October 26, 2008

Test Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 in Debian Without Changing Your Existing Installation

Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 was released on October 14, 2008 and it currently comes in 36 fully-localised languages. This beta is based on Gecko 1.9.1 layout engine and according to the official website, this release features "significant changes to improve web compatibility, performance and ease of use". You can read the release notes on the official website, here.

Debian Lenny comes with Iceweasel 3.0.3, which is actually Firefox with a changed name and a few minor changes. If you have Iceweasel 3.0.3 installed but want to test this new beta without changing anything to your system, just follow the steps below.

Download Firefox 3.1 Beta 1
Get the Firefox .tar.bz2 archive from here, then uncompress it using:

tar -xjf firefox-3.1b1.tar.bz2

Next, move the firefox directory wherever you want it, for example in your home directory, or in ~/apps etc.

Run it using a new profile
Firefox uses the default profile whenever you run it without specifying another profile using a parameter. To run it using a different profile than the default one, use this command after making sure your current working directory is firefox:

./firefox --no-remote -P new_profile

As you can see, we used the name new_profile for our profile. The --no-remote parameter will not connect Firefox to a running instance, so you will be able to run both your current version and 3.1 Beta 1.

Select new_profile (or whatever the name of your profile is) and click on Start Firefox:

You will be prompted to accept the EULA, then Firefox 3.1 Beta 1 will start and you will be able to test it.

A small window should appear prompting you to choose the profile to use. Click on the Create Profile... button, then follow the instructions as in the screenshots below. You will notice you won't even have to close Iceweasel 3.0.3 if you have it running.

Currently there are no available themes for Firefox 3.1, so you'll have to use the default until they are updated.

October 25, 2008

Wine 1.1.7 Review - First Steps of Direct3D 10 Implementation

I think Wine is one of the most promising and useful applications, especially for those who need to run Windows programs in a Linux environment. A new development release is put up every two weeks or so, and improvements are visible from each version to another.

Wine is the project which makes possible to run games like World of WarCraft, Counter-Strike, Half-Life 2, WarCraft III and so on. And Wine is also the project which makes possible for web developers to test how their web page is viewed under Internet Explorer. Not to mention hundreds of other applications which work very well or well enough with it.

Ever since the first release tagged as 'stable' was put out for the public after 15 years of development, the Wine project continued development and now the latest version is 1.1.7, which brings numerous improvements and additions.

According to the official announcement, one of the highlights for this release is that the first steps were taken to implement the Direct3D technology, which is part of the DirectX API from Microsoft. The open and widespread competitor for Direct3D is OpenGL, the Open Graphics Library.

It's well-known that Wine works awesome with games like WoW, Counter-Strike or Half-Life 2.

A while ago I ran and installed the new Google Chrome web browser through Wine, since a Linux port is not available yet, and the result was very satisfying: with the exception of a little interface slowness, it behaved very well.

For this release, I installed Google Chrome following the tutorial I wrote for 1.1.6. I had to run it as:

wine ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/profiles/USERNAME/Local\ Settings/Application\ Data/Google/Chrome/Application/chrome.exe --new-http --in-process-plugins

And replaced USERNAME with my username. Chrome displayed all the web pages I tried, including this blog, Digg.com, YouTube.com (with the Flash plugin too) and the WineHQ homepage, but scrolling a page is extremely slow and choppy until the web page is completely loaded. I never tested Google Chrome on Windows so I can't compare exactly the behaviour.

I also installed Adobe Flash Player using the browser instead of winetricks. Below are some screenshots running Chrome through Wine. As you can see, Flash is enabled:

Wine provides an application database on their homepage, which classifies applications depending on how well they run and perform: platinum, gold, silver. The nice thing is that each application has detailed information on how to set it up in order to work best, in what conditions it was tested and it also includes user comments. Usually, if a game or application is known to work through Wine but you couldn't set it up, have a look at the comments posted and a solution will surely be provided.

As I already mentioned, one of the most popular games which worked perfectly for me in Wine is World of WarCraft:

World of WarCraft

I was glad to see the mIRC scripts editor does not crash the application anymore, but instead I couldn't make it connect to another network but the default QuakeNet, so you will have to use the /server command. Otherwise, mIRC 6.35 works pretty well, and if you really really need it and can't re-write your scripts for a native Linux client you can use it through Wine. Still, I suggest using a native IRC client like XChat, Konversation or Irssi.

I also tried the last version of Winamp, 5.541, and I installed the Lite version. It works very well, although I did not test it for long. It plays music.

It's true, I don't think Linux needs to run a player like Winamp, when we have powerful and full-featured, native and open-source audio players like Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox, Songbird or XMMS. But maybe someone still finds a use for it, or it can help those who just switched from Windows and can't get used to another player.

Also, here is a top 25 applications/games which run in Wine, by votes.

Overall, the Wine project does what it has always done, bringing Windows games and applications to Linux. It's great to see games like WoW, HL2, CoD4, StarCraft, WarCraft III running very well.

October 12, 2008

Sometimes It Won't Work

A few annoyances, and I really hope this will be fun. I wrote it last night. Some things which don't work as they are supposed to, or some things which may be annoying - Linux forever, I love it, but sometimes it's not so funny fun as it should be.

Things which you mustn't do
- don't open 3 tabs in firefox in less than 5 seconds
- don't install linux on a system with one sata and one ide drive (adding a hard disk will confuse it even more)
- don't try to install linux on a computer without an internet connection - don't believe me? try installing sarge on a pc without internet, after selecting don't configure network at this time
- movie subtitles must be green, pink, red or yellow, no matter if it's a DVD or a SRT/SUB subtitle
- don't run a task which would take 30 minutes then leave. an error will occure
(if an error doesn't occure, a warning will be issued)
(if the error doesn't occure, are you sure you didn't do something wrong?)
- no, they don't have games on linux
- ...and quake too
- complain if it's closed-source, don't use it if they changed the license to GPL
- a font size of 7 looks normal, but 8 is bold and big. for 6 you will need KMag.
open-source projects, use Flash for the homepage; also make sure Firefox uses 100% CPU when browsing your homepages
- ask questions twice, notify a user of some update and newly installed script twice

Particular Private License #0:
I don't want to show you my code!
Particular Private License #1:
It's mine!
Particular Private License #2:
I really hate my neighbour :-)
Particular Private License #3:
Where is my money?

- don't complain, for you did something wrong like not editing some config file of an app which had a bug filed since 2005 and which can't be fixed unless somebody rewrites a whole library which was licensed under a proprietary license and now is free but still wait for a new version to appear and when it's out test it for two more years and you'll find the bug fixed but guess what? the feature is not there anymore

CLI applications are as follows:
- the ones from GNU, which are standard
- the ones from other projects, some of which are great
- the ones which give an error when ran as 'app --version' or 'app --help'
(they all are included in heavy distros)

Who or what is evil?
- Microsoft is evil
- Apple is evil
- Since Canonical offers Linux support for money, I'm sure they are evil too
- Mono, Java too

Bug fixing squad:
If you decide to fix bugs, first put them there so you know what to fix
Choose carefully the bugs you will fix, for some of them you won't know the fix

Start a new distribution, the rules:
- use packages from an older distribution
- do not ever fix bugs
- choose a desktop environment, then start 3 more distros using other desktop environments
- add great features to applications, which will act as follows:
1. use an infinite loop no matter if the user clicks yes/no
2. make it impossible to close the application
3. teach the user how to use ps
- high hopes: 10 goals in a short time, come up with 1 which is terribly done anyway
- yeah, a new wallpaper and an iso image makes a new distro - burn fire burn, evil inside etc

- handle with care - that is: don't start an application unless you know it previously worked before
- an error means you did it wrong
(no, it's not a bug, you just have to configure it 2 hours in order to make it work)

September 12, 2008

How-To: Compile and Install xine-lib 1.1.15 in Debian Lenny and Ubuntu 8.04

Xine is an engine which allows to play audio CDs, DVDs, VCDs, various audio and video formats like AVI, WMV, MOV to list a few. The last version of xine-lib is 1.1.15, released on August 14, 2008.

Installation in Debian Lenny
To compile from source and install xine-lib 1.1.15 in Debian Lenny you'll have to follow the steps below.

1. Enable the sources repositories
Make sure you have a line like the following in your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb-src http://ftp.ro.debian.org/debian/ lenny main contrib non-free

Then update the packages list as root:

apt-get update

2. Install the dependencies
As root, type:

apt-get build-dep libxine1

This will install the development packages and the tools needed to compile Xine.

3. Download the source, compile and install
Download the last xine-lib version from here, uncompress it and compile as usual:

make install

Last one as root.

xine-lib should be now installed in /usr/local/lib/.

Installation in Ubuntu 8.04
Ubuntu Hardy comes with libxine 1.1.11, so if you want to update to the latest version, you need to follow the steps above, with the exception of preceding the commands which need root privileges with sudo. For example:

sudo apt-get build-dep libxine1

sudo make install

With your user's password.

Video players using Xine
I can recommend Kaffeine and Xine-UI, both these players use the Xine engine.

Kaffeine 0.8.6

Updated: Sep 12, 2008

September 10, 2008

How-To: Install Video Codecs and DVD Support in Ubuntu/Kubuntu 8.04 'Hardy Heron'

Medibuntu is a project somewhat similar with debian-multimedia.org for Debian, providing packages which are not included in the official Ubuntu repositories due to legal issues. In order to make use of the packages included in Medibuntu (including the non-free video codecs w32codecs and libdvdcss2 for watching ecrypted DVDs), you will only need to follow several easy steps explained below.

1. Add the Medibuntu repository address to /etc/apt/sources.list
Edit as root the /etc/apt/sources.list file (e.g. sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list or kdesu kate /etc/apt/sources.list) and add the following two lines:

deb http://packages.medibuntu.org/ hardy free non-free
deb-src http://packages.medibuntu.org/ hardy free non-free

2. Update the packages list
Issue the following command:

sudo apt-get update

3. Install the w32codecs and libdvdcss2 packages
To install those two packages, just type in the command:

sudo apt-get install w32codecs libdvdcss2

It should be done now. The codecs will be installed in /usr/lib/codecs/ and the DVD library in /usr/lib/libdvdcss2.so.2.0.8.

Another way to install libdvdcss2 is to first install the package libdvdread3:

sudo apt-get install libdvdread3

And then running the command:

sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh

As video players, I recommend SMPlayer and Kaffeine, the first using the MPlayer engine, while the latter uses the Xine engine. They both have subtitle support and many powerful features (like remembering video position and settings after closing the application in SMPlayer), and Kaffeine also reads DVD menus.

SMPlayer 0.6.0 running in Kubuntu 8.04

To install either of those, use one of the commands below:

sudo apt-get install smplayer
sudo apt-get install kaffeine

Updated: Sep 10, 2008 (Created: Sep 10, 2008)

August 31, 2008

How-To: Make UT2004 Use OSS on Debian Lenny

Some of us playing Unreal Tournament 2004 may be familiar with the error open /dev/[sound/]dsp: Resource temporarily unavailable. This is usually caused because the sound system is busy (for example, you have an audio player opened, or a paused movie).

The simplest way to get over this problem is to install the alsa-oss package, which contains the aoss wrapper to allow the use of ALSA OSS library. In Debian, type as root:

apt-get install alsa-oss

Then run UT2004 like this:

aoss ut2004


aoss /usr/local/games/ut2004demo/ut2004-demo

Depending on where your game is installed. The good thing about this is that you can now listen to music in a player separate from the one included in the game and also hear the UT2004 sounds.

August 12, 2008

Banshee 1.2 - 1.x Series Getting to Maturity

The new Banshee 1.2 includes several new features over the last stable release, like the equaliser or the music recommendations panel. The full list of new or improved features is here. For those who didn't hear about Banshee yet, it's a pretty powerful audio player for GNOME which received more and more attention lately, featuring things like a media library, support for Last.fm, podcasts, cover fetching, plugins and many more.

Banshee 1.2.0 playing

I was enchanted to try the so-called 'Amarok Migration' feature, which, according to the official website, lets you import ratings, play counts and podcasts from Amarok. Well, I have Amarok using SQLite but Banshee crashed when I tried to import those using the Media -> Import Media dialogue, already having a media library in Banshee. I tried deleting the file ~/.config/banshee-1/banshee.db and this time the import feature worked flawlessly, and Banshee didn't crash anymore.

Importing the Amarok media library

The equaliser works very well, except that there are no default presets. I think several default presets like 'Rock', or 'Full Bass' would be nice instead of letting the user setting those.

The new equaliser

I was still disappointed to see that the cover fetching plugin doesn't look inside the song's directory for local files like cover.jpg or front.png, but the retrieval of covers from the Internet works pretty well. All of the covers for albums which don't have additions like [2004 Remaster] or [Limited Edition] were correctly fetched.


Banshee looks more improved with every version and it's definitely a very promising player. Compared to 1.0.0, this new release it's much more stable (no more crashes when clicking on the Last.fm tab for example), but I think it still needs some work at cover fetching, and the Last.fm integration won't show all the images for recently played tracks. Last.fm changed the layout recently so I'm not sure whether this is Banshee's fault at all.

Last.fm integration - Banshee features song submission too

Although the 1.0 release was also accompanied by a new, professionally designed website, work at the Wiki seems to be still in progress.

Although I'm not a GNOME or GTK fan, I can warmly recommend Banshee to any audiophile using this desktop environment. It's almost full-featured, and stable enough now, the 1.x series showing real signs of maturity now.


August 10, 2008

How-To: Compile and Install Banshee 1.2.0 on Debian Lenny

Banshee is a powerful audio player written using GTK, featuring audio and video libraries, support for podcasts and much more. The last version, 1.2, was released on July 30, 2008.

1. Install the necessary dependencies
As root, type:

apt-get install build-essential
apt-get build-dep banshee

For the last one, make sure you have sources repositories enabled in your /etc/apt/sources.list file (there is a line which starts with deb-src).

2. Download the source tarball
Download the source tarball from here, under the Source releases, then change the current working directory to where you saved the archive, and uncompress it:

tar -xjf banshee-1-1.2.0.tar.bz2

Change the working directory to banshee-1-1.2.0, and proceed to the next step.

3. Compile Banshee 1.2.0
In the banshee-1-1.2.0 directory, issue the usual:

make install

The last command as root. Banshee 1.2 should be now properly installed. Run it as banshee-1 from command line or pressing ALT+F2 and typing the name in the run dialogue that appears.

Running Banshee 1.2.0

Most Popular Posts - July

SMPlayer Review - One of the Most Powerful Video Players for Linux
SMPlayer is a complete video player built in Qt 4.4.0 and based on the powerful, open-source MPlayer.

XChat 2.8.6 Review - A Great Graphical IRC Client
XChat is a very powerful IRC client written in GTK who has been around for years and is now feature complete, low on resources, with a powerful scripting interface and support for C plugins.

Why Is It So Hard for Windows Users to Understand That Linux Is Not Windows
A short essay on what makes Windows users who try to switch to Linux have the impression that Linux is harder to learn or use than Windows.

5 Reasons to Use CLI over GUI
First, I must say that using CLI is not always faster, not necessarily. There are tasks which can be done faster and easier using some GUI application rather than typing a whole bunch of commands. But, nevertheless, command line is still very powerful and it's more appropriate to use it for certain tasks.

4 Ways to Rip DVDs on Linux
Review of 4 graphical applications to rip DVDs on Linux: K9Copy, AcidRip, DVD::Rip and Thoggen.

10 Best KDE Applications - Reloaded
Review of 10 KDE applications, a continuation to the 10 Best KDE Applications article I wrote a while ago.

Xfe Review - Wonderful File Manager
Review of the Xfe file manager for Linux written using the FOX toolkit.

12 Web Browsers for Linux - Review
A review on 12 graphical and CLI web browsers for Linux, including Firefox, Konqueror, Kazehakase, lynx and several more.

July 27, 2008

IRC Clients for Linux - A Review

Since I'm an IRC addict and I always liked to spend time learning new stuff on IRC, here is a review of several IRC clients for Linux. Some of them are well-known and popular, like XChat, Konversation or Irssi, and others are not so widely used or known, but nevertheless, they deserve mentioning.

KVirc is a powerful client for KDE focusing on an apealing interface, providing its own scripting language called KVS (KVirc scripting language), with lots of options for configurating it, and much more. Among all the clients I tested, KVirc was the most bloated, trying always to include as many options as possible and be user-friendly in the same time, but sometimes it felt like not all of those were needed. For example, the Ignore As... menu includes all the possible combinations for ignoring a person. I think it would have been wiser to include only 2 or 3 and eventually provide a dialog window so the user can enter it manually, with a brief explanation for how it works.

KVirc 3.4.0 'Virgo'

I also found the CTCP option not useful when on a channel, since if you CTCP VERSION or PING, all the users on that channel will get the CTCP request. On a large channel that can lead to a ban, or lag, and it's just not useful.

Anyway, back to the good stuff that KVirc provides. Each release has a nice codename, like the one in the last version, 'Virgo', with a suggestive picture to emphasise it.

Although I didn't test the scripting language much, it looks pretty much the same as the one mIRC has, so for those who are switching from Windows, KVirc should be a good choice. KVS is accompanied by complete documentation which can be accessed from the Help -> Help Browser menus (you can open it in two different ways, as a separate tab or as a panel). It also supports themes, addons, or the possibility to save different configuration profiles.

KVirc help browser
KVirc scripting menu - the system is somewhat similar with the one of mIRC

Overall, although this particular version (3.4.0) was a little slow for me, KVirc is complete, powerful and it looks very good.
Official website

Configuring KVirc

XChat is a very popular graphical client for Linux, including powerful scripting support in Perl, Python, Tcl, C plugins, powerful configurability using /SET variables and many other. XChat is built in GTK, and a version using GNOME libraries, called xchat-gnome, is also available.

XChat usual look

Some of the features I love about XChat besides the powerful scripting support: logging system allowing to name your path and files using date specifiers (like %b for month or %d for day and so on), the interface is simple and clean, yet all the options I need are available using /SET, including the conference mode. The Linux version doesn't receive as much attention like the Windows one (probably because the Windows one is paid), but XChat is already complete.

XChat preferences

Online documentation is very abundant, and tutorials on how to write scripts and plugins are very helpful and useful.
Official website

Default look for xchat-gnome

Irssi is a command line client which includes a simple yet very effective way of navigating through channels/queries. You'll have to read the manual if you use it for the first time, but once you get used to shortcuts (most of them being Emacs-like), Irssi gets pretty easy to use, and shortcuts can be customised too. It supports Perl scripting and the official website contains hundreds of them, can be customised in each and every way using commands explained in detail in the documentation. For me, Irssi wins at all the chapters if it is to compare it with Weechat, Epic4 or TinyIRC.
Official website

Irssi running inside Konsole

I noticed Konversation received more and more attention over the last years, since it's a client aimed towards persons new to IRC, and strives to be user-friendly. And it succeeds, having all the necessary options in the configuration window. As default though, the interface lacks a toolbar menu, which can be enabled using the Settings -> Show Toolbar menu, and shortcut icons can be added there. As every decent KDE application, Konversation allows editing shortcuts, it can be embedded in the system tray, it includes configurable notifications, it has a basic logging system and an option to load logs in a new tab and perform searches. When joining a new channel or opening a new query, a backlog will be displayed with the last lines of the previous discussion (if any).

Konversation 1.0.1 - 1.1RC1 has been released too

Konversation only lacks event-based scripting, and that's a must-have for a scripting language in my opinion. Otherwise, it comes as default with several powerful scripts, like the now playing script (supporting the major audio and video players for KDE), or a weather script, or system info. The first release candidate for version 1.1 is now available.

Konversation configuration

I warmly recommend Konversation to users who want to try IRC for the first time, but XChat or KVirc would be good choices too.
Official website

Default Konversation scripts

I must say, I rarely use Pidgin or Kopete for connecting to an IRC network, but you can find it useful if you don't care much about having a powerful, dedicated client especially for IRC. Pidgin is widely known for being the GNOME IM (Instant Messaging) client first, but it can also be used as a basic IRC client if you are looking to only get on IRC, without all the options advanced clients provide.
Official website

Adding a new IRC account with Pidgin

Pidgin on IRC

Just like Pidgin, Kopete is the KDE IM client and provides a basic IRC client too. The advantage both Pidgin and Kopete provide is that if you use IM a lot (for example you have both Yahoo and MSN accounts) and want to get on IRC, you can use a single application for it, without the need of opening a new application just to chat on IRC.
Official website

Kopete IRC account

#debian @ Freenode on Kopete

As mentioned above, there are many more clients available, like the popular BitchX, the lightweight Weechat, the classic Epic4 or TinyIRC (official website?) to give a few.

July 25, 2008

Listen 0.5 - Yet Another Good GTK Audio Player

Listen is a not so widely known audio player written in Python and using the GTK toolkit, with an interface similar to the one of Rhythmbox, and including features like a music library, podcasts support, lyrics fetching, Wikipedia integration, and Last.fm song submission.

Playing Metallica and visualisation

The interface is divided into several sections for the currently selected action. For example, if you select Current from the actions list, Listen will display all the albums by the currently playing artist, favourite songs and recently played songs by the same artist.

Context tab

I really missed the option to sort the playlist by song location, but otherwise, it includes mostly all other criterias. You can sort by artist, title, album, bitrate, play count, date, year, genre, track number and so on. I'm not sure what the 'Feeds' sorting option does, since it has no visible column in the playlist.

I liked the Wikipedia integration, the browser offers several basic functionality options, like searching for album, artist or song, opening in an external web browser, but it doesn't include an option to specify what browser you want to use. It also has back and forward buttons.

Wikipedia information

The Context tab will show favourite albums, songs and last played songs. Listen automatically detects cover images in the currently playing song directory and shows them whenever possible: in the context tab, in the library at the albums section or in the now playing area. It also allows you to search for default or specific names on Amazon.com and Google Images, but the Amazon search currently doesn't work. It works fine for Google Images though. Allowing you to enter a custom search term is useful in case you don't find what you want but you want to put any other cover or image instead of it.

Cover fetching from Google Images

Listen can be customised different ways using the Preferences window. To mention a few settings you can change: splash screen, start minimized, visualisations, OSD (on-screen display).


Last.fm integration

Populating playlists doesn't seem to be very intuitive. For example, after creating a new playlist and going to Music -> Import Folder, the playlist remains empty. However I could do it by selecting all the songs from the Media Library with CTRL+A and dragging them over the playlist name.

Overall, I found Listen to be pretty nice and rich enough in features, but I missed statistics and the option to sort the playlist by location. Otherwise, it's very nice, with a clean layout, and offers a very good audio experience.


Official website