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September 17, 2007

Manhandle that PDF on OpenSUSE Linux

by @ 1:23 pm. Filed under General Linux, review, sweet tools

So I bought a new motorcycle a couple of weeks ago. It is a Kawasaki KLR650 (street-legal and rides well in dirt). I took ‘er out Friday for a spin amongst the vast hilly region to the west and south of my house, just about all of which belongs to the Bureau of Land Management (sweet, this means no neighbors on that land). There are some fun and interesting things to be found there.

I had gone up this really sweet incline, the view from which was cool and all that. Proceeding back down the incline, I realized that I was riding almost entirely in the finely powdered dirt commonly found in that area. All too quickly, I discovered that when you apply the rear brake going down an powdered incline, the back tire locks up readily. Problem is, going down hill, using the front brake is a no-no because if that baby locks up, you are gonna eat some dirt (and perhaps a rock or two).

About that moment, my guts shoot up into my throat as I realize that I am now headed down a steep, curvy incline essentially with no brakes. As I’m bouncing down that hill, wrestling the 337-lb bike to stay on it, I realize something… “Boy, it would sure be cool to have a good PDF manipulation tool.”

Well, the story has a happy ending, because I found that pdftk (included in openSUSE) can do an astonishing number of things with and to a PDF. Not only that, it can handle multiple PDFs at once. Go, Linux.

Bunches of Open Source applications exist that allow PDF creation, such as OpenOffice, Firefox, KGhostView, etc. Every once in awhile, you need to cut out some pages, or combine multiple PDFs. Maybe you want to rotate some pages, grab metrics, add watermarks, or even repair a corrupted PDF. pdftk does all of this.

One of the reasons I use it is to merge several PDFs into one. This is very simple:

pdftk first.pdf second.pdf third.pdf cat output final.pdf

A superb page with large amounts of great info on pdftk is right here.

pdftk is a lifesaver when you need to manipulate PDF files. Take a look.

In all fairness, pdftk will actually work on Windows and Mac, in addition to Linux.

June 25, 2007

The Top 10 Best Themes for Thunderbird 2.0

by @ 6:44 am. Filed under General Linux, My Opinion, review, Thunderbird

Eyecandy is one of my favorite things. Ask Steve or Jason. I love for stuff to look just really slick. So I’m going through this Thunderbird article called “10 must-have Thunderbird Addons (+ 25 more) because I also like wicked-sick plugins with all the coolest stuff because I get extremely bored very quickly. After getting all the totally rocking extensions, I came back to the sexiness of the whole thing. If I could make my Thunderbird look like the Viper that I’ve always wanted, I’d be totally set. Pulling up the theme page on, lots and lots of themes jumped out at me. Granted, not all of them are compatible with Thunderbird 2.0, which is what I’m using. Nevertheless, I decided to download the most popular themes that are compatible with T-Bird 2 and give ’em a spin on my desktop here.

After a few moments, it became apparent to me that I could just as easily rush through it and quickly pick something on an impulse that appealed to me and call ‘er good. On the other hand, the possibility existed that we could go through them one by one, make a little spreadsheet with some criteria on it, and grade them on the things that are important to me, in the way that I perceive them. Because it is so subjective and highly personalized, it would come as a surprise to me if this information were useful to anyone but me. Nevertheless, the possibility that one person may find it useful and beneficial is enough for me to pour my heart out. Thus, I leave it in your hands to be exceedingly thankful for my generosity.

The criteria of my most excellent grading scale (of 1 to 10) are outlined, in detail, with full weights, explanation, footnotes, cross-references, and bibliography as follows:

The score for each category will be multiplied by the weight for that category. Each of these values will then be added all together for a total overall “Weighted Score.” With all of this deeply explanatory psychological underlying subliminally entrenched childhood tragedy now thoroughly worked out of my system, it may very well be possible to jump right into the cool stuff. With that, here we go.

#10 – Vista Mail

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Vista Mail Theme

click image for larger version
#9 – miniBird

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the miniBird Theme

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#8 – Aquabird Redone

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Aquabird Redone Theme

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#7 – Outlook 2003 SilverTB

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Theme

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#6 – Modern Modoki

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Modern Modoki Theme

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#5 – Noia

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Noia Theme

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#4 – Outlook 2003 BlueTB

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Outlook 2003 BlueTB Theme

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#3 – Bible Blue-bird

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Theme

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#2 – Phoenity

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Phoenity Theme

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#1 – Cobalt

Thunderbird 2.0 with various extensions and the Cobalt Theme

click image for larger version

All in all, these top 10 themes all have their strengths. Some of them have some more obvious flaws than others, but overall, they provide a collection of 10 great themes to have. Again, this evaluation was made solely according to my tastes. Take a look at the link to the themes I provided above. There are quite a bit more than the ones I covered here, but these are the 10 best according to my criteria, grading, and weights. Hopefully, this has been a somewhat insightful demonstration of a perfect way to waste 3 hours of your day.

April 11, 2007

OpenSUSE vs Ubuntu

by @ 9:27 am. Filed under General SUSE, review, SUSE News

openSUSE vs Ubuntu

Abhay Srivastava at Techzone has written an interesting article on his experiences with openSUSE from the point of view of an Ubuntu user:

“I have used Ubuntu for almost 2 years and was completely in love with Ubuntu. One fine day my UPS gave up and my lazy self never allowed me to buy another. The result, after 5-6 power offs, my root file system was corrupted. I had to do a manual “fsck -yâ€? to bring it up. I thought all is normal now, but after the second normal reboot, the files system completely gave up and no amount of fsck would help. It clearly means a re-install. It should have been OK in normal circumstances, but I was in the middle of a release at office and had no time for even small configurations. Hence instead of using my favorite Automatix, I went ahead with Ubuntu Mint. Oh that was a changing point. Mint is Ubuntu modified and Mint’ified. I have KDE on my Arch Thinkpad, so the greenish theme of mint was a welcome change from the brown Ubuntu. Mint had installed almost all the required software and codecs for me and enjoyed Mint for one month. I thought now I have Ubuntu + all the codecs, without and configurations. What else could I ask for ?”

“But installing Mint had stirred the urge to try other distros. My criteria was simple, I should be able to install over Internet, the distro should be well polished, have huge number of applications, be very stable and configurations should be easy. In other words, I wanted another Ubuntu.”

“I already have Arch, so I tried the other famous ones. I began with Fedora -> Gentoo and then landed with OpenSUSE. Fedora was too sluggish and Arch is anytime better than Gentoo. OpenSUSE, however, is another story. I did a network install using instLinux and it took me a whooping 48 hours. Yes, I know 48 hours is too much by any standards but after the install , I have no regrets. SUSE is the most amazing distribution I have seen as yet. It appears as if it is designed keeping ease of use and stability in mind.”

“Now that I have used OpenSUSE for 2 months, here is a brief comparison between my experiences with Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. I will only take things which either come out of box, or have to be installed/configured on both of them. ”

Read the rest of “openSUSE vs Ubuntu” here

April 8, 2007

openSUSE Linux : Helping the world avoid unnecessary agony

by @ 2:51 pm. Filed under General Linux, My Opinion, review, War

Every once in awhile, something surprises me. Take Friday night, for example. I knocked the 1-Liter bottle of Coke over and emptied half of it into my keyboard, then got it all over the wall behind me, then all over the underside of my desk, all over my monitor, and all over about 40 square feet of carpet, all within about 12 seconds. I was surprised that none got on my laptop.

Saturday, however, was not a day of much surprise in my life. I woke up and set up three domains with Drupal installations which went exactly as planned. I ate some lunch, and drove from Eagle Mountain to Logan, which trip was totally uneventful. My brother and I presented our father with a new AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 3800+ machine that we got him for his birthday. He was excited and surprised, which came as no surprise.

The information was then passed on to me that I would be setting up the box for him. As the one who had originally set up the network, my initial reaction was, “No surprise there. Who else would be doing it? Of course I am.” It then dawned on me that this machine came with Vista pre-installed. OK. Little surprise. After I got over my evil thoughts of formatting it and installing Linux on it outright, I got started

I fired the machine up, yawning in boredom at the new look (as interesting as watching paint peel when I have compiz/beryl on my Linux laptop with all the transparencies and stacking and burning effects). After waiting about 20 minutes for the machine to get to the desktop (if it comes installed, what the hell am I waiting for?), it assaulted me with virus definition updates, windows updates, the welcome screen, and a migration wizard. After freeing up about 200 Meg of RAM by closing all these windows, I decided to go ahead with the Easy Transfer window. I wanted to tranfer all of the files, data, settings, email, etc., from the old machine to the new one. It prompted me how I wanted to do the transfer and if I was on the old computer or the new one, and if I had the Easy Transfer app installed on the other computer, which I did not.

No problem, it gave me the choice of putting the Easy Transfer app onto a USB stick and putting it on the old machine, which was on the same network as the one. Getting it over onto the old box and running it was fairly painless. After about 25 minutes it just gave me this error, “Easy Transfer Failed: permission denied”. Permission to what? From where? What were we trying to do? Which program was denied the permission? On which computer? Regular old questions such as these which are very easily answerable on a Linux system were apparently not even considered by the Windows developers. They were probably all like, “Dude, you can’t even fix it, anyway, so why do you even care what went wrong?” Seriously, that is a great point.

I tried it twice, each with the same result. Yes, I had all usernames and passwords typed in correctly (yes, caps-lock was off). Obviously I had erred as an operator (You should see this great PEBKAC shirt that I have. I wore it to work on Friday). Fine. HOW!?! Give me something useful so I can make it work as it should on its own anyway.

So I hopped on the new box and logged into my dad’s account. It had gotten at least some of the data transferred because all of the files littering the old computer’s desktop now showed on the new computer’s desktop.

I then went in and searched through the START menu (recently added feature in Vista, Linux has had this for over a year) for Outlook Express. A result came up. I clicked it to run it. I actually got an error. From a link that came with the computer. Which pointed to Outlook, not OE, as the error clearly stated:

Outlook Error

Verify the switch I am using, huh? Nice. Oh, and apparently, OE doesn’t even come with the OS anymore. All I had was some time-limited trial of the latest Office that would expire in June. Which means that I had to try and work with Outlook. Fine.

(So dad, are you sure I can’t just throw Linux on here?)

When I did finally find the actual executable for Outlook so I could run it directly (as according to this error that came up, basic things such as SHORTCUTS don’t work properly), again, an onslaught of prompt boxes appeared. They were warning me that this was a time-limited trial and that I had to put in some registration key and that I had to agree to the EULA, and if I wanted Outlook to be my default mail client, and if I wanted to check for and install updates. After mopping up the screen, yet again, of the plethora of windows, I went to try and import the Outlook Express accounts, messages, and contacts.

You would think that since the same company wrote both programs, and that since both programs have similar functionality, and that one is supposedly the EXPRESS version of the other one, that it JUST MIGHT be able to perform such an import. You would think.

It allowed me to begin the import wizard and go all the way through to the actual import, at which point it immediately refused to do anything else resembling anything useful, for example importing the accounts and messages, instead displaying yet another error:

Outlook Error 2

Unknown error. Reinstall. Yep, no surprise. Exactly what I expected from M$.

After screwing around with that for another 15 minutes only to get the same error no matter what, I had a thought: “Why not use Thunderbird? It does the trick on Linux!” So I grabbed the Thunderbird installer, threw it on there, and ran it. It installed just as I expected it to. Before it was completely finished with the installation, it asked me if I wanted to import accounts, messages, and address book from Outlook Express accounts. I sat there and stared for a moment, until I realized that, of course Thunderbird would do this. It is open-source and designed to work. No surprise there.

Before I had even run it the first time, it had already done everything I wanted it to do.

Let’s see here, to transfer personal settings and data from one Linux box to another one… what would I do? Copy the /home folder over from the old Linux machine to the new one. The end.

This is reminiscent of an experience I had awhile back where my co-worker needed Linux to fix a broken Windows box.

I’ve heard that Microsoft has started some kind of “WOW” campaign with Vista. It must be something like, “WOW, this is the worst operating system I’ve ever seen.” Or “WOW, this is a complete waste of money.” Or “WOW, I wouldn’t take this if it was free.” Or “WOW, how many ways can one thing be useless?” Or “WOW, no wonder no one cares about upgrading to this class A certifiable failed attempt at coming even close to usable.” Or “WOW, if I had to use this every day, I’d probably gouge out my eyes with radioactive sticks of weapons-grade Uranium.”

This provides the perfect transition into my next point.

It used to be that you wouldn’t really see articles like this one, called “Microsoft is Dead.” He has a point. When was the last time you heard about some ruthless, hostile takeover by Microsoft like back in the good old days when they’d do anything to destroy the competition? They’ve had their day, and Vista is their first debilitating (albeit self-inflicted) blow. Nothing like a monopolistic company whose arrogance and complacency causes them to kneecap themselves.

I love the author’s comments when referring to Microsoft’s approach to JavaScript. He says, “But eventually the open source world won, by producing Javascript libraries that grew over the brokenness of Explorer the way a tree grows over barbed wire.”

He explains further, “All the computer people use Macs or Linux now. Windows is for grandmas, like Macs used to be in the 90s. So not only does the desktop no longer matter, no one who cares about computers uses Microsoft’s anyway.”

The proof is in the numbers, too. It seems that, while Microsoft is doing everything possible to inflate true sales numbers of Vista, polls taken of the community attitude towards it are not unclear. As of 4 months ago, half of computer users didn’t even know what Vista was. Merely one-fifth of those people said that they’d likely upgrade. A month ago, things were even bleaker, so the article states, “According to Harris, as familiarity with Vista grew, its appeal lessened. When respondents were asked again in March, a full 87 percent knew of the new operating system. This time, however, only 12 percent said they would upgrade, while the number who said they would stick with their current operating system shot up to 67 percent. 20 percent remained unsure of their plans.”

Surprising? Nope.

Your best bet is to just forget about Vista and try out openSUSE or some Linux distribution for your desktop and server needs. Yes, Linux has gotten much better over the past few years. Remember that it’s advancement is accelerating more and more while Windows’ has all but flat-lined.

What makes this all even funnier is my brother. He is a Windows user. He is behind me, working on my dad’s freshly-installed machine. Not really a surprise to me that he has been swearing at it the entire time I have been writing this, complaining at how he can’t find this, and how hard it is to do that. He says, “Using this makes me feel like a one-legged elephant hopping through a tar pit.”

March 27, 2007

Software KVM switch : synergy on Linux

by @ 7:06 am. Filed under How-To, review, SUSE Tips & Tricks


One thing people really love is desktop real estate. Seriously, it’s a fundamental law of life: “Bigger is better.” Unless you’re referring to like a nail in your head or something. But generally, people like bigger, especially when it comes to their monitors. Lately, I’ve been using this sweet app that doesn’t quite give me a bigger monitor, but it does give me something very similar. It’s called “synergy.”

From the project website: “synergy lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware. It’s intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own monitor(s).” Translation: pretty much a software KVM switch.

The way it works is that you have a synergy server running on one machine, like your main desktop. You also have a synergy client running on another machine, like a laptop that you have next to you on your desk. When you drag your mouse past the edge of the screen on your desktop, the mouse cursor and current clipboard contents magically appear on the client machine, your laptop in this case.

Using synergy is very similar to having two monitors because you just drag the mouse between the two seamlessly. It is different because the monitor on the client machine is obviously not hard-wired directly to the main desktop, it is still driven by the machine it is connected to (the laptop, in this case). You have two completely separate systems controlled from a single mouse and keyboard. You don’t have to switch to that little tiny keyboard on your laptop or use the touchpad or eraser mouse on it, either. You just slap your mouse over to the edge of your desktop monitor, and it appears on your laptop monitor, and away you go.

The clipboard is shared, as well. If you hit a URL on the laptop that you want to open on the desktop, copy it to the clipboard, drag the mouse cursor back over to the desktop, open Firefox, and middle-click. Done.

What will really kick you in the head is that this program is cross-platform. It runs on Windows and Linux (apparently, not so well on Mac).

synergy is a bit of a paradigm shift to get used to, but when you do, you can’t live without it.

K, I can see that I have your attention, and you don’t want to screw around with figuring out how to make it work. You would like some brief quick-start instructions. So what are we waiting for?

To make this baby go, you need two computers. In my case, the server machine (my desktop) is an AMD 64-bit machine running SUSE 10.1. This machine is called tomahawk. The client machine (my laptop) is an Intel Duo machine running openSUSE 10.2. It is called laptop.

On each computer, do the following:

Install synergy

Open YAST => Software => Software Management. Search for ‘synergy‘, check the box next to it when it comes up, and click ACCEPT in the lower-right corner. synergy is installed accordingly.

Configure synergy

On the client machine, called laptop, I have put an appropriate entry in the /etc/hosts file for the desktop, which looks like this:

[0032][scott@laptop:~]$ cat /etc/hosts
# hosts         This file describes a number of hostname-to-address
#               mappings for the TCP/IP subsystem.  It is mostly
#               used at boot time, when no name servers are running.
#               On small systems, this file can be used instead of a
#               "named" name server.
# Syntax:
# IP-Address  Full-Qualified-Hostname  Short-Hostname
#       localhost   tomahawk


On the desktop, I had to create a small config file called synergy.conf, which looks like this:

[0031][scott@tomahawk:~]$ cat synergy.conf
    section: screens
    section: links
           left = laptop
           right = tomahawk


This file is just in my home directory (/home/scott/synergy.conf, in this case). Where ‘tomahawk‘ appears, that is my desktop. Where ‘laptop‘ appears, that is my… yes… laptop. In this configuration, the monitor on the right is the ‘tomahawk‘ monitor, and the monitor on the left is the ‘laptop‘ monitor. When the mouse is on ‘laptop‘, and it hits the right side, it will disappear and reappear on ‘tomahawk‘. Likewise, when the mouse is on the ‘tomahawk‘ monitor, and we run it off the left side of the screen, it will disappear and reappear on the ‘laptop‘ monitor.

Adjust the contents of this config file according to your setup.

Run synergy

Maybe someone else is more gifted than I am, but I was only able to get synergy working in foreground mode, and it would absolutely not run as a daemon. I did find a way around this, but if anyone else knows how to make it work right, please post a comment here so everyone else can have it, too.

commandline for tomahawk:

[0031][scott@tomahawk:~]$ synergys -f --config synergy.conf > /dev/null 2>&1 & 


Basically, run the synergy server in the foreground using ‘synergy.conf‘ as a config file, output everything to /dev/null, and run it in the background (this is the hack part). As far as synergy is concerned, it is running in the foreground, but from the point of view of my shell, it runs it in the background.

commandline for laptop:

[0032][scott@laptop:~]$ synergyc -f --name laptop tomahawk > /dev/null 2>&1 &


Run the synergy client in the foreground, identifying itself as the computer called ‘laptop‘, connecting to the computer called ‘tomahawk‘, sending all output to /dev/null, and have bash run it in the background.

Again, if anyone can tell me how to make it properly run in the background, I’m all ears.

You may test it a bit first without the ‘ > /dev/null 2>&1 &‘ at the end of the commandline. This will allow you to see all output. When you can see that it is connecting and working, restart with this extra stuff appended. Then, you will be able to close the terminal windows without synergy shutting down.

I have actually put these commandlines into bash scripts


Once you have this bad fool running, move your mouse around between your two monitors. Copy and paste URLs and other things between the two computers. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice productive setup working for you. I wonder if you can make this thing run between two dual-head systems. Or like twelve. Talk about retinal burn-in.

In case anyone is interested, it also plays nicely with XGL/beryl, which I also have running on my laptop.

All things considered, I enjoy synergy quite a bit, and it has become indispensable for me at home. I run all my always-on stuff on my laptop (thunderbird, gaim, etc), freeing up the resources on my desktop for the tasks at hand. It works out quite nicely.

March 21, 2007

KchmViewer, CHM files, and Resetting Windows Admin Passwords with Linux

by @ 6:56 am. Filed under ebook, review, SUSE Tips & Tricks

So I am reading through my billions of RSS articles yesterday, and I see this one regarding an ebook, called “Advanced Linux Networking.” I head over to the page, and download the book, only to see that it is in a format that I haven’t seen for awhile, CHM. At first, I wonder how I will be able to view it. After a quick search through YAST, I find that there is a package called kchmviewer.

This little application seems to do pretty well with these CHM files. I was able to open the ebook and read it just fine with KchmViewer:


click image for larger version

So should you ever need an app to view CHM files, check this one out. It’s a nice application.

As another testament to why I love Linux, let me relate a story.

At work, we have this ‘facilities’ guy (who shall remain nameless) who sets up computers for all the new hires each week. The other day, I was working away at my desk when he comes up and asks me if I have a few minutes. He says to me, “Don’t you have a Linux CD that can reset an Administrator password on a Windows machine?” I reply, “Why yes I do.” He says, “I think I may need to enlist your services.” I head over to his desk with my CD and boot the computer off it, showing him the prompts and what to choose from the menus. When all was said and done, the Administrator password on that Windows machine had been reset. He was able to reboot it and get right in without any trouble whatsoever.

Linux really is great.

March 19, 2007

openSUSE 10.3 Alpha2 Review + Extras

by @ 6:47 am. Filed under General SUSE, review, SUSE releases

I took a look at openSUSE 10.3 alpha2 this weekend on my laptop, specs as follows:

Intel Core Duo T2250 (1.73GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533 MHz FSB)
17 inch UltraSharp Wide Screen UXGA Display with TrueLife
2GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz
256MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS
120GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive

Installation looks the same as 10.2. I love that it sets up installation sources during the installation. I’m also pretty excited about the feedback it provides. Feedback is a principle of usability and industrial design. Basically, the questions are, “Is it clear what progress is being made? Does it help the user know when things are proceeding as expected? When things are not proceeding as expected?” openSUSE has become quite good at providing details on what is going on so you know that everything is still happening as it should.

The package management tool residing in the system tray has changed, yet again. This time, it’s nice to see that they have gotten much closer to something that is intuitive and usable. It is quite easy to figure out and use with minimal tinkering. When you first right-click on the opensuseupdater tool down in the system tray, a menu appears from which you can select “Add/Remove Update Sources…”, “Configure Applet…” or “Check now…”.

opensuseupdater Menu Screenshot

The “Add/Remove Update Sources” option takes you to the Configured Software Catalogs screen, which is basically your Installation Sources list. During installation, it added a couple of these for me.

Configure Software Catalogs Screenshot

(click image above for larger version)

From the opensuseupdater menu, if you select CONFIGURE APPLET, you can set how often and from where it should check for updates.

Configure opensuseupdater

As this is a step in the right direction, it needs many more options. For example, any time this stuff would run on 10.2, update-status and parse-metadata would bring my system to a crawl. How about allowing me to have it run in the background, renicing it, or something like that. Also, give me more control over how and when it runs. Can I schedule a time when it checks for newer packages like I can with the Online Update? Can I have it check and download all the updates but not install them (again, like the Online Update)? Lots of great direction, still a few things lacking in that part of the package manager, but it is very usable.

Being a KDE user, I am glad to see that it comes with 3.5.6. Other package versions included are OpenOffice 2.1.7, Firefox, gcc 4.1.3-37, gimp 2.2.13, gaim 1.5.0-104, and it comes with kernel version From what I understand, the final release will be shooting for Gnome 2.18/2.20, and may just very well have an early version of KDE 4 in it. Apparently, the KDE 3.5.x packages will still be available as the stable option.

One thing many users like is the suspend functionality. I tried unsuccessfully to wake the machine up when I tried SUSPEND TO RAM. However, when I did the SUSPEND TO DISK, everything worked perfectly. If you are interested in this method of putting the computer to sleep, you are in business. Likely by the time we have the goldenmaster available of 10.3, we will probably have the SUSPEND TO RAM stabilized a bit more.

Overall, though, The installation has shown me very few hiccups. Apparently, Your Mileage May Vary. My laptop sure runs it well.

A changelog for openSUSE 10.3 Alpha2 can be found here.

The package list is here.

For people who are deeply interested in the direction of openSUSE, I would recommend that you take a look at the FOSDEM 2007 page on There are PDFs, notes, and even videos of the event available.

It appears that a 21-page PDF is also available that was written on February 28 by Andreas Jaeger for his FOSDEM 2007 presentation. It outlines a strategy and some goals that the openSUSE team is considering and working towards for the final 10.3 release. For more information about this PDF, download it here.

If you are considering using Linux, but aren’t sure how to get started, I have a free course available from my blog site for anyone and everyone who wants to take a look at Linux. It’s a basic Intro to Linux course completely free of charge. Have a look, see what you think.

December 26, 2006

RSS Aggregators on openSUSE 10.2

by @ 7:45 am. Filed under My Opinion, review, SUSE Tips & Tricks

OK, so Christmas was great and everything. Presents and family, and honey-roasted ham… we spilled no fewer than 3 drinks on the dining-room floor that I personally mopped this very morning. No idea how many were spilled on the carpet. Much fun was had by all.

I also wanted to talk about RSS. This, to me, is the single greatest means of transmitting useful information that there is besides email. And maybe instant messenger.

Really briefly, RSS means “Really Simple Syndication”. It’s like a channel to which people can subscribe to receive the latest content on a given website. It is great for news, blogs, forum threads, or anything else that may be time-sensitive. You simply copy the URL of the RSS feed and paste it into an aggregator. This program then downloads and parses all of the RSS feeds to which you are subscribed. It may then give you ways to manage the articles, search through them, or whatever else. In any case, RSS is the man.

RSS feeds initially hit my scene around July of 2004. The first aggregator on my machine was RSSOwl. It had lots of great features but it seemed like it crashed a lot.

Akregator was the next RSS reader installed for trial. It seemed usable enough. There were a couple of bugs, which I reported, but overall, it was very usable. It fared much better than RSSOwl, but couldn’t filter things very well. What it does offer is the ability to search through the feeds, but does not allow one to save the searches for availability later. That annoys the snot out of me. It also does not allow direct filtration. Again, I need a box of Kleenexes. Overall, Akregator does seem quite a bit snappier and more responsive. It does all of the basics really well. It definitely misses some of the essentials, such as filters and saved searches.

I then learned that Thunderbird could aggregate RSS feeds, and would let me filter them into different folders, too. Ever since ths fact was discovered, my RSS feeds have been aggregated by nothing else. Thunderbird allows for import and export of the feeds in an OPML file (which most aggregators do now). Mostly, I appreciate it and use it because of its rule-based filters and its stability. Two huge beefs I have with Thunderbird: 1) It is slower than mold growing uphill in Winter. As we already know, waiting gives me cancer. And 2) When I have “Unread” selected in the filter bar at the top, and I go into a given folder containing feeds, it doesn’t only show the Unread news articles. It shows them all. Sometimes, I have to click around on different folders and come back to even show any at all, when I know darn well it’s full of them.

Thunderbird is agonizingly slow as an aggregator, and has some funky bugs that really shouldn’t be there. However, I do greatly like the filters.

I have also taken a look at Liferea. It has some excessively cool filtration, searching, and the ability to save searches as virtual folders. It is quite a bit more responsive than Thunderbird, but not quite as much so as Akregator. It is also quite unstable on a 64-bit machine, and crashed 4 times just tonight. Overall, I think it has the most of the features that I personally am looking for.

RSSOwl found its way onto my machine again, tonight. It seemed like it would be a good idea to see how far it had come in the last couple of years. To be honest, the stability had improved quite dramatically. RSSOwl had redeemed itself and had made quite a positive impression.

Unable to make up my mind, it was time for the old comparison spreadsheet trick. The first task was to come up with some criteria that were important to me personally. Next, a weight was given to the importance (to me) of each criterion. Having done that, I listed all of the aggregators that were to be tested.

We had a bullet-proof system (or something) for selecting the best aggregator.

Below is a graph with the results of my evaluations of each of the aggregators. In the first column is each of the criteria. In the next column is how important that particular criterion is to me personally. Then there are the individual aggregator columns. In the left column is my grade for that aggregator. In the right column is my grade multiplied by the weight. At the bottom of each column is the total score for each aggregator. The image links to a spreadsheet that you can download. If you want, you can adjust the importance of each criterion to see which aggregator may fit your needs the best.

I also checked to see how long it would take to start up. I instructed each aggregator to download all feeds upon startup. The startup times listed below thus include the time to start the application and download all RSS feeds.

Aggregator Scores


As it appears that Liferea is my favorite RSS aggregator in terms of functionality, it is way too unstable for a 64-bit machine. Second most interesting to me is Thunderbird, which I have been using for about a year and a half. RSSOwl and Akregator are fine, but lack some necessary functionality, though they are both stabler and more responsive than Liferea and Thunderbird.

One of my very biggest problems is that I have about 150 RSS feeds to sort through. That is quite a bit of information overload. Hence the need for good saved searches or virtual folders.

Now for the big question: What slick little tips and tricks does anyone have to manage your RSS feeds, search through them, sort them, or otherwise optimize your experience? Any thoughts on managing the information overload?

I’m hoping that someday, someone will come out with Bayesian filtering for topics. That would be very helpful for me. In the meantime, please share your pointers.

December 11, 2006

DVDs, MP3s, and everything else on openSUSE 10.2

by @ 8:32 am. Filed under General SUSE, review, SUSE releases

After receiving the news of the final release of openSUSE 10.2, it seemed a good idea to take a look at it on my laptop. Additionally, it seemed a good idea to give Andreas Jaeger (Nice guy, by the way. We had lunch at Ruby Tuesday once.), Michael Loeffler, and all the great SUSE people the benefit of the doubt. With 10.1 there were major issues with the package manager. It was reasonable to believe that they’d be on high alert to keep any such problems from happening with 10.2. Thus, it was downloaded, put on the nearest blank DVD, and promptly installed onto my laptop, the specs of which are as follows:

Yes, a beast unparalleled in power and speed, I know.

For some reason unknown to all of humanity, when reviewing a given distribution (or version thereof), you have to include at least something about the installation. This next bit will satisfy such requirements.

The installation process of openSUSE is as foolproof and easy as it can possibly be. It felt quite familiar with one sincerely major improvement.

First, let me preface this by explaining that waiting for things gives me cancer. I would rather embed railroad spikes into my face than wait for stuff. This is further aggravated when there is no kind of feedback that something is ocurring that will eventually lead to accomplishment of the desired goal.

As a total random and hypothetical example: Let’s say that during the installation of your favorite Linux distribution, it checks for an Internet connection. As part of this test, it will install an update source for you so that you can get security patches and such updates. Let’s say that this process takes no less than 15 minutes (yes it does, I timed it). And provides no feedback that it is working properly and has not hung.

This pretty much equals me in a straight jacket in a padded room and no sharp objects within 12 miles of said room.

Well, that’s what would happen during the installation of SUSE 10.1. I would have to grab my favorite Lycia/Enya/Lewellyn CD, go out onto my living room couch, and get my therapist on the phone while coping with the trauma of waiting for this to finish. Once I tried waiting through this step just sitting in front of the computer. I woke up the next day with thirteen stitches in my face and my cat had mysteriously disappeared.

Much to my delight, in openSUSE 10.2, throughout the steps of detecting the Internet connection and setting up installation sources and update sources, I counted about 65 feedback dialogs with slick little progress bars and even textual descriptions of what was happening. Boy, late at night with a little caffeine, ADD can make this part actually quite mesmerizing. All the progress bars, dialog boxes, and everything are actually quite interesting to watch. It is also very helpful to know that one is waiting for something that is actually making progress.

Did I mention that I liked the progress bars while waiting for stuff? That is one very nice thing for users to have: feedback when something is happening, so that we know why we’re waiting for things.

Oh, it also took only about 60 seconds to set up the update source as opposed to around 15 minutes in 10.1. The openSUSE folks sure made some progress with the experience design, if nothing else.

One thing that received nothing from me but a 30-second blank stare was this bizarre menu that appeared when I clicked on the K Menu (KDE all the way, baby):



Come again? What the heck is that? Before getting too excited, I tried out the right-click function on that menu. There was an option that said, “Switch to KDE Menu Style,” which I attacked unflinchingly. To my delight, the familiar K Menu gear icon appeared. Clicking it yielded the menu I had come to know and love.

I’m not sure what was happening there with that other menu, but I personally don’t like it a bit. Anyone who knows, please help me understand that one.

As a bit of obsessive compulsion, I have this small guide that I’ve written for myself that allows me to customize KDE to work EXACTLY how I want it to. That’s nice, because when I expect something to work a certain way, and it doesn’t, it usually ends up broken, melted, or launched off the nearest overpass. To avoid such incidents with KDE, my handy little setup guide comes in quite…. well…. handy.

After getting that all squared away, I headed into Firefox. openSUSE 10.2 comes with Firefox 2, which is quite slick, I must say. It’s very nice to use. Especially with my favorite plugins: Adblock Plus, Fasterfox, and Bookmark Sync and Sort. If you have any that you recommend, please let me know so I can enjoy them, too.

Next, you’d think that I would install all my software. Well, before you can do that, it’s a good idea to set up your installation sources, so that you can get all the latest software the first time you install it. Otherwise, you install the software, put in your install sources, and then update the software. As this implies waiting, and because of my aversion to cancer, I don’t do it that way.

The installation sources I used for openSUSE 10.2 (32-Bit) are as follows:

Note the nVidia install source. If you are using ATI, I recommend instead of the nVidia one.

If you are unfamiliar with how to set up installation sources, see the “Installation Sources” section of my guide for doing this on SUSE 10.0.

After I set all these babies up, I clicked FINISH, and a dialog box came up that said, “Synchronizing with ZENworks.” Unfortunately, this box was up for like three minutes with no feedback. Just as I was deciding whether to reach for the Xanax or a claw hammer, the box disappeared, and the Installation Sources window closed with it.

So far, we are in great shape.

I then headed into YAST and updated packages to any newer versions that may exist. If you are not familiar with how to do this, please see the “Global Package Version Update” section of my guide for doing this on SUSE 10.0.


Realistically, I must throw this in: I don’t recommend performing a system-wide unconditional update on all packages for a production machine. ESPECIALLY if that machine is a server. ESPECIALLY if that machine is a server you are running at work.


So, I just went head and did an unconditional system-wide package update, because having bleeding edge packages makes you a l33t h4X0R.

Next up: Making the thing play DVDs.

Really, it’s about this easy:

Uninstall whatever version of xine that you have installed.

Add Packman as an installation source.

Install the xine package from Packman (you may want to disable all other install sources, just to make sure it comes from Packman for sure).

Install the libdvdcss package, also.

Sleepy Hollow actually plays quite decently on that laptop.

Next, go into YAST and install Amarok, Helix, Mplayer, w32codec-all, and all packages related to xine. That will get you playing MP3s and the various video files you’ll find around on the Internet.

Multimedia-enabled, I went ahead and installed my other programs like gaim, thunderbird, xchat, and a subversion client.

My first impressions? I like the improvements. It is the first one that feels like something my mom could use, and something my dad could likely install. Gone are the days of Linux being for tech geeks only. If you have been thinking about trying out Linux, now is a great time to install openSUSE 10.2. I think you’ll be glad that you did.

Here are some other reviews, etc., about openSUSE 10.2:

OpenSUSE Linux Rants
Official OpenSUSE Linux Site

internal links:


SUSE Resources

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