Monday, March 4, 2013

Today's Linux #4

Diablo 3
    It's been a busy Monday for me. Really, it's been a busy few weeks for me. Lots of school, lots of tennis, lots of Linux. 
    I'm at a point now where I use Linux exclusively, except for the occasional hour out of my day where I play Diablo on my Windows partition. Now I'm finding out that it's in the realm of possibility to play on Linux as well.
    I first found this out when I learned about W.I.N.E. A program that stores the necessary DLLs for most Windows applications to work. It's not like a Virtual environment, or VM, it's just a program that allows Windows applications to community smoothly with the Linux kernel. (They really stress that Wine is not an Emulator).
    At first, it seemed a little daunting. Not only are there a ton of versions of WINE out there, but there are a lot of things that need to be installed through WINE for things to work. Different libraries, different variations of WINE, different sets of resources. It was all very overwhelming...luckily there exists a program called PlayOnLinux, and through some sort of Witchcraft, all  you have to do is look up your application (or in this case game) on its' extensive list of  supported software, hit 'install', and then select the .exe Windows installer. This front end does all the heavy lifting, and finds the best WINE configuration. 
    When I booted it up for the first time, it is a little sketchy. The launcher was encapsulated in a big oblong black box, and it sat at 0/0 0.00mps for about 10 minutes, but once it started, it was pulling the normal 6+, and downloaded great. 
    In terms of performance, it runs comparable to Windows. I have a pretty hardy system, but I get best results on medium settings, with shadows off. It'll usually dance between 35 and 40 frames.
    It makes me wonder; "Wouldn't it be in the essence of Linux to optimize this?", I totally awesome would it be if we never had to request a native Linux client...we just made Linux run Windows games? I'm sure there are massive hurdles along this line of reasoning, but it's something.

    I'll be updating a little more frequently now, I've got some time on my hands. I've been having a lot of fun with my Nexus 7, and I just ordered my first ARM PC from Sparkfun, so I'll inevitably be posting some of my projects here; The first being getting a working install of any variation of Linux that's running kernel 3.0+. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Today's Linux #3


Installing Linux on my Desktop

     The biggest switch I hadn't made yet was moving Linux to my desktop computer. A mix between not wanting to delete the 500g's of data, and still having an attachment to my Steam account has kept me from taking the plunge. 
     Today though, I decided to make a 200g partition and install Xubuntu (my current favorite flavor of Ubuntu) on it, for those situations where the power of the laptop just won't do.
     I don't have a DVD bay in my desktop, I just don't use them at all. So my first order of business was to get a boot-able USB, which I used 'uNetbootin' to do. It's really a bit disappointing when you get down to it...all this time you assume that installing Linux, and configuring Linux, and anything Linux is this big complicated thing; But then you realize that almost everything is so laid out for you. Do you want to install Windows XP from a USB? Yeah...good luck with that. Oh you want to install Linux from one? Here is everything you need, simple directions, a nice little gui tool, and support for pretty much any distribution
     And installing a system from flash storage is super quick, so withing 15 minutes I was ready to go, booted into Xubuntu.
     First thing I did was set both the top and bottom panels to auto-hide. This is great, once you realize how much space those two little things take up, and if you do want to access them, mousing over to pull the bar back to focus is quick.
     Next, I updated my machine, and like I described in an earlier post, that is condensed into a nice little tool. 
     Finally, for the first time, I installed some of the proprietary drivers for my HD 6870s. I was a little wary about how stable of a system I was going to have once the drivers were installed, as I've heard absolute horror stories about them, but once again the whole shebang was simple and quick.
     Within thirty minutes I had Xubuntu running at full capacity, to my liking. 

     The R.A.T 7 Gaming Mouse and Linux

     Not only do I take pride in my tower, and the meticulous effort I put in to building it. I also enjoy some of the best peripherals on the market. I have a mechanical keyboard, a great Logitech 7.1 headset (or 5.1, I can't remember), and a 1080p monitor. I also boast a mouse that I've had for about 4 years now; The R.A.T 7 gaming mouse. It looks like a transformer.
     It's horrible in Linux. I don't know whether it's not working, or what's wrong. It'll let you click on a few windows before, suddenly and without reason, it'll perma-focus on a random window on screen. Sometimes it's the browser window, sometimes it's a panel, sometimes it's the desktop. When this happens, there are no combinations of buttons to escape, no button you can press on the mouse to save is a black hole and you've crossed the event horizon my friend. Every action just digs you deeper toward the center, toward the singularity...err...sorry I've been reading a lot of Astronomy papers lately.
     What's worse is, the fix listed online is to add a line to your xorg.conf file. xorg.conf? Wasn't that phased out in like...10.04? 
     The only way to fix the issue, and it's temporary and very stupid; You press ctrl+alt+backspace to return to the log in screen, then log back in. Yep, that's it! Then the mouse not only works fine, but it ceases the focus issue until the next reboot. 
     I'm going to spend the next few days in my free time trying to figure out what replaced xorg, and to see if I can append the needed information to it. If anyone knows of a fix, please email me or leave a comment here! Cheers!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today's Linux #2

XFCE and the Nexus 7

     I got a Nexus 7. 

     It's been eating the last couple of days for me. As my first tablet (I refused to buy an ipad), I wasn't sure what part of my computing life it was going to replace. I vowed upon opening it that it wasn't going to be a 200$ Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube machine, but other than that it remained to be scene what I wanted it to do.
     It's worth noting that, if you plan on buying a Nexus, whether it be the 4, 7 or 10, just give yourself unto Google. Set up a google account, get used to the calender, gmail, blogger, drive, currents, maps, navigation, and the play store. If you segment your life across multiple e-mail accounts and calender apps, it's worth consolidating everything, because the Gonex7 is a great life planner. 
     Within a few hours, Google had learned my favorite sports teams and now displays the most recent scores and when their next game is in the Google Now screen. I can just shout at my tablet to set-up an appointment, play music, translate, convert measurements, and a plethora of other mildly interesting tasks. 
     I quickly learned that the 7 wouldn't be replacing functions of my computer, but giving me new options to augment my life. I never really had a reason to have a calender, but I've started more seven day challenges, and it's a great way to track my progress. It provides a great motivation to get my life in better order, and I enjoy using it for that reason.
    The big selling point for me on an Android tablet are the widgets. They don't exist on IOS, and I wouldn't be able to live without them. When I unlock my Nexus, I'm presented with my gmail inbox, latest stories from NPR, the front page of /r/Linux, a quick connect to SSH, access to my e-reader books (something I really love is the e-reader and all the free books), a look at the weather, and a look at my next week on my calender. Instead of having to open each individual app like you would on an Ipad, I just have to unlock, check, and boom. It's also nice getting to try Chrome on a mobile platform, as my Atrix 4g is not compatible to run it.
    Overall, I'm excited to have my Nexus 7 (duh haha). I'm planning on writing a post about how simple budget computing is now-a-days once I get the motivation to do it. I did consider putting Ubuntu Touch on it, but it's in such early alpha stages that I'd rather wait for the core apps to be available and for some of that dummy data to disappear. 
     Oh, and the Swipe Typing is fantastically amazing. I can't praise it enough.

    Switching back to a physical keyboard...I've been demoing different Desktop Environments for a few days on my laptop. 
    Probably one of the coolest things about Linux, is that you can make it look almost exactly how you would want your computer to look. You can emulate a Windows-Like UI with KDE, or recreate the OSX bar filled with applications. The possibilities are endless. 
    In my case, I just really care about performance, and when looking for the lightest and fastest, it came down to two; XFCE and LXDE. I decided to test XFCE first.
    I already had Xubuntu on my netbook, but I haven't touched the GUI. After first boot, I put it in Multi-user mode, and closed the lid, and to be honest, I'd rather test it on my laptop where I conducted my 7 days of Linux to compare the overall speed of the system.
    It's been a couple of days, and so far I only have positives (what can I say, I'm a pretty optimistic guy haha). It just like the fact that there isn't much going on in terms of animations. When I click things in Unity, when I minimize, maximize switch desktops or open an Application it seems paired with a blink or special growth animation know a lot of excess. Which, don't get me wrong isn't a bad thing. Sometimes when your OS feels alive, it's drawing. Interactivity is key when you want to draw an audience that have been using extremely animated tablets and commercial OS's.
    XFCE does just the opposite, it's all single frame animations. Either the application is open, or it isn't. You click an icon, and it just pops up. Minimizing and maximizing take one frame, everything takes one frame. It feels like lightning. It may not have a huge overhead difference, but it seems like it does because of it's total disregard for excess beauty. And that's the beauty in the system. It's the Howard Roark of Operating Systems.
    I've got a basic outline for myself; spend an inordinate amount of time being picky about my DE, and once I settle on something I absolutely love, then start picking apart Linux and learn about the guts, learn how to compile, whatever else I have to learn from this OS. It still feels like I'm chipping away at the atom at the top of the iceberg.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today's Linux #1

Thursday, February 21st
Switching to Unity 2D

     I'm beginning to get used to waking up in the morning to the serene noise of New Jersey, instead of the hard buzz of my desktop computer. It's the beginning of my second straight week without Windows, and I've been using my laptop running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for everything. I walk over to my Thinkpad's dock and press the power button.
     I grab my french press, a puddle of yesterday's coffee sloshing around with the grounds, and head into the kitchen to make a fresh pot while everything boots up.
     When I come back, I was typing in my password when I noticed a little Ubuntu logo adjacent to my login name. When I clicked it, a little drop down box appeared listing Ubuntu and Ubuntu 2D. Ubuntu was selected.
     Curious, I logged into 2D, and was greeted by the typical Unity interface. My bar was less animated, and didn't have the icons piled up on the bottom like they typically are. When running 'top' I also noticed that compiz wasn't running either. Interesting. 
     I looked online for 'Unity 2D specifics', but I was greeted again by those lovely reviews. Fine, I'll just use it for a day.

    The Unity bar itself seemed happier to respond to opening programs. The difference between 3D and 2D may have only been minor, but still enough to feel.
    Although when you have two windows of the same program running like Firefox and you click the launcher icon to display all of them, the screen is horribly mangled. The windows become horribly pixelated, like if you had a 1080p screen with the resolution set to 15x19.
     My wireless USB mouse is also freaking out right now when I use it. If I spend a few moments typing, or any situation where it idles for four or five seconds, it has to 'wake-up'. I have to wiggle it all over before the cursor moves again.
     The icons in my Unity launcher are lower resolution too. Not that it matters, but it's a little painful on the eyes to look at low resolution icons all day. 
     It is now 4:27, about six hours after boot, and I can no longer stand using Unity 2D. I have also read that it is no longer available in releases newer than 12.04. It feels a lot like a cheap rip-off of Unity, lacking the polish and extra features that make Unity feel clean and crisp.
     The icing on the cake came when I wanted to return to the login screen to switch back to 3D, and I was just presented with a black screen; forcing me to hard-reboot the system.
    Try Unity 2D yourself if you're running 12.04 LTS like me, and let me know if you have the same issues on your machine, or if it acts differently on full hardware instead of just a laptop!

    This has got me interested in different Desktops though. I uncovered a little information about the typical ones available through the Ubuntu Software Centre while learning about Unity 2D. I was especially interested in LXDE, XFCE, and the various Gnome 2 forks (Gnome 2 was the first desktop I ever used). And I will undoubtedly be trying a few of those tonight and tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 7

Day 7 

     Here we are. Day 7.

     While writing this blog, I've spent a lot of time reading about Ubuntu. I avoided doing that before the final day, because I wanted to have a pure experience. I wanted to go through the rigours of daily use without having an ulterior motive in the back of my head searching out flaws that others found 'glaring'. 
     What I found was shocking; I found reviews written by people who are beyond power users. People who attack Ubuntu for 'not truly being free', and 'not providing enough access to the user'. It's hard to wade through all the complaints about Unity; That there isn't enough customizability with the Unity bar, that it doesn't run fast enough, that Ubuntu is heading in the wrong direction...
     I've learned something valuable these last seven days; Be skeptical of others. Whether or not some one else likes Ubuntu should provide nothing more than anecdotal evidence. The only real account that matters is your own. And you know what?
     I love Ubuntu.

     From the moment I installed it, to the very end, I waited. I waited for the crashes, for the unexplainable errors, for the lack of features or difficulty to adapt. It never came. I waited for major road blocks, for one program or function that was absolutely necessary, that would make me crawl back to Windows...but it never came.
     Some may say that Ubuntu is almost there. That, in due time, it will be ready for use to the general public. I say; Ignore these people. Ubuntu, and on a broader scale Linux, is ready to be used. We have to stop treating everyone like they're 6, and show them that it isn't hard to learn, it's worth taking the time, when it means liberating yourself to a new world where you don't have to be afraid to use a computer in case of a 'virus', or because you don't know how to install something, or any other reason.
     I'm going to continue using Linux. I'm no longer going to fear it because I'm unable to do what I did in Windows. I'm going to use it because it's a place of less distraction. A place where I can have the same satisfaction from healthier sources. Ubuntu is a world I feared because I didn't truly know what it held in store, and now that I took the dive I found out the water is clearer, the tank is larger, and the swimming lessons are free.

     I'm going to continue writing to this blog at least three times a week, documenting my eventual switch to Linux over my life. I will no longer be linking to Reddit, as I don't want to bother the guys on the Linux and Ubuntu forums with daily posts. I'm 21 and have a lot to learn, and I feel like Linux is going to be a big part of my life from now on. Thank you for coming with me for these seven days, I appreciate the few comments that have corrected my ways, or shown me how to be more efficient. It's things like that which motivate me most to continue; There's always more to learn. Thank you.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 6

Day 6
Ubuntu Updates

     Windows updates are stupid. They're obtrusive on so many levels, it's no surprise people shy away from updating any WinOS and their programs; It's absolute chaos. There's no one system by which you can download and update even groups of programs. Sometimes when you start a program it'll tell you that it's out of date, and require a redownload, some have auto-updaters, some have annoying pop-up boxes (cough flash java cough). It's a catastrophe, because there are updates that keep your system secure, or updates that are crucial to the stability and performance of programs. 
     Another area that Ubuntu shines is it's one click update process. Whatever you install through Ubuntu's Software Centre gets automatically updated when you run the Update Manager app. Not only are you guaranteed the latest version for all your programs, but the latest updates for your Ubuntu install as well. Even new Kernel versions are pumped out through the Update App. This means that you'll always have the newest, safest, fastest version of your OS available. This is a nice change from having to manually update 15 constantly used programs on my system. 

Ubuntu Battery Life
     These six days are obviously not going to yield all positive things. And it would be naive and unfair of me to give nothing but positive news. In terms of usability, Ubuntu reigns supreme, but it's lack of driver and overall hardware support takes it's toll on the battery.
     When I was running Windows 7 on this machine, it had great hardware un-clocking tools that would turn down the processor, and save battery whenever possible. It even allowed for manual power control. I could easily get ten hours from a full charge. 
     Ubuntu on the other hand treats laptops with a blanket 'power saving' mode. There are no drivers available through the Lenovo site for x220 machines, and when I e-mailed support about any plans to support Linux, I received no reply. On a full charge, I get three to four hours of web-browsing, and three when doing video playback, even less if I have things running in the background. 
     I tried a program called 'powertop', which allowed me to change some things called 'tune ables', which were supposed to provide a little more battery life, but in the end the amount I gained was minuscule, and when I restarted the machines the tune ables reverted back to stock settings. It just wasn't worth it.
     Is this a huge factor for me? Yes and no. I don't travel much, and I don't find myself in a situation where I'll need more than three hours of battery without access to a outlet very often, but it is a pretty significant power drop over the Windows battery life. 
     I'm kind of hoping that the recent reveal of the Ubuntu Tablet OS, Canonical will pay a little more attention to the limited power of batteries.

Monday, February 18, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 5

Day 5
Ubuntu For The Student

     Early rise, late post today. Even though it's Monday, I still had school and with that, came an unexpected test for my Linux soaked world; Being a Student.
     I didn't realize until I was one foot out of the door that my school provides Windows 7 Enterprise Machines, but holds no policy against bringing your own computer. I figured, hell, if my Student Portal didn't work on my computer, or I wasn't able to do everything I needed via Linux, I would be fine with breaking my fast for education. 
     Upon arriving in class, I received a few eyes of disapproval, as I forgot to mute the sound on my Laptop and the Ubuntu start noise blew out over the classroom (of 15 kids). Charge cable in, power on, it was time to take Ubuntu to school.
     Like anyone from my generation, I needed to secure an internet connection ASAP. The wireless at school is unsecured, but redirects you to a log-in page that requires a unique Student I.D. and password. I connected to the wireless, and upon opening Firefox, I received a warning stating that their were risks in using this web-page, perhaps Ubuntu and Firefox don't like redirecting connections? There was a small drop down arrow available for me to click, which allowed me to add 'an exception'. There was another box there, to add it permanently, which I also clicked which proved useless as when I went to reconnect again it prompted me with the same warning. It's hard to tell whether that was the doing of Ubuntu, or the redirecting protocol. Thirty seconds later, I was logged in and fully connected.
     Before I did anything, I wanted to make sure my student portal worked. My school warned that the 'ideal setup' was Windows XP/7 with the Latest Internet Explorer...So we're pretty far from that with Ubuntu and Firefox. I headed over to the website, made sure all my Greasemonkey Scripts, ad, pop-up and all other bells and whistles were disabled and logged in. No issues so far. Formatting flawless, colors matched up, and all my links were click-able. I continued to my assignments, and opened the in-browser software that allows me to begin work. This is where I expected to run into issues...but...after a few cycles of the loading animation the software was ready to use and surprisingly fast. Faster than using it with I.E. at least. I grabbed a calculator app off the Software Center (Speedcrunch), and did my days work, slowly enabling more and more of my addons as I went on. Only adblocker had a quarrel with the software, which was easy enough fix, as I just told it that the site was trustworthy. 
     There was nothing else I couldn't accomplish; I had LibreOffice installed, I had a calculator, I even had a Wiki Lens installed!
     I'm starting to think; I should advocate Netbooks with a lightweight Linux like Xubuntu for students. Imagine the cost of that type of product if they sold them with pre-installed Linux. Not only the first investment for the hardware, but the cost of use vs. getting a Windows machine, keeping it healthy with regular defragments, anti-viruses, and bogware that comes pre-loaded...I didn't think I would ever say that it's probably easier for a new computer user to understand how to use Ubuntu.