Friday, 2 September 2011

Gnome: Just one more update

Yep, I'm back again already. It turns out I made one little mistake when complaining about Gnome 3 Fallback.

You know I said there was no way to customise the panel, because the right-click menu for adding applets had gone?
Well, it does exist - it's just not discoverable. You have to hold Alt and click on the panel, or something along those lines.
But in discovering this, I've found something else - panel applets are now aligned as left, right or center - and you don't get to choose which.
Hmm. An undiscoverable means of customising the panel, and less choices for the applets? Seems to me like I just reported one bit of good news and two bits of bad.

I'm trialling Mate, the Gnome 2 fork, though. While there are a few bugs still in it, and the project is definitely in need of helping hands in nearly all forms, it does provide what it says it does; a fork of Gnome 2 that is functional. I hope someday through a community effort it reaches the point of becoming a well-maintained alternative to those who dislike Gnome 3 and Shell, like those who favour KDE 3.5 over 4.x still.
If you like what the Mate project is doing, help out - at the time of writing this, as far as I can tell it's a project with only one person involved. Help out, help de-bug Mate and bring Gnome 2 back to the masses.
And who knows, maybe, just maybe Mate will surpass Gnome 3/Shell for the point of one of the most used desktops, and people will talk about KDE, XFCE and Mate instead of KDE, XFCE and Gnome.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Gnome: A quick update

Recently discovered. For those of you who want Gnome2 back, this is the fork project I'm aware of - the Mate Desktop Environment, with it's homepage here:

And if you want to download it, read this page:

Archlinux has packages in the AUR and a custom repo already, so people who want Gnome2 back on Arch can go grab it right away!

Gnomes and Themes

Some time back I trialled the Gnome Shell. To say the least, my views on it were not complimentary.
However, since Arch Linux has become my new current distro and it has Gnome 3 and by extension Shell in the repositories in favour of Gnome 2, and because this is a different system entirely from the one I originally trialled the Shell on, I thought maybe it was time to give it a second chance.
I thought that maybe since it had become a production and stable release of Gnome, there had to be some improvements, right?
Well, I'll concede the 'some' point of it. Improvement... that's questionable.

Let's start with Pulseaudio, now apparently a requirement for Gnome. Many, if not most distros, have told us this is so for a while now, but Arch had made it clear that it was optional in Gnome 2, but required for Gnome 3.
I do not like Pulseaudio. Perhaps it's just me, but sound quality seems to be lost, all sounds have a lag between when they're meant to happen and when you hear them, and I've always found it hogs system resources. What can it offer me that I'm going to use, and that ALSA can't handle? Nothing at all. ALSA has served me well and never once given me any trouble.
But this can be solved by installing 'gnome-settings-daemon-nopulse' from the AUR, which, as the name suggests, removes the Pulseaudio dependency. True, this also breaks the Gnome Shell's volume control, but I don't see that as any great loss - I never used any applets to control my volume anyway, since I have buttons on my keyboard that are set up to handle it already.
Next we have the Shell itself. With the addition of the Gnome Tweak Tool to ease some of the settings that should really have been made available with the Shell, and not as a separate package, it becomes slightly more usable. Since my original trial of it, improvements have been made to the performance of the Shell, and it runs much smoother than it did back then. However, I cannot change the panels, I have no way to edit the menu, no way to edit what gets shown where - I'm almost completely stuck with the basic layout and settings that Gnome has decided for me.
This is not good. This suggests a very Mac-like 'You will do it our way, you will never need to do it any other way' kind of philosophy which I detest. Don't hide options from your users - give them the choice. Don't hide it away in separate applications. Gnome 2 made nearly all of it's customization through the Gnome Appearance Properties, which came with Gnome Control Centre and was a requirement on almost every Gnome install I ever did. Shell does not offer the same.
Furthermore, the Shell is not intuitive, not helpful and is far from good at removing the clutter and such that it claims to, in fact making it far more difficult to use my computer than anything else I've ever run on here. And I've tried a lot of Window Managers of late. The Shell does not even merit consideration for inclusion in the top choices, let alone the secondary fall-back choices.
And lastly, we have GTK3.
GTK2 themes could be applied by almost any application. LXAppearance was perfect for handling it when not running Gnome. You didn't even need that sometimes, just create yourself a file in the right place with the right settings in, and it'll get picked up by all GTK2 apps that run after that.
But GTK3 doesn't do it like that. GTK3 settings, it seems, can only be applied by Gnome Tweak Tool, and only picked up on by any GTK3 apps if the Gnome Settings Daemon is running to tell them so. Without it, no GTK3 themes get applied or even noticed. They won't inherit a GTK2 theme, but they'll inherit the mouse and icon themes. So if you don't run Gnome or it's overweight Settings Daemon in whatever WM or DE you're running that isn't Gnome, they'll be with that all-too familiar blocky, ugly grey. And no amount of tweaking will change that.

Now, it's known that you can, once more through the Gnome Tweak Tool, force your session to default to 'fallback' mode. Which is meant to be Gnome Classic, or Gnome 2.
Oh, no it isn't.
You can't customize the panels for a start. No more panel applets for Gnome, just what they give you, again with the Mac-like philosophy of our way or no way. Once more, the Pulseaudio raised it's head, but as before, the keyboard keys offered salvation.
Like the Shell, you have to use the Gnome Tweak Tool to set the GTK theme and such. Why is this not included by default with Gnome? Do not want your users to be able to customize what it looks like? What is this, emulate Windows with it's one panel only, no icon theme changes without too much work, just the mouse, desktop wallpaper and very minimal changes even in Winodws 7?
Gnome is removing far too much choice from it's DE like this, removing too many things that made it such a widely liked DE on Gnome 2. I applaud the efforts of those who are taking a leaf from the KDE Trinity project, which forked KDE 3.5, and are forking Gnome 2 so those who truly want it back instead of the cheap rip-off that Fallback is can still use it. As soon as packages are made for Arch Linux, I will waste no time in getting them.
Give me Good Old Gnome 2 and GTK2 any day. Gnome Shell, Gnome 3 and GTK3 are just monsters that but for those who for whatever unfathomable reason like them, we would be better off without by a considerable deal. I maintain that they along with Ubuntu Unity are the biggest disgraces ever to be called a desktop.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Moving off again

As so often happens with any box, little niggles crop up, gremlins find their way in and leave bugs strewn all over the system. We try our best to oust these pests, but sometimes they win.

This is such a case. Gentoo has it's good points, no one can deny that. The USE flags allow for instant removing or adding of functionality, compile-time optimizations result in a snappier system - but as time's gone past, I've found that it starts to become difficult to maintain.
So though it has served me well, and as always I've learned a great deal, I feel it's time I moved off it and began the search for a new distro candidate once more.

Some time back, I would have defaulted back to Ubuntu for a time until I found another one that caught my interest. However, with what I see as the stupid choices to go with Gnome 3, Gnome Shell and Ubuntu Unity, three of the biggest unmitigated failures I've ever seen disgrace a desktop, this is no longer an option. And that's not to mention the simple fact that I dislike Canonical's habit of hiding away things to make things easier for the users.

On Gentoo as it is right now, I've gone and nicked parts of Crunchbang to give me a nice Openbox desktop, and I like the minimal yet functional set up it gives me. Conky delivers what I want to know easily and tint2 provides a nice panel which neatly integrates running apps, the systray and a built-in battery monitor.
But the issue with Crunchbang is that they only offer torrent downloads, which are not a favourable method of downloading anything on my home network for many reasons.
Most of what it offers is easily obtainable in any distribution though, if one takes care to examine their wiki to obtain various config files.

Crunchbang is based on Debian, one of the oldest and most venerable distros out there. There's little it hasn't tried to do, and even less it's failed at. A great many distributions can be traced back to it eventually, though most through Ubuntu.
Debian is also an old friend to me, and somewhat of a frequent curiosity. Within it's vast repositories of packages lies nearly everything and anything one could ask for, and unlike Ubuntu it doesn't seem to want, need, or care much for third-party repositories. Certainly they exist, but seldom have I found reason to use more than a few.
But one of the most attractive features about Debian as I've discovered time and again is that it remains stable - nearly always with complete disregard to whatever you may be trying to do.

So where Ubuntu has made bad choices in desktops, and K/X/Lubuntu hardly seem to be much better most of the time, Debian takes over. Until I find another Distro out there that piques my curiosity, it's time for me to move back to the tried and tested, and get a stable system that doesn't take forever to set up and get configured.

If you have any non-Ubuntu based suggestions for other Distros to try, do feel free to suggest them.

Until next time folks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mix it up or stick to one?

Obviously, I'm on about desktops again. This time it's not anything specific as such though.
One of the best points I've always held about Linux is that immense amount of choices you have - this Window Manager over that one, the text editor from there instead of there, and so on.
It could be said that in places there is too much choice, and that the overwhelming number tends to be, well, overwhelming. But that's a topic for another time.

Like anyone else, I like thing to work my way. This means that while I'm now running a KDE4 desktop - which hasn't managed to disappoint me yet, a fair feat given past experience with this troublesome DE - not all my apps are KDE, or even QT based.
For example, while I'm running KWin as the window manager, the effects don't seem to want to stay on, even if all I want is the compositing. And of course, even if I can get that to work, the moment I start to use Portage, it disables them again because the compiling uses too much resources.
Compare this to Metacity with it's own built in compositor. It only disables itself if you tell it to, and doesn't get in the way at all. On the other hand, there's no standalone application to set the window border without pulling in a lot of Gnome.
Now, while KDE offers the option to use another Window Manager instead of KWin, besides having to remember how to set themes for that Window Manager, it also isn't going to integrate well.
The solution? I'm running KWin, with effects disabled and using 'xcompmgr' to give me Metacity-like compositing that doesn't turn itself off, though I have a handy plasmoid that looks like a little switch. Turning it on starts up xcompmgr, and turning it off kills it. There's a similar plasmoid available on that does this for KWin's own, but this one can be customized to do anything really.
Problem solved.

The programs I use also tend to be similar. Chromium is a GTK+ based application, as is GEdit, but both of them have a few things about them that I like and want to keep.
Konqueror has, rather impressively, managed to overcome both Chromium and Firefox as the default web browser (and file manager too, an invaluable feature for me) but I keep Chromium around because sometimes it does have it's little issues.
Similarly, while Kate and KWrite are decent applications too and also have their good points, GEdit is a long time friend of mine - it's familiar, I know it, and I know how to make it do what I want.

Some people say this is wrong, and one should stick to apps from one single toolkit, but with GTK+, QT, and ETK (Enlightenment, in case you're wondering) not to mention any other toolkits I've not noticed and of course anything running through Wine, you're never going to be able to get one single unified toolkit. There'll always be people who like applications for one toolkit, while running a desktop for another.
So in short, don't feel that because you're running one desktop, you can't choose applications from another toolkit. They may not look right, and sometimes they may need a little work to make them play nice. My workaround to compositing proves that.
But never be put off doing it - mix things up, go with what you want regardless of what others suggest.

In slightly unrelated news, has anyone ever managed to get KDE 4.7.x to emerge successfully on Gentoo? It doesn't seem to want to play nice with me. Not that I have any problems with the 4.6.5 I've got now, except a periodically segfaulting Konqueror, but I feel like giving it a try.

Right, that's all. Keep rocking, people.

Friday, 22 July 2011

When giving it a Bash just doesn't cut it

Or what's in a Shell?
Bash is pretty much the de facto standard shell everyone sees whenever they open up a terminal. I can't say for BSD, Solaris or Mac systems, but on every Linux based system I've ever used, and even on Cygwin/MinGW on Windows, the Bash shell is the default.

Bash has and still does serve many people well. It's extendible with the bash-completion options, adding lines to the right files it sources can be quite powerful. Even the prompt itself can be customised a great deal.
But there comes a time for nearly every app on any system where the user will inevitably ask that question: 'Is there anything better out there?'

Of course 'better' is a matter of perspective. Some say KDE is better than Gnome. Some say the spartan desktops provided by just a simple tiling window manager are better than a fully fledge desktop session.
But the only real way to tell if something is better in your own opinion is of course to try it yourself.

Now, the Bash shell is something that like many people I rarely actually think about. I think in terms of the terminal itself - right on the console with no X session, within Terminator or a Gnome Terminal, maybe even xterm when all else fails for whatever reason. But essentially all they are is a way to give you your selected Shell - Bash.
Over time though, and through periodic trawls through package listings when bored, I keep noticing other shells. ksh, dash and zsh to name but a few.

Zsh is the only alternative I've tried yet, and after a little experimenting with it, its quickly become the default shell for me. I find it's even more powerful than Bash, without losing any functionality at all. The completion in Zsh can be autoloaded and is much better than in Bash.
Small annoyances such as forgetting to type 'cd' when moving around directories are easily resolved with a simple command. Type a directory, and it can be told to act as if you'd prepended it with 'cd'.
Often find yourself mistakenly typing suod instead of sudo, or other such similar mistakes? There's a little command that'll make zsh prompt and ask if you want it to auto-correct it for you.

There are two caveats though.
Firstly, if zsh can't find and .zshrc in your home folder, it'll assume you've never run it and go through a sometimes bemusing first-run wizard. Which is useful in it's way, but you're better of creating the file yourself and running around the Internet looking at the great many guides and pages on it - or of course, read the man pages on it. I'm not going to list all the pages here, but two that you should definitely look at are the Arch Linux wiki page, and the Gentoo Wiki page (Note that the latter is not linked to from - go to instead)
And Secondly, it doesn't always act the same way as Bash. For example, Home and End do not move to the start or end of the line you're entering. I've yet to find a fix for this, but it's only a minor annoyance for now.

These are just my initial impressions of it. I've barely been using it for an hour, but it's impressed me, and I'm sticking with it for now. As for you, as said earlier - the only way you'll be able to tell if it's better for you is to try it yourself.

That's all from me. Keep on rocking, people.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Office Suites

One of the main reasons I like Linux distros over Windows is because of how much software they come with out of the box - or at least, easily available. No hunting around for things, just ask the package manager.

But even the package managers have to admit defeat sometimes, and it seems that alternative Office Suites are one of those areas.
As far as I can tell, there are four main options: OpenOffice, LibreOffice, GOffice and KOffice.
The first two are well known enough. Both have pretty good track records, though OO.o may soon be heading away from that thanks to Apache.
GOffice isn't so much a suite as it is a collection of apps that give you most of it, but the down-side is that Abiword and Gnumeric can't always open documents not saved in their own formats - and the OpenDocument formats Libre/OpenOffice uses are the biggest casualty here, as I've yet to make them open one without getting a stream of garbage data.
KOffice on the other hand is a fair competitor to Open and Libre, and as its name suggests is designed to work with KDE. Which kind of makes it not so helpful for those of us who don't run KDE, or want to pull in half the dependencies just to work on our documents.

However, since my Gentoo install has begun to throw up unusual errors when trying to run LibreOffice, errors that refuse to be solved by rebuilding, removing all trace from the home directory and even starting on a fresh user, I'm at a bit of a loss. KOffice seems like overkill for a Gnome-based and mostly lightweight desktop, and as OpenOffice is doing the same as LibreOffice, it too is counted out.
GOffice as mentioned has trouble with the OpenDocument formats, which most of my work is, rather inconveniently, saved in.
This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma, since no one seems to be able to give even the slightest hint on the LIbreOffice errors (if you're curious, look here: I can't work on my work.
For now I've got a temporary stop-gap measure by using the Windows LibreOffice through Wine, but it's far from perfect.
So does anyone happen to know of any LibreOffice-compatibile word processing apps out there?