The DistRogue

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Year Of The Linux Desktop

What is this mythical "Year of the Linux Desktop"? Simply put, every time a feature appears in the Linux world, whatever year it makes the greatest progress (in other words, the year Ubuntu merges it into their repositories) is called the "Year of the Linux Desktop". 2006 saw the widespread adoption of Compiz, so it was the year of the Linux desktop. In 2007, Compiz-Fusion was created, along with bulletproof X, so that was the year of the Linux desktop. And now, in 2008, Ubuntu 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex" is supposedly getting a font makeover in the alpha versions, so 2008 will be the year of the Linux desktop.
Stupid idea, right? So what was/will be the real year of the Linux desktop?
They all have been, and they'll continue to be. Every year brings some improvement that the entire community flips out over (watch the Digg counts soar!), but they're all small stepping-stones accross the lake of building the perfect Linux desktop system. How long has Microsoft been improving Windows and turning it into what it is today? The road to Vista (not to mention whatever's next) started in 1985 with the release of Windows 1.0. Look at how much it's changed since then. Linux is a similar case. Hardware and software compatibility problems continue to plague it, and they'll improve slightly each year, along with the release of some killer app like Compiz. Crazed swarms of fanboys will continue to eat it up year after year after year after year after year, but the truth remains: Linux is, has been, and will be for a while a work in progress, and will continue to be for several years. Every year can hold the meaningless title of "Year of the Linux Desktop", yet something even better- in the eyes of the countless fanboys that make up the Linux world- will always be waiting next year.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Intrepid Ibex

I don't think I need to explain the title. It's been officially announced here, and it's on the Ubuntu Wiki.
So what's an ibex?
An ibex, commonly called by its French name: bouquetin also called Steinbock in German, is a type of wild mountain goat with large recurved horns that are transversely ridged in front. Ibex are found in Eurasia, North Africa, and East Africa. The name ibex comes from Latin, borrowed from Iberian or Aquitanian, akin to Old Spanish bezerro "bull", modern Spanish becerro "yearling". Ranging in height from 27 to 43 inches and weighing 200 to 270 pounds (90 to 120 kg), the ibex can live 20 years.
20 years, but don't expect 8.10 to be an LTS release...
During the 8.10 cycle we will be venturing into interesting new territory
The release after an LTS release (or 3 releases before one) is usually an unstable one (4.10, 6.10, 8.10, and probably 10.10), as the developers find new technology to incorporate and wait for it to mature over the next 2 releases. Expect 8.10 to have KDE 4, among other interesting stuff, maybe even Avant. But it's not going to be stable- remember all the horror stories of people who couldn't upgrade to Edgy? Don't let it drive you away from Linux, though, if you're really interested in testing Intrepid, just keep an eye on Slashdot and be ready for the worst. Let's hope the Ubuntu devs learned a lesson from Edgy (and they probably have).


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!

After over a year and a half, several articles featured on Tuxmachines, and over 100000 hits, I may have to shut down the Distrogue. There are several reasons. First off, as you may have guessed from my hiatus, I've stopped reviewing distros. There's something wrong with my partitioning layout that's preventing GParted from seeing any partitions at all. Seeing as Fedora, Ubuntu, and Gentoo all use GParted for disk partitioning, and they're far from the only ones, this is preventing me from installing most distros. In addition, I'm running out of blank CDs and I can't find any that will boot from my computer's disk drive. My 1G USB key also refuses to boot. This leaves me stranded on PCLinuxOS (which runs into a kernel panic every time I try to boot it, no matter what my GRUB setup is) and MEPIS. Great. But there's a chance of fixing my partitioning problem (maybe having to back everything up and clear all the partitions) and finding some working media. Until then...
From MEPIS 7.0,
The Distrogue.

  • I now have a less limited supply of blank CDs.
  • I may buy an 8GB USB key in the near future.
  • Thanks to testdisk, the partitioning problem is gone and I can (and have) installed other distributions.
  • A visual redesign is coming soon, but you'll need Firefox 3 (Safari and Epiphany work too) in order for it not to look ugly because it uses a fair amount of CSS3-only features.
Thanks for your patience.
From Ubuntu 8.04,
The Distrogue.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Why I Really Hate Linux: Substitute Applications

On Windows, most people manage their music libraries via iTunes, the nice, user-friendly music manager that everyone knows about. But here on Linux, we're expected to use some program called Amarok that nobody's heard of. And it sucks. I mean, here are the features:

Tag DatabaseNoYes
Lyrics LookupNoYes
Artist Info LookupNoYes
MP3 Player ManagementiPod OnlyYes
Album Artwork ManagementYesYes
CollectionNoYes RadioNoYes
Music StoreYesMagnatune Only
Plug-in SupportMac Only (via Applescript)Yes

Kidding aside (I know I'm 3 days late), Amarok seriously does have all these features. In addition, I'm running 4 scripts (911tabs, Tag Clouds, BPM Calc, and amaKode), and it still takes up less RAM than iTunes did on Windows. Plus, it has support for dynamic and static playlists like iTunes, along with a tagging system. Everything in it is very tightly integrated, as well. With version 2 (to go with KDE 4), they're going cross-platform, releasing an official Windows port.
Someone said that Amarok's iPod management is better than iTunes's. Not true. Whenever you add a song to an iPod Shuffle in Amarok, for instance, it's appended to the end of the playlist. Even if you drop it into a certain place, it will always be on the end. Maybe I'm just bitter about this because I use a Shuffle, but it's annoying enough to make me use GTKPod instead. On the other hand, Amarok can be used to submit plays from your iPod directly to, which iTunes can't.
The context browser on the left-hand side is also undeniably cool. It has tabs for an online lyrics search, song/artist/album information via MusicBrainz, and Wikipedia-based song/artist/album lookup. Through MusicBrainz, it can even guess the ID3 tags for songs you don't know.

A word on the music store: Amarok has built-in support for the Magnatune Music Store, which sells DRM-free MP3, FLAC, or OGG files, which you can re-download later if you delete them. You can pay $5 or more per album, depending on what you feel like giving them- $5 if you're a cheapskate, $10 or more if you feel generous. Of course, there's a catch- they have a *tiny* catalog. Still, there's something for everyone- I found a great album by a metal band called Utopia Banished and paid $10 for it after hearing the full-length previews.

Of course, if you want more, there's always's music store, which has its own Linux client and also sells DRM-free files.
Thanks to features like tags (which can be assigned to songs), collection browsing, auto-tagging, and an automatic track-scoring system, Amarok is ideal for people with huge music collections. Windows users, when Amarok 2 comes out, try it. You probably won't ditch iTunes, but you might end up not using it for anything other than buying music, if even that.
From SimplyMEPIS 7.0,
The Distrogue.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Gaming on Linux: OpenArena 0.7.1

What is OpenArena?
A while ago, Id Software released the source code for the Quake 3 engine. They did not, however, release all the maps and models under a free license, so at the time, you still had to buy the game to play it. No more! Thanks to the OpenArena project, there's a cross-platform Quake client with free models and maps.

Download OpenArena here, extract all the files, and you're set. Sort of. The OpenArena website only hosts version 0.7.0, a buggier version. A patch for version 0.7.1 is available here, which fixes the constant crashing on Fan- a real nuisance.

OpenArena is like any other FPS. You run around shooting bots and collecting ammo. The scroll wheel cycles through weapons, and holding down the middle mouse button gives you an optical zoom on any weapon. Simple enough.
You can play online or against bots in solo play. The game comes with 20 arenas, each with their own selection of bots. About these bots: They range from the mysterious-looking Tony (complete with a fedora) to the rocket-happy and somewhat emo Kyonshi to the always-angry Merman to a guy that's obsessed with penguins. Some of them aren't even human- there's also a gargoyle and a dinosaur. Be warned, though: Some of them (Angelyss and Arachna) are NSFW. To remove them, just move baseoa/pak2-players-mature.pk3 somewhere else, or delete it altogether (of course, whether you would want to is another question altogether...).
Weaponry-wise, there's nothing special. In addition to the default machine gun (which runs out of ammo quickly), there's a railgun (fires slowly, does tons of damage, good for sniping), a plasma rifle (small splash area, fires quickly, good for melee), a rocket launcher (obvious enough), a grenade launcher, a lightning gun (which does what it sounds like it does), and a shotgun. If you run out of ammo, the melee-only Gauntlet is there as a backup. The shotgun has an interesting (and out-of-place) laser sight on the front, but it doesn't seem to change anything.
Game modes are also nothing groundbreaking. OpenArena comes with deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and tournament modes, all of which can be played online against other players. OA's online community is surprisingly n00b-free, but that's not saying everyone there is comp1337 pwnh4x4g3. You can usually find several people on for various game modes. Overall, it seems like a great place.

The important thing for me is how fast OpenArena runs. It runs incredibly smoothly even with Firefox (over 20 tabs open) and amaroK running. Water has little to no effect on performance, but doesn't have effects like ripples. The Quake 3 engine is pretty fast.

I barely noticed any bugs during gameplay. The Fan map crashes consistently on version 0.7.0, but this has been fixed in 0.7.1.

Bottom line
OpenArena is a good game for people who can't, for whatever reason, afford a top-of-the-line gaming system and happen to run Linux. It's free, open-source (think of the modding possibilities...), and easy to learn. It doesn't have anything new to offer, but is definitely worth a look. If your computer can handle it, you might want to check out Nexuiz, another interesting free Quake-inspired game with elements from Unreal Tournament.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Original style restored.

The Blogger style I was using before my image-hosting account got canceled from all the traffic has been restored, but with some minor changes. The background wallpaper has been radically redesigned (it's only 1680x1) to reduce bandwidth (it's only 3.0 KB now, as opposed to the 228 KB monstrosity before it) and the original header has been removed, freeing up another 100.3 KB per hit. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the changes shouldn't be impossible to live with.
From MEPIS 7.0 and planning his next review,
The Distrogue.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arch: Pros Only, But Not Bad

Arch Linux is one of the few distributions to be optimized for an i686 processor- in other words, it's really fast without having to compile anything. It uses a custom package manager called Pacman (which, surprisingly enough, doesn't seem to spark any legal controversy), which works similarly to Apt in that it has dependency tracking and relies on repositories. Arch's philosophy is to start with a base system and install all the graphical components manually via Pacman. This means you need a working Intertube connection and a fair amount of time on your hands. A caution before you install Arch: Arch is NOT meant for newbies. If you're afraid to get your hands dirty with a little low-level tweakage, you might want to consider trying something else.

-Phase One: install base system from CD
The base install went pretty well. User setup is done manually, and as a result, there were only a few steps I had to go through. Partitioning was a breeze- I only needed to set up the mount points and format the / partition. Although the base system is tiny, there's still detailed package selection (optional). All in all, the base install took about 10 minutes from boot to boot.
-Phase Two: Setting up the base system
Setting up a wired connection was annoying, but it didn't take that long. After searching around for a bit, I ran "dhcpcd eth0" and the connection worked. It took me about half an hour of looking through the Pacmanual to find something that was right under my nose: to update the database (which I needed to do before installing anything), run "pacman -Sy". Pacman has an annoying number of options, but they're divided into 6 main commands, each with their own options, so it's not a complete mess.
-Phase Three: Installing the desktop
After typing "pacman -S xorg kde" and waiting 30-odd minutes (most of which was spent downloading- the installation itself was extremely fast), I had a working desktop environment. It took a few more "pacman -S"es to make it usable, but thanks to hwd ("pacman -S hwd"), Intel GMA drivers ("pacman -S xf86-video-intel 915resolution"), and a little tweakage, my desktop ran quickly and at full resolution. Obviously, this isn't a "Just Works (tm)" distro, but it's not supposed to be.

It's Plastik/CrystalSVG with some (bland) Arch wallpaper. Nothing special...

Installed Software
The CD itself comes with barely any software. A full install like the one I used, on the other hand, is pretty good. The kde metapackage doesn't come with amaroK, and Firefox isn't included, but they're both a "pacman -S" away. (The kde package, however, did have MP3 playback.) Installing the xfce4 metapackage yielded a decidedly complete XFCE desktop. Flash, unsurprisingly, wasn't in any of the metapackages I used.

Hardware Support
My wireless card, strange as it might seem, was supported out of the box. But without any nice, easy programs to get it working (short of iwconfig, which worked, but dhcpcd still didn't like it), that didn't really matter. I did, however, get my native screen resolution working with a minimum of tweaking. On the minus side, there's still that nasty little screen bug...

As would be expected, Arch ran very fast. Tremulous ran amazingly smoothly, even with a full KDEMod desktop, as did Sauerbraten, even with water refractions and dynamic lighting/shadows.

Archers get to use KDEMod, a modified version of KDE built specifically for Arch. It isn't really that much different from vanilla KDE, except that it has better artwork (Domino windeco/theme engine) and a slightly better Qt3. The biggest improvement seems to be Domino, which can be installed on other distros anyways. It isn't really anything insanely special.

-Very customizable
-Fast, capable package manager
-Very hard to install
-Hardware support is minimal
Friendliness: 2/5
- At least you don't have to compile anything.
Performance: 4.5/5- It's i686 optimized. If you want anything faster, you'll have to use a source-based distro.
Features: 3/5- A basic desktop is easy to install.
Packaging: 3.5/5- Good package manager, but no GUI.
Artwork: 1/2.5- Nothing special.
Community: 2/2.5- The Arch community seems friendly and helpful, the wiki even has an in-depth beginner's guide for newbies.

Overall: 3.2/5- A solid distribution, but not recommended for newbies.
From Arch (versionless),
The Distrogue.

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Updates about SYS-Linux

I've learned a little more about SYS-Linux through the forums. Apparently, while it's still harder to upgrade than Windows, it *does* have a package-management system. And it uses the worst kind possible (at least IMO): Slackware's .TGZ packaging system. In a post, the lead developer says to download the packages yourself (as far as I can tell- I'm not a native Portugese speaker) and doesn't even provide a working link. I'm sorry, but I don't think "http:///" has any .TGZ packages. Anyways, downloading packages yourself, installing them via command line, and not even using dependency tracking? And this guy says his distro is for newbies? If you really like Slackware's packaging system, get Wolvix or Zenwalk, both of which have GUIs that download and install packages automatically, and have dependency tracking.
Then there's the package list. Bleeding-edge, fortunately enough, since you'll probably have to go for a while without upgrading it. In fact, it uses kernel 2.6.24-rc6-git2 (yes, a nightly build, which is probably as unstable and buggy as you can get- and this is the KERNEL!), Firefox 3.0-b2, Opera 3.25 (an ancient version released in 1998- cutting-edge indeed!), and db "1.85,2.4,3.3,4.2,4.4". Whatever than means. :S I honestly don't think a newbie likes it if their kernel crashes every 5 minutes, so they might want to pick a more stable version. Good news, though: kernel 2.6.24 just went stable!
And check it out: This distro satisfies everyone with its enormous package selection! Take a look at AV production, for instance:
* Audio-/Video-Studio/Produção: audacity 1.3.4 ; avidemux 2.4 , cinelerra 20071124 , dvdrip 0.98.8 , ffmpeg 20071102 , dvdshrink , dvd+rw+tools 7.0 , k3b 1.0.4 , freevo 1.7.5 , acidrip 0.14, gstreamer 0.10.14 , kino 1.1.1 , kvideoencoder 0.0.8 , kstreamripper 0.3.4 , lxdvdrip 1.7 , mplayer 20071021 , muse 0.9.2 , rosegarden 1.6.1 , soundkonverter 0.3.6 , transcode 20071004 , sox 14.0 , streamripper 1.62.3 , winki 0.4.5

Errrm... Cool, but... I see 5 video editors (counting FFMpeg), 3 DVD rippers, 4 audio editors (counting Rosegarden), and a bunch of other redundant programs, but not much else. And under multimedia? There are 10 different media players. Looks like someone forgot didn't have time to fine-tune his app selection, did he?
And, of course, the all-emulating Wine.
* Emulador, p/usar programas de outros sistemas (McIntosh, Unix, Atari, Commodore, Windows): wine 0.9.51
Wait, Wine can emulate Mac/Atari/COMMODORE systems TOO? Wow, I never knew that! I always thought that "Wine is an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X, OpenGL, and Unix," like the site says. Really, if you don't know what something does, don't put it in there.
Now for the challenge: I will make a CD image based on Xubuntu that is marginally complete (and it's not complete unless it has Compiz, we all know that much) and can still fit on a CD. It's not only possible, but easy thanks to Reconstructor, a tool for remastering Ubuntu images. It will have improved artwork, a more complete app selection, and Compiz, but most importantly, it will fit onto a CD roughly a quarter as large as the SYS-Linux image. I'm doing this just to show that it's possible to have a complete system that doesn't take up /!\ 11GB /!\ when installed. SYS-Linux is based on Slackware, but a key tenant of Slackware got lost somewhere in the remastering: "Keep It Simple, Stupid!"
From Arch (versionless),
The Distrogue.

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