Thursday, March 28, 2013

How I Use Linux

What's with all the hostility to Linux on PowerPC? If you've read certain forums or blogs you've probably come across it. Not just, "Linux isn't for me," but attacking Linux as bad for everyone and warning people not to do it. Among those attacks are common complaints like there's no flash, the UI is boring, the hardware is unsupported, etc. First, flash's performance sucks. You can get way more mileage streaming through Mplayer or VLC. Second, the UI is whatever you choose. And third, I don't remember the worldwide sturm und drang when people put out HowTos on how to install Tiger on unsupported hardware with XPostFacto or Leopard with LeopardAssist.

The fact is Linux is not OS X. And OS X is not Linux. One does some things better than the other and vice versa. I run a mixed environment. I have a desktop that primarily runs OS X and a laptop that primarily runs Debian Linux. So I thought I'd compare the two and show you the ways which Linux has helped me.

On OS X my most used applications are TenFourFox, iText Express, iTunes, Mplayer, MacTubes, and Transmission (it's always on in the background. I'm on a private tracker). Incidentally, all of those applications have identical or very-close-to-it counterparts on Linux. I also commonly use Cyberduck, ToyViewer, GIMP, SABnzbd, TenFourKit, and GarageBand. But sometimes it's not enough. One limitation I have is I don't have a widescreen monitor, so it's difficult to play video and do other work simultaneously. That's where my Linux laptop comes in. I use it for streaming media, Youtube, etc., and it has its own dedicated processor so my desktop's doesn't get bogged down playing a webisode of The Guild. It also has Pithos, which is unavailable for OS X, that streams Pandora radio.

Another thing I turn to Linux for is LibreOffice. LibreOffice on OS X is too dog slow (and the Tiger version has monospace font issues Bug fixed), but on Linux it feels almost like a lightweight word processor.

Lately I've been getting my feet wet with music production and trying software synths like Yoshimi and Phasex, and sequencers like LMMS and Qtractor. Some Linux DAWs and synths are more polished than others, but the range of choice is amazing. And as far as music playback goes, I love Audacious's xmms interface and hate that there's nothing like it on OS X.

My point is, nobody who says Linux will be bad for you is making a definitive statement, 'cause I'm right here and Linux for me is working nicely. Here are a few screenshots taken with Shutter (a Linux Skitch replacement now that Evernote has destroyed the original). I find the dark theme much easier on my eyes.

Pithos on Debian

Mplayer and Youtube on Debian

I had to use -vo x11 to capture the Mplayer video, 'cause with the xv default it showed up as a transparent window.

JACK and Phasex on Debian

Openbox menu on Debian

Thursday, March 21, 2013

ArchLinux PowerPC?

Peter S. emailed me a Youtube link that I found somewhat interesting.

Linux.Extra - ArchLinuxPPC and XFCE switch Ep/1

Basically this person's suggesting he's going to start an ArchLinux port for PowerPC, sort of take over the project from where it was abandoned a couple of years ago. I don't know if this will come to fruition as it's a ton of work, but the author has been posting videos regularly so we'll see.

In the meantime, if you want a rolling release, which is what ArchLinux is (a release where the latest packages are updated as they come in), you can run Debian Sid and also pick packages from the experimental branch. You may be able to do something similar on Ubuntu, but I'm not sure. The thing about a rolling release, though, is that things can break. There isn't a lot of testing done before packages are allowed into the repository, and this is why rolling releases are geared to the more adventurous. But I've never used Arch, so it would be interesting to see the stability of their bleeding-edgeness vs. that of a traditional release-based distribution.

In other news, there's been some chatter on Linux blogs lately about Ubuntu's future plans (Mir, release schedules) and how they might affect the Xubuntu and Lubuntus of the world. There's thus far baseless speculation that the other flavors might jump ship and base themselves on Debian or some other distribution, but on the Lubuntu mailing list Lubuntu's lead developer withheld their opinion but said they'd have more to say when work is done on the current development release. So stay tuned.

I wonder how long Canonical can keep up its secrecy and arbitrary decision-making before people decide it's not a community worth contributing to anymore.

Monday, March 11, 2013

iOS 7 Leaked

Don't ask me how I got this (I don't want to be responsible for any drone strikes), but I have a prototype of Apple's upcoming iOS 7.  This has been hotly anticipated, partly because people were getting fed up with the staleness of iOS 6, and also this is our first chance to see Jony Ive's fingerprints since he took over as head of design.

iOS 7 Home Screen

Gone is the schizophrenic skeuomorphic implementation of previous releases in favor of a much simpler, more unified design.  Instead of switching from metal to leather to blue jeans, your eyes will be now be focused on one texture, with all icons and graphics following the same graphical framework.  But that's just the visual.  The real innovation here is with two brand new technologies called "MultiFinder" and "Hypercard."

iOS 7 MultiFinder

MultiFinder, simply put, brings the new ability to run apps side by side in an interactive manner.  I almost don't know what to say about this.  It's so new I think we'll need some time to process all the implications.  It's one thing to have apps, but to have multiple apps working together at the same time?  My head is officially blown.

Hypercard is something I haven't had time to get much into yet, but it's supposedly an intuitive programming interface that will allow any ordinary Joe or Josephine to produce their own apps, no programming language necessary.  This is nothing less than the democratization of software development and could be a revolution in how we interact with our devices.  One can even imagine people eschewing current media models and producing their own communication networks.  Imagine if we had something like this twenty-five years ago.  The World Wide Web would be a far different place.

iOS 7 Keyboard

Other additions are a built-in calculator (finally!) and something that makes my fingers particularly happy, an extended keyboard.  I should apologize for not going more in depth, but I just got this and I'm literally trembling with the adrenaline rush as I write it.  Hopefully I'll have more, though I'm sure Gizmodo will chime in.  They're never far behind on this stuff.  But, yeah, the world's changing.  Thank you, Apple.  Just thank you.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MintPPC 11 vs. Lubuntu 13.04 Shootout Deathmatch!

Not really. I told you earlier I installed MintPPC alongside Lubuntu on my Sawtooth, and since I wrote up a review of Lubuntu I thought I'd do the same for Mint. Minus the bloodletting.

Here's what you get with MintPPC: an easy install process, a good variety of low resource applications, and an LXDE desktop all set up and ready to go. Based on Debian Wheezy and Mint 11 (Katya), it's designed specifically for PowerPC Macs and is as painless to install as any distro. This being Linux, though, there are issues. This being Linux, though, there are also workarounds. I'll get to those in a minute, but first the positives.

Minitube is back! It's been long broken on Debian and was removed from the Wheezy repositories, but it's here and working flawlessly. Also, video performance in general is excellent. VLC and Gnome Mplayer work out of the box, and Gnome Mplayer in particular plays DVDs very smoothly. G3 users will need a specially compiled Mplayer and VLC available in this thread. Otherwise they'll crash without altivec. Or you can compile your own for the fun of it;)

MintPPC with PCManFM

As you can see from the screenshot above, MintPPC comes with PCManFM which also provides icons on the desktop. It automatically recognized my OS 9 and OS X partitions, but not my Lubuntu partition. For this I'll have to edit /etc/fstab. Performance is what you'd expect from an LXDE environment--fast. Plus the GUI is very sleek and minimal, more so than MintPPC 9.

About the GUI, though, there are some (fixable) problems. First, the now infamous invisible fonts problem is still here as of this writing, where black GTK fonts are invisible after installation. This is a Debian bug that is in the process of being fixed, but in the meantime I posted the workaround here. Also, the GTK2 theme breaks on GTK3 apps causing them to revert to the "default ugly" look. I guess MintPPC was put together in that awkward transition where GTK2 themes weren't yet updated to deal with GTK3 apps, but you can install the GTK2/GTK3 theme Mint-Z Improved, which is almost identical to Mint-X Metal (the default). The only hiccup was the task bar now displays the text white, but that's fixed by right clicking on the task bar, choosing "Task Bar (Window List) Settings" and checking the "Flat buttons" box. The two screenshots below show the GTK3 apps Gedit and Totem Movie Player, first under Mint-X Metal and the second with the compatible Mint-Z Improved.

MintPPC GTK2 theme

MintPPC GTK3 theme

If you want me to get really negative, I'll reserve that for "Software Manager." It's apparently designed for people who find Synaptic Package Manager too complicated, but if you've already installed Linux there is no way you will find Synaptic too complicated. Nevertheless, Software Manager is dumbed down to a toddler's level and also happens to be broken beyond belief. I would've liked to have seen it not included.

There are a couple of other default installs you'd do yourself a favor in switching out. Exaile is a music player that has been a massive fail for me on every system I've tried it on. Replacing it with Audacious would be a big upgrade. Also, XArchiver appears unmaintained and has a bug preventing it from unpacking .7z files. A good replacement is File-roller, though you'll probably want to install it with the --without-recommends option or it'll install a bunch of Gnome stuff with it.

A couple of other minor quibbles. No CD ripper? Am I the only one who still rips CDs? And an SSH server was not installed by default. If you're gonna have an SSH client by default, you might as well put the server software in, too.

I should also warn you about update-apt-xapian-index. It runs just after installation and, like Spotlight running for the first time, will drastically slow down your system especially if you don't have a lot of memory. You can look in this forum thread if you need to disable it. I just let it run and it finished after ten or fifteen minutes.

And one last note, Powerprefs, the pbbuttonsd configuration tool, must be run as root to save changes.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab an install CD and give it a whirl. There's a wealth of information in the MintPPC forums, just use the search, or ask a question if you can't find the answer.

UPDATE: I should add that my install came with pulseaudio, which can cause problems if you're trying to use a JACK audio server, among other things. So you might want to uninstall pulseaudio.