Entries Tagged as 'Linux'

Cloud Storage

 There are tons of free (and paid) cloud storage services… and you can use more than one of them (I actually use all of the following myself).

 

Amazon

Amazon changes their cloud storage option fairly often, currently it’s 5GB free with 250 songs — the subscription for storage and music storage are separate now.

 

Box

50GB of storage.  Works with Windows, Max, Android, and iOS – plus there are several other apps that allow easy migration of files to Box.

 

DropBox 

2GB of storage plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up (there are other bonuses you can get as well).    Works with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

 

GoogleDrive

If you have a Google GMail account (or Google App account) you already have this, just sign in to activate it.  Works with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.  NOTE:  Google Music is stored separately.

 

SkyDrive

If you have an MSN, HotMail, Live or any other Microsoft hosted/provided account you already have access to it.  Works with Windows, Android, iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.

 

Ubuntu One

5GB of storage, plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up.  Works with Windows, Mac, Ubuntu (Linux), Android, and iOS – plus can be used automatically to store large Thunderbird attachments (great if you’re sending the same attachment to several people).

Originally posted 2013-08-27 11:10:21.

Image and drawing programs

Most people don’t need a very sophisticated image editing or drawing program to meet their needs.

It’s simply insane that many people shell out the money for crappy products like Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, or Microsoft Visio for the work they need to do.

Simple image (digital photograph) editing can be done with a number of free software packages.  For many Google Picasa or Microsoft Live Photo Gallery will do everything that’s needed and allow for easy posting of images to a web site for others to view.

For people who want a little more power, and not to be so tightly wed what Google or Microsoft think you should do with your digital assets there are other good choices.

Paint dot Net for Windows is a good basic image editing program.  It will satisfy most of your digital image editing needs.  It does only run on Windows, so if you’re looking for something for your Mac (because you don’t like iPhoto) or something for Linux…

GIMP is a highly portable image editing program.  It isn’t basic, it’s sophisticated and can require a moderate learning curve (think Adobe PhotoShop).  There are versions of it available for most any Linux distribution, Windows, and OS-X.  It’s totally free, and the choice of many casual and professional users.

If your needs are more along the lines of diagramming, you could simply use the Draw component in OpenOffice.  Draw is plenty capable to do meet most of your diagramming needs.  However, if you want something with more capabilities…

Dia is intended to create structured drawings.  It has many of the capabilities of Visio and simple CAD type programs.  It’s absolutely free, and available for most Linux distributions, Windows, and OS-X.

Obviously there are cases where you will need to pay a licensing fee for software; but if you’re a home user I’m sure you have much better places to put your hard earned cash.

Also, if you do feel you must buy PhotoShop, make sure you allocate the time and money to take a course at your local community college — it’s not likely you’re going to become very proficient using it on your own.

Originally posted 2010-01-16 02:00:46.

Linux BitTorrent Clients

I’ve been looking at bit torrent (BitTorrent) clients for Linux over the past few weeks — and to say there’s a huge number of candidates wouldn’t do justice to the number of choices a person has… but like so many things in life, quantity and quality are generally on perpendicular axises.

I set a fairly simple set of requirements for the client:

  • Open source
  • Stability
  • Simplicity
  • Configurability
  • Support protocol encryption (require it)
  • Light on resources
  • Ability to handle torrents via URLs

And I set some nice to haves:

  • Search integration
  • Daemon
  • IP black listing (though I use IPBlock, so this is only a nice to have for others)

So once again I set out to limit the field and do some real testing on Ubuntu 10.04LTS… and the ones I ended up really doing more than just kicking the tires are listed below (alphabetically).  Other failed because they didn’t meet my requirements, they were pieces of crap that should be expunged from the world (LOL), or I just didn’t like them enough to waste time and energy on them.  The links for each of the below are to Wikipedia; you can find links on there to the website for each client.  I installed all of the clients via the package manager on Ubuntu.

Deluge · Deluge is a fairly basic program, though has just about every setting configurable that you might want.  It does have a client / server model (use of it is optional); but a single instance of the daemon is unable to handle multiple users; but it does allow you to terminate your session and continue downloading, and it doesn’t seem to have any issue running multiple daemons (one for each user).   This client also offers a number of “plug ins” to provide a block list, a web ui, a schedule, etc — features most others just include as part of the base system.  I wanted to like this client more than I did; but in the end I can only call it acceptable.

KTorrent · KTorrent is a nicely done program, and it has just about every setting configurable that you might want.  Interestingly by default the queue manager is disabled, so it really doesn’t act much like any other bit torrent client I’ve ever used — but enabling it gives you the ability to download multiple torrent at once.  One short coming is you don’t seem to be able to limit the total number of downloads and uploads together — you can do them individually, but that means for trackers that limit your total active connections you could end up not using all of them.  I’ve also noted that this client seems to be a little “fat” and consume a significant amount of system resources (GUI in particular) when left running for extended periods.  I like this client; but there are better.

qBittorrent · qBittorrent is essentially a *nix clone of the Windows version of uTorrent (µTorrent); and it certainly does a good job mimicking it.  It seems to have all the features I wanted; and none of the downsides.  It has a web ui, a ip filter, etc.  It seems to be reasonably light on system resources and just works.  If I had to pick a standalone bit torrent client, this would probably be my recommendation.

TorrentFlux · TorrentFlux is actually a web ui for BitTornado.  There is a fork of the project called TorrentFlux-b4rt that looks like it will eventually offer more features (and support more bit torrent engines) but for the moment TorrentFlux appears to be much more stable.  It’s fairly basic, but has most all the features one might want.  While many of the others offer a web ui, I think this is probably one of the better “server” solutions for bit torrent clients.

Transmission · Transmission is a very simple bit torrent client; perhaps too simple.  It has all the settings you need, as well as a web ui.  It also has ports for just about every operating system (so if you only wanted to deal with one bit torrent client on multiple operating system this would be a good choice).  Transmission has a huge following; but personally I felt it just wasn’t quite what I wanted.

In the end, I guess I didn’t find a bit torrent client that I really liked… but I think TorrentFlux (or a re-incarnation of it) has good potential to be what I want; and I think qBittorrent is probably my favorite of the stand alone clients.  However, in saying that, let me underscore that every client on this list works, and works acceptably well — so I don’t think you’ll go wrong with any of them… and I’m sure that those with a religious conviction to one or the other will just not accept that their favorite client doesn’t top my list… but in fact, I’m holding the tops slots of my list open hoping I find something better.

NOTE: The use of torrents for downloading does not necessarily denotate that a user is breaking any laws.  That said, because many internet service providers will terminate a user that is using a torrent client, it is a good idea to require encrypted connections and use IP filtering software (with current black lists).

Originally posted 2010-08-16 02:00:55.

On the quest…

Shortly after I received my Windows 7 licenses I realized that I was growing tired of paying for software upgrades and simple fixes; further I was growing tired of needing to re-learn how to do simple tasks when the software vendor decided to improve my experience.

I started thinking about ways to reduce and perhaps totally eliminate my dependency on particular software vendors (and that wouldn’t be just Microsoft — Apple plays the exact same game — and don’t get me started on Google).

Certainly there must be quality software out there that was built on the paradigm that computers are tools and that they should improve an individuals quality of life, not create a life centric on a computer and a religion based on software.

I’ve already published many articles about my quest to find an operating system that would is focused on usability; but my quest (with the help of many of my friends and associates) will cover every piece of software you might need or want on your computer to achieve make your day to day life simpler…

This is a big undertaking; and it will take me quite a bit of time to fully explore and write up my findings.  There will be many articles dealing with the same topics as I travel the path.

My feeling is that there are good solutions out there, and that with a little work and guidenace an average computer user can have a computer system that does what he wants without breaking the bank.

Now don’t get me wrong; my feeling is that most open source software is crap (but then again, most commercial software is crap)… but since it always seems to be a compromise, you might as well save a little cash since you’ll never really get what you want.

Originally posted 2010-01-12 01:00:12.

Windows Live Essential 2011 – Live Mail

Or perhaps better titled: Why I continue to use a product I hate.

When Outlook Express debuted many years ago Microsoft showed the possibility of creating a email reader for Windows that was clean,simple, and powerful… and for all the problems of Outlook Express it worked.

When Microsoft shipped Windows Vista they abandoned Outlook Express in favor of Windows Mail; largely it appeared to be the same program with a few changes to make it more Vista-like.

But not long after Windows Mail hit the street, Microsoft decided to launch Windows Live Mail, and what appears to be a totally new program modeled after Outlook Express / Windows Mail was launched.  I say it was new because many of the bugs that were present in the BETA of Windows Live Mail were bugs that had been fixed in the Outlook Express code line years before (as an interesting note, several of the bugs I personally reported during the BETA of Windows Live Mail are still present in the newest version – 2011).

The previous version of Live Mail was tolerable; most of the things that were annoying about it had fairly simple ways to resolve them — and in time, maybe we’ll all figure out ways to work around the headaches in 2011; but I just don’t feel like putting so much effort into a POS software package time and time again…

And for those of you who say it’s “FREE” so you get what you get, I’d say, no — it’s not exactly free… Microsoft understands that software like this is necessary in order to have any control over user’s internet habits, so it isn’t free — you’re paying a “price” for it.

Plus, there are other alternatives… Thunderbird for one.

Why don’t I use Thunderbird… simple, there is one “feature” lacking in Thunderbird that prevents me from embracing it.  You cannot export account information and restore it.  Sure Mozbackup will let you backup a complete profile and transfer it to another machine — but I want access to individual email accounts.

Why?  Well, here’s the scenario that I always hit.

I travel, and I tend to take my netbook with me when I travel — and often I’m using my cell phone to access the internet… while it’s “fast” by some standards… if you were to re-sync fifty email accounts each with a dozen IMAP folders, you’d take all day.  Further, most of those email accounts are uninteresting on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I travel — I only want to access a couple of those accounts for sure, but I might want to load an account on demand (you never know).  What I do with Live Mail is I have all the IAF files for all my email accounts stored on the disk (I sync them from my server), and I setup the mail program by loading the three or four that I use routinely, the others I only load as I need them, and I remove them from Live Mail when done.

OK — so that doesn’t fit you… here’s another.

You’ve got several computers, and you’d like to setup your email quickly and painlessly on all of them… but you don’t need all your email accounts on everyone of them — plus you add and remove accounts over time.  Again, Live Mail and it’s import/export handles this nicely.  You simply export a set of IAF files, and then import the ones you want on each machine.

The question is why doesn’t Thunderbird have this ability?

Well, there was a plug in for an older version of Thunderbird that did kinda this; of course it didn’t work that well for the version it was written for, and it doesn’t work at all for newer versions.

One more that I consider an annoyance (but it’s probably slightly more than that) is that there is no easy way in Thunderbird to change the order of accounts in the account window — and they’re not order alphabetically (that would make too much sense), they’re ordered chronologically (based on when you created them).  So you can re-order them, if you delete the accounts and add them back in the order you’d like them to appear; but wait, you can’t add an account any way in Thunderbird by type in all the information again.

And if you’re thinking, OK so write a plug-in that manages account ordering and import/export.  Sure, that would be the “right” thing to do if Thunderbird really had an interface to get to that information easily — but no, it appears you’d have to parse a javaScript settings file… oh joy.

These should be core features of Thunderbird; and in my mind they are huge barriers to wide acceptance.

Originally posted 2010-11-12 02:00:32.

Linux usability

While doing my preliminary look at usability in several Linux distributions that had adopted a Mac-ish paradigm I decided I needed to lay several ground rules to fully review them.

First, I decided that using a virtual machine was fine for getting intial impressions, but that just wasn’t going to be acceptable for a complete review… and I also decide that doing a review on only one piece of hardware wasn’t going to give me a very good idea of what problems a user might see related to the computer.

It’s certainly no problem for me to find a computer or two to install these Linux distributions on and run them through their paces; however, I don’t have any “low-end” hardware, so my tests are going to use fairly current generations of hardware, so be aware that my impressions might not match your impression if you’re planning on running these on hardware that is more than a couple years old (and by a couple year old I mean hardware who’s components were current no more than two years ago).

I’ll perform the following:

  1. Install the distribution (without requiring any settings manually)
  2. Update itself (and applications)
  3. Start up, shut down, log on, log off
  4. Browse the web (that’s a given)
  5. Read email (including setting up the email program)
  6. Play a CD (music)
  7. Play several music files
  8. Play a DVD (movie)
  9. Play several video files
  10. Edit a WYSIWYG document
  11. Edit an image
  12. View and print a PDF
  13. Access a thumb drive
  14. Access files stored on a network device
  15. Access secure digital media (though a USB card reader)
  16. Scan an image
  17. Open a ZIP archive; create a ZIP archive
  18. Email an attachment, recover an email attachment
  19. Install a new (and useful) application
  20. Alter the appearance (preferably using a theme)

Beyond these simple tests I’ll try and appraise the simplicity, clarity, and ease of use of the interface… I’ll also comment on the overall appearance, the look and feel.

Originally posted 2010-01-08 01:00:19.

GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

That’s what the GIMP site says; but what GIMP is is a free Open Source alternative to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro that runs on Linux, OS-X, and Windows.

GIMP is reasonably easy to use, powerful, and rock solid.

If you understand the principles of image/photo editing you’ll be a pro at using GIMP in no time — far easier to use than Photoshop, far more functional than Paint Shop Pro.  And it’s free — totally free — just download it an install it.  There’s lots of plug-ins for it as well (so make sure you take a look at some of those add ins).  Be sure and review the online documentation, tutorials, and FAQ; plus there are a number of well written books on GIMP available for purchase.

GIMP.org

Originally posted 2010-03-08 02:00:45.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

Compression

There are two distinct features that Windows Server 2008 outshines Linux on; and both are centric on compression.

For a very long time Microsoft has supported transparent compression as a part of NTFS; you can designate on a file-by-file or directory level what parts of the file system are compressed by the operating system (applications need do nothing to use compressed files).  This feature was probably originally intended to save the disk foot print of seldom used files; however, with the explosive growth in computing power what’s happened is that compressed files can often be read and decompressed much faster from a disk than a uncompressed file can.  Of course, if you’re modifying say a byte or two in the middle of a compressed file over and over, it might not be a good idea to mark it as compressed — but if you’re basically reading the file sequentially then compression may dramatically increase the overall performance of the system.

The reason for this increase is easy to understand; many files can be compressed ten to one (or better), that means each disk read is reading effectively ten times the information, and for a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor to decompress this stream of data put no appreciable burden on the processing unit(s).

Recently, with SMBv2, Microsoft has expanded the file sharing protocol to be able to transport a compressed data stream, or even a differential data stream (Remote Differential Compression – RDC) rather than necessarily having to send every byte of the file.  This also has the effect of often greatly enhancing the effect data rate, since once again a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor can compress (and decompress) a data stream at a much higher rate than most any network fabric can transmit the data (the exception would be 10G).  In cases of highly constrained networks, or networks with extremely high error rates the increase in effect through put could be staggering.

Unfortunately, Linux lags behind in both areas.

Ext4 does not include transparent compression; and currently no implementation of SMBv2 is available for Linux servers (or clients).

While there’s no question, what-so-ever, that the initial cost of a high performance server is less if Linux is chosen as the operating system, the “hidden” costs of lacking compression may make the total cost of ownership harder to determine.

Supporting transparent compression in a file system is merely a design criteria for a new file system (say Ext5 or Ext4.1); however, supporting SMBv2 will be much more difficult since (unlike SMBv1) it is a closed/proprietary file sharing protocol.

Originally posted 2010-07-11 02:00:49.

Operating Systems

I have computers running Windows (most flavors), OS-X, Linux, and BSD (or we could generically call those *nix) — and have had computers running SunOS, Solaris, and OSF… so I consider myself well versed in operating systems from a user standpoint (and a developer standpoint as well).

Recently I took a look at how practical each of the “popular” choices were as a desktop environment for what I would consider an average user; and I set the goals of an average user to be:

  • Email
  • Managing contact and schedules
  • Browsing the internet
  • Office tasks (word processing and simple spread sheets)
  • Multimedia (music and movies)
  • Managing finances

And I looked at Windows (Vista Ultimate, but for this much would apply to XP as well), OS-X, and Ubuntu Linux (I felt that was a good distribution for an average user).

On email, managing contacts and schedules, browsing the internet, and office tasks I would say that all three of the operating systems were reasonably equal… very few real differences in capabilities or ease of use (both Vista and OS-X have option for commercial as well as free software; on Ubuntu only free software was used).  For multimedia both Vista and OS-X were far better than Ubuntu (yes, Ubuntu could do most everything the other two could do, but the software was very piece meal, and didn’t “fit” well with the rest of the system).  For managing finances all of them had non-commercial and commercial solutions and depending on your needs whether any or all of them would be sufficient.

Vista

Microsoft’s current Windows operating system for desktop PCs.  Vista is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of Vista is included in most PC purchases only upgraded expenses need to be considered (this isn’t true if you’re building your own PC from parts — but if you’re recycling an old PC it may already have a license for Windows).  The cost of a PC does not generally include an office suite.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect no to purchase additional software from Microsoft.

 

OS-X

Apple’s current operating system for Macs.  OS-X is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of OS-X is included in Mac purchases only upgrade expenses need to be considered.  The cost of the mac might include iLife, but not iWorks.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect not to purchase additional software from Apple.

 

Ubuntu

Provided you have a way to download Ubuntu and burn it onto installation media (CD) there’s no cost in acquiring it.  If you have very old hardware using Ubuntu (or a lighter weigth Linux) might be the only option you really have — but my comparison here is not based on what’s cheapest, it’s what’s reasonable.  Most all of what you will need will be installed with the operating system.  There’s a host of free software that you can use by simply downloading it.

 

Observations:

  • Apples are only easier to use if you’re used to Apples — like all tools, human beings have no inherent ability to know how to use them.  Regardless of the operating system you choose you will need to invest a little time into learning how to use it.  How much time you invest will be determined by the relative sophistication of what you’re trying to do, and what kind of background in computers you have.
  • You’ll find that both Vista and OS-X will provide an inexperienced user with much more “hand holding” than Ubuntu.  But that said, one of the first things you need to get proficient at is searching the internet for “answers”.
  • Pretty much all the annoyances people gripe about are universal in all three of the operating systems (it’s comical that Apple had a whole series of advertisements about Vista annoyances — annoyances their own operating system had had for years for the most part).  There are often system settings that can turn off many of these annoyances, but in fact they are present for a reason — and while you’re learning I recommend you just learn to deal with the annoyances and don’t change system settings without good cause.
  • You’re going to find making changes to many settings on Ubuntu (or any Linux) much more difficult than either Vista or OS-X.
  • You’re going to find that things are far more cohesive on both Vista and OS-X; with Ubuntu it becomes fairly obvious quickly that you’re using a collection of dis-associated widgets and parts.

 

Conclusions:

For most computer users I’d recommend that you consider using either Vista or OS-X for your computing needs.  Leave Ubuntu (and other *nix based operating systems) to more experienced computer users who have a “need” for it.  I suspect that we’ll see improvements in the cohesiveness of non-commercial operating system, but for the moment they just aren’t ready for prime time.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 12:00:38.