Tag Archives: software

An agnostic’s take on Gnome vs. KDE

I’m writing this because everyone gets it wrong, and it’s my moral obligation to set yous straight. (For those that don’t know me, this is sarcasm.) I do, however, in all sincerity, want to clear up a few things I keep reading about that kind of irk me. The situation is in the never ending battle for the desktop that is Gnome versus KDE (I won’t bother to acknowledge any of the other competing desktop environments out there since I want to keep this post simple).

To start, I am not going to advocate either over the other – I know, big spoiler/anticlimax. Get over it. Here’s what irks me: Most of the articles I’ve read online featuring the difference between Gnome and KDE are not only heavily biased, but they are often written by persons who admit within the article they aren’t overly familiar with [insert whichever desktop environment is not their preferred one]. What the hell is wrong with these people?

I’m going to compare two of the newest cars on the road today, (but I don’t have a license and I’ve only ever ridden in one of these…). Here goes… [pppppfffffffrrrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttttt]

I’m over joyed to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know shit, but really? Why are you writing about something you admit you don’t know about? So, I’m going to now write about something I know only marginally about, because why not? It’s the age of the idiot blogger.

Now there are two camps when it comes to users. One prefers using the keyboard, while the other prefers to point and click with a mouse. No one really likes or finds it particularly conducive to their productivity to have to switch constantly back and forth between the two.

(We can safely ignore touch devices for now as neither Gnome or KDE is up and running full steam on touch devices yet, although from what I hear it won’t be long before us regular, non-developer types will be able to have these options supported for our lazy, ignorant asses.)

And herein lies the great divide, and the great difference as I see it between Gnome and KDE. Gnome is really and truly best utilized with a keyboard securely under hand, with the mouse nearby for the occasional necessary click. KDE, conversely, is much friendlier to the mouse and click crowd, although many of the features in that environment can be accessed via the keyboard as well.

I’ll now break each environment down a little bit and include some Pros and Cons. I should mention at this point I am basing these descriptions on the Gnome and KDE versions of the Fedora Linux distribution. There are some minor differences here and there on other distributions, but the core info presented here remains applicable.

I’ll start with KDE

a screengrab from KDE

Please pardon the redactions – state security.

Widgets!

Widgets tell me what time it is.

Notice in the above screenshots the color of the theme has changed. It does that. On its own. Continuously. Forever. This (admittedly somewhat resource intensive) effect is just one of the many bits of eye candy that bedazzle the KDE user. Also note the über useful widgets so that I can have the time, date, weather etc right there on the desktop. Fascinating, no? At the upper left is the folder widget, which presents my home directory folders at a click. All of this is by choice, as the KDE environment is customizable to a degree that would require a degree to learn all the different options. But at its core, it provides an experience not so far removed from your vanilla XP working environment of old. There are tabs on a task bar (I left it at bottom – it can be moved, duplicated or removed at will) for open applications. There is a “start button” like button at lower left (although this too can be customized or outright removed if desired). At lower right are familiar icons for time, battery life (if applicable), wifi (again, if applicable), sound controls, etc etc. Notifications also default to this lower right area. All in all, a setting more or less familiar to a majority of computer users everywhere.

In Gnome we have a bit of a different experience

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

Gnome with dark theme enabled and Oxygen Theme Icons

I’ll admit I am not a fan of the default appearance of Gnome. The first thing I like to do regarding the appearance is enable the dark theme and (install and) switch to Oxygen Theme icons. It’s a subjective thing, but to me this dark theme with the blue Oxygen Icons is a bit more elegant than the Gnome defaults (whatever they’re called…).  Notice in Gnome we have no task bar or icons on the desktop. Accept for the three windows I have open in the above screenshot, there is nothing (the absence of anything) on the desktop save for a bar across the top which has the date and time at center, some tools like sound and power off options at right, and the Activities hot corner at left (and a menu next to the Activities for the current active application). This situation causes the utmost confusion in users new to Gnome (my highly scientific research has been destroyed in a curious canine incident, but just trust me). Moving the mouse cursor to the upper left brings up the Activities screen.

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

The GUI hell of the Activities Screen

From here one can click on Application Icons to launch them, as well as select a window to switch to it, close a window, or drag it to another workspace. I have yet to meet anyone who likes this or feels this is a satisfactory way of getting anything done on a computer. One can also type in the search box to search for Applications, etc. Whatever.

It may seem like I’m showing a strong bias against Gnome at this point, and if this was all there was to Gnome, I would bash its ugly head into the ground. But read on, discerning reader, for the best is yet to come.

After working with Gnome for some time, I have amassed a wealth of useful working strategies that make Gnome the more productive of the two desktops for the power user. [Not necessarily true, but it could be. It’s subjective.] First off, leave the mouse over there by the coffee mug or soda can. You won’t be needing it much from here on out. Standard keyboard shortcuts that work in a variety of operating systems and with a variety of desktop environments work in Gnome as well. [IMPORTANT: extensions.gnome.org and install/enable Alt-Tab!] The default alt-tab behavior in Gnome is annoying and defeats the purpose of workspaces. Ignore it. After enabling Alt-Tab, pressing alt-tab will shuffle through windows open in the current workspace. Use Super key (Windows key) + page up/down to navigate between workspaces. Use Alt+F2 to bring up the little window which allows you to run commands in it (most handy to launch applications without having to deal with the awkward Activities area – although having to launch an application whose name you’re not sure of can require a trip to Activities – learn the names of applications you use frequently!). I’ve even set keyboard shortcuts for raising and lowering the volume (I use alt+up/down).

I have set Gnome-Terminal to start at login, and I leave it around throughout the session which enables me to navigate to and open files without ever having to deal with a file manager. It is not a standard way of working for many people used to the “XP way of working”, but once you get used to it, it’s like second nature. My poor mouse begs me for attention.

I use the mouse within the web browser since some pages can be quite a pain to navigate via keyboard. Otherwise, for the most part, almost everything you need to accomplish can be done without having to reach for the mouse. This enables extremely fast navigation and launching. The OS/desktop environment nearly vanish and you’re free to get your work done. This is why I use Gnome when I have serious work to do despite appreciating the beauty and plain old fun of KDE’s dazzling eye candy (which is distraction central when you’re serious about work).

I would like to mention before leaving the wonderful application called Amarok.

Amarok

Amarok rocks!

Now, Amarok can be installed on Gnome (with a ton of dependencies) or even on Windows (so they say…), but its home is in KDE, and if the Fedora KDE spin didn’t include Amarok I might never have heard about it. It’s great – I love it. Nuff said.

One thing I don’t like about KDE (and maybe there’s a setting I can change somewhere to fix this) is that when I hook up my external hard drive in Gnome, I can immediately cd to the location in the terminal and copy files to and from the external hard drive from the command line. In KDE, if I try this, it fails to recognize the device until I mount it (usually by clicking on it’s icon in Dolphin – the world’s most elegant file manager).  I could probably use the command to mount it, but either way, it’s an extra step. Not a major problem, but something that annoys me.

So, to sum up: KDE is flashy eye candy with a familiar mouse and click feel to it. Very customizable and full of functionality, if you can find it all! Can be overwhelming at first. Gnome is strangely cool and distant at first, but once you warm up to it, it’s a streamlined interface that will mostly stay out of your way while you work.  There’s obviously a lot more to each of these, but enough is enough. Go do your own experiments and get back to me.

 

Reason #66 why this iPhone will be my last, or how I learned to stop worrying and play my .ogg files

cannot play file

Really sick of this.

Tired of seeing this “Cannot play audio file” message in iOS? I know I am. Some folks have taken to blaming Wikipedia for this. Others blame the .ogg file itself while others blame the entire open source philosophy for this conundrum. I lay the blame squarely where it belongs – at Apple’s feet (Microsoft doesn’t get a pass here, it’s just that I don’t use the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, or Internet Explorer at all anymore so I rarely have to be directly burdened by their practices).

Soon I will also be saying goodbye to Apple’s iOS for good. This lack of compatibility with common file types is rapidly showing itself to be a lack of common sense. No Flash? No problem for me really. I never miss it on my iPhone and eagerly await the day HTML5 obliterates any and all need for Flash in websites. But .ogg files, in addition to being more prevalent today than ever, are of superior audio quality when compared with their ubiquitous cousin, the mp3. Being someone who creates music as well as consumes it, I appreciate the combination of good quality sound and small compact file size, and have been using the .ogg file format to share my music for some years now. Of course, on the desktop this presents little to no difficulty for those with whom I share music to play the files, but playing these .ogg files on an iPhone or iPad is not possible “out of the box”. To me this makes no sense whatsoever. For devices which exist almost exclusively as content consumption devices to be so restrictive in what types of content can be consumed reeks – the stench of decomposition surely the result of the rotting vegetal matter in a certain garden cut off from the outside world by strangling walls…

Anywho, onward and forward.

VLC icon

God bless the VLC

The VLC player is available in the App Store, and it will play .ogg files received via email. Now, for those inaccessible Wikipedia sounds:

Puffin icon

The Puffin to the rescue.

The first step in accessing these sounds (N.B. at this point I should mention there may very well be easier ways to do this, I just haven’t come across them yet) is to download Puffin web browser from the App Store. (This method of accessing the Wikipedia .ogg files may work in other [NON-Safari] browsers as well, but this is not a scientific experiment – if you’re interested enough to check them all go right ahead.) There is a free trial version of Puffin, but I’ve found that I use it enough to justify its (at the time I bought it – things change and I’m not going to even bother looking up the price now because it might change again between me writing this and you reading it) relatively low price (I paid about $3.00 or so). For the record this is not a sponsored post – I do not receive any benefit from promoting any product or service and this information is for educational purposes only.

Wikipedia in Puffin

Lo and behold the file is now accessible.

We’re almost there. It would be great if we could just play the sound file in the Puffin web browser, but, alas, this is not possible. So we click (press) on the sound file icon and are presented with this dialog:

Puffin download dialog

Decisions, decisions

From here my limited exploration seems to have found the best thing to do is press “Cancel”. That brings us here:

The URL for the .ogg file

The URL for the .ogg file

Press and hold in the URL area and choose “Select All” followed by “Copy”.

Copy the URL

Copy the URL

Now open the VLC app and select Downloads. (You can see below I had already gone through this process when I took the screenshot, hence the file “White noise…” being present at right already.)

Select Downloads in the VLC menu

Select Downloads in the VLC menu

Paste the URL in VLC Downloads

Paste the URL in VLC Downloads

Paste the URL and press Download.

The file is now available for play in VLC.

The file is now available for play in VLC.

The file is now available. Select it and enjoy!

The Glory of playing .ogg files in iOS

The Glory of playing .ogg files in iOS

This is an awful lot of work to hear an audio sample on Wikipedia. So much for Apple being the purveyor of simplistic devices. My next phone will play .ogg files with the press of a finger – I guarantee that!

Another tech news story

We’re all familiar with the Adobe scandal by now. I received some emails from various companies stating my passwords had been reset. I have no problem with extra caution on the part of these companies – I even appreciate it. But this article from the BBC causes me some concern. Whereas the non-adobe company which reset my password stated people sometimes reuse passwords across different sites as the reasoning behind their policy decision to reset passwords of accounts with emails matching those found in the adobe booty stash, the above linked article states Facebook is specifically resetting passwords found to match email/password combos determined to have been compromised. The article then states the same actions are occurring at other companies. Something is wrong here. I never use the same password twice, yet my password for an undisclosed website was reset, so I figure one of three things is happening here:

  1. The article is mistaken. Facebook may be actively matching passwords from the stash to their active users’ accounts, but other companies are finding email addresses found in the adobe dump and resetting passwords for accounts using the same email address regardless of password match. I think this is the most likely.
  2. The article is mistaken, but deliberately so in an effort to bring awareness of the dangers of reusing passwords, especially online. Thanks big brother, what would we do without you?
  3. Alternately, and most disheartening, the article is drummed up fear mongering with the set intent of selling commercial password managers. I don’t know about this, because I would never even so much as research the existence of any potential commercial password manager, much less purchase or use one, but the paranoid in me has to mention it as a possibility.

So in closing, don’t reuse passwords, close your Facebook account, use open source software alternatives to adobe products, and don’t drink the water 😉

Why do we tolerate this?

When I built a computer from parts purchased online I didn’t think too much about the packaging with the motherboard stating Windows version blah blah blah would be required. I know better. I installed Fedora from the Live CD and never looked back. My primary, home-built, computer has never smelled the stench of Windows, and it is honestly the best computer I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

But today I purchased a keyboard to replace the one I had with my Dell XPS 420 for the past half decade (don’t eat/drink and type, duh) and I’m looking at the box and the damn thing actually states as a system requirement Windows version blah blah blah.

20130809-201450.jpg

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I plugged it into my (sadly discontinued) 24 inch iMac. It works fine. Had to press all of two buttons and one click on the keyboard recognition dialogue, which ran upon booting with the new keyboard attached, and it was recognized and functioning perfectly (as long as I remember the Windows/super key is the Command key). No windows installed there. Then I plugged it into the Dell machine – which hasn’t had any windows installed since I wiped the drives clean with Parted Magic and began using the machine as an OS experimental machine. Currently running Linux Mint 15 and ArtistX (Ubuntu with tons of creation applications pre-installed if you haven’t heard of it before), the keyboard is somehow managing just fine despite the absence of the aforementioned pre-requisite systems…And I didn’t have to do a damn thing to get it set up. Just booted and started typing.

So next I looked at the manufacturer of the keyboard – which is not (at least not explicitly stated to be) Microsoft (which would at least make it understandable, if still wrong, to say a Microsoft owned operating system is required to use the product). It’s a Dynex keyboard, and according to Wikipedia (I can actually say that with a straight face, unlike some years ago when it was a laughing stock of mis-information) Dynex is a Best Buy house brand, which is consistent with the fact I purchased the keyboard at Best Buy.

So the real question is: Why would Best Buy (Dynex) include a verifiably false statement about their products on the packaging of said products? I doubt very much they would of their own accord… Which leads me to believe somewhere in the depths of hell there is some agreement, probably greased along by the universal lubricant of shady dealings, between Microsoft and Best Buy (and damn near every other supplier of hardware in the universe), the terms of which require these suppliers to lie to customers about their products’ so called requirements.

This is of course nothing new – in fact this story is so old it’s almost not worth rehashing… Except for the fact it is still happening! Why on earth do these companies still show such deference to Microsoft? Would the survival of these companies really be in jeopardy if they were to call off such arrangements with Microsoft and say “No. We’re not going to be including that ridiculously false statement on our products, which are compatible with nearly (if not) all operating systems.”? Maybe their survival is at stake; I don’t know. It must be for them to continue to behave so otherwise irrationally.

It’s a fucking crime what Microsoft gets away with.