Linux Gaming: Heroes of Newerth

July 23, 2009

It’s no secret that one of the areas that Windows has the advantage of Linux, is gaming. It’s not that Linux as an OS isn’t capable of running quality games, it’s just that game manufacterers don’t think the Linux gamers can make them any money. For that reason, it’s always nice when a game is released with a native Linux version, like World of Goo a couple of months ago, and Savage 2. Now, the same people who are responsible for the latter are working on a game called Heroes of Newerth. It’s being beta tested at the moment, and yes, the good people of S2 Games provide Windows, Mac and Linux version (both 32-bit and 64!).

Even better, one of the communities it’s reaching out to for the beta test is the Linux community, by providing Phoronix 400 beta keys they could hand out. And as could be expected, 400 won’t be nearly enough. The interest in this was huge. When I asked for a beta key yesterday, the reply forum was on its third page, which means I was one of the first. I then left for a walk, and when I came back the page count had reached 12. A few hours later when I went to sleap it was 31, now it’s 38 and the 400 invites are pretty much gone. And that’s not even counting the people who misunderstood and requested their key by mail or in the wrong thread. Phoronix has already asked for, and received, new keys, and they guarantee that if you’re using Linux and you’re interested in testing this, there will be a key for you.

Now, because the beta is closed, I can’t tell you that much about the game and I certainly can’t show you any screenshots or videos, but if you have a Facebook account you can become a fan. There’s some content there that give you a pretty good idea of what the game is about. In any case, if you ever played DotA, which is a Warcraft 3 mod, you’ll know exactly how the game plays. If you haven’t, but you have played Warcraft 3, just imagine a bunch of Heroes who decided to drop all the building and raising armoes and just kick the crap out of eachother instead. It’s a little more complicated than that, but the gameplay is definitely faster than in Warcraft 3, and strategy is still present but very different.

I can also reveal that I suck at this game 😀 I played one and a half game and managed to kill absolutely no one. Getting killed, on the other hand, was incredibly easy. I set all kinds of records, but not the good ones. I had a lot of fun though, and my teammates were understood the sheer noobness of my endeavors, though some did go “What in the name of all that’s good and holy are you doing?”

But the best part of this game? Fast, because I didn’t have to run it in wine. Beautiful, because I didn’t have to run it in wine. At the correct screen resolution, because I didn’t have to run it in wine. And it worked as good as the Windows version, because I didn’t have to run it in wine.

If you manage to get your hands on a beta key, go and try it out. It’s well worth it.

San

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Pardus 2009

July 21, 2009

A year ago I reviewed Pardus 2008 and I was pleasantly surprised. Safe for some details here and there, it was a very well made ready-for-everyone kind of Linux distribution. Now, a year later, the new version is out, and switches from KDE3 to KDE 4.2. It’s been gathering some positive reviews, and I was eager to try it out.

Well, the install is still very easy. It looks even better than it did before, especially because of the custom-made icon theme which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The first-boot KAPTAN configuration tool is still a very good idea, and helps to personalise your desktop right from the start. Configuration in general is still very easy, especially network configuration.

But something must have gone horribly wrong during the install, because the stability is simply atrocious. Applications keep crashing. One time, I could move the mouse but I couldn’t open a single program because I couldn’t click anything. I booted into 5 minutes ago and Firefox wouldn’t start. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t feel like installing it again.

It’s a shame, because as I said, it looks incredible.

San


Chromium in Linux is advancing nicely

July 19, 2009

I’ve installed “chromium-snapshot” from Arch’s AUR yesterday (means user contributed, unofficial packages), and I must say it’s come a long way. In the very beginning, this was described by the devs as a 500MB binary that displayed a window. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. Then it developed into something browserlike, but without tabs, or flash, or stability. Now it has all those things, plus it actually follows your GTK theme. Flash works, albeit a bit buggy. It’s the only thing that has been able to crash a page at this point. The browser itself hasn’t died on me yet.
In fact, the only thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a memory hog of biblical proportions. I have an openbox script that tells me how much memory my applications are using, and if it’s correct, with three tabs open Chromium needs ten processes, consuming 774 MB of RAM. That’s so much it’s hard to believe, and so far my 2GB RAM equipped PC doesn’t have trouble yet, but that rate, it will grind to a halt when I have the usual 5 to 10 tabs open.

In any case, this is of course still alpha software, but it’s advancing fast. Here’s a screenshot:

Chromium in Arch

Chromium in Arch

San


Mono? Enough already!

July 14, 2009

Shut up about Mono! Or Banshee. Or anything Mono related. Please!

It’s not like anybody is saying anything new either. I’ve read two-page blog posts which contained no information about Mono whatsoever, and instead replaced content with vague allegations about patents, Microsoft, followed by yells of FREEDOM! Think Braveheart here.

As far as I know, Mono is open source, and released under the GPL. As far as I know, Mono has been included in Ubuntu for three years now. Why are people yelling about it now? Because it became the latest internet hype, that’s why.

What’s the problem anyway? I’ve read something about “leaving us open to Microsoft patent attacks”. If that’s indeed the case, Microsoft has been keeping it well-honed sueing instincts in check surprisingly well these past three years.
And who’s “us” anyway? If Microsoft sues the distributions which include Mono by default (which I don’t believe for a second they will), I’m sure Ubuntu can handle it. If “us” is the end-user…ah, that means that all you Mono-raving rabbits in the US don’t install the resticted modules either? I’m sure you all buy your codecs at Fluendo and your entire music collection ends in .ogg.

And I just bitched an entire blog post about how I dislike people who use the internet for bitching. Drat.

San


CrunchBang + Openbox screenshots: July

July 2, 2009

I created the red desktop in my CrunchBang review as a bit of a joke, but I’m incredibly pleased about how it turned out, and more than a little proud of the Shiki-Wine theme I ported to Openbox. The OSD gave me some problems, but the Openbox help page came to my rescue there. I added my favourite conky bar and the calendar, adjusted the GTK-theme a bit to make the tray icon background transparent, made some final changes to the meny and replaced lxpanel by bmpanel using the carbon theme, and trayer in the upper right corner.

CrunchBang: clean

CrunchBang: clean

CrunchBang: busy

CrunchBang: busy

I’ll be using CrunchBang for a while…it’ll give me something to fall back on while I finally upgrade that Arch installation to ext4.

San


CrunchBang Linux 8.10.02: A review

July 2, 2009

As I become more knowledgable about Linux, the thought has crossed my mind to create my own distribution. However, I’ll readily admit I’m not the most technical user, but at least I’m getting to a point where I could give it a try. Using Ubuntu as the base would probably be easiest, starting from a minimal install, and using my favoruite window manager: Openbox. It wouldn’t be a minimalist or leightweight distribution, just one that provided almost all of the functionality and none of the bloat.

Well, someone beat me to it, and that someone is Philip Newborough. Not only did he steal my idea by thinking of it first, he also did a much better job than I could ever have done. The distribution is called CrunchBang Linux, and inbetween the endless muddy rocks of Ubuntu derivates, CrunchBang is a rare gem.

LiveCD

The LiveCD does not offer the familiar IsoLinux menu of Ubuntu, but keeps it text based. That means you can’t immediately choose your language and keyboard layout at boot, which becomes a bit of an issue later. Otherwise, the progress meter is very familiar, and throws you into a sparse, dark looking desktop. There’s no background to speak of, just a sign that reads (you guessed it) “#! CrunchBang Linux”, some information about your system and a list of keyboard shortcuts (nice touch) on the right, and a completely dark panel at the bottom. That’s all, but don’t get thrown by the minimalist looks.
The first thing I did was right-clicking the desktop, which opens the Openbox menu. Now, in a default Openbox installation, the menu is next to useless, providing a list of applications which may or may not be installed on your system. That’s why I’m very careful to always have a backup of my menu.xml, which is the configuration file: I simply don’t want to go through all that work again.
Well, if I thought my menu configuration was a lot of work, I was dead wrong. Crunchbang’s menu is a doorway to your entire system, but with a well thought-out layout which keeps it from being overlarge and eating a lot of screen estate. It provides easy, direct links to some default applications, like “Web browser” or “Terminal”, but also provides the usual categories of “Internet”, “Office”, “Graphics”, and so on. It’s worth pointing out that CrunchBang comes with a bigger list of applications than a default Ubuntu install, but we’ll look into that later. The most interesting part of the menu is at the bottom: since Crunchbang doesn’t come with GNOME, it doesn’t have the GNOME configuration tools. Instead, there’s an interesting selection of configuration utilities which nearly provide the same functionality. Nearly, but not quite, and this is probably the area where a GNOME or KDE user would need a little adjustment time. In the end, all the important functions are there, save one: choosing the keyboard layout. Again, as you can’t pick your layout at boot, this can be a bit of a bother, as the default choice is the UK layout. I changed it by using the setxkbmap command, but I wonder why it isn’t somewhere in the menu. It couldn’t have been that hard to include it? In any case, that was the only tiny hiccup after an otherwise very impressive first experience. The only thing left was taking a screenshot (already mapped to PrintScrn!), and install it on my hard disk.

Crunch Bang: Live CD

Crunch Bang: Live CD

Installation

CrunchBang has an entry for the installation in its menu, and this is where the distribution shows it’s heritage: the installer is Ubuntu’s all-familiar Ubiquity. It also shows its age, since (as he name suggests) CrunchBang 8.10.02 is not based on Ubuntu’s latest release (Jaunty), but on the one before that (Intrepid). Among other things, that means you can’t install CrunchBang on an ext4 partition. A bit of a shame, since that would have boosted the performance even more. As mentioned in CrunchBang’s last newsletter, a new version is in the works, and there’s even a little sneak peek of the new theme there. For now, however, it’s a bit behind the curve. The install itself didn’t take much time, ten to fifteen minutes.
After first boot, another familiar sight. The Restricted Device Manager pops up and asks me if I want to install the proprietary driver. I always thought this feature was one of the best things of Ubuntu, one of the easiest ways to deal with this (necessary) free software hurdle, and it’s good that CrunchBang has it too.
In other words, the whole install was uneventful, and that’s the way it should be.

Configuration

Pleasant surprise: the codec installer doesn’t pop-up, because they’re already installed. However, not everything is perfect here. Videos are opened in VLC, which is fine, but mp3s in Audacity, which is an audio editor, not an audio player. I installed Audacious, a GTK xmms clone, which is much better suited to that particular task. Another oddity is that Firefox comes equipped with plugins for Flash and Java, but not for video files. A VLC plugin is avaiblable, but not installed by default…and it isn’t that good anyway, because it doesn’t play QuickTime files. I feel a combination of mplayer and the gecko-mediaplayer plugin would have been the better choice here.

When I started adjusting the software selection a a bit, removing some applications here, installing some others there, Openbox showed one of it’s few limitations. The menu doesn’t get updated by default, you have to do that by hand. It’s not very difficult using OBMenu (Preferences > Openbox Config > GUI Menu Editor), but it’s an extra task you don’t have to bother with in a DE. To perform all that software shuffling, I used aptitude, but Synaptic is available from the menu.

As is customary in an Ubuntu based distribution, I didn’t have to do much post-install configuration. Aside from the details I mentioned, everything worked as intended.

Look and Feel

Ah, this is an interesting part. According to the website, one of the best things about CrunchBang is that it isn’t brown. I’m sure that many would agree, but instead CrunchBang is pitch black. Now, black is popular among Openbox users, but I’ve never been a fan of it. As far as black themes go, these is one of the better ones, with a nice balance between grey, dark grey and black, and the dev has gone through the trouble of creating his own Openbox and GTK theme, which fit together beautifully. Still, when checkboxes consist of a black tick on a dark grey square, I can confidently say that sometimes you can have too much darkness on your desktop. The icon theme is Tango, which is okay, but not isn’t very inspired.

CrunchBang is the new black

CrunchBang is the new black

In other words, it looks good but I have trouble using it. No harm done, as looks are easily changed. I experimented with orange and blue desktops before, so this time I decided to go over the top and go red. I used Shiki-Wine as the GTK theme, gnome-wine for the icons and arc-wine as the background. Openbox didn’t have a theme that went with that so I created my own. This is the result:

Paint the town red

Paint the town red

Of course you could argue that I sissy-fied a perfectly manly desktop, but this is more to my tastes 🙂 I still have to get a conky bar up there, and add the calendar I’m fond of, but that’s easily done.

When it comes to software selection, CrunchBang is a mix of lightweight and traditional applications. Part of LXDE is installed, most notably the file manager PCManFM, LXpanel and LXappearance, the theme and icon chooser. It also comes with a healthy dose of terminal applications, like rtorrent, irssi and naim, and uses Terminator for the terminal. OpenOffice isn’t installed, but Abiword and Gnumeric are. Claws is also an unusual choice for the email-client. The rest is pretty standard fare: Firefox, Rhythmbox, Deluge, The Gimp, Skype… The full application list can be found on the website, and it’s pretty obvious that omitting GNOME and OpenOffice left a lot of room for other great software.
As a result though, CrunchBang really can’t be called a “lightweight” distribution. It’ll run faster and use less resources than standard Ubuntu because it doesn’t have to run GNOME, but we’re not talking huge margins here.

Conclusion

Despite the use of Openbox and some lightweight alternatives to popular applications, CrunchBang isn’t a competitor for distributions like Puppy, DamnSmall or Slitaz. It’s not designed to be as small or run as fast as possible. I think that what Philip Newborough was trying to do here was simply create an Ubuntu that was more to his liking, sacrificing a bit of the ease of GNOME for the speed and versatility of Openbox, and including more of his favourite applications. When I look at the positive comments about CrunchBang I’ve been seeing everywhere, I can only conclude that he filled a real niche in the distribution list.
In my opinion, CrunchBang comes very close to my beloved Arch. It’s a very easy way to end up with a nice Openbox system, while retaining the easy install and hardware configuration of Ubuntu. The only major drawback I can see is that the current release is still based on Intrepid, which makes the software selection a bit outdated. Other than that, it’s simply one of the best distributions out there.

San