Saturday 28 June 2014

Linux Music Players for Large Music Libraries

Back in 2009 I wrote a blogpost on Linux music players, about finding a Linux equivalent to Foobar or Winamp, and I've just recently been trying other music players again after a very long time of using Gmusicbrowser

Friday 20 June 2014

Living With KDE on Kubuntu 14.04 - part 2.

Some observations I have made while using Kubuntu 14.04. Part 1 is here.


For some reason, my networked HP Laserjet 2600n printer installs without me having to choose the driver in Xubuntu and Mint Cinnamon, but not in Kubuntu, where the driver appears to be missing. I solved this problem by installing hplip-gui (the graphical tool for HP Lip) which downloads and installs the correct driver.

The correct driver missing by default

HP Lip Gui

Copy and Dropbox cloud storage

The Copy app started OK but the interface is quite sluggish and at one point got confused when I set it to only download certain files on this machine, it then went on to download the whole lot, greater than the size of the HDD on this laptop, not a good idea! Deleting the Copy folder and Copy itself and running it again seemed to fix it.

Dropbox works OK apart from it does not integrate into Dolphin, the KDE file manager, so there's nothing to show what's happening in the file manger.

KDE IM Contacts

This is KDE's default IM client, also known as Telepathy, it works OK but I find it annoying that KDE Wallet always asks me for my password, and it's the only app so far that does this. I remember having this problem on KDE3 but only when I had autologin enabled, if I recall correctly. Also I am really not keen on that Indicator/tray icon!


One thing that I am quite impressed with is the progress of Gwenview image viewer. I have not used it for years, probably since KDE3, and I have to say it has become a very decent photo viewer, good for quick crops and other edits, better than Gnome's default viewer.

KDE Connect

Usually I use either LinConnect or PushBullet to show notifications from my Galaxy S3 (which runs CM11) on my desktop, but KDE has KDE Connect which is easy to install from the default repositories, just install the kdeconnect package. It has a nice configuration tool too, found in KDE's System Settings and was very easy to setup. It does seem to be more reliable (and easier to setup) than LinConnect and it does not need a browser like PushBullet.


I used to love Amarok back in the KDE 3 days, then it went through an overhaul and took ages for it's third party add-ons to catch-up, and I really wasn't keen on the versions I tried a year or so ago. However in Kubuntu 14.04 it does seem to have improved a lot, it runs quite smoothly on my low end laptop. Having said that, I have not tested it elsewhere with my large collection of mp3s. Unlike a lot of other players that work fine in many different desktops, Amarok works best in it's native KDE.

I am surprised how much I have got used to Kubuntu, and it is a reasonably usable desktop, apart from the time it takes to get it setup how I want it, and a few little niggles. I shall keep it on this laptop for now, but I don't think I'll use it on my main desktop yet, unless Cinnamon becomes completely unusable.  

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Living With KDE on Kubuntu 14.04

First a little background. Most of the first Linux distros I ever used had a KDE 3 desktop or had it as an option, and I preferred it to Gnome 2 at the time,  regularly used Mepis, Vector, Fedora, Slax amongst others. I was a regular distro hopper back then, but I stuck with KDE 3 until just before KDE 4.x then I switched to Gnome 2 on Ubuntu 7.10 (on my desktop) and XFCE on Xubuntu (on my laptop). Late KDE 3 got a bit buggy for me and once i started using Gnome 2 regularly, I started to prefer it, and I used it right up until Ubuntu switched to using Unity by default. I did briefly try Gnome Classic but it was never the same, so I switched to Xubuntu on desktops and laptops, and then recently Mint Cinnamon (desktop and 2 laptops) and Xubuntu (lower end laptops).
So I have not really thoroughly tried Kubuntu or any KDE desktop for a while and every time I did I found it a little annoying to use, and the default themes distros generally use do not help either, especially Kubuntu. Even the default KDE theme on Fedora isn't very nice and besides I always end up going back to *buntu or Debian based distros as that is what I am used to and know how to use and tweak. Just recently though, since 14.04 came out, I decided to try using Kubuntu on one of my laptops and really try to use it every day, to see if I could get it the way I want it. Here's how Kubuntu looks by default:

First thing I had to do, was change that hideous default look somehow and remove that shiny folder thing! KDE has lots of settings to customize the entire desktop environment. At first KDE was also quite sluggish on this Dell Latitude D520 which has a 1.6ghz Core Duo CPU integrated Intel graphics and 4GB of RAM. It ran much better once I had disabled all the snazzy desktop effects. This actually makes KDE more bearable for me as I cannot stand the horrible shiny bling and great big drop shadows under windows, always reminds me of Ja Ja Binks in the Robot Chicken Star Wars special, by default KDE is all "Me-sa all sparkly glowy!" - and equally annoying!

Me-sa  all sparkly glowy!

I tried various themes and icons and finally settled on Moka icon theme, Chrome Dark window decorations, and Opaquity Desktop theme. I also set the Splash Screen to Minimalistic and also set the desktop wallpaper and Login screen to the same image.  I've also tweaked the colours too.

Layout-wise, I have moved the main panel to the top, made it smaller to give me more desktop space, and I think it also looks much nicer. Instead of a lower panel I always like to have a dock. My favourite is Cairo Dock but it merely crashed out in KDE on this laptop, so I installed Plank (aka Docky) instead and gave it permanent shortcuts for all my most used apps. I found this little list of stuff to do after installing Kubuntu quite handy. I stuck with Firefox as my default browser, though I might install Chrome too at some point. I also installed Yakuake drop-down Quake-style terminal, similar to Guake that I usually use.

One thing that I found a little annoying is KDE uses an "Activities" thing that I don't really like, and I found it took a bit of digging to work out how to add another workspace and set the default shortcuts for switching between them using Ctrl + Alt + left/right cursor, which is default in pretty much every major DE I have used.

KDE is pretty much a tinkerers paradise and although I used to enjoy that part, these days I prefer to actually use my desktop after no more than 30 minutes or so of configuration. I have spent a lot more time than that just trying to get KDE to look and work how I like it. With my main desktop I use Mint Cinnamon and all I usually do, appearance-wise, on that is move the panel, install Cairo Dock and change the icons, that's all I need to do. KDE needs a lot more tinkering to get it how I want it. Here's how my KDE desktop now looks after I login, as you can see I like a nice clean desktop with no icons or clutter, just a panel and dock. I shall keep using Kubuntu on this laptop for awhile and see how things go.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Upgrading Linux Mint Cinnamon from version 16 to 17.

Linux Mint 17 was recently released and so I had one laptop and my main desktop to upgrade from Mint 16 to 17, both of which I use the Cinnamon desktop on. Since Mint have decided to base the next few releases on the 14.04 LTS version of Ubuntu, it will make the next few upgrades much simpler, and should mean less reinstalls. I prefer to upgrade in place as I'm not keen on reinstalling as it can take a lot of time to configure and reinstall apps, etc.

Ubuntu has a proper way to upgrade between releases and you can upgrade from LTS to LTS with the update manager. With Mint, there is no official upgrade method, but you can just 'cheat' and change the source lists to the new release. it's not guaranteed to work but I upgraded from Mint 15 to 16 with this method and I just upgraded to 17 using this how-to.

First I upgraded my main desktop, a Dell Precision 390, it took a long time to download all the updates but it went fairly well. For some reason the English (UK) settings seemed to be missing after the upgrade, so my keyboard was set to English (US). Pretty easy to sort out in the Settings Manager. One thing that's slightly annoying is that Gmusicbrowser's icon will not show up in the Notification area anymore, despite that setting being enabled. There are also some spurious errors on boot but they do not hold up the boot process or cause any problems. The settings manager has been improved, Nemo file manager seems to have some refinements, and the system as a whole does feel a little quicker. There's a full list of new features on the Linux Mint website.

My HP nc6320 laptop upgrade went well too without any problems what-so-ever and, unlike on my desktop, the keyboard settings remained as English (UK). As you can see from the screenshots, my preferred configuration on laptops and desktops is to have a top panel and a dock instead of a lower panel, with Conky for system info to one side of the desktop.


Saturday 7 June 2014

CyanogenMod on Samsung Galaxy S3 - 4.4.3

Just a little update on my Galaxy S3, as of the CM11-20140606 Nightly, my phone has been running 4.4.3 version of Android, even as my 2012 Nexus 7 has yet to receive it's 4.4.3 update! And I have just installed today's Nightly with no problems so far. It's stable enough to be a "daily driver" and I like the new Contacts screen, looks and works better than before. Apparently the default camera can now save to the SD card but I'm still using a flashed Google Camera so I can't test that. I look forward to the next Nightlies to see what they bring.

Monday 2 June 2014

Revitalizing a Sony VAIO with Xubuntu 14.04.

Yesterday I rescued a Sony VAIO VGN-N31S/W from a life of Windows Vista and from being recycled as e-waste. It has a dodgy PSU cable (held together with green/yellow electrical tape) and one missing key-top on the letter O. The previous owner has put a bit of tape over it, so it still kind of works, though a little awkward to press. I'm hoping I might be able to pick up a cheap replacement key or replacement keyboard.

The battery is totally dead, and I had to set up the time/date and other settings in the BIOS. It's got a 1.66ghz Core 2 Duo CPU, Intel 950 onboard graphics (up to 256MB shared memory), a 320GB Seagate hard drive and a DVD writer. This machine still has it's original 1GB of RAM - 2x 512MB DDR2 sticks. It came to me in it's original box and has all it's manuals too. I even found the original receipt tucked inside the box, this laptop cost £599.99 in 2007, when it was new!

On boot up I discovered it had a messed up Windows Vista Premium install, so that had to go! I decided to install Xubuntu 14.04 on it, since it would run better on it's current 1GB RAM than Mint Cinnamon, which is my main distro of choice. At first I couldn't work out why it would not boot from my USB stick, despite already setting it to boot to USB in Boot Settings. Then I discovered there's another setting called "External Device Boot" that needs to be enabled, and that's in another section of the BIOS. Once the live disk had booted, the improved installer had Xubuntu installed in around 10-15 minutes. Everything went very smoothly and as far as I can tell right now, all the hardware works out-the-box. Wi-fi works and it suspends and resumes perfectly, which is not too surprising I suppose since this Intel chipset is well supported in Linux.

I have installed Cairo Dock, and my usual selection of favourite apps (gtkvncviewer, Audex, easyMp3gain-gtk, Filezilla etc) and a nice wallpaper that I have forgotten where I found. I did a Google Image search for "sunset wallpaper" and Large images in Search Tools.

Xubuntu runs really smoothly as usual, even on just 1GB RAM, though I still intend to replace the two 512MB sticks with 2x 1GB to max out the RAM. This is the first Sony VAIO I have ever owned and it feels fairly light compared to my Dell D520 and HP nc6320 laptops and has a bigger hard drive too, though the Dell and HP can both take 4GB RAM. It's also the first laptop I have owned that has an Express Card slot. I'm quite pleased it, once the RAM has been upgraded, keyboard repaired/swapped and the power lead fixed this should be a fairly decent and usable laptop.

Update 10/06/2014: Despite every site I have been to saying that 2GB is the maximum RAM this laptop would take, I have bought a 2GB DDR2 stick of RAM, for £10 which isn't bad at all, along with one of the original 512MB sticks, the VAIO is running just fine, more smoothly than with just 1GB RAM. I have also bought a replacement PSU too, as it's too tricky to try repair the original.