Archive for category Open Source

Another look at Google Chrome

I've never published a "first look at Google Chrome", but I have been excited about it before. By Google Chrome, I'm referring to Google's webkit-based browser, not the Chrome OS.

When it was announced that Google was releasing it's own browser, I wasn't extremely excited. Then once it was available, I downloaded it to see how well it performed. I was amazed. The javascript executing was blazing fast. I'd never seen a web application respond so well. So, I suddenly became very excited about it and wanted to adopt it as my main browser.

This was soon shot down by the fact that I rely too heavily on certain extensions in Firefox, namely Gmail Notifier, Firebug, ForecastFox, and Adblock Plus. So, I had to keep using Firefox and hoped that one day Firefox would be able to handle javascript as good as Chrome.

Well the opposite has happened. Chrome now has extensions. I'm a little worried that it will be bloated and start performing slowly like Firefox. Firefox was once a lean mean browser. Now it is a bloated mess. It has started crashing without warming in Windows 7. I was once a Firefox advocate and I still like the browser, but it has been going downhill for the past year or two. Let's hope that Chrome doesn't follow down this path.

Firefox shouldn't even be that bloated. Sure, the extensions probably add to memory usage and Firefox reserves memory if it's available, but should a browser really be using half a gig of RAM? Seriously?

Chrome doesn't use less memory but it sure responds better. Adding extensions doesn't seem to lower performance either. I've added a GMail notifier, Google Wave Notifier, Forecastfox weather, Firebug Lite, and a couple other extensions and there is no noticeable change what-so-ever.

Now that these extensions are available for Chrome, I think it's time for me to take the next step. Chrome will be my main browser as soon as the extensions are available for the Mac and Linux versions. It's already going to be my main browser in Windows.

So, if you took a look at Chrome when it first came out, this may be a good time to look at it again. There are a few added features that may change your mind about it as well.

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Adventures in analog video recording on Linux

Linux does many things well, but the multimedia experience can be lacking without the correct bit of hackery. I mean, some cool things can be done with Linux on the multimedia side, but typically it'll take a lot of work to learn how it's done. Mac and Windows make complex things simple, while Linux makes simple things complex.

Back when I purchased my TV tuner card for my PC, I was using Linux as my main OS. I still use it daily but not on my main PC. Only occasionally do I boot to Linux on it. I typically run Windows Server 2008 as I've talked about on previous posts. When I bought the tuner I wanted to make sure that it worked under Linux. So, I purchased one that was made specifically for Linux, a PCHDTV 5500.

It has served its purpose as a TV tuner, since I watched a year or so of cable TV in analog on it prior to the digital switch. I have never been able to get the HD side of things to work on it. Either it's beyond me or my cable company just had all of the channels encrypted. I didn't spend enough time on it to find out.

Recording analog video in Linux can be FUN. By "fun" I mean the type of fun one has pulling their own toe hairs. Be forewarned, getting a good recording is best done from the command line. I tried many ways. I ended up going with mencoder.

That being said, there's not much you can't do with mencoder and ffmpeg from the command line.

I have some VHS recordings I'm converting to AVI and then later on to DVD. I first had to purchase a VCR because, wouldn't you know it, I didn't have one that worked.

After that I had to come up with a good way to connect it to my capture card. The card has coax and component inputs. The new VCR didn't come with any coaxial connections. The capture card had a yellow RCA connection for video. I could use that but then there was the problem with audio. The capture card had a 1/8" jack for audio. Luckily I had an RCA-to-1/8" adapter for one of my gadgets (not sure which). I ended up using two sets of RCA's.

I was amazed I actually got audio and video from it. Here's where more fun came in. I was running virtualbox in the background. Everything I tried to use to record the video told me that /dev/dsp could not be opened. I went through many hoops trying to troubleshoot that issue. I should have realized it sooner but it was all virtualbox's fault. Next time I'll make sure it's not running when I'm dealing with audio.

After all of those problems were worked out, I was able to use:

mencoder tv:///1 -tv driver=v4l2:width=640:height=480:forceaudio:adevice=/dev/dsp -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-750:threads=2 -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr:br=64:mode=3 -o /home/five/homevid.avi

I'll try to explain some of what is going on in that command. Mencoder is the program itself. There's little to be said there. The next part is interesting: tv:///1  That tells mencoder we are using the tv card and that we want to use the composite1 input. Typically it defaults to input=0 or tv:///0, which is the coax TV input. There are three inputs on the card: tv, composite, and s-video. The next part (driver=v4l2) tells mencoder that we want to use Video4Linux2. Then we specify the width and height of the capture. The forceaudio bit was placed there during my troubleshooting. It just forces the use of audio device /dev/dsp. I had tried a couple other devices during my troubleshooting, thus the addition of that option. Then we have the option for output video codec (xvid). I set the bitrate and the number of threads. I actually upped that bitrate considerably later to around 2048. I believe I'll end up upping it even more for the next vid. I did the same with the audio output bitrate. I set it up to 256.

That should help anyone experiencing some of the pain I went through.

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The Best Dock for Linux

I've been looking for an OS X-like dock bar for Linux for many years. For a while, I used the launcher applet in gdesklets. It works without x-composite and pretty nice, but gdesklets can be a resource hog at times. Most of the gdesklets are written in Python if I'm not mistaking and Python, being an interpreted language, uses much more system resources than a native compiled application.

My next dock was AWN, or Avant Window Navigator. At one point, possibly the present, Google was involved with this project. Again, this is if I recall correctly. AWN is very nice, however, it only works if you are using the composite extension in X, as in Compiz/Beryl/Compiz Fusion. It's very customizable and behaves much like the OS X dock.

There's one part of the OS X dock that I really like that isn't quite the same in these docks however. The fish-eye zoom of icons on the dock is a trademark of OS X. AWN and the launcher in gdesklets both have a zoom function but it's just not the same.

I recently discovered that there is a great dock pretty much hidden away in a program called Gnome-Do. Gnome-Do itself is a cool search app for gnome. It's somewhat like a KDE app I remember that lets you launch programs by hitting a keyboard shortcut and then typing the name of the app. I can't remember the name of that app at the moment though. Gnome-Do does exactly that. One can type super(windows key) and the space bar to bring up Gnome-Do.

Of course, you will have to install it first though. After it is installed, simply run the application and go to the preferences for it. Change the appearance to "Docky". Voila, the best dock you've ever had in Linux will appear. Play with it and you'll soon see that this is very close to the OS X dock experience.

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Ubuntu Synergy Howto

There's really not much to setting up Synergy in the latest Ubuntu. The reason I'm writing this is because I ran into a roadblock while setting it up and it was a stupid mistake on my part. I know someone else will probably make the same mistake.

I'm used to Debian-based distros. I ran Debian for a few years on my home desktop, and I use Debian on my personal development servers. I should have realized that synergy and quicksynergy were in the Ubuntu repositories. It just makes sense. They are even available for the 64bit version.

Before I realized this, I looked for the package in Ubuntu's "Add and remove software" app. I searched for synergy and found nothing. Stupid me assumed that it wasn't available. I should have just ran the ole trusty apt-cache search synergy. Assuming that it wasn't in the repos, I downloaded the source. The only binary available for Linux was in RPM form. I just don't like converting RPMs to DEBs using Alien. Sorry. So, I tried to compile it. I ran in to a few issues while trying to compile. That's when I decided to check the repos. Lo and behold, there both packages were. So to install synergy and the nice graphical front-end for it called quicksynergy, simple run: sudo apt-get install synergy quicksynergy

I'm pretty sure these are both in the universe repository. However, in the event I'm incorrect, they are at least in the multiverse repo. So if universe doesn't turn up anything, just add multiverse. If you don't know how to do that, Google.

If you've never tried Synergy out, it's one of those must have apps for Linux, Windows, or OS X. It's useful if you have more than one computer and more than one monitor, but only want to use one keyboard and one mouse. It makes the two computers seem to work in unison by sharing the keyboard and mouse over IP. It's not exactly the same as KVM over IP because video doesn't get shared.

It's great for me because I have a regular desktop and my "server" box at my desk. I have dual displays on my main box and I now have another display connected to my "server". My keyboard and mouse are shared between the two computers. When I mouse over to the far right hand side of my main box's desktop the mouse goes to my server box's display. My keyboard then works on it. Mousing back to the left gives control back to my main box.

If you've never tried synergy, give it a shot. It's open source, free, and extremely handy.

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Programming ideas

I'm not a very good programmer. I think the biggest reason for that is that I've not had enough practice at it. I've written plenty of apps and web sites but most were very simple. My latest app, whats-hot-weekly.com is actually a simplified version of another app I wrote that is located at givemeaniche.com. There are many differences between the two apps even though they basically do the same thing. The exception to this being that givemeaniche actually shows the most searched for terms as well as the most watched items.

The hardest part of it all is coming up with new ideas for serious work projects. I have a few but being a solo developer, designer, etc means that I'll have to put some time into them. Any ideas for apps and websites would be much appreciated.

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Xlack Revisited

A few weeks ago I posted a couple of times about the xlack system info script for xchat. It was very useful considering I couldn't find the script anywhere on Google. Right after posting the download for the script, I had a decent rank on Google for the keyword "xlack download" and even "xlack". This was to be expected since there really wasn't a lot of information about Xlack available on the internet anymore.

Now I'm not even in the first page results. In fact, the number one position for "xlack" is a placeholder page for the old xlack.tk. This was the original website for the xlack script. There's also a high placement for a member of deviant art. At any rate, if someone were to actually use Google to find the xlack script, they would be hard pressed to find it. Hopefully this site will rank for the xlack keyword soon so people can actually find the script.

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Best Cross-Platform FTP Client/Server

Due to my recent web site development work, I've been in need of good FTP client for Windows. In the past, I used SmartFTP but it was a free trial or it may have actually been freeware at one time. I liked it, but it's hard to make a bad FTP client for Windows. Pretty much all FTP clients have the same features these days anyway.

So I thought it'd be a good time to find a free open source FTP client for Windows. It didn't take long for me to dig up Filezilla. I have to say, I like it. It's not spectacular or amazing. I really don't see why an FTP client should be. It is lightweight and works as expected. That's all one should expect from an FTP client. I like programs that keep it simple and Filezilla does that well.

Another advantage to FileZilla is that it is available on all platforms. I prefer it to anything I've ever tried on OS X. For some reason a lot of Mac lovers like some program with a duck in it. The name escapes me. I should take the time to google it but I just don't have the time at the moment. File Duck or Ducky....Something like that. At any rate, that program has a very Mac feel to it but I don't like that I have to use it with finder. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I've been using FTP clients for quite some time and it's just not intuitive to me.

FileZilla is available on Linux, Windows, and OS X. I'm pretty sure it's available on BSD as well. Once one is familiar with it on one platform, it's the same on any other.

I've limited experience with the server version of FileZilla. From what little experience (from XAMPP) I have with FileZilla server, it seems pretty good. I personally don't have a need for an FTP server in Windows, and if I did, I would probably use the built-in FTP server in IIS, since I run Windows Server 2008. But if all one needs is an FTP server, Filezilla appears to be an excellent choice.

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Xlack Download!

As stated in a previous post, I couldn't find the Xlack system information script anywhere. Well I was looking through some old backup DVD's I'd made and sure enough I have a backup of it. So for anyone that wants it you can find it here.

Xlack is my favorite sysinfo script for XChat. It isn't supported any longer and that may be the reason it's so hard to find. Also xlack.tk isn't working any longer. I'm guessing it is an abandoned project. I may actually take it over, eventually. I don't have the time at the moment, however.

So, download and use at your own risk. If you need help, please post a comment to this post. I will answer to the best of my knowledge.

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Free Software Everyone Should Know About

Most computer users aren't "savvy". They know how to turn the computer on, how to open up "the internet", and maybe how to write an email. To some, computers are scary devices. To others, computers are something they use daily but couldn't fix on their own. To the non-savvy computer user, open source software is a foreign term. It's geek speak. It's mumbo jumbo. Whether one is a savvy user or a beginner, they should be aware of what open source software has to offer them.

In order to understand what open source software is, it is important to know a little about how computers work and why software is normally so expensive to begin with. So a little "Intro to computers" is in order.

Computers need software to operate. The main software on a computer is it's operating system. This software allows the user to interact with the hardware. When the user presses a mouse button, a signal is sent to the computer's hardware, the hardware asks the operating system what it's supposed to do with this signal. The operating system tells the hardware what to do next and then tells the other software on the computer what has happened. The other software then reacts to the event. The click event is registered and the process pretty much goes back in reverse. The software that handled the click event tells the operating system what happened. The operating system tells the hardware. Finally the user sees or hears the effect of their click of the button on the screen/speakers/both.

The operating system is very important. Most people use a form of Microsoft's Windows operating system. Other examples of operating systems include Apple's Mac OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD. Windows and OS X are considered proprietary or commercial software. OS X comes on Macs, and Windows comes on most PCs. However, neither are free. They are part of the price paid for the new computers.

So this leads us to our first examples of open source software. Linux and FreeBSD are open source software. Proprietary or commercial software is normally "closed source", meaning the source code is a secret that only the software company can look at. Windows is completely closed source. OS X is to an extent. Much of the software at the core of OS X is built from open source software. Windows has an arguably unfair share of the market because Microsoft positioned themselves to have their version of DOS included on most new computers back in the old days and that has carried over to Windows. Many people argue that Windows is easier and that is why it has such a huge market share. However, it's arguably easier for most people because of it's huge market share making it more familiar.

This market share allowed Microsoft to position itself in other software markets as well. For instance, today Microsoft's Office Suite controls a huge market share as well. This creates a circular problem in that everyone who wishes to open an Office document whether it be a spreadsheet, presentation, or memo, has to have Office installed on their computer. However, it can also be stated that Microsoft finally delivered a standard on all these products. Back in the day there were many word processors and if person A wrote a document in Word Perfect, it was difficult for person B to open the document in Word.

There is a better solution to the document standards though. The documents should be a standard, and that standard should be open. Meaning anyone who wants to write a word processor should adhere to the standard document type. It's the same concept that we use today for our web browsers. It is important that all web sites have standard coding that all browsers can read. Microsoft tried to set that standard as well, and to this day Internet Explorer is one of the least standards compliant browsers available. Microsoft knew that if they controlled the standard, then everyone would have to use their products.

Now that all of that is out of the way, lets look at some of this open source software. Open source software is, as its name implies, software who's source is open for public viewing. Anyone is free to view, edit, and redistribute the software with or without the modification. This also means that open source software tends to be free, and in most cases, can be downloaded for free. Here is a list of common alternatives. I will post links at the end of the article that will lead to the download page or home page for all these applications.

If one needs an office suite, why pay $100 to $400 for Microsoft Office when OpenOffice is free. OpenOffice has a word processor, database app, presentation app, and spreadsheet app. Granted, there are a few features that Microsoft has that OpenOffice doesn't, but most of those features wouldn't be used by the average user. If one finds that OpenOffice doesn't do the trick, then they can look into purchasing Microsoft's Office suite, but if it's not needed why waste the money.

For email, most people probably have a web-base mail account. However, for those that use Outlook or Outlook express, perhaps Mozilla's Thunderbird is a better alternative.

Window Media player and Apple's iTunes software are both free but they aren't open source. For music, SongBird is a great alternative. It has the look and feel of iTunes but doesn't force the iTunes music store down the user's throat. It also has many plugins/extensions that one can install with a click of the mouse. Such extensions include: automatic lyric display, automatic album art, artist bio, discography, etc. It also has many available themes.

Browsing the web is easy with Windows right out of the box. Internet Explorer is built-in. However there are a few things people don't realize about Internet Explorer. Ever notice how everyone's home page is set to MSN? Microsoft rakes in millions just from the advertising on that site. It's a simple tweak that most people don't realize. Also, what about the user's browsing habits. That's some very powerful information to have. With it they could pinpoint advertise and make even more money, or sell the info to others. The point is, Internet Explorer is all about invading your privacy. This coupled with the fact that it's probably the least secure browsers one can use, and it stands to reason that we should all be using something else. Thankfully there are plenty of alternatives to Internet Explorer. Try out Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or Flock. They are all very good choices to replace IE.

For photo editing needs, The Gimp makes a pretty good Photoshop replacement. It can do many of the same things. Granted, it's nowhere near as robust as Photoshop, it will surprise many of the most skilled "shoppers" out there.

For chatting with friends, an IM application is usually installed. These include Yahoo, MSN, AIM, Google Talk, and MySpace IM. Well all of those could be replaced with a single program called Pidgin. Pidgin is a great instant messenger application and uses very little system resources compared to any one of these.

Finally, after replacing all of the core software titles on a system, why not replace the operating system itself. Many people have switched to Linux and are happy. Linux is a monster as a server OS and it's actually a very good desktop OS as well. The most popular (at least for desktops) Linux distribution available today is Ubuntu. It is one of the easier distributions. There is also a huge community available to help with any problems that may arise.

In conclusion, it is quite possible to legally use a computer without paying a single penny for any of the software installed on it. Not only is this software free, but it's also very robust and can fill even the most demanding user's needs. There's always a chance that open source isn't a good choice for some users, but most will find it very useful.

Here is a complete list of the software mentioned in this article and links to learn more about or download the software.

Linux:
General Information about Linux
Ubuntu Linux
Debian Linux
Fedora Linux
Suse Linux
Arch Linux
DistroWatch - A list of all popular Linux distributions

FreeBSD and other free operating systems other than Linux:
FreeBSD Project Site
OpenBSD
NetBSD

OpenOffice:
http://openoffice.org

Thunderbird:
http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/thunderbird/

SongBird:
http://getsongbird.com/

VLC:
Video Lan Media player
Firefox:
http://mozilla.com

Google Chrome:
http://www.google.com/chrome

Opera:
http://www.opera.com/

Flock:
http://flock.com/

The Gimp:
http://www.gimp.org/

Pidgin:
http://pidgin.im/

Other helpful links:
Comprehensive list of Open Source/Free software
GNU Project
The Free Software Foundation
Sourceforge - search for open source software.

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BitchX removed from latest stable Debian release

I just recently realized that BitchX is no longer in the Debian repos on one of my servers. Apparently there is some kind of library dependency issue. I decided to try some of the other IRC clients for the command line (I use XChat for most of my IRC chatting but sometimes I want to chat from a CLI environment). The rest of the clients, however, sucked. Especially when one is used to BitchX. I could have probably gotten used to one of them but I just wasn't impressed. I tried Irssi, ircii, weechat, epic4, and something called Pork. None of them felt right.

So, I downloaded the BitchX source. I couldn't get it to compile (probably why it isn't in the repos any longer). Configure didn't report any errors. Make failed with a generic error that ld ended status 1. All that means to me is that ld ended with an error. I'm sure I could have tracked it down eventually but instead I downloaded the Linux binaries. Miraculously, the binary worked without any problems whatsoever.

So, if you are like me and really like BitchX for IRC, download the binaries from: http://www.bitchx.com/download.php

Once you have the binary, you can place it in /usr/bin with:
cp BitchX /usr/bin
and create a symlink like so: 
ln -s /usr/bin/BitchX /usr/bin/bitchx
I created the symlink only because I'm used to starting BitchX using the lowercase version of the command. The symlink is optional.

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