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OpenSUSE 12.3…. Beauty sans Brains

One of the primary reasons I was attracted to Linux was the due to the visual aspect of the whole thing. Now, I know that this becomes a paradoxical statement on my part when I string beauty and Linux in the same sentence! The common (and in my opinion illogical) perception of Linux is that it is extremely clunky and not at all user friendly. The terminal, the Microsoft FUDs and geeky imagery attached with it has not helped it either. But, Linux, in the visual sense is simply beautiful! I was mesmerized by the breath-taking visuals of SuSE Linux 9! KDE3, the beautiful crystal icons, the green tinge, the smooth icons; everything reeked of professionalism. And what did I have next to it? Windows ME! Enough said.

But that was 2004. Fast forward to nearly a decade to the present day. I have been a wholehearted user of Linux at home, with most of my work done on Ubuntu. Moreover, thanks to Wine and Google Drive, I can do my office work on Linux without any difficulty whatsoever. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to give the latest incarnation of OpenSUSE 12.3 a try. OpenSUSE is the free version of SuSE Enterprise Linux, akin to Fedora for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is a community driven testbed for new software! As in most distros, it comes in various flavours, such as GNOME, KDE, XFCE etc. I downloaded the KDE version, since I was most acquainted with it on a SuSE system, using it nearly after a decade. The Live CD ISO does not work with UnetBootIn, but has its own USB installation tool called Image Writer.

Dark Opening

Dark Opening

Booting the distribution from a USB stick, I was presented with a beautiful desktop, with a darkish theme and all, giving it Mint-ish look! During live boot, the OS detected my LAN connection but could not find the wireless LAN setting. The installation process was fairly easy, but quite detailed, akin to Anaconda, the Fedora installer.

Whenever, Wherever

Whenever, Wherever

The installation system is well integrated, with YaST handling it superbly. It has quite a few steps, including a EULA-like disclaimer! The hard disk selection was complicated to say the least, but once you got the hang of it, the system is extremely powerful too.

Gimme some space!

Gimme some space!

Time and Location selection had been lifted straight out of a page from Ubuntu, with a similar geographic map, but power users can also select from the menus provided below. If connected to the internet, the installer allows you to install other packages at one go as well, which is , great for unattended installations. The installation, due to its complexity, longer than Ubuntu and its derivatives. Post installation, the installer asks for a reboot. After the reboot, I had seen everything! The most beautiful GRUB menu on a computer! Just google it to see what it looks like! Unlike Ubuntu though, the system does not reboot to the desktop with runlevel 5 activated, it proceeds to download the latest updates as well. After updating, I finally get to see the installed desktop. The desktop is an absolute copy of the Live USB system, without the Installer icon of course!

Finally.....

Finally…..

The operating system comes with a decent suite of applications. There is Firefox for internet browsing as well as the veritable KDE Konqueror, pus there lies LibreOffice productivity suite. For multimedia, Amarok is present as well. Moreover, there were some quirky programs here and there! For example, the system came with certain games as well as Marble, the KDE Atlas. All programs feel tightly integrated in to the system, with Firefox feeling like a KDE program, and LibreOffice having OpenSUSE branding. There were some rough ends as well. The system could not detect my internet connection, either over LAN or over Wi-Fi. A few tweaks here and there, and I had access to porn! The Network Management icon at the taskbar was also a source of visual irritation. It contrasted in all of its coloured glory with the rest of the

Ugh! Icon Mismatch!

Ugh! Icon Mismatch!

monochrome icons! The best thing about OpenSUSE has to be YaST. It is the perfect Control Panel for controlling nearly every aspect of the distribution. Though most Linux enthusiasts I know prefer to dabble with text files to change settings,

Yet another Control Panel

Yet another Control Panel

YaST gives them a similar amount of control while in a comfortable GUI environment. For those who prefer to work from the console, YaST has an ncurses environment too. Moreover, the classic Linux text file approach still works! So everyone gets to be happy.

Hard @ Work

Hard @ Work

Doin' the Dolphin

Doin’ the Dolphin

For all that jazz though there were problems aplenty! First off, the newly installed system could not connect to the internet over either Wi-Fi or LAN. There was a problem with the network management daemon. I guess it conflicted with the YaST network tool, since selecting YaST with ifup to configure the network worked flawlessly. If the daemon did not work, it should have been made to choose YaST and ifup as the default network selection tool. Moreover, the system failed to update repositories. It failed to find the repomd.xml file, which resulted in the error. A quick google search and the generous folks at the OpenSUSE forum made updating easy and flawless. All of this happened at the course of a single boot instance in a single day! Again, this showed the shoddy work by the SuSE quality team! And….. Why was LibreOffice stuck at 3.6, while KDE was at 4.10? Beats me hands down!

Overall, the system is okay, though not frugal on resources. Yet it does not feel sluggish. In fact, KDE, with more RAM usage worked better than what Unity did in the same machine. Since OpenSUSE uses the RPM package management system, it is not as streamlined as the Debian based distros with APT! On the whole though, I am quite happy with OpenSUSE 12.3, even though there are niggles which makes it look more like a side project by a small company, compared to coming from industry giant Novell.

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In to the realm of Text Browsers

Web browsers…. Aah, the necessary evil in our day-to-day computing! To simply browse the web, you need one. Even as I am typing, I am doing it on a Web Browser (No seriously, I am actually typing in in Kate, the KDE text editor!) But we just can’t do without them. Modern web browsers are a chock-a-block full of exciting features, with plugin support, multimedia support and what not! They come preinstalled on almost modern operating systems – on Windoze, you have the crappy Internet Explorer; on Mac OS X, you get Safari; even on cell phones (both the smart and the dumb ones) you have some form of a web browser. Well, modern web browsers come with various fallacies….. Just take a look at Internet Explorer, the classic monopoly web browser, it has more security holes than a used target marquee. Then comes Firefox, with a huge RAM footprint! And I kid you not, just try opening 3 Facebook tabs on Firefox running on Windows 7 on a netbook………. you’ll get the picture! And lastly Google Chrome, with probably the crappiest interface ever, not to forget buggy Flash plugin support! Plus there is JavaScript, PHP, ASP.Net and other scripting languages which in my humble opinion is the worst thing to happen to the Internet since Adobe Flash (when are people going to use HTML5?). For privacy advocates and EFF nuts, it is an absolute nightmare, but the worst part of these scripting systems is the fact that they are in no way system-friendly, or privacy friendly….

No, today I am not gonna talk about the usual web browsers. My post today is about Text-Based web browsers, browsers that you can run from a console or command line. It is a new thing I am exploring, and the gains I get is more than enough to make me want to make one of the following browsers my secondary browser.

I used my Netbook (Asus EEE PC, 1.6GHz Intel Atom Processor with 1GB RAM) for the test purpose with Debian unstable Linux system. I used three common text based browsers for the test – Links, Lynx and w3m….. So gather all ye belongins’ and lets take this epic journey into the realms of console text browsing!

Links

Google

Google

This classic web browser is in my opinion the most comfortable and user-friendly of the ones I have tested. It features an N-Curses style pull-down menu, similar to the classic EDIT text editor on DOS. The menu makes it much more comfortable to navigate through various options, than by using commands.

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Having partial HTML 4 support, the browser is simply awesome for text-rich and link-rich (forgive the pun) pages such as Wikipedia. It renders complex web-pages in a simple no-frills style and lacks support for JavaScript which in a way is good, since it becomes the perfect browser for Tor and I2P networks. You can find more information at the Wikipedia page (which saves me from content duplication!). I rank it 4/5.

Lynx

Google

Google

This browser is simply a beast! Great style, maximum control and exquisite performance…. I cannot help but compare it to a Sports Bike. You have to be knowledgeable just to operate it properly! It does not feature menus like Links, but is operated by keyboard shortcuts. For those who have studied and mastered those keyboard shortcuts, I reckon it would be nothing short of an orgasm. Named after the animal (and I believe a pun to hyper-LINKS, not after the Ubuntu edition), this browser simply kicks ASS! It is the oldest web browser still currently in development, and it shows! It has full HTML codebase support as well as support for cookies, too!

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

The best part of it is the display…… sleek and colourful in all its 8-bit glory! It still does not support JavaScript, making it a good contender for browsing dodgy networks and webpages. You can find more information at the following Wikipedia page. I give Lynx 3.5/5.

w3m

Google

Google

This is the creme-de-la-creme of Text Browsers. It comes with a shortcut-key approach, similar to Lynx. The browser has the best visual display of all three text-based browsers. For those into Emacs, it is perfect for web-browsing inside a text editor! The browser comes with its own range of goodies. Like the previous two browsers, it does not support JavaScript, but I have not yet found any browser to display HTML with such grandeur. It comes the closest to maintaining the layout of the page, even in text mode. The best part of the browser is that, unlike the other two, where the cursor moves from hyperlink to hyperlink, the w3m browser makes the cursor free to move, allowing you to move it anywhere over the text (and even white space) you please.

Wikipedia English Landing Page

Wikipedia English Landing Page

The w3m browser also uses cookies to store information, which can be de-activated of course! When selecting an Input field, the browser creates a text-entry box at the bottom line, allowing you with greater flexibility to type away! Wikipedia has a great page on w3m. On my end, I rate it 3.5/5.

Conclusion

One might ask, what is the need for text-browsing in the era of Google Chrome and Firefox. Well, I believe, if you are doing serious stuff using the command line, on any one of those tty consoles, and need a browser, a text browser becomes extremely handy. Moreover, with the removal of features such as JavaScript, these browsers become are lightweight, fast and extremely safe. For me though, Links works perfectly – though it has very poor text display, still the presence of menus changes the deal for superior control compared to Lynx and w3m.

Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10 Unleashed!

29th October 2009 was one of the most anticipated days in the whole computing and Linux community, with a lot of hype being generated by Canonical for its flagship Linux distro, Ubuntu Linux. With Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Apple’s Mac OS X releasing in the fall along with Ubuntu 9.10, the OS market was in for a 3-way match. Like most others I also waited for Ubuntu to launch, being stuck in my brand new Compaq CQ40 laptop with the ghastly Windows Vista.

Installation


I finally found the link on 30th October. Downloading it took ages, due to all the traffic (an unbelievable 8 hours). Then quickly I downloaded the UNetBootIn program for Windows (2 A.M. in the morning and no blank CD at hand), installed it on my USB stick and booted it. The boot screen it presented was reminiscent of previous Ubuntu versions I’ve used (8.04 and 8.10). Canonical had changed the default usplash theme into a very Apple-esque style, a pulsing white Ubuntu logo. Booting into it, it showed a very cool Orange desktop, and the now familiar Ubuntu installer icon. Most of the hardware worked out-of-the-box, including my bluetooth adapter, the Alps touchpad, RealTek Ethernet, (Debian couldn’t run this baby.) No wireless networking and compositing graphics, though. The “Hardware Drivers” detected it though. And my final hardware test that only Debian could pass, a rare Chinese USB modem was detected by Ubuntu 9.10, though it could not run it through Network-Manager. I had to use pppconfig to set it up. Finally, being satisfied with the hardware options, I installed it on my hard disk. Forgetting that I had only two partitions, one of 11 GB and the rest being approximately 300 GB. I had to reinstall Windows Vista changing my partitions to my preference. (Need Vista, most of my hardware like sound-card and SD-MMC reader has no driver, so XP doesn’t work. Plus Linux still doesn’t run Need For Speed and GTA.) I rebooted my USB drive with Ubuntu and installed. The standard Ubuntu installer is still there, with the added advantage of being twice faster. (Could be due to I’m running it from a USB stick). The installer though has a minor bug. During selecting the clock, the distro changes the setting of my hardware clock, considering the BIOS clock time to be based as USA Eastern. No hitches other than that.

First Look

Ubuntu made me realize the potential of my AMD AthlonX2, with 3GB of RAM (standard fare). But still, for me, coming from a PC having only a Intel Pentium 4 with 256 MB of RAM, it looks damn fast. I plugged in my LAN wire provided by my college and quickly installed the Broadcom wireless drivers and the ATI Radeon drivers for my graphics card. Voila, desktop compositing and squiggly windows in a single click! Ubuntu comes with a neat load of features. The audio backend is less buggy than 8.10 (nice work by the PulseAudio team). The audio properties window also has a “overdrive” system, where the volume can be increased up to 150%. In my laptop the function keys also work nice, and the notifications look cool. The default list of programs are well a standard that Ubuntu has set for other distros to follow. OpenOffice.org 3.1, Gimp, Totem, F-Spot are standard fare. The new ones include Empathy IM client, Ubuntu One and Ubuntu Software Center. I don’t know why Ubuntu decided to add Empathy, removing the trusted Pidgin IM client. They could have worked with Pidgin to integrate it better with Gnome. Anyways, Empathy sucks! The help is useless. I could not get onto Yahoo! Chat rooms with Empathy, it asked for servers. Pidgin got that in a flash. Ubuntu Software Center is just a modified version of “Add/Remove Programs” in previous Ubuntu versions. Ubuntu One is a cloud storage support, free up to 2 GB, something that currently Microsoft Windows does not provide (Windows 7 does have such an option though but it’s not cheap.) Time to have some fun!

Fun Time

With the basics set up, it was time to set up my PC the way I like. I installed the codecs for most of the audio/video formats (gstreamer good, bad and ugly) as well as the Avant Windows Navigator, set it up to look cooler, with a MAC OS X style look, and changed some other options. Still I had not yet touched the command line, installing everything from Synaptic. I decided to try the command line a bit,

$ sudo apt-get install vlc dosbox fluidsynth qsynth timidity fluid-soundfont-gm fluid-soundfont-gs

OpenOffice opens Microsoft Office 2007 documents by default, the ‘de-facto’ standard nowadays in corporate places. Feeling a bit sorry and nostalgic about Windows, and the old days, I installed Windows 3.11 (something I found on a certain abandonware site, won’t tell which one. More about that later.) running on top of Ubuntu and Dosbox.

Things I missed in Ubuntu

There is nothing I can say I dislike about Ubuntu 9.10 though I miss certain things that I found better in other Linux distros (their USP I guess). First of all, though it is simplified for a ordinary user to use, it does not have a proper Control Panel, ala Windows. SuSE has their YaST, which currently is open source, so it’s high time Canonical incorporated something like that in Ubuntu. If you need more control in Ubuntu, you have to hit the Terminal, something that scares the hell out of novice people. The RTFM approach might work for Gentoo, but never for Ubuntu. Secondly, the brown/orange theme, though being very cool, looks sickening after some time (personal opinion, nothing to do with Ubuntu!). On a scale of 10 I would rate it 9/10, it is a very cool distro, something I would like to keep on my laptop until Ubuntu 10.4 comes out.