KDE – Desktop Environment of the Year

It comes as no surprise that KDE has been voted the Desktop Environment of the year by the members of LinuxQuestions.org. It has matured into a great environment and deserves its award.

It was nice to see some other KDE linked projects doing well too with Amarok winning the audio media player category and K3b the mutlimedia utility category.

See here for the full story.

Update Time

Every six months when the new version of Fedora is released I start to wonder if and when I should update. The release of Fedora 10 a couple of weeks ago started the decision process all over again.

I have been using Fedora 8 and that is what I am using as I write this. I do have a Fedora 9 system that I mentioned in my last post. It is running well and I have settled on Xfce as my desktop on that system. It is much more stable than the test F9 system I had a couple of months ago. It still has a couple of issues I haven’t solved though.

I have been following the forums and there seems to be less complaints with F10 than there was with F9. No setting of new forum records with the number of people on line trying to find answers to their questions this time. Not that it has been completely problem free of course. Several people have issues but nothing like it was six months ago.

There is a theory, or is it an urban legend, that the even numbered Fedoras are the good ones and the odd numbers are well odd and better avoided. Recent history seems to support this with F8 being the best Fedora so far, at least in my opinion. I had problems with F3 and F7, don’t remember trying F5. I didn’t start using Fedora as my main system until F8 but F6 was OK.

I’m not expecting much from KDE4 though as it uses the same version as F9 (4.1.2) although some reports are that it is a little better integrated in F10. Most other changes are evolutionary rather than the major changes that came with F9. Probably explains the smoother update this time.

So will I take the chance and try F10? Well I may set up a test system sometime over the holidays if I get a chance. If it goes well I will update my other systems. There is a temptation to always try latest but it must be balanced against the time taken to get the system set up as I like it and working. Although that is usually only a couple of days.

RPM Fusion Now Available

While Fedora has many applications available in its own repository its strict adherence to free software only means there are many packages that aren’t there. That includes many important proprietary video and wifi drivers we need until the free versions can offer the same features. Fortunately the 3rd party repos have stepped in to fill the gap. However this can lead to problems with incompatible versions and dependencies across the different repos. New comers have often been advised to enable only one 3rd party site. A solution to this has been in development for sometime and it consisted of the simple (at least on the surface) act of combining the more popular repos into one central place. This has finally been achieved and the new RPM Fusion is now in operation. This is a great step forward for Fedora and we can only hope that more repos will become involved. Congratulations to all those involved. Now if only someone would package Kdenlive for Fedora.

Below is the announcement from the Fedora forums, as you can see if you already have Livna correctly enabled you wont need to do anything. You will receive an update that will enable RPM Fusion and then you will receive several new updates from the new site. You probably wont need to keep Livna enabled after that.

“The RPM Fusion team is proud to announce the public availability of
our repositories that provide software which the Fedora project cannot
provide as easy-to-install RPM packages.

== What applications can be found in the RPM Fusion repositories ==

The RPM Fusion project provides a variety of different applications:

=== Sound and Video / Multimedia applications ===

We have all that is needed to play all kinds of media files, such as
MP3 or unencrypted DVDs
and ship additional multimedia applications such as MPlayer, VLC and Xine.

=== Kernel Drivers ===

We offer the ATI and Nvidia closed-source drivers in a
Fedora-compatible RPM package
for users whose video cards are not yet fully supported with the stock
open source drivers.

=== Games ===

We offer couple of games such as:
* Bub’s Brothers
* Secret Maryo Chronicles
* UFO: Alien Invasion
* W├Ârms of Prey, xrick
* GLtron
* and lot others !

=== Emulators ===

We offer emulators for most retro platform:

* VICE for Commodore 64 and other vintage Commodore 8 bit computers
* E-UAE for Amiga
* Nestopia and FCEUltra for NES
* ZSNES and Snes9x for Super NES
* and many many others!

== More Information ==

RPM Fusion provides packages for all Fedora releases that are
supported by Fedora project, which includes the development branch
“rawhide”.

We have two separate repository lines:

* “free” for Open Source Software (as defined by the Fedora Licensing
Guidelines) which the Fedora project cannot ship
* “nonfree” for redistributable software that is not Open Source
Software (as defined by the Fedora Licensing Guidelines); this
includes software with publicly available source-code that has “no
commercial use”-like restrictions

Please read our wiki page about how to enable these repositories:
http://rpmfusion.org/Configuration

RPM Fusion is a project started by the Dribble, Freshrpms and Livna
teams. It aims to bring together many packagers from various 3rd party
repositories and build a single add-on repository for Fedora and Red
Hat Enterprise Linux. We hope to attract new Fedora packagers and hope
that other 3rd party repositories will join us.

Are you interested? Do you want to help? Don’t hesitate and subscribe
to our mailing lists at http://lists.rpmfusion.org or meet us in the
#rpmfusion channel on freenode.

==== Do you find problems? ====

Fill bugs at https://bugzilla.rpmfusion.org/

=== A note for Livna users ===

All users that installed Livna properly (e.g. by installing the
livna-release package) will get RPM Fusion free and nonfree
repositories enabled automatically. All packages in Livna that are
superseded by packages from RPM Fusion will soon be removed from the
Livna repositories.”

How Many Bits? 32 or 64?

What is 64 Bit?

It seems strange but while most of us run 64bit computers we are using 32bit Operating Systems. Of course there are good reasons for this if you use Windows. Microsoft has not shown a great deal of support for 64 bit systems although it has provided them for some time. The level of driver support is reported to make Vista look good. However with Linux the situation is very different. Many distros offer a 64 bit option. While the level of support varies between distros they are mostly valid options.

So why would you use a 64bit version in preference to the standard 32 bit? The answer is as varied as why do you use Linux? There is a performance advantage but how much and whether it is discernible will depend on the applications you use. Those that manipulate large amounts of data will benefit the most but only if there are 64bit executables available. There is also the issue of addressable memory. 32 bit systems are limited to 4 gig of ram.
There is a good post of the Fedora forums with more information much of which is applicable to all Linux distros and not just to Fedora.

Having read that post and others I decided to give 64(x86_64) bit a try. I obtained a Fedora 8 x86_64 DVD and installed it on my Dell Inspiron 1520. I covered the 32bit(i386) installation earlier and so won’t repeat that except to say I had to follow the same basic procedure. The setup went as well as last time but with a few differences.

What was Different?

To have Flash in Firefox it is necessary to use nspluginwrapper and the i386 Flash plugin. This is covered on the Fedora forums where there is an area especially for x86_64.

The other pleasant surprise was that PulseAudio worked for me. Once I found that Kmix didn’t have Output enabled, the green light was off, I enabled it and I had audio. Note to self, when playing with Audio settings have the volume control on the desktop so if it suddenly works you don’t deafen everyone and have to fumble around to turn it down. Occasionally it fails to load on bootup or resuming from Sleep but that is much rarer than with i386 and the sound quality is much better. A restart of X usually fixes the problem anyway.

There were no other issues I hadn’t already faced with the original installation and so I am pleased with the change. There is a small performance improvement in things like image editing and I haven’t found any disadvantages.

I did mention in the previous post that my multimedia controls on the front panel weren’t working. Further investigation showed they were recognised but not assigned so I set up Amarok to use them and they all work fine.

Is It For You?

If you are using Windows, don’t bother. Unless you switch to Linux of course. For Linux users, if your favourite distro has a x86_64 option and your hardware is compatible and most PCs sold in the last couple of years are, see the link to the Fedora forum for info on that, give it a go. If your favourite distro doesn’t have a x86_64 option ask why or give Fedora a go.

Of Data and the Base

It is not surprising that the first thing most people install after the operating system is an office suite. It is one thing that is standard in all Linux distros too. Even if you only write the occasional letter it is an application that everyone seems to use. Perhaps the least used part of most suites is the database. In fact it is not included as a standard part of every office suite. Base was not added to OpenOffice until version 2 and even Microsoft only includes Access in the more expensive version of Office.

However I have always thought that database apps are undervalued. Few people realise the power of them and I guess the steeper learning curve deters the more casual user. I have made extensive use of various database apps for sometime now. Strange to say though the most ubiquitous one (Access) is one I have no experience with. I am not talking of full professional multiuser solutions but I do need something more than the basic Mailing list. So when I started using Linux it was natural that I would look for a database solution that ran under Linux.

When I heard Base was to be added to OpenOffice, yes that is how long ago this story starts, I was very excited. The other OO packages had proved useful replacements for the Office suite I was using at the time. In fact I started using OO in Windows before my move to Linux. When I experimented with Base though I was disappointed. I found it clunky, slow and counter-intuitive. It was only after finding a couple of tutorials online that I could get anything done.

Perhaps I was being unfair to Base as it was an immature product at the time and I was used to something with over a decade of development behind it. I had been using Approach which was part of the Lotus suite. It had always been a powerful yet relatively easy to use application. Lotus is part of IBM and they are no longer developing the Smartsuite which included Approach. They have released a beta of Lotus Symphony that is based on OpenOffice. At this stage there is no indication they will be adding a database application although there is strong support for it on the forum on their site.

In fact I had not found anything I wanted to do that I couldn’t find a way to accomplish using Approach. And I have never needed to use scripting either. Sadly that is not something I could say about other applications. An example is the simple use of a calculated field. A calculated field is one that the content is automatically developed (or calculated) from other field(s). A simple example would be the addition of tax in a price list. If you had a list of products you would type in the price and the tax code / percentage and the final selling price would be worked out. Of course this could be done using reports but if you wanted a quick visual reference you could use without the need to print price lists a calculated field is the easiest way. There are many other uses and they don’t need to be numeric fields either. In Approach it was simply a matter of defining the field as a calculated field and defining the formula and it worked. In Base it required the use of a query and adding that query as a displayed field. It is necessary to manually edit the SQL statement to ensure the result is formatted the way you require. And that is just one example.

I don’t want to spend the time developing a professional solution using mySQL or Firebird although they would do what I require. It would be like using a freight train to bring home the groceries. So what are my alternatives?

Well Base works for simple databases and can be forced to do some powerful things but it is slow and difficult to use. I hope it gets the development it deserves as it could be a useful tool with a better interface. Another option I found was Kexi. Kexi is part of the Koffice suite and my first impressions are good. It was easy to start using with an intuitive interface and good layout. I was able to create a simple table without using a tutorial or even the help screens. I haven’t worked out if it can do everything I require but it is worth a further look.

The other option is to stay with Approach. I have found it will run, with some restrictions, under Wine. For those who aren’t familiar with Wine it is an application that allows selected Windows programs to run under Linux and other ‘nix systems. No need to get into the technicalities of Wine but some programs run well and others with limitations. Unfortunately Approach falls into the latter category. It is possible to access and edit the data and even do simple maintenance work but creating a new table or report are among the tasks that are not possible. I have had mixed results with printing too. So I could do some day to day work with it but would require a windows system for any development etc.

That is what I am doing at the moment but long term I would like to consolidate everything under Linux. So the short term solution is to use Wine / Approach but long term I will give Kexi and other Linux apps further investigation. I would appreciate any suggestions for consumer level database apps that run under Linux.

Using Desktop Effects

I wrote earlier about enabling desktop effects in Linux. Desktop effects provided by Compiz-Fusion have a universal wow factor. They add a little fun to using your computer. There was a lot of interest in that post so I thought I would add a little more info you may find useful.

Be the Boss

It is one thing to enable the effects but what about making them yours. That involves trying out the options and finding effects you enjoy and find useful. For that you need the Setting Manager CCSM. Unfortunately it is not always installed. If you don’t have it you will need to find it in our distro’s repository and add it. I won’t give instructions here as it will differ for each distro. Some of the links in the original article showed how to do it though.

Once installed it is a simple matter of looking through the various options and enabling whatever takes your fancy. If you would like a little more info on the options check out the C-F site, there is detailed documentation on each option. Of course the options in your system may differ from what is in the documentation as C-F is changing rapidly and new effects are added regularly.

One thing that confuses new Linux users a little is mention of the Super Key. It is used a bit in C-F to activate various effects. It is the key with the sysmbol of that other operating system, you know the one that starts with “W”!

So have fun and experiment with Desktop Effects they are something special and great for showing people just how great Linux is.

On OSes

Over the last couple of weeks I have used a number of different operating systems. This may be normal for many people but for me it is a little unusual. I have a couple I use regularly and that is about my usual limit. It got me thinking about OSes and the impact they have on our computer use.

It would be easy to argue that operating systems should be invisible and in fact for many people they are. I am surprised by the number of people who don’t know what they use. But maybe that is how it should be. After all it is the applications that we use to accomplish what we want to do. I think in an ideal world we would have an OS that perfectly matched the hardware it was used on and be able to run the applications that will do what we want to do without worrying about the type and version of OS. Of course that is heresy to many people.

I mentioned I had used a few different systems and they left me with an impression I didn’t completely expect. I used a Vista Business system, a couple of XP Pro and an XP Home as well as a few Linuxes including Fedora 8 and a couple of Ubuntu based live CDs. The Vista impressed me with its total lack of speed, even some of the live CDs felt faster. The XP systems all seemed adequate. They ran efficiently and did what was asked of them without too many problems but they seemed to lack character.

The Ubuntu based Live CDs were at a disadvantage as Live CDs will always run slower and don’t support the hardware as well as when they are installed. They were different systems with different agendas and did what they were designed to do. They generally were as good or better than any of the Windows systems.

My preferred systems were the Fedora 8 KDE installations, not surprising as they are my computers and are set up to suit what I do. But so are a couple of the XP systems, both my computers are dual boot Windows XP and Fedora. What surprised me was that when I switched the computers on I wanted to run Fedora even when I needed to run XP.

Living with Ubuntu

I installed Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on my Thinkpad T20 laptop as part of its rebirth. I also installed it as another boot option on my desktop. So what has it been like using it every day. I should point out I am not completely new to Linux having used various distros over the last few years. Linux has been my default operating system for the last year or two.

Installation went well. It was very simple, after the live cd booted I clicked on the install icon. The laptop installation was straight forward as I used the entire disk. On the desktop I have a spare harddrive and decided to use all of it which also was simple. Maybe too simple. I would prefer the option to select what gets installed and what doesn’t. I know I can do this post installation but why not at install time? Other distros do it.

There were some display issues on the laptop which I covered in the previous post but I was surprised how well most things worked, especially wifi. On the desktop all my hardware was recognised and works. Even the film scanner I have had to set up manually in the past. The graphics tablet works better than it has under any OS.

I like to personalise the desktop on my systems and here I found one of the weaknesses of Gnome. It is less intuitive to change colours etc than KDE. Once I got used to it though I was able to make some changes. I found editing the menus easier under Gnome. The desktop effects don’t work on the Thinkpad (no surprise there) but I use the cube on the Desktop.

I like single click having used it since it first appeared back in the days of Windows 98SE. I found it needed to be set in some programs, eg. Nautlius, although I had previously set it a system preference.

Installing additional software is a breeze, Synaptic is possibly the best tool currently available. I installed KDE and can switch between it and Gnome with ease. I also installed many other applications but that is a subject for a different day. The installation of the codecs needed to access some files, eg. MP3s, is handled well.

System updates are generally handled well. One update which included a new kernal reintroduced the display problems on the laptop and I had to redo the manual set up.

Localisation is an issue for many users and is for me. All systems default to US for English speaking countries and required some attention. During installation I was asked for my location and the time zone etc. was correctly set but I had to alter the language settings manually. There are Australian dictionaries and the local Ubuntu site covers this well. (As an aside Australian English is English UK with local place names etc. added).

I have had problems on the desktop with the USB sound card. Initially only Rhythmnbox would work but after searching various forums I got some system sound working but Firefox and other programs are still silent.

I will probably update to Gutsy Gibbon in the future but am no hurry to do it as I’m happy with the way it is running at the moment.

Overall though it has been a positive experience, Ubuntu is working well for me. It does nearly everything I need to do although I had to install several other programs to get to that point. They will be the subject of a future post.

USB Keyboard

I recently updated my keyboard and for the first time have one that plugs into USB. It works fine, WindowsXP required driver installation but Linux just worked. However I had one problem.

As you may gather this is a multi-boot machine, it has Windows and a couple of versions of Linux. I have a Grub menu at boot up to select the OS to use. That was the problem, the keyboard wouldn’t work until an OS started up. I could only access my default OS. Checking a couple of forums I found a comment that some (most new) bios have an option to activate USB at boot. I checked mine (using an old ps2 keyboard) and the option was already set. Still no luck.

My computer has 2 set of USB ports (3 if you count the ones on the front panel). There are some directly on the motherboard and some on an expansion card. I had plugged the keyboard into the expansion card. As a test I rearranged some of my USB devices plugging the keyboard into one of the ports on the motherboard and rebooted. Problem solved, it worked fine.

As an aside both Linux systems handled the rearrangement without a problem however Windows went into a flap trying to set up all my “new” hardware and insisted on a reboot before it would work. That’s one reason why it isn’t my default OS!