Entries Tagged as ''

Mac Envy

I was talking to one of my friends several weeks ago and once again he ask me why I wasn’t a big fan of Linux… and I gave him the two hour answer.

It really boils down to Linux fails to be cohesive; the many distributions fracture it even more than the lack of any defining road map for a user experience.

My conversation with my friend started to point to OS-X; it has, after all, become a very important force on defining not only what Mac users expect from a computer, but what Windows users get in a new operating system.

Why then not graft a Mac like desktop manager onto Linux?  It seemed like a good idea, so I figured someone else must have thought of it.

After all, making computers usable for computer experts isn’t the real issue; it’s making computers usable for the masses of people who do not know what’s under the hood, and shouldn’t have to care.

I started my exploration by finding a Mac theme and widgets for Gnome. I installed Mac4Linon an Ubuntu virtual machine.

It certainly did make the interface for Linux much more Mac like, but most anyone who could have gone through all the steps to get it installed probably wouldn’t care much about using a Mac like interface, and it just really wasn’t that satisfying.

Next I decided that this _is_ a good idea, and I was sure that many others had gone down this path (and I’m not one to duplicate effort, I have no problem standing on the shoulders of giants — or midgets).

A little bit of searching on the net found me four distributions that attempted to mimic the look and feel of Mac OS-X.

I’m going to list these alphabetical — this isn’t a review, it’s just an overview.  I’m going to have to play with each of these more than a couple hours to be able to tell you the strengths and weaknesses.  Watch for future posts.


Dreamlinux

Based on the website address Dreamlinux must be in Brazil; but the web pages and documentation are all in English (no requirement to learn Portuguese unless you want to be ready for your vacation in Rio).

The Dreamlinux distribution is based on Debian, and builds on that very stable base.  And rather than using the Gnome desktop manager, this distribution chose the XFCE desktop manager as the default — but includes Gnome and will include LXDE, TDE, and Fluxbox.

Dreamlinux used Rocket Dock to provide a Mac-like dock and is targeted heavily for a multimedia experience.

Dreamlinux is easy to install, and maintain… put it on your hard disk, a flash drive, or just about anything else.


Elive

If sex sells operating systems, this would be on the top of the heap.   Their web site features the tag line “Elive Gem – Luxury Linux” and comes complete with a high resolution video to demonstrate Elive.

The Elive distribution is also based on Debian.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager (OK, so Enlightenment is more than just a desktop manager — but it’s sufficient for the moment to refer to it as just that) and the ibar dock.

Elive is filled with eye-candy and again targeted at multimedia.

It’s slick; has very modest hardware requirements, and according to Distrowatch it has a lot of users.  The “official” download of the stable versions will cost; I recommend you find an alternate download to try it out, or get an invitation code to try it before you commit to supporting it.


gOS

The g in gOS might be for “green” — not green as in energy efficient, the color; the default them is definitely green.

gOS is probably one of the most complete experiences right from the get go.  It’s also based on Ubuntu (which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses LXDE for a desktop manager and wbar for a dock (though Cairo-Dock apparently can be used instead).

gOS leverages heavily off Google… Google Apps (Mail, Calendar, Documents, Spreadsheet, Presentations), Google Gadgets, Google Desktop Search, and even installs WINE to use Google Picasso.

I know I’ve said this is probably the most complete; and you may well want to start with this one — but for some reason this distribution just didn’t impress me (maybe because it sets expectations so high).  I will give it a more complete test, there was certainly nothing about it that suggested it wasn’t a good candidate.


Macpup

With a name like Macpup it bring to mind warm images that immediately makes you feel comfortable.

The Macpup distribution is based on Puppy Linuxwhich also has a Windows XP look-and-feel version (they refer to these as Puplets).  Puppy Linux and Macpup are designed to have very modest hardware requirements, and will likely work on any computer hardware you have sitting in your basement.

Macpup uses the Enlightenment desktop manager and the ibar dock with an incredibly ugly default theme.

Macpup is lightweight, but it’s the least Mac-ish of all these distributions.  So if your goal is to get something that mimics the Mac, this probably isn’t it; however, if your goal is to get something that provides a use paradigm similar to the Mac on lower end hardware, this might be perfect.


OpenGEU

When Gnome reaches Enlightenment you get OpenGEU, at least that’s what their tag line says.

The OpenGEU distribution is based on Geubuntu (which is based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager, comes in a Sunshine and Moonlight edition (read their web page — it’s heavily themed) and is part of the InTiLinux Projects.

If you’re looking for eye-candy you’ll think you’ve found Nirvanna.  The OpenGEU project is lead by a designer, not an engineer — so there’s a great deal of focus on the look, the feel, and how things work.


There are several components that these distributions use to achieve a Mac-like look and feel; and some of these deserve a separate article to talk about them.  I’ll put a little time into writing up some background information on desktop managers; docks; and themes.

I will say that after installing these and playing with them for just a few hours each I would put Dreamlinux and Elive on the top of my Mac-Linux list; but until you’ve actually tried to do useful work with a Linux distribution it’s hard to really say which will work the best.

All except the Elive distribution allows you to download for free from their web site or provides you with torrents or mirrors.   I do encourage you to support any project you use through a donation of resources or currency.

Originally posted 2010-01-02 01:00:24.

Google Music (Beta)

Google launched Google Music Beta a little over a month ago, and I’ve been using it since shortly after that.

Currently it’s free; allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs, and will play back that music through any browser, or through Android’s Music App (you will need the updated version that’s icon looks like a headset).

The Music Manager can be installed on a number of operating system, and can upload directories of music, or upload music from an iTune or Windows Media library… you do need to be patient, even on the fastest setting the manager will take quite some time to upload a large music library (I have 17,998 sound; origially I uploaded about 14,500 songs and it took almost 10 days).

The manager will detect changes to the files and automatically sync with the music cloud storage — and you can edit meta tags via the web interface as well.

The biggest downside of Google’s Music Beta is that there isn’t really any way to download the music from the cloud — say you had a local disk crash and wanted to get the music back in a library format (it does allow you to cache content locally for off-line playback).  Obviously the files are downloaded to your computer, but it’d take quite a bit of work to reorganize them (I’ll actually experiment with the cache to see if you could use something like MediaMonkey to reorganize the cache into a library — I don’t know if the ID3 tags are pulled down with the music stream or not).

While it’s free, it’s a great value — and it works very well; I’ve had no problem streaming music on 3G (you’ll want an unlimited data plan for sure)… the only potential issue you might have is that if your home internet provider caps your transfers per month (or charges for overages) you may want to upload parts of your library over several months (my library is 128GB — so almost the entire amount AT&T allows on DSL service and half what AT&T allows on U-Verse service once they start metering ).

Provided you’re not an iPhone user — I recommend you take a look at it; now if Google starts charging, you may want to consider using the Amazon service.  It’s $20 per year for unlimited music and 20GB of anything you want; or $5GB (total) if free.  The downside of the Amazon plan is that the MPAA and RIA are allowed to scan your files (there’s no privacy), and the price may change.  I can’t really speak much about the Amazon service since I’ve only played with the free storage (which isn’t anywhere near enough to store even a meaningful fraction of my library).  If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to look at the Apple music cloud service.

For the time being, the Google service is the best deal in town… you can check it out via:

Google Music Beta

Originally posted 2011-10-15 02:00:09.

Ubuntu 11.10

I tested out an upgrade of Ubuntu 11.10 on a virtual machine and on a desktop machine… it seemed to go fairly well; but I can’t say that Unity really feels like something that was the result of human factor engineering.

I decided to go ahead and phase in the 11.10 upgrade to three of my five servers; and let me tell you that was a huge mistake.

First, I found that the upgrade didn’t properly detect the disk to update the grub configuration on (my RAID controller is the first device discovered, so it makes the motherboard SATA controllers come after that so my boot device is sdb rather than sda).

Then I found that FreeNX simply will not install on 11.10 — but I was able to fall back to the NoMachines.com “free” NX server.

Then I found that neither VNC or NX would work properly with Unity; simply switching to KDE fixed that.

What a nightmare.

What should have been a half hour upgrade turned into a day of wasted time… and for what?

This experience has definitely diminished my faith in the Ubuntu development community, and I find myself asking why should I continue to support a product that’s heading in a direction that I do not like, and obviously isn’t meshing well with the rest of the Open Source community.

What’s wrong with GNOME?  What’s wrong with KDE?  Why do we need lightdm and Unity as the defaults in a product that users depend on?  Particularly when Unity doesn’t seem to resolve any of the complaints I have about useability.

Personally I’d favor a desktop along the lines of Macbuntu for usability (it doesn’t have to look like a Mac, but at least pick a interface that looks coherent, and make it act coherent).

I think I might consider moving my servers back to Centos and returning to stability… to me it looks like Ubuntu is becoming the next Windows of the Linux world (and I have no need to be in line for that roller coaster).

Originally posted 2011-10-18 02:00:57.

Making Complaints

I find it fairly interesting when you file complaints at many companies you get a “canned” response and it includes a statement to the effect that because of privacy concerns that they cannot provide information about actions taken to correct the matter.

WTF?

Sounds to me like this is just a “blow-off”… without accountability and closure it’s a waste of time to file a complaint.  Since the person filing the complaint should be an integral part of resolving it, and be involved in determining when the issue has been corrected they need to have access to information relating to the investigation.

Maybe it’s me; but I’m just far less tolerant of customer service with no accountability; I’d prefer to take my business else where.

Originally posted 2009-01-23 01:00:12.

Consumer Cellular

Consumer Cellular is a “discount” cellular provider (apparently a Verizon Wireless MVNO) that offers no-nonsense plans with no contract and low rates for users who only occasionally use their cell phones and the ability to change your plan at will.

Let me underscore that I don’t have any personal experience with Consumer Cellular, so I can’t vouch for their service — so my recommendation is keep a copy of the information from their web page in a PDF and pay with a credit card; that way if you find they don’t live up to their end of the “bargain” just work with your credit card company.

http://www.consumercellular.com/

Originally posted 2010-04-28 02:00:11.

Linux BitTorrent Clients – Follow-Up

I’ve been using several Linux bit torrent clients fairly heavily for the past week or so, and I have a few new comments about each of the “contenders” — below I’ve ordered them as I would recommend using them.

KTorrent · KTorrent might be a little “fat”, but it works, and it works very well — particularly when dealing with a large number of torrents simultaneously.  This is my pick.

TorrentFlux · TorrentFlux is probably the best solution you’ll find for a torrent server.  Simply said, it works fine (though I don’t know that I’ll continue to use it, simply because it doesn’t seem to be being improved, and it’s far from perfection).

Transmission · Transmission is simple, and that simplicity seems to pay off — it works, it works well.

qBittorrent · qBittorrent works fairly well for a small number of simultaneous torrents; but if you want to download large numbers of torrents or seed large numbers of torrents stay away from this one — it actually crashes, and unless your goal is just to watch the integrity of your torrents be checked and over and over you can do much better.

Deluge · Deluge was what I really wanted to like; and it seemed to work, but it has two major problems — it doesn’t handle large numbers of torrents well, and it doesn’t properly handle port forwarding (either through UPnP / NAT-PMP or when you try and set the port forwarding manually).  We’ll just leave it at it has issues (that apparently are fairly well known) and the progress on it is glacial in it’s pace.

Moving torrents from one client to another isn’t all that hard to do, a little time consuming maybe… but once you figure out how to do it, and let your data files re-check, you’ll be on your way.

My experience over the past week reminds me that you can do your diligence by researching every fact and figure about a program all you like; but until you put it through the paces you just won’t know.

NOTES: My test included about 550 torrents totaling just under half a terabyte in total size.  I required that ports be forwarded through a firewall properly (either via UPnP, NAT-PMP, or by hand), and that I be able to control the total number of active torrents (preferably with control over uploads and downloads as well), and be able to restrict the bandwidth (a scheduler was a nice touch, but not a requirement).

Originally posted 2010-08-25 02:00:30.

Google and Google Hosted POP, IMAP, and SMTP

Setting up Google and Google hosted domains for POP, IMAP, and SMTP access is fairly straight forward — but you need to start with a session by sign on to Google Mail.

Once you sign in, you can go to the Mail Settings

From there, select Fowarding and POP/IMAP

Then you just enable either POP and/or IMAP and click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page.

Once you’ve done that, just use one of the following links for step-by-step instructions for configuring your client.

POP Configuration Instructions

IMAP Configuration Instructions

 


POP Settings

Incoming Mail (POP3) Server – requires SSL: pop.gmail.com
Use SSL: Yes
Port: 995
Outgoing Mail (SMTP) Server – requires TLS3 or SSL: smtp.gmail.com (use authentication)
Use Authentication: Yes
Port for TLS/STARTTLS: 587
Port for SSL: 465
Account Name: your full email address (including @gmail.com or @your_domain.com)
Email Address: your email address (username@gmail.com or username@your_domain.com)
Password: your Gmail password

 


IMAP Settings

Incoming Mail (IMAP) Server – requires SSL: imap.gmail.com
Use SSL: Yes
Port: 993
Outgoing Mail (SMTP) Server – requires TLS: smtp.gmail.com (use authentication)
Use Authentication: Yes
Use STARTTLS: Yes (some clients call this SSL)
Port: 465 or 587
Account Name: your full email address (including @gmail.com) Google Apps users, please enter username@your_domain.com
Email Address: your full Gmail email address (username@gmail.com) Google Apps users, please enter username@your_domain.com
Password: your Gmail password

Originally posted 2011-09-12 02:00:26.

Display Resolutions, Aspect Ratio…

When you go shopping for a new display for your computer or for entertainment viewing, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The reference resolutions for each of the “standards” are:

  • SD (NTSC), 480i = 720×480
  • ED (NTSC), 480p = 720×40
  • HD, 720p = 1280×720
  • HD, 1080i = 1280×1080, 1440×1080, or 1920×1080
  • HD, 1080p = 1920×1080

However, the aspect rations commonly used are:

  • 4:3 (SDTV)
  • 16:9 (HDTV)
  • 1.33:1 (Academy Standard)
  • 1.78:1 (Academy Flat)
  • 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Scope prior to 1970)
  • 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Scope — Panavision/Cinemascope)

Both 1280×720 and 1920×1080 are 16:9 resolution… so if that’s what the material was originally shot in you’re fine; HOWEVER, it’s very uncommon to find any modern movie of note (or any “action” movie for the last 20+ years) that is 16:9.  The bottom line is you’re going to see black bars on the side or top and bottom when you watch “movies” most of the time — or you’re going to have your display stretch (distort) the image to fill the screen.

Originally posted 2008-12-16 12:00:47.

One of my favorite Windows inconsistencies…

While in general I’d say Windows and Windows applications are fairly consistent (compared to anything but OS-X at least), one of my favorite inconsistencies is…

On a computer with at least two hard drives (or partitions) take an uncompressed file (file system attribute) from one folder and move it to another folder with compression enabled on the same partition and the file remains uncompressed; however, take that same file and move it to another folder with compression enabled on a different partition and the file is compressed during the move…

If you understand what’s happening under the hood, the reason is clear: on one partition the file is simply renamed (the directory entry is changed); but with two partitions the file is actually copied and deleted, and the new copy inherits the attributes set by default from the new folder.

Yet, we as computer users shouldn’t have to be concerned with the details of partitions, we have every reason to expect the same operation to yield the same results — and technically there’s no reason why it should; either inherit and override the attributes based on the folder defaults, or preserve the file attributes (across partitions – if possible)…

Originally posted 2013-09-01 12:00:28.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.