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?

Friday, 1 July 2011

USE flags and Updates

For once, something that at first seems like a regular annoyance has turned out to be an interesting habit.

I had originally decided not to customise the USE flags on my Gentoo install too much, preferring instead to modify them only where I felt necessary. After a bit of a delve into the details though, I've decided the reverse is true.

It's quite an interesting ability, being able to disable or enable support for something so easily, rather than having to dig into the configure-time details to see if things can be changed thus.

What's more, where I used to think I'd chafe at the time spent compiling periodic updates, I've found that properly set up, Gentoo is quite happy to update, or rebuild a large number of packages with new use flags or even both, without getting in the way too much. Maybe updates do take a little longer, but with the massive flexibility given, it's well worth it.

The only complaint I have is that there's no easy way to figure out what packages aren't needed any longer - you know the kind, they were pulled in as a dependency, but aren't needed any more? I used to regularly tidy up the system of such packages, but I can't seem to find any easy way to do that on Gentoo. At least not yet.

But overall... I don't think I'm going to be leaving the comfort of Gentoo anytime soon.