May 31, 2008

A Fine Piece: Rhythmbox 0.11.5

Updated: June 01, 2008


Following audio players reviews like this or this, today I decided to review Rhythmbox 0.11.5, the GNOME audio player.

At first glance, Rhythmbox made me a good impression: the layout is simple and clean, similar in many ways to many other players for GNOME, like Banshee, Listen or Exaile.

Usual Rhythmbox instance, playing The Rolling Stones

To begin with: it features a library which includes all the music you added, a play queue, and tabs for podcasts, radio and the service. The library is organised in three sections, for artists, albums, and the list of all songs. Clicking an artist will only show the songs by that artist, and the same goes for albums. Podcasts and radio features are typical, with nothing special or any uncommon stuff, and the tab provides only a way to play radios, showing nothing about your favourite songs or artists. But it's fine, if you plan to use it only to listen to music. It's a music player after all, right?

Playing online radios

Song properties - you can edit the tags here

Magnatune and Jamendo integration
The nice thing I liked about Rhythmbox was not necessarily the integration of both Magnatune and Jamendo music stores, but the possibility to listen to music featured there and moreover, download a torrent file from Jamendo in case you want to use later a BitTorrent client to get the whole album. It's nicer and faster than bumping into an album you like and then opening your browser to download it.

Magnatune music store

A great feature: download torrent from Jamendo button

Playlists and cover fetching
Default playlists include top rated, recently added and played songs, and you can create your own. Rhythmbox searches in the album's directory for covers and shows then when it find them (I tested this for 'cover.png'). I'm sure it works for any of the common names like 'cover.jpg' or 'front.jpg'.

Even though at first Rhythmbox may not look as feature-rich as other players, you'll definitely like it more when you'll bump into the plugins. It comes with several useful plugins. To list some of them:
- Cover art - fetch album covers from the Internet
- FM Radio - support for FM radio broadcasting services
- Jamendo and Magnatune plugins
- - for song submission at
- Visualization - display visualizations
And there are several more, very handy when needed.

Default plugins song submission plugin configuration

The Preferences dialogue allows you to change the browser views, add or remove visible columns from the playlist and configure podcasts.

The 'Preferences' dialogue

The 'About' Dialogue

I like it. I consider this fine application a complete audio player, featuring all you need to get a good audio experience. It's pretty stable, even though a little slow (sometimes it hangs for 1-2 seconds - on a 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo machine) but that is not necessarily a problem. A good player, probably the best from all the GNOME players I tested until now.

One of My Favourites: Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

Updated: June 07, 2008 (Created May 31, 2008)

An ET review from a medium-skilled player who enjoys the game

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (or ET for short) is a FPS (First Person Shooter) game, native for Linux, which borrows concepts from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and uses the Quake 3 engine. The idea initially was to develop it as a new commercial RtCW mod, but, ultimately, it was released as a free standalone, multiplayer game, after the developers abandoned the development of the single player part of the game.

It was released in May 2003, and ever since, it is one of the most played online games. It features several modes like Jaymod or No Quarter, and 6 default maps playable in two available campaigns, the Central Europe campaign (including Wurzburg Radar, Fueldump, Railgun) and the South Africa campaign (including Siwa Wasis, Seawall Battery, Goldrush). Each campaign puts two forces face to face, Allies and Axis, and each team has to accomplish certain objectives (or keep the other team not to) in order to win.

Battery Recharged (click to enlarge)

Each team benefits of 5 types of classes (Soldier, Medic, Engineer, Covert Ops, Field Ops) and each class has its own special features. For example the Covert Ops can steal enemy uniforms, or the medic can heal and revive friendly players.

The good thing about the class types is that this way you will have to take a different approach for each of them. For example, the medic will let soldiers go into the middle of the battle, and supply them with health packs and revive them when it's the case, keeping out of enemy fire if possible. Don't mind the frags: you receive experience for objectives you accomplish, including healing friendly players.

Online playing
The online playing experience is awesome: weapons which need real skill in order to be used at full potential, grenades of all kinds (a new weapon introduced in Jaymod is the Cocktail Molotov). You can find servers with active players nearly at any time, and most of them have a system to never reset the experience points (not a very good idea if you ask me, but some players like it that way).

Many more maps and skins are available for download, and usually all the major modes include some interesting new feature. The game does not receive updates any more, but the available modes are in constant development and improvement.

Siwa Oasis - a true classic (click to enlarge)

Particular aspect: trickjumps
It is also known for its videos and demonstrations of the so-called 'trickjumps', which can be mastered only by practising and playing for a long time. One famous example would be a bug in the Oasis map, where you could jump over a wall using trickjump, despite the fact that the developers never intended to have it that way. There are servers dedicated only to trickjumps, running maps specially designed for it. Mastering trickjumps is a way of getting respected by other players and be regarded as a highly skilled player. Of course, trickjumps are not everything: you have to be a useful team-mate and struggle to be part of a team. If you ask me, I never liked those players who only play as medics and usually heal no one but themselves, making points while their team loses (medics in new versions of Jaymod cannot use healthpacks any more, so this is no longer an issue if you play Jaymod).

The Paris Bastille map (click to enlarge)

The well-known, commercial game Enemy Territory: Quake Wars borrows lots of concepts from ET.

Documentation and support
Enemy Territory is no longer updated, but the mods for it are, which keeps the game evolving constantly. There is plenty of documentation and websites dedicated to ET on the Internet, like the following:

Enemy Territory - Planet Wolfenstein
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory Strategy Guide
Enemy Territory at
ET and RtCW at

The best thing about ET is that it's free and the second is that it easily competes with any commercial online FPS game. Overall, this is one of my all-time favourite games: it offers a great online playing feeling, the multiplayer part is complete and can keep you playing it for hours.

10 Reasons to Love Debian

Updated: May 31, 2008

This is not a rant about Debian vs. Ubuntu. I used both, loved both, and I'm currently using Debian Lenny. It's not about Debian versus any other distribution either: in fact, I only tried a few other distros, and most of them were Debian-based. Here are the top 10 reasons for which I enjoy using Debian:

1. APT
APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) is Debian's package management system. Installing an application is as simple as 'apt-get install amarok' and fetching all the updates can be done with 'apt-get update && apt-get upgrade'. Of course, there are APT frontends like Synaptic, if you're more comfortable using a graphical application.

Synaptic GUI frontend to apt in Debian Lenny

2. Community
Community is great, and I'm talking about both the forums at and the official #debian channel on OFTC. Debian still has a channel on Freenode, which actually has more users than the official one (an average of 800 compared to 350 on OFTC).

LE: I almost forgot: mailing lists are another way of getting responses to Debian problems and discuss any aspect related to it.

3. Releases are rock stable
The release cycle is slower than other distributions, but the applications included in a new release are well tested and stable. You have the certainty that if you install the Debian stable release, you can trust it for security and stability, which makes it very fit on servers too, not only on the desktop.

4. It's been around from the beginning
If I'm not wrong, Debian and Slackware were the two big distributions which started just after the first version of the Linux kernel was released. What advantage constitutes this? Well, the community is comprised of both new and older, more experienced users; there are probably hundreds of projects out there based on Debian, which can only contribute to it (take Ubuntu for example).

My current Debian desktop (click to enlarge)

5. Debian usually ships with default settings in applications
So you will be able to start from the same default configuration and make it work your own way. I like this one because I usually like applications like Konqueror for example to come with their original default settings, and if I want to configure it another way, I can do it manually. Debian gives you full control over this.

6. It supports equally both KDE and GNOME
In fact, it supports any desktop environment equally since others, like Xfce, are also included in the repositories. This means no package is left behind or ignored, they are both tested to be stable and bug-free when a new Debian stable release arrives.

7. I got used to it
This is a more 'personal' reason: since my first distribution was Ubuntu, then Kubuntu and finally Debian, I got used to it. I think it wouldn't be hard for me to learn using emerge or rpm, but I'm more comfortable in something which I already know how to use.

8. I like the name
'You call this a reason?', you may ask. Yes! Actually, I was thrilled when I found out what Debian stands for - it's a combination of the names Ian Murdock (founder of the project) and his then-girlfriend, Debra. Hence, Debian!

9. Development model
I like that you can choose what version you want to use. If you really need well-tested software and the best security you can get, use stable (currently 4.0, Etch), if you want newer packages, then use Testing (currently Lenny).

10. Documentation
Debian is one of the few distributions which benefit of hundreds of dedicated websites with documentation, not to mention personal blogs. The official documentation found on Debian's website is also abundant, and I always take a look there every once in a while. And, I almost forgot it: there is the Wiki, there are the forums, and there is IRC (#debian on OFTC). And if you really need an answer very fast, you can always try the UbuntuForums, since most of the solutions provided there work flawlessly in Debian.

How-To: Compile and Install the QtCurve Style in KDE3 on Ubuntu/Debian

Updated: May 31, 2008

QtCurve is a beautiful and highly configurable style for KDE. It is mature and bug-free, so you may want to give it a try. Download the source for KDE3 from the page. Next, install the necessary dependencies:

apt-get install kdebase-dev cmake lsb-cxx

Then, issue the following commands in the QtCurve directory:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..
make install

The last command as root. Your style should now be installed. To apply it and configure QtCurve, run KControl (hit ALT+F2 and enter 'kcontrol'), go to Appearance & Themes -> Style, and select QtCurve from the Widget Style drop-down list.

May 30, 2008

Careful with That Command, Eugene

Updated: May 30, 2008

Not long ago, there were several discussions on UbuntuForums regarding a malicious command which was deliberately posted in the forums in order to make users damage their system if they typed it in a terminal using root privileges. The command is 'sudo rm -rf /' and means 'use root privileges to recursively remove, without asking for permission, the root directory / and its entire contents. I never tried it, but I DON'T recommend you to do so. It basically wipes out your Ubuntu (or Debian) installation. I think a workaround will soon be found for this, if it hasn't been yet.

The community's response to this was fast and efficient: in only several days, a huge number of users changed or added to their signature a warning saying to never use this command or any similar ones. A sticky thread explaining the dangers of using such a command was also available.

What amazed me was the solidarity and good intention of community members, which quickly mobilised and practically spread the word on not to use the above or any similar commands. I was really impressed.

The problem which arrives is that new Linux users are tempted to take such commands or scripts from all over the Internet and paste it brainlessly into the terminal, so they quickly complete whatever task they initially wanted to do. This I guess, should be treated carefully and probably such warnings on malicious commands should be available and easy to jump into, in order to reduce the risks at minimum.

3 GTK Applications I Need on a Daily Basis

Updated: May 30, 2008

I was never a fan of GTK applications, at least not since I have switched to KDE (over 2 years now). But there are at least three GTK applications that I need on a day-to-day basis.

1. Firefox

I consider this to be the best of all web browsers. The most important things that I love about it are:
- ability to display correctly almost any web page
- support for themes (I'm currently using Noia 2.0 Extreme - wonderful theme)
- support for extensions: StumbleUpon and DownloadHelper add-ons
- simple, clean, intuitive and customisable interface
- highly configurable

Firefox using the Noia Extreme theme

2. XChat

I've been loving IRC for many years now, and to be honest, the only client that fulfils my needs is XChat. Some of the highlights I really like about it:
- uses a low quantity of memory
- supports scripting languages like Perl, Python
- C plugin interface (I just love this one)
- highly configurable through /SET variables (like the conference mode, for example)

XChat - Connected to Freenode, #ubuntuforums channel

One disadvantage it has is bad icon integration in KDE's system tray (I think it has to do with the fact that the icon is not available as a standalone image, but is included in the XChat code - not very sure about it, though)

3. LinuxDC++

This is the port of DC++ for Windows, which is licensed under the GPL. When using it on hubs with 1000+ users, the interface becomes slow as hell, but I prefer it over Valknut anyway. It has all the features one needs in order to use Direct Connect for sharing files at full potential.

LinuxDC++ 1.0.1

XChat Tips & Tricks

Updated: May 30, 2008

Make XChat display the /WHOIS information in the current window

One of the default settings in Xchat is that it displays the /WHOIS information in the status window. This can be changed in a flash. Type in any XChat window:

/set irc_whois_front 1

And this is it. Your /WHOIS information will now be displayed in the current window. More details about the /SET variables can be found here.

Hide join/part messages using the conference mode

The conference mode can prove very useful on large channels, or when there are discussions which you want to be logged without join/part disturbing messages. To enable it, type the following in any of XChat's windows:

/set irc_conf_mode 1

If you only want to hide the messages for a specific channel, right click on the channel text area (the tab or the tree channel name) and untick 'Show join/part messages'

Hide backlog

A new feature introduced in XChat 2.8.4 is that when you restart XChat it displays the messages you received last time you ran it. If you want to disable this feature type the command:

/set text_replay 0

A Compilation of Frequent Linux Tips

Frequent Linux Tips - A Compilation

Note: Several are Debian-specific, the others can be used in any distribution.

1. Mount an ISO image

Type as root (Ubuntu users precede it with sudo):

mount -o loop /path/to/image.iso /media/cdrom0

The image will be mounted under /media/cdrom0.

2. Rip FLAC and WAV files to OGG Vorbis

oggenc -b 192 *.flac
oggenc -b 128 *.wav

3. Split a FLAC/WAV file when a CUE file is available

cuebreakpoints disc.cue | shnsplit disc.wav
cuebreakpoints disc.cue | shnsplit disc.flac

4. Run a second X server

startx -- :1

5. Convert MPEG video files to Theora Video

ffmpeg2theora -q6 -A192 movie.avi

6. Get audio from DVD .VOB files

nice -n 15 transcode -y xvid4,ogg -i vts_01_1.vob -m ~/track01.ogg -b 192

7. APT: Install needed dependencies to compile a source

Note: This will work if an older version is already available in the repositories; the new version does not require newer libraries and you have sources activated in your /etc/apt/sources.list file.

This works in Debian and other Debian-based distributions, Ubuntu users precede it with sudo.

apt-get build-dep application

8. APT: Upgrade your Debian system in one command

apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

9. APT: See which files a package installed

dpkg -L package_name

10. Create an ISO9660 CD image
This will create a CD image from the contents in a directory using the mkisofs command line tool:

mkisofs -r -v -J -l -o /path/to/cd_image.iso /path/to/directory

This will create an image called cd_image.iso from the contents of the /path/to/directory folder.

11. Convert NRG images to ISO
There is a tool which converts NRG (a CD image format used by Nero) to an ISO, it's called nrg2iso. Use it on any NRG image like this:

nrg2iso cd_image.nrg cd_image.iso

Note: This compilation is open for suggestions. Please leave a comment or e-mail me (see the About page).

Updated: Jul 04, 2008 (Created: May 30, 2008)

May 29, 2008

Wine 1.0 RC2 Review

Updated: May 29, 2008

This is the second release candidate for the so much awaited Wine 1.0. The distribution used in this review is Debian Lenny with all the updates to date. Wine was installed from source using the recommended wineinstall script inside the source's tools directory, after all the dependencies were satisfied using 'apt-get build-dep wine'. The compilation went smooth and without any problems. Wine was compiled with all the dependencies.

Compiling Wine using the recommended wineinstall script (click to enlarge)

Winecfg 'About' dialogue (click to enlarge)

World of WarCraft

I took advantage of the official free trial from the WoW Europe website in order to test it, since I don't own an account for WoW. As soon as the installation started, Wine prompted me to download the Gecko HTML engine. I accepted and it automatically downloaded and installed it. The license agreement fonts were not displayed correctly, but that probably was because I didn't copy the necessary font files into windows/Fonts.

Installing World of WarCraft Trial

The installation went straight, and I could start the game and join a realm in a blink of an eye.

One of the 3 EULAs you'll have to agree (click to enlarge)

In-game screenshots (click to enlarge)

Switching resolution from the in-game options menu crashed WoW with the following error:

But it works perfectly if you change the resolution from the configuration file, ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/World of Warcraft Trial/WTF/

Back into the game and the resolution is now 1280x1024 instead of 1024x768, and no more crashes occurred.

Overall, World of WarCraft works very well with Wine 1.0 RC2. It runs decently, with no major problems. A minimum effort for the configuration via the file and you're ready to play it undisturbed. Not to mention the availability of many guides on the entire internet on how to configure and make it work your way.

DC++ 0.705

Why test DC++ for Windows with Wine at this point? Well, for me at least, the Linux port of DC++, LinuxDC++ (using GTK) is slow as hell. So I decided to take the Windows version for a spin and see how it behaves under Wine.

Installing DC++ (click to enlarge)

Hashing (click to enlarge)

The good news is that it works; the bad news is that it presents no advantage over its Linux port: fonts are way too small, it's as slow as the Linux port, and a crash occurred when I opened the Help Contents. But if you really need it, you can decently use it only to search, download and share files, which is its purpose after all.

DC++ successfully running (click to enlarge)

Searching and downloading works fine (click to enlarge)

mIRC 6.31

Frankly, I don't see the point of using mIRC in Linux when there are several powerful native IRC clients out there like XChat, KVirc or Irssi. But for a user who just switched from Windows and is used to mIRC, and also has scripts which only work with it, using this for a while may be a must-have and it makes sense. So, I tested the latest mIRC version to see how it performs.

Installation completed (click to enlarge)

Connected to the OFTC network, channel #debian (click to enlarge)

mIRC options (click to enlarge)

It's slower than on Windows. The Scripts Editor crashes, so I don't recommend this version for use with Wine. If you have some big mIRC scripts which you cannot rewrite as XChat plugins/scripts or a trivia bot which you don't want to rewrite in C as a standalone IRC robot, then use an older mIRC version.

Community and Development

Wine is actively developed, with a new version constantly being released every two weeks. Documentation is also abundant, and you can find on the official website many guides to troubleshoot the configuration of different applications/games on Wine together with a full database containing a list of what works or does not work. Currently in code freeze (only bug fixes, no new features are currently introduced in Wine), the 1.0 release is due to be out in several weeks, and a new release candidate (RC3) will be out on May 30, 2008.


Wine has come such a long way that I can only be enchanted about this project. Each new version fixes more bugs and includes more and more features; the number of supported applications and games increases with each new release. And with some configuration, most of the applications will work. A great project, from which the Linux community can only benefit.

Download YouTube Videos with Firefox and DownloadHelper Add-on

Updated: May 29, 2008

Firefox benefits from several extensions which make it possible to download videos from YouTube, or usually any media content you bump in while navigating the web. DownloadHelper 3.0.4 is such an add-on, allowing you to download selected video in one click, and it supports hundreds of websites, including YouTube.

DownloadHelper 3.0.4

You can get DownloadHelper from its Firefox page. After you downloaded and installed it, restart Firefox and try it on any YouTube video. Once you get to the desired video, go to Tools -> DownloadHelper, and select the file you want to download, below the About menu entry.

DownloadHelper submenu under the Tools menu

Most of the files have the extension flv, and you will be able to watch them with VLC or another video player.

Configuring DownloadHelper - it offers plenty of options to choose from

This extension is definitely a must have if you want to keep favourite videos on your hard drive for a quick watch.

The About dialogue

May 28, 2008

Edit the Tags in Your Audio Collection with Kid3

Updated: May 29, 2008

Kid3 is a nice KDE application, which recently reached version 1.0. It allows you to edit the tags of all major audio formats, like OGG Vorbis, MP3, FLAC, MP4/AAC or WavPack.

A usual instance of Kid3, editing OGG Vorbis tags (click to enlarge)

The best feature Kid3 ships with is the ability to edit multiple files at the same time, somehow similar with the way Amarok allows you to edit the tags. You can select all the audio files in a directory and change the editable tags by filling the fields only once, then save the modified files.

Editing tags for all the FLAC files in a directory

The configuration dialogue includes the possibility to set the text encoding for tags or to select which version of id3 tag will be used for MP3 files (2.3.0 or 2.4.0). You can also set Kid3 to automatically replace non-English characters with standard ones.

Configuration dialogue

Kid3 is lightweight and fast, and is perfect for editing any kind of audio file, taking advantage of an efficient way of doing it.

About dialogue

Burn Your CDs and DVDs! K3b Review

Updated: May 28, 2008

K3b is the KDE CD/DVD burner, capable of burning data CDs/DVDs, as well as CD/DVD ISO images, create audio CDs, rip audio CDs and video DVDs. Statistics show it is the favourite burning application of Linux users.

A typical instance of K3b (click to enlarge):

'The CD and DVD kreator', as the author calls it (the 'k' in kreator emphasizes the fact that K3b is a KDE application), is a complete burning program for Linux, with all the features you need to start backing up your data.

It can also be used to create ISO images, K3b taking advantage of the 'genisoimage' tool to provide this feature. Among the many other features K3b includes are: multisessions, support for Linux and Windows filesystems or the possibility to automatically erase CD-RWs and DVD-RWs when they are inserted, OSD (On-Screen Display).

Burning an ISO 9660 image using K3b (click to enlarge):

Tools used by K3b (click to enlarge):

K3b provides most of the functionality any proprietary burner offers, with the advantage that is cost-free and open source. The well-known closed-source burning application for Linux is Nero, which was relatively recently released for Linux as well.

Burning a data DVD (click to enlarge):

It has a rich configuration options via the Settings dialogue. It supports themes and CDDB configuration, together with other handy options. K3b also benefits from notifications, which are rather annoying in my opinion. However, when you're not at the computer and want to know when K3b finished writing your CD, this feature can prove useful. It also provides a DCOP interface, which allows to control K3b from command line or another application.

The Tools menu (click to enlarge)

Help is available offline in K3b's Handbook, but it hasn't been updated since 2004. The official homepage has no forum, however a FAQ and a short guide to the DCOP interface are available. Frankly, I really don't think there's a big need for help files while the interface is so simple and intuitive.

The latest stable K3b version is 1.0.5 and you can get it from the official website. Work is also in progress for the KDE4 port, which is scheduled to be the next release, 1.1.

As a conclusion, K3b has all the tools you need, it does its job very well, is mature and stable, and development started at the KDE4 port. K3b is definitely one of the best Linux burner applications out there.