhile for the messages to subside and I noticed when I ran Kopete, I had no net access. I did not see an error message for this and couldn't see a tray applet. The tray looks pretty cluttered and messy. I had to scour the menu and search for 'network' and after several goes I found the KDE network config tool that I needed, which is a sizeable thing just to configure my network. It worked though. I also had to deal with the "KDE Wallet" which I've always hated since the KDE3.x days!

I managed to get my wobbly windows back by enabling effects with "ALT+Shift+F12" and they were OK, also it did not seem obvious how to change the default KDE4 theme, since the grey looks a bit tacky. Talking of shortcuts, my laptops Fn keys didn't work, as i wanted to lower the screen brightness, they work just fine in Gnome. I also found the widgets and 'new activity' thing a bit confusing at first. I added a few widgets and liked the Facebook widget. A lot of widgets look a bit big, at least in their default size on my small screen. I do like the way you download widgets without having to go to a web page in the browser. I don't like the default browser, Rekonq, it's a bit too minimalist for my liking even more so than Chromium which is OK for a quick browse but I'm mainly a Firefox 4 user.

My overall impression of KDE4 is that it's a bit messy and cluttered, at last on a 12 inch screen. Settings and buttons seem to be all over the place. I'm also not keen on that main menu, not helped by it's resemblance to the menu that Suse introduced. Perhaps a fresh install might have avoided the numerous errors I was getting but in the end I removed the Kubuntu desktop and went back to Gnome after about 30 minutes of KDE4. To remove KDE4 completely I followed the instructions at the bottom of this page.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Synchronize Tomboy Notes With UbuntuOne on Fedora and other Linux Distros

Having installed Fedora 14 on my Dell Latitude (after finding Ubuntu had issues with the i915 graphics, causing freeze-ups and random reboots) I was only missing a couple of little things I liked from Ubuntu. Firstly I really like the Hotot Twitter client but I cannot get it to run properly in Fedora, and have resorted to using the Chrome/Chromium App version for now. Secondly I missed having my Tomboy notes synced with UbuntuOne. Now this I was able to resolve with the following steps. The steps to set-up Tomboy Notes on Ubuntu can be found here. These steps are similar but with some slight modifications.

1. First install Tomboy as root if it is not already installed with "yum install tomboy" or selecting it in System, Add/Remove Software and clicking Apply.

2. Run Tomboy Notes either from the menu or a run dialogue with tomboy.

3. In Tomboy, go to Edit, Preferences, Synchronisation

4. In the Service drop-down box, select Tomboy Web

5. In Server, type:

6. Select Connect and it will open a browser for it to authenticate in UbuntuOne, you may need to login and you'll need to give it name.

7. If all is well you should be able to click Synchronise and we're done :)

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Unity, The Future Of Ubuntu And The Alternatives

I've used Linux since around 2003, starting with Red Hat 9 and early Fedora Core, followed by Mepis and various other distros until I finally settled on Ubuntu (7.10 at the time). It was the first distro that I found to be easy to install and use. Codecs, graphics card drivers and the browser flash plugin all installed smoothly and automatically and it worked so well on my computers. With only minor hiccups along the way, Ubuntu kept getting better and better. I felt that nearly every release had something interesting and was stable. I generally stuck with 8.0.4 LTS for a long time on my main desktop and servers, but experimented a bit more on my laptops. For me 10.0.4 LTS was a landmark release, and still my current favourite distro. 10.10 added extra features but was still just as stable as 10.0.4, which is why I was so disappointed with 11.0.4.

Ubuntu 11.0.4 and Unity

I was already a little worried even before 11.0.4 was released, having watched from a distance as Unity was being developed and then what The Register described as "the worst beta Ubuntu ever" I was really hoping Canonical could get it sorted for release day. As you may have read in my review, I found only a little I could really praise about 11.0.4, such as Firefox 4 and LibreOffice installed by default (both of which I was already running both on 10.0.4 and 10.10 via PPAs). The installer seemed a little more polished perhaps, but overall not much better. The biggest downer though of course is Unity and generally how flaky 11.0.4 seems to be. Various people have mentioned on Twitter or on various sites that it either runs fine or it won't run at all, depending on hardware etc. I think I was lucky with when I upgraded my HP nc4400 (Intel graphics) that it runs OK, as long as I don't run Unity! However, on my Toshiba Portege M200 (which ran fine with 10.0.4 and 10.10) it ran like an Alpha release. It installed fine but, either with or without proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers, I was getting all sorts of graphical glitches, I couldn't even CTRL+F into another screen to kill processes as all I got was a colourful mess and it kept crashing!

The Interface

I don't quite get this obsession with ever newer snazzy interfaces, as most people, I think, particularly those who aren't power users, use their chosen OS because of the apps, often not caring what the rest looks like. They don't need the interface to get in the way of quickly launching those apps which is what Unity feels like. They want a web browser, Photoshop (or something as good as it), music player, office suite and games or whatever and a way to search for documents like Spotlight on OSX. And if you going to make a snazzy interface at least make it customisable! If I want the dock on the right then that's where I want it! "Easy to use" does not mean nailing everything in one place so you can't move anything! At least on OSX you can have it on the left/right or at the bottom of the screen! Also I've heard that to get the best out of Unity you need to know all the keyboard shortcuts which is hardly suitable for new users (which is who Canonical targeted it at), particularly if they are new to computers and mostly use a mouse. And the global menu system isn't really suitable for dual monitors, as it means too much mouse mileage - just because OSX has it, does not make it good! The only place I think Unity could possibly work well is on a tablet or small screened netbook and that's where it should stay, on a netbook version of Ubuntu, not the default login for the main release!

Only a few power users are all 'look at my shiny desktop effects', many just want things to work and be reliable, never crash. I like the Compiz effects (mainly the cube and window previews) multiple desktops and dual monitors not just because it looks good but because it actually helps me be more productive. All I need other than that is a decent dock (I prefer Cairo Dock) to launch my most used apps. What Linux really lacks for me is smooth MIDI / JACK setup, and the sound system sorting out so it's less of a mess, oh and proper gapless mp3 playback with Gstreamer.

my current dual monitor setup with Ubuntu 10.0.4 with Cairo Dock on the right

The Future Of Ubuntu and The Alternatives

For now I'm suggesting, to those who I recommend Linux to and new users in general, to stick to the Ubuntu LTS releases. Hopefully the next LTS will be back to being as stable as 10.0.4, and maybe they'll have abandoned Unity by then or at least made it into a separate Netbook release, which is what it should have been in the first place. I really do hope they change their plan to have no 'Classic Gnome' login by 11.10. Perhaps Gnome 3 will be mature enough to take over being the main desktop. If not, then many, may switch to Debian (or an Debian or Ubuntu based distro), being familiar territory, as I will once 10.0.4 is no longer supported. On some laptops I've already switched to Fedora and Debian. In fact many have already starting to abandon Ubuntu 11.0.4 already, and moved back to 10.0.4/10.10 or switched to another distro.

As for Ubuntu itself, I doubt it would die completely (unless they run out of both support and money) but it could quite easily be pushed aside by other distros, just like when Ubuntu itself climbed to the top of the list of the most user-friendly distros such as Fedora, (which will use Gnome 3 in Fedora 15) and the Ubuntu and Debian versions of Mint which will be sticking with Gnome 2, and will not use Unity. Debian, from which Ubuntu is based on is also an option, it's rock solid but isn't quite as user-friendly to new users, particularly with installing drivers and codecs (you have to add the Debian Multimedia repo and install what you need). The good thing about Linux is it's all about choice, there are plenty of distros to choose from.

Friday 29 April 2011

Ubuntu 11.0.4 (Natty Narwhal) The Good, The Bad and The Unity

So, Ubuntu 11.0.4 is out, so I decided to upgrade one of my laptops that was running 10.10. The laptop in question is an HP nc4400, Core2Duo 2Ghz, 2.5GB RAM, and a 120GB hard drive. Ubuntu 10.10 notified me of the new release and asked me whether I'd like to upgrade. However I thought I'd check if there was any updates for 10.10 which is advisable before upgrading. lo and behold for there was a large batch of updates ready, surprising really since I only did updates a few days ago. Clicking on Upgrade now then starts the usual upgrade process. It would be nice if they made that prettier since it uses the Root user's theme which is quite ugly. Since I was upgrading over wifi, the downloads took awhile. Ideally I would have used ethernet but then I couldn't sit in a comfortable sofa!

upgrading to Natty:

Eventually it finished upgrading and I rebooted to the login screen. I thought I'd give the now default Unity desktop a chance so I logged straight in and was greeted with what looks OK at first glance but doesn't seem to work as smoothly as it should.


All the application icons that I previously had on my desktop's lower panel have been crammed into the Unity dock, along with quite a few that I don't use that often so I had to remove a lot. One by one. Next I opened my usual set of apps, Pidgin and Hotot, Firefox and a single nautilus window. Nautilus goes full screen, blocking everything else out of view. If feels like a phone or a tablet, how am i supposed to multi-task with every window trying to go fullscreen? I dread to think how I'd use it on a dual monitor setup. And with window previews enabled the Unity dock reminds me of the Windows 7 taskbar, but even more confusing. None of this is helped by various graphical glitches that kept occurring (top left):

Unity graphical glitches:

After around 30 minutes or so with Unity, I'd just about had enough, so I thought I'd try 'Gnome Classic'. Only one problem though, presumably due to bugs, I could not find the logout button or any other way to log out and I did not want to force a shutdown, so i had to kill Xorg. Not good. So I logged into Gnome Classic (which you can select at the GDM login screen) and that's what I using now. It's more familiar and usable and I think they should make it the default rather than Unity, which as far as I'm concerned should be reserved for tablets, and isn't ready for prime time. Not sure on the 'good' side of things with this release, other than unity it's pretty much like 10.10, at least in the time I've used it so far. it does have Firefox 4 and LibreOffice by default and which is a good thing, though I already had both installed. Also the Software Center has been tweaked a little with app reviews. Disappointingly, Canonical have done a KDE4 with this release, change for change sake. If they drop Gnome2 in the coming releases, I think I'll install the Xubuntu desktop (sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop) and if that runs OK I'll use that, if not I'll go back to 10.0.4 LTS on this laptop and recommend that for new users too. Perhaps by the time the LTS stops being supported they'll be other options or Unity will get more stable or be abandoned. I may also try Gnome 3 and the latest KDE4 and see how well they work.

Gnome Classic:

Update 29/04/11 Fresh install on a Toshiba M200

Since there were some graphical glitches with Unity I thought I'd try a fresh install on a different laptop, my Toshiba M200. Everything went fine during install, took around 10 minutes, all was well until i rebooted. Firstly it seems to have a weird bug. When i reboot all I get is pretty colours and no proper boot screen and cannot see the login, just weird patterns. If I shutdown then do a fresh boot it boots an reaches the login just fine. However even after I installed the proprietary Nvidia drivers, it still won't login to Unity desktop, it just hangs. Also if i try to CTRL+ALT+F key into another screen it goes white or just weird colours. That just will not do. Unity-2D works (sudo apt-get install unity-2d) but it's not exactly much consolation.


Tuesday 5 April 2011

How To Setup Music Player Daemon With PulseAudio On Ubuntu 10.0.4

I've been wanting to get Music Player Daemon aka MPD working in Linux for a long time but never got round to it, but today I got it working properly with PulseAudio! The main reason I like MPD is it's actually gapless unlike most other Linux media players (I'm looking at you Rhythmbox, Banshee, and other Gstreamer based players). Also you can fully control MPD from over a LAN via other MPD clients, even from a mobile phone.

Setting Up MPD

With a lot of Googling, I've found a lot of different tutorials on getting MPD to work in Ubuntu. It seems on a desktop PC it's easier to setup MPD as a user service rather than a system service. i could not get it working at all as a system service. I based my setup mainly on this tutorial and updated it for 10.0.4 / Lucid and modified it to fix problems with PulseAudio. This should also work in 10.10 and higher too. Although you can do some things with graphical installers, apps etc, it is far easier to write down commands to copy and paste into a terminal.

First install MPD:

sudo apt-get install mpd

Disable MPD from starting as a system service:

sudo /etc/init.d/mpd stop

sudo update-rc.d mpd disable

Extract and copy the default config file:

gunzip -c /usr/share/doc/mpd/examples/mpd.conf.gz > ~/.mpdconf

Edit the config file:

gedit ~/.mpdconf

Change all paths to point to: ~/.mpd. You need to change the following entries:


Audio setup

At this point I needed to adjust the audio config and modify it slightly from that tutorial to make it work with PulseAudio, (I found the right config for Pulse output here). Find the audio_output section and comment out the alsa section (which is first up in that section) then add:

audio_output {
type "pulse"
name "My Pulse Output"
#server "localhost" # optional
#sink "alsa_output" # optional

Make MPD start at login:

In a terminal do:

sudo nano ~/.config/autostart/mpd.desktop
and paste this into it:

[Desktop Entry]




Name=Music Player Daemon






Then Ctrl+O to save it and Ctrl+X to exit. Now it should start upon login


I also changed 'user' to my Ubuntu username and I've also enabled (uncomment the relevant lines) zeroconf, replaygain and volume normalization. And also it wouldn't bind to localhost so I changed bind_to_address "any".

And here is my resultant MPD config file (gzipped for convenience). now run MPD by typing 'mpd' into a terminal. If it shows no errors and then disappears (it runs in the background) then all is well.

Finding and playing music:

Next you need to add your music directory, I found it was best to create a link (right click your music folder, select 'create link') and move the link into /home/username/.mpd/music

Now we need an MPD client, Ario and Gnome Music Player Client both run fine in Gnome but there are plenty of choices. Next we need to update the database, in Ario do File, Update Database and we're done. Most of the players I've found so far use an Artist / Album / Title setup which is handy for playing single albums, but I am searching for an easy way of just dumping the entire collection into one playlist and whacking it on random. I've tried using the file system browser in Ario but when I try to dump all the tracks into the playlist it only seems to find less than half my collection. Update: I've discovered that MPD is quite picky about tags so it's apparently best to use EasyTag on your collection which automatically corrects broken tags. Since I have quite a it of music, this may take awhile! Next thing I want to get working is streaming music over the network!


Confusingly the MPD wiki states:

is the configuration file for mpd(1). If not specified on the command line, MPD first searches for it at ~/.mpdconf then at ~/.mpd/mpd.conf and then in /etc/mpd.conf."

Update: you may need to do "chmod g+X /path-to-music" on your music collection to give it the right permissions.

Update2:  I'm still having trouble with MPD seeing only part of my collection