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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 4

Day 4
Getting Music

     My crank radio is out of juice this morning, and it's eerily quiet in my room without the normal whurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr of my desktop. It is another day of Linux, and one I've been both looking forward to and dreading since I started this challenge.
     I had been a lazy boy, and only used iTunes to get music for the past four or five years. I come to know various mistresses along the way; Bearshare, Limewire, the Pirate Bay...but due to the current political climate here in the United States, it's too risky to be stealing music using such loud means. I had actually known this even when I was using windows. There was a golden era where you could use Gnutella and P2P as much as you wanted without fear of getting caught, but now you can guarantee yourself some hefty fines if you're stealing music a few days a week.
     Since this crackdown, I had been using sites that would allow me to rip youtube videos down into .mp4 or .flv, which I would then use either Windows Movie Maker or a simple audio program to tear it down further to an mp3. Now it feels like those sites are being sought after!
     After a little digging around this morning, I found the most amazing tool for Linux called Youtube-dl. You go on youtube, find the song you want and copy the URL, then head over to your favourite terminal (I've taken a liking to Guake), and type 'youtube-dl theurl' and hit enter. It automatically defaults to the best quality video available, and begins downloading it. Here's the best part; It'll even download a play list that you create. So if you want, you can go hunt down 150 songs and throw them into a youtube play list, then send the playlist URL to youtube-dl and it'll happily do all the dirty work.
     I wish I could have captured my face when I realized what this tool could do.
     I had to figure one last crucial step though. Now that I had all these raw videos, is there a way I could possibly split the audio apart from the video? Sticking with the motif of CLI based functions, I again turned to my good friend google. (For anyone new to Linux, I swear this; Google is your friend), and found a tool called ffmpeg. Literally the man pages say, "ffmpeg video converter". 
     I spent the next 15 minutes reading through it's man page, and picked up pretty much all the information I could need. It could convert my random .flv (flash video) and .mp4 files into .wav files, which was almost good enough. I wanted mp3, and I wouldn't settle for any less. There exists yet another program called 'lame', and it's job according to the man pages is to 'create mp3 audio files'. Don't you just love how straight forward the information on the man pages are? 
     In the end the command sequence looks something like this; 
  1. Find a song on youtube.
  2. 'youtube-dl --title songurl'
  3. ffmpeg -i songfile.format newname.wav
  4. lame newname.wav newname.mp3
  5. rm *.wav;rm songfile.format
     Boom. You have yourself a totally DRM free, solid quality mp3 file that can be easily uploaded to any basic MP3 player, and works well in every music player. And it all works on Linux without a hitch.
     To give this process a catalyst; I do it on my EEE through SSH, so that I'm not hogging the bandwith of my x220 while I'm working on it. 
Part 2

      Look, I know I said in the beginning that I didn't do this to see what games I could get running under Wine, or to Install Steam. But I have a 2000$ Steam account, and it would be a crime not to keep an eye on the suddenly fast growing world of Linux gaming
      Truth be told, I just want to share my experience of running native Linux games on an x220, which is like, the farthest thing away from a gaming laptop. 
      On first boot Steam tells me that, in order for everything to work properly I need to add a PPA to my software sources. Something for x-updates. After a quick lesson on how to add a PPA, I added the one listed from Steam, and ran my typical script to make sure everything was in order. Steam booted up. I poked around the interface just out of curiosity to make sure all of the features worked. I checked out the store, community pages, game hubs, forums, and they all seemed in working order. It was actually quite surprising because I had taken a dive into Linux gaming before when the Steam beta started, and hardly anything was functioning then. 
     I only wanted to test one or two games. I wanted to keep away from anything that would become too big of a time sink; CS:GO, RPGs, or anything like that. To my luck, there are only twenty or so games ready to be installed, so I chose Beat Hazard, Sword and Sworcery, and Steel Storm, three quick arcade like games that you can enjoy for quick bits at a time. 
    Apparently though, Beat Hazard doesn't work yet? It's listed in my library, but it takes .0005 seconds to install and then complains that there is no executable. Sword and Sorcery worked fine, as well as Steel Storm, but poor Beat Hazard hit the floor without taking one step.
    The gameplay of 3D games was as I expected; slow and choppy even at low quality. 
    I installed Torchlight 1 a while back through the Ubuntu Software Center only to find out it was a buggy mess of crashes and glitches at the time. I figured I'd give it another shot now since it's been a good few months since it's release. To my surprise, the same bugs and graphical errors still existed. I hope that porting a game and then abandoning it doesn't become a popular thing to do among developers in the Linux gaming world.
    My final quest was to see how CS:S would run. I knew it was going to be a long shot, since Steel Storm and Torchlight ran at 25-30 frames at most. Surprisingly, it wasn't awful. It as smooth enough to play, and I enjoyed a few quick rounds against some bots on Dust_2, barely hindered by a jumpy frame rate.


    I have to admit, it has been a great week thus far. Not because I switched to Linux, but because when I was using Windows, I was always dumping my time into useless things. I was on Reddit, I was on youtube, I was playing games. But now, I'm spending a majority of my time learning about Linux. I've been more motivated to learn in general, and get more active away from my keyboard. I just have this feeling around Linux that computers aren't a place to go if you want to waste time, but a place to go where you can learn. A place where, the more time and effort you put into it, the more productive you can be. I'm trying to let this lesson seep into the rest of my life; Never be happy with being good at something, because you can always get better. Working with Linux has humbled my view on computers. On my Windows machine I kind of though I 'knew it all', or at least enough to consider myself beyond proficient. But Linux is so much more...complex. I feel so much smaller, but in a good way, a way which keeps me fighting to increase my size and presence in the world around me.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 3

Day 3

     It's another disgusting morning here on the Delaware River in New Jersey. A UFO smashed into a tiny town in Russia, and NPR is buzzing with talk about the upcoming sequester, but my mind is focused on one thing; Linux.
      I had set up my Netbook with SSH a couple of days ago, and since then it's been idle. I needed to find a better way to use the single-core first generation Intel Atom processor. At first, my mind steered me toward running a small public Minecraft server. The set-up was simple enough and within 20 minutes I had one running, but any more than 3 people caused horrible 'lag' like issues where you would be rubberbanded around the map spasmodically. So that ended up being a no-go.
      After doing a little searching online, I learned about FTP. A simple, straightforward service that would allow me to turn my EEE-PC into a place to store backups, Music, and Videos on my local network, and luckily there's nothing you can't learn how to do with a little googling. So within a few minutes I had installed 'vsftpd'. I had some experience with setting up SAMBA before in a Linux class I took in Community College, so I didn't know what to expect with FTP, whether I had a front end to deal with, where to configure it, or how to access it from other computers. Turns out, there's a .conf file in /etc with everything I needed. I forwarded a few ports, enabled local user log-in, and installed Filezilla on my machine. Voila. It's amazing, simply and utterly amazing how well it works. I put an installation of Filezilla on my persistent Ubuntu USB, and now I'll never have to worry about forgetting important things like papers for class. Not to mention I uploaded and now have access to my raw .mp3 music collection to share with my friends as I please. 
PT. 2
Getting used to the Unity Interface
     A big gripe I had against Ubuntu was Unity. As my grandfather once said; "Everyone's taste is in their mouth", so it's be expected that the various Desktop Environments available in Linux aren't going to please everyone. I decided, for the time being that I at least wanted to give Unity a shot. 
     For starters, there's no 'start'. There is a little Ubuntu insignia in the top right of your screen that, when clicked, gives you a searchable screen of all your installed applications. This is a very jarring change. No longer are your programs sorted into any type of 'applications' or 'programs' folder. Once you realize it, you can go to tiny little icons at the bottom of the screen which say; Home, Applications, Files & Folders, and Videos. Once clicked, there is a barely visible bar that says 'View all installed', that will then display all of the icons of programs you've installed. While I agree searching for them can be faster, it's so sensitive to spelling that one letter throws off the whole engine.   
     If you're a user of Windows 7, and you've come to love the 'pin to taskbar' option, the whole GUI is built around that. And someone like me, who does word processing, programming, listens to podcasts, music, uses a calculator, and has shortcuts to both Mozilla and Thunderbird; you can imagine how crowded that bar gets. I have to scroll down my applications bar on the right to find things I want, which seems hilarious and misplaced in an Operating System's GUI.
     My only other big complaint is the 'delay' between clicking the application on the bar, and it's launch. It seems like an inordinate amount of time between the two. It just doesn't feel snappy. 
     This whole interface goes against what I have been doing so far; Using simple applications that work great.
     But, I don't know what Unity was like in it's early stages of testing, so I cannot properly gauge how far it has come, and therefore I won't impart the sever judgement of saying 'Unity is terrible', just that it still needs a lot of work. Perhaps I just haven't gotten used to it yet.
     A few things I really like; Any applications that run in a 'background' mode have some sort of docking system so that they play nice with the Unity bar up top. This means when I get a message on  Skype, receive a new e-mail, or if my battery goes low my OS it's all displayed in a Uniform box at the top left. Now I know Windows does basically the same thing...but not really. The fact that these alerts are displayed in Ubuntu's Unity wrapper, not directly from the application itself, gives the system a really nice centric feel. You don't feel like you've got 5 programs running on top of Ubuntu, you feel like you've enabled five features within the system. This applies to pretty much anything with this 'Unity bar compatibility', it just feels like you're adding new features to your system. This is almost a 180 degree turn from Windows.
     Overall, Unity isn't bad or good, it's just...very different. I would say that as the excitement around switching Operating Systems fades away, and I really look for ways to utilize Linux, I will become a little more picky about which I use. 
     Maybe I'll experiment with other Desktop Environments later this week, I played around with XFCE and LXDE on my netbook, and I don't see why they wouldn't work great on my desktop.

     Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about the new channels by which I have to acquire music and other forms of entertainment, as well as what it's like to write Java and Arduino code on Linux.   

Friday, February 15, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 2

Day 2

     Who doesn't collect media today? Whether it's pictures, videos or music, it's so universal that by default; Windows, Mac and Linux have folders for all three in a fresh install. One thing that's not default, and is by no means 'perfect' is the way we accrue and play such huge collections.
     For me, it was hard to stray from iTunes. They provided a convenient tunnel for me to purchase music (even though I think $1.29 is an absolute travesty for one song). And one of the main reasons I find myself running back to Windows is for access to my massive iTunes collection. More recently though, as a 21 year old college student, I can no longer justify such costs, and have had to become more creative with the paths upon which I get music. Out of a total 500 songs, I would say 25% are just raw mp3s that I...was...I was given by a friend. This was the basis for my transition; Get those 100ish songs into a usable Linux media player.
     First up; Clementine. This program is so clean, so fast, and so straightforward that the team in charge of iTunes memory usage should take notes. My music is meticulously organized, but even if it wasn't, you can create a really nice playlist using music from all different directories without any issue at all. No dragging or dropping, the in-program file browser is sweet and easy to use. Clementine functions flawlessly with my x220's 'fn' keys, as well as the the media keys on my Razor Reclusa keyboard (I'm using a Thinkpad docking station at home). I spent an hour or so listening to music on it, adding a few new songs, and just figuring out how the whole interface was a real pleasure. A great experience overall.
      The only other program I really wanted to test alongside Clementine was vlc. I used VLC for video playback on pirated legally attained films that I play through my x220's absolutely existing built in DVD player. It's such a naked old lady compared to Clem, and I wouldn't ever consider using it for Music if it weren't for one awesome feature; the CLI interface....This is my set-up, and I can use an SSH app on my phone to play music from my speakers! I can simply type 'vlc *.mp3' in my music root directory and it will play through everything. It has the ability to skip, go back, pause,'s awesome! What's even better, is that I can play a Movie on my monitor from my bed (which is about 10 feet away), and use my phone as a remote. It's like a Linux on Demand Movie Channel. 
      So what did I do? I left both installed because they both serve useful purposes. So what if I have to attain my music nefariously? I like to live on the edge. When I'm on my laptop browsing Reddit, or talking to some folks on IRC, I'll happily use Clementine. When I'm going to bed, or feeding the big screen in the living room from the laptop, I'll use VLC, and my Atrix 4g as a remote.
      I tried Audacity and Rythmbox, but they didn't seem to work as quickly as Clementine. Especially Audacity, which had a lot of tools that I didn't want or need.
     iTunes had been such a staple for me over these past years that I had gotten used to forgiving it for it's clunky, slow, resource hogging interface. It bothered me, but not enough any more to justify switching. Once you really see what's available though, it's hard to go back to forgiving. I'm really glad I gave new media players a shot. I will gladly give up the sheen of the iTunes white interface, 'trendy' big buttons and overpriced, over stuffed music store for the functionality that comes with my new VLC and Clementine combination. It just works.
     That's what these 7 days (and possibly more) are about though. Learning that I don't have to settle for crappy software, whether it be a Media Player or OS. Linux just seems to want to work. It's so easy to install and test these applications. The software centre provides no doubts as a clean place to install software. So far, I do not understand why more people who want to build home/office computers aren't using Ubuntu, or some variation.  

Tomorrow; I try to create my own NAS by enabling FTP on my HE-1000.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

One Week Linux Challenge - Day 1

     Here I sit, a neon yellow hand-crank radio to my right fixed on NPR, and a cup of coffee gone cold to my left. Today is the day I push myself to become a 'full-fledged Linux user'. Not in the sense that I'll be compiling kernels and doing commits to huge projects, but in a way that will be meaningful to me. 
     I've been unfaithful. Since I discovered Linux I haven't dedicated myself to it. Sure I have a hundred of my precious Gigabytes allocated to an Ubuntu install...but until now it's been a hobby, a getaway from the frustrations of a cold and static Windows world. I have disconnected a 1500$ desktop in favour of my Thinkpad x220. A laptop that, until now, has served no purpose other than mobile Arduino development.
    But, with this change comes initiative. I don't plan on seeing what games I can get running under Wine, nor do I plan on installing Steam. I want to use this week to discover the things I can do on Linux that would be otherwise difficult or impossible on Windows. I want to fully embrace Open Source Software alternatives, and along the way hopefully hurdle problems I've had before that kept me from switching.

Day 1


     I wanted to get both my x220 and EEE HE1000 running similar variations of Linux, so I chose Ubuntu on my x220, and  Xubuntu on my HE-1000. One thing that felt so lonely about Windows at home was it's independence from my network. There was no real reason to interface machines unless you had some sort of NAS. And even then, it's not like they're really connected. So, I wanted to do some direct control via SSH, a simple lightweight protocol that allows CLI usage of one machine through another.
     First order of business; 'sudo apt-get install ssh' on my EEE. With a little googling I found out how to check when 'ssh' was active, and for that matter how to check if any service is running. Then I grabbed the IP of the machine, closed the lid, plugged in the power cord and threw it into a corner. 
     Next, I needed an SSH client on my x220. I chose puTTy because I had been using it for Serial port logging on my Arduino, and I was already pretty familiar with the interface. It was simple enough to connect too...all I had to do was put in the local I.P and it prompted me with a username field.
     I spent the next half hour or so updating, moving files around, and pretty much doing things a toddler could do. 
    Overall, I really feel like there are a few big hurdles I'm going to come across; Music and Hardware Drivers. Tomorrow, I plan on conquering my song collection and possibly finding new paths to get songs. Until then, it's more NPR and Leo Laporte on gPodder!