Dark Materia

September 29, 2008

I find that I still need both a music manager and a simple music player, in case I want to test a file outside of my collection. In my opinion, the best XMMS lightweight audio player is still XMMS, or any of it’s clones like BMP or Audacious. I prefer the latter. But none of the XMMS clones follows your GTK-theme, so it tends to be rather ugly. Good thing is, they also support winamp skins, and there must be millions of those. Most of them suck. Very rarely, they look polished, professional, and stunning.

Case in point. I especially like the rounded corners, and the little orange cross. This looks great on a default Ubuntu install.


Sidux 2008-03

September 24, 2008

In my last post I goofed. I said to be looking forward to Sidux 2008-04, but apparently 2008-03 has just come out. In my defence, I based myself on the latest Distrowatch Weekly, which claims 2008-04 will be out next month, which won’t be very likely. In my defence, 2008-03 was late, because of a bug in the virtualb-ose package, and actually the release number doesn’t matter that much, because just like Arch, it has a rolling release model. More info at the website.

A quick introduction taken straight from Distrowatch: “The sidux distribution is a desktop-oriented operating system and live CD based on the unstable branch of Debian GNU/Linux. Besides full compatibility with its parent, the distribution also offers a custom kernel with support for a wide variety of modern hardware devices, KDE as the default desktop environment, a rolling release cycle, and compliance with Debian’s Free Software guidelines.”

Anyway, yesterday I grabbed the iso and installed it. There’s a choice of iso downloads: a full KDE LiveDVD (2GB), and two LiveCDs, one with KDE-lite, and one with XFCE. Both are fairly small, between 400 and 500 MB. I like my operating systems to fit on a single CD, so those were more interesting to me. Choosing between KDE and XFCE wasn’t hard…I don’t like XFCE. I just find the configuration tools confusing, which is of course a very personal thing.

The LiveCD ran just fine, and it would have surprised me if it hadn’t. There’s nothing exotic about my hardware, and Sidux has the reputation of being rock-solid stable. There was a nice surprise right at the GRUB menu, which was the inclusion of Dutch as a possible language. A look at the website taught me that this was a new feature for 2008-03, and also that it’s only supposed to be included in the LiveDVD. Obviously, this is because of space restraints: there’s simply no room on the LiveCD to include all possible translations. Sure enough, almost everything was in English. Since I deliberately chose kde-lite, I was fine with that.

Performance of the LiveCD was great. It must have been the fastest boot of any LiveCD with KDE I ever tried, but even more impressive was the snappiness which the applications opened with. I had heard that Sidux was very fast, and it didn’t disappoint.
Same thing happened with the installation: after filling in all the information it just took 4 minutes to finish the install. Four minutes! That’s lightning!
The install program itself has been kept simple. It exists out of a single window, with tabs. There’s a detailed overview of the whole installation available at the Sidux website, but the installer on 2008-03 has a prettier theme than the one on the screenshots there (Qtcurve). All in all, it’s pretty easy.

It looks okay too, without being exceptional. As a said, the style is Qtcurve, with a colour-scheme called “Invisible Light”. The icons are standard Everaldo SVG, and the moise pointer style is DMZ-Black (same style Ubuntu uses, only, well, black). There are two pieces of artwork custom made for Sidux. One is the background, which is…trippy. It’s the winner of the Sidux wallpaper contest in August, and it can be found here, together with the other contestants. The other is the KDE splash screen, which is based on the background. As I said, it’s decent enough, but it doesn’t wow me.

After the install, I was online, my screen had the right resolution, and my printer was easily added. However, everything still was in English. The language itself wasn’t a problem, since the Dutch KDE packages are easily installed. However, Sidux assumed that because I speak Dutch, I am Dutch, and I’m not. I’m Belgian. And us crazy Belgians use another keyboard layout. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Belgium and France using an azerty layout while the rest of the world uses qwerty is kind of crazy. But almost every Linux install I did asked me what keyboard layout I wanted, and Sidux didn’t. Even switching KDE layouts, which is easy enough, doesn’t solve the problem, because as soon as I dropped out of X I zqs hqving +qny difficulties, like this. This also affects KDM, and since my password contains numbers and other special signs, I had some trouble logging in. Lucky for me that I have used qwerty before, but I can’t imagine this being easy for everyone.
After some forum-searching I found the right commands to fix this (dpkg-reconfigure locales && dpkg-reconfigure console-data), but even after that I had to edit xorg.conf to get the layout right in KDM. As you can see, I had to do a lot of CLI messing around to just get the keyboard layout right, so Sidux definitely is aimed at more seasoned Linux users. Previous Debian experience is a plus.

Now for my next test. As I said, Sidux booted into the right 1680×1050 resolution, which is rare, but I still wanted the nvidia drivers . I had already looked at the Manual how to do this, but for good measure, I fiddled around in the Sidux Kontrol center, and sure enough, I could change the driver from “nv” to “nvidia”. Of course, since I hadn’t installed the drivers, I expected a black screen upon restarting X, and sure enough, that’s what happened. It was easily fixed, but it would have been nice if selecting the nvidia driver would have automatically installed it.
Anyway, installing it involved downloading and installing a script, which then downloaded and installed the nvidia driver. It worked just fine, but it’s not really obvious.
Just for the hell of it, I decided to install compiz-fusion. I don’t really care for desktop effects, but I wanted to see how easy/difficult it was. As it turns out, it’s the same story everywhere: you can do it, but it involves the command line, it takes some trial and error, and in the end, it works. Soon my windows were wobbling all over the place. For those interested, this site helped me a lot. It’s in German though. The best thing? After switching to compiz as a window manager, I didn’t notice a drop in performance at all. It’s blazingly fast.

As a matter of fact, even installing software is done with apt-get, and not the usual Synaptic. Actually, using Synaptic is strongly discouraged.

All in all, Sidux leaves me with mixed feelings. On the plus side, it’s very fast, it works, it’s relatively stable (logging out of KDE caused a crash every know and then, but otherwise it ran just fine), plays mp3s out of the box, has excellent hardware support, and looks okay. It’s probably the best and easiest way to run Debian unstable. On the other hand, it’s definitely not for the new Linux user. If you want to run this, you will have to dive into the wonderful world of the command line, and start learning to edit those configuration files. The Wiki and the Manual can help you there, but they’re a bit random, so you’ll need the forum too.. There’s a bit of a learning curve here, and I’m sure that it easier along the way. Don’t pick this as your first Linux distribution, but if you love Debian, and you want to run recent software without too much hassle, I’d say this is the distro for you.


PS: Next up is Vector 5.9.1 SOHO.

Distributions I’m looking forward to

September 21, 2008

I’m back. Since I’ve spent a week outside visiting castles, ruins, museums and bookshops, there isn’t much I can write about…I haven’t tinkered, not even a single little tink. But I am looking forward to the upcoming releases of some distributions, some of them old favourites, some of them I’ve never installed before.

Debian 5.0

I have never installed Debian before, which seems crazy even to me. I think my reasoning was “Well, I’ve installed Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is Debian, right? Right? Hello? Anyone?”
Anyway, since I’ve installed almost any well-known Debian derivate, except the all-father itself, that’s what I’ll do when it comes out. That should be this month.

Mandriva 2009

Mandriva has been a favourite of mine. As a everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, I thought it came very close to Ubuntu. That’s why I tried a few betas of the next release, and to my surprise I didn’t like them at all. Installing software proved to be impossible, and using the nvidia driver didn’t work either. I hope these issues won’t show up for me in the final release. It’s scheduled to show up on the servers early next month.

Ubuntu 8.10

This one’s a given. As I mentioned before, I think Ubuntu does the best job in providing an OS for the “normal” PC user. By that I mean someone who doesn’t want to know about computers, and instead just use them. Unlike previous releases, I haven’t tried a single alpha. If any of the betas have the final new artwork, I probably will install that. Ubuntu will hit the download mirrors somewhere in the final week of October.

Sidux 2008-04

Another one I haven’t tried yet, but a distribution that seems to have a very loyal fanbase, at least judging from the comments on various newsboards. On the surface, it doesn’t have any special feature that really grabs my attention, but it’s said to be fast and stable. We’ll see. Like Ubuntu and Mandriva, it should appear somewhere next month.

Fedora 10

Fedora Core 1 was one of the first Linux distributions I ever installed (and messed up completely). Since then, I switched to other distributions, vor various reasons. One is the love of Fedora for bleeding edge software…I like a bit of stability on my PC. Another is the fact that it’s RPM based, which to me has always been slower than pacman or apt. But since it’s been a while since I tried Fedora, I’ll probably give it a go when it comes out, which should be November 18th.

PCLinuxOS 2008

Ah, the distribution that is slowly becoming legendary by not appearing. In the last month, I’ve noticed quite a lot of grumbles about the delay, which is a change of pace for the once fan-favourite number one of the Distrowatch rankings. Of course, PCLinuxOS is supposed to be a rolling release OS, but downloading a 600+ MB ISO, and having to download an additional 600 just for updates isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. Apparently, it’s “very close to release”, but it has been very close to release for a while now. Fingers crossed.

And last but not least:

TinyMe 2008.1

Interesting, because it’s based on PCLinuxOS 2008 (or 2008.1?), which doesn’t exist, and even more interesting because it offers LXDE, which is Openbox made easy. There aren’t many distros that offer Openbox as the default WM, because, let’s face it, Openbox is for geeks 😉 LXDE tries to make it a bit easier while maintaining the obvious Openbox advantages of simplicity, configurability and speed. I’m curious to see how TinyMe holds up against my own Arch + Openbox configuration (which I think is absolutely perfect for me, but did take some time to get right).
The first alpha release of TinyMe has just appeared, so I guess the final release is still some time away.

In any case, I have some busy months ahead of me 🙂


Tint2 + Trayer

September 9, 2008

In my last screenshot-post I was still using LXpanel, which is part of LXDE (something I’ve been wanting to write a review about without ever getting to it). It’s a perfectly good panel, with the added benefit of easy GUI configuration. It’s just that it looks a bit boring…even with transparency turned on.

Enter: tint2. On the surface, this isn’t as good as LXpanel. It doesn’t have a system tray, doesn’t support launchers, and can only be configured by messing around in .tintrc (the config file). But hey, who needs launchers when you have keyboard shortcuts? Editing .tintrc isn’t that hard either, since it’s well documented. If even that isn’t enough, there’s a pdf file available here, which makes things even easier. And damn, doesn’t it look sexy?

Of course, it doesn’t have a systray, and that’s more of a problem. You can’t really use programs like Pidgin without the tray. Lucky us, there are separate programs that don’t do anything except provide a tray, like Stalonetray, Docker, or Trayer (which apparently doesn’t have a website, but is the systray of fbpanel, which is the base of…LXpanel).

Trayer is one of those applications that are so simple there isn’t even a configuration file. Everything depends on how you start it. Simply typing trayer -help at the prompt provides you with all the options. Here is how I start it:

trayer –expand true –transparent true  –alpha 255 –edge bottom –align right –expand true –SetDockType true –widthtype request

which provides me with a tiny, transparent systray in the bottom right corner, expanding when freshly started applications add new icons to it, and which is visible on all workspaces.

This is what my panel layout looks like now:

Tint + Trayer

Tint + Trayer

Everything I want: simple, lightweight, and still looks great.


PS: No updates the next week…I’ll be in Coventry, on a holiday.

Arch + Openbox screenshots: September

September 5, 2008

I’ve been playing around with Ubuntu, Mint, Mandriva 2008 Spring and the RC of Mandriva 2009, all of them with Gnome. There was something wrong with all of those, so I returned to Arch + Openbox yesterday. The last couple of months I used a blueish theme, but this month I’ll try a combination of black and orange.
First, a “clean” screenshot. Conky’s running at the top of the screen, displaying information about the kernel, CPU load, incoming and outgoing traffic, free space, used RAM, uptime, what Rhythmbox is playing, and if I have any mail on Gmail. At the bottom there’s a transparent panel called LXpanel. But you can’t see it, except for the systray and the clock. Since it’s, well, transparent 😉

Then, a “busy” screenshot with, clockwise, Rhythmbox (music manager), Thunar (file manager), Mirage (image viewer), Openbox menu and Sakura (terminal).

I think the background matches the theme well. It’s a fantastic image by David Lanham, whose work I’ve praised before.


Transmission: don’t “fix” what ain’t broken!

September 1, 2008

I love fast, simple, lightweight applications, so when I discovered Transmission it seemed like a godsend. Transmission is a bittorrent client that’s just that: small, simple, fast, easy. The GUI is plain but does the job, and there aren’t that much preferences except those that are needed for downloading files.

But lately they changed the layout of their file-selection dialogue, and in my opinion, screwed it completely. First, let’s take a look at the old layout, pre 1.30:

The old, good way of selecting files

The old, good way of selecting files

The first checkbox controls all the other ones, so when you unselect that, the others get unselected too. I liked that..sometimes I just need a couple of files from a huge torrent. For example, if I needed 6 files out of a hundred, they were just 7 clicks away.

Obviously, this worked too well, so they changed it:

The new, crappy way

The new, crappy way

I can live with the extra buttons that determine the download priority (High/Normal/Low). But why replace the checkboxes by “Yes” or “No”? Clicking those doesn’t do anything. You have to select the file, and then click the Download or Ignore buttons. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if you only had to do it once, meaning if you could select multiple files, but you can’t(*)! You have to select each and every file you want to download or ignore, and then click the right button. That means I need 13 clicks now for the same 6 files, moving the mouse left and right all the time. It doesn’t seem that important, until you start doing it. It’s incredibly irritating, especially since it worked very well before. I can see no reason at all for the new layout. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in the changelog.

I have two options now: don’t upgrade to anything newer than Transmission 1.21, or use another bittorrent client. Neither is completely satisfying.


(*) Edit: Using Linux Mint, I’ve downloaded 1.33 from GetDeb.net, and discovered that you can in fact select multiple files. It surprised me, since I tried many times to do the same thing in Arch. Either I made a mistake (which is always possible), or something changed without changing the version number (which, I must admit, isn’t very likely). It’s an improvement, but still worse than the checkboxes