Archive | April 2008

TIP: Howto install Ubuntu’s international world clock in Xubuntu

As you might have seen in my previous post, I recently installed Xubuntu 8.04. One of the few visual improvements in this new version of Ubuntu is on the clock that sits on the Gnome panel. It now shows much more information. Apart from time and date, it now shows the weather conditions for your current location. But, the best part is when you click on it: it shows the usual calendar, but below it, appears the times of other world locations. Well, after you configure it, of course. First you need to set your home location and other optional locations. It also shows the weather conditions on those locations. And it looks great.

So, it was disappointing to see that Xubuntu didn’t have it. Instead the same old plain clock. The world clock is a gnome panel applet, so it’s normal that it doesn’t run in the XFCE panel. However there’s an easy workaround.

 Step 1 – Download Xfapplet, available in the repositories. This is XFCE applet that allows Gnome applets to run on the XFCE panel. It’s basically a wrapper for Gnome applets.

 Step 2 – Download gnome-applets, also available in the repositories. This will install a collection of gnome applets (sadly along with a bunch of Gnome libraries and applications…I miss Gentoo sometimes) and among those is the world clock applet.

 Step 3 – Right-click on the XFCE panel an add a new item. Choose the previously installed Xfapplet. As it loads, XFapplet will bring up a list of Gnome applets available. You just have to find the one named clock (surprise!).

And there you have it. XFapplet can be used to install any of the other gnome applets in XFCE, in case you miss some other applet.

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Ubuntu (and Xubuntu) Hardy Heron 8.04 released

I’ve been busy upgrading my Ubuntu machine to the new version Hardy Heron 8.04. Normally, it’s a painless process, but I had an hardware accident between the upgrade. And the result it’s not pretty. I then had to re-install Ubuntu from CD. So, after downloading the image and burning the CD, I couldn’t get it to install properly. Somehow, the installer always froze at some point in the process. Then, I decided to install the variant Xubuntu, which basically was what I wanted. I was using XFCE before as my desktop manager, but I had installed it normally from Ubuntu. Surprisingly, this time the installer didn’t froze and everything got installed smoothly.
The difference between Ubuntu and Xubuntu is not much. It’s the same base distribution with the same configuration options. The difference lies in the desktop manager and a few software choices. In Xubuntu, XFCE is the default desktop manager, instead of Gnome. It’s basically a lighter version of Gnome. I prefer it not only for that, but because it brings Thunar instead of Nautilus. I really like Thunar, it’s fast (unlike nautilus), intuitive and has everything I need.
Other differences in Xubuntu are the software that is bundled. I haven’t done any extensive comparison and the only big difference I spotted was the absence of Open Office in favor of Abiword and Gnumeric.
I didn’t find much differences in this new version. Many focus the inclusion of Firefox 3, but I was already using it 🙂 One of the cool things related to Firefox is the Ubuntu Firefox Modifications. In the previous version, installing plugins (for flash or media files for example) was problematic. But in this version, everything worked fine. It gave me 3 options (3 different plugins to choose from) for flash and about 6 for handling media files.

This Ubuntu is more of a maintenace release, correcting some bugs and making a solid distribution not only for the ocasional geek, but for everyone, including companies.

Happy Ubunting

Watch Internet TV with Miro

I’ve already blogged about VLC, a media player for watching your casual video. But VLC is not the best option for watching TV. And what do I mean by TV ? I’m not talking about watching video from an hardware TV card. I’m talking about internet TV. Miro allows you to subscribe to more than 4000 free channels gathered from around the web. These channels are basically video podcasts, and what Miro does is aggregate those podcasts into channels and simplify their subscription in a way it almost resembles TV.
When you first start Miro, you’re presented with the Miro guide. The Miro guide is a channel guide, where you can browse through all channels offered and select the ones you’d like to watch. After registering for a channel, its name will appear in the sidebar and it will download the information about the shows currently available for that channel. You can then see a small description for every show available and choose to watch the ones you like. Miro will then download the selected shows for you to watch later. This means that you can’t view the shows immediately. Miro doesn’t do streaming, it always downloads the video first. So you can’t use Miro to watch some streaming TVs available on the net. Remember, Miro works around the concept of subscribing a channel (like rss) and then watching the shows later, when you have the time.

Using Miro is supposed to be very simple, so you don’t have to manage files. All downloaded videos are deleted by default 5 days after you watched them (you can delete them manually before, if you like). Normally you don’t even have to ask Miro to download the videos. By default Miro automatically downloads new videos from channels you have subscribed. I don’t like that, so I configured to download manually. I prefer to browse the channels and select the videos I want to watch based on their descriptions. You can also organize your channels into categories, which simplifies this task even more. Normally I just browse and then download videos from one category at a time, depending on the mood.
Talking about categories, brings me to the best part: the content itself. At the time of this writing, there’s 4032 channels registered on the Miro guide, some of them with very good quality. Some of them in HD  🙂
There’s all sort of channels, from amateur shows to things like CNN, National Geographic, Discovery, etc.
Finally, there’s also something I call "dynamic channels", in contrast with the regular ones I talked about. You can search videos from youtube (and other services alike) and then save that search as a channel. Next time Miro detects a new video that matches the search, the video will appear in Miro as if it were a new show from a regular channel. This is excellent.
Summarizing, Miro is a great way to watch shows from many sources on the net. And it’s also a bit addicting, because there’s so many channels in the guide to explore (and increasing everyday).

Gnome-Do: a new way of starting apps

Here’s another application I used everyday: Gnome-Do. Gnome-Do is an application launcher that allows to start applications much faster than going through the menu. It’s not an application launcher for your favorite programs, it indexes all installed programs. It’s based on the concept that it’s be faster to type in the name of the application you want, than to search from an hierarchical menu.

You start Gnome-Do by pressing Win+Space. This will open a small window, waiting for you to input the name of the application you want. As you start typing, auto completion tries to guess the desired application, so that you don’t need to type the complete name. Gnome-Do also adapts to your usage, by learning the applications you normally launch. So after a while is normal that you only need to type the first letter to reach your favorite applications. And this is really a time-saver. But Gnome-Do offers more than just starting applications. Depending on what plugins you have installed, Gnome-Do indexes not only applications, but also documents, contacts, videos, mp3 files, etc. And the actions associated also vary, so that you can do things like: type a contact name and choose to write an email, or send an im message to that person. Or type the name of a song and start playing it in your favorite mp3 player. Or type the name of a file and move it to another directory. As soon as you get used to it, it really is useful and saves a lot of time.

New Flash plugin for Linux

Version 9.0.124.0 of the Flash plugin for Linux was recently released. This is excellent news, as the previous version (9.0.115.0) had serious performance problems. For me, it was one of my major frustrations in the Linux desktop. Performance was so bad, it kept my CPU over 90% at all times. It depends on the machine, of course, but several people reported the same problem in Adobe’s forums, etc.
This version finally addresses the performance problem and makes my browsing experience a lot more pleasant. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than before. So, for now, I’m happy 🙂
That was my only issue with the previous version, but I saw other issues reported that I’m not sure if they were also fixed. From what I can remember, there were some problems on 64-bit machines and lacking support for V4L2 devices. I hope these got fixed too, making Flash support for Linux finally at the same level with other operating systems.
Happy browsing!

Compiz-Fusion: is it useful ?

Is there anyone out there still not using Compiz-Fusion ? Most distributions already offer it nowadays. If you’re using an old distribution and you never heard of it, youtube is full of videos showing it. In this case, a movie is worth a thousand words, so here it’s, a sample video from the many that exist in youtube.

You may be wondering if Compiz-Fusion is all fireworks and doesn’t have any practical use. Well, for once I like fireworks. Secondly, in my opinion it does bring a better user experience for both begginers and veteran Linux users.Here I’ll show you those nifty details that you may have overlooked with all that firework.

Zoom – This is incredibly useful. It’s not the weak zoom browsers give you. You can smoothly zoom in part of the desktop. It’s good not only for viewing badly designed sites, but also to quick zoom in on a picture. ocasionally, I also use it to show some detail on my monitor to someone far away from me. It’s better than to ask him to get up and come over.

Visual feedback for windows that don’t respond – With this plugin, when an application is not responding its windows become black and white. This one is tricky as some people find it annoying, specially newbies that sometimes scream out in fear : "what happened ?". For me, I think  think it’s an useful way to tell the user, that an application is not responding.

Transparent windows – this one you probably saw it already. It can sometimes be useful to write something and being able to look at the window behind.

Expo – this is one of the most talked about improvements in recent versions. It looks amazing and really is useful when you want to drag windows through your workspaces.

There’s a lot more, and the best thing is trying out all the different plugins that exist. Some of them are really cool, others just make you smile. It’s just a matter of taste sometimes. Just have fun trying it out and see what works best for you.

MP3 player – Amarok

For me Amarok is the best music player for Linux. Of course it depends on how you listen to your music. If you want something for quick listening an mp3 file, or listen only to CDs, then Amarok is overkill. However, if you like to organize your music, create playlists, etc…then Amarok is great.

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