Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to create a desktop wallpaper slideshow in Ubuntu Linux 10.04 (Lucid Lynx)

A popular feature in other OS's and one quite often requested in Linux, is the ability to cycle through a directory of images as your desktop background. Gnome and therefore Ubuntu actually do support this already and have for a long time, however its not easily configured in the GUI like setting a static wallpaper is.

If you go to your appearance preferences and change your background, you may notice a stack of images. This is the 'Cosmos' wallpaper. It is an XML file containing the paths to multiple images. To make your own slideshow, you need to copy this XML file and edit the image paths to the locations of the files you wish to display. Simple enough when you know how to do it, but a bit tedious to say the least.

Today I will show you step-by-step how to create and apply your own wallpaper slideshow, and to make it really easy for you I have created a utility to automate the process.

To use my program for automating this process:

1) Download 'Wallpaper Slideshow'
2) Extract the 125178-wallpaper.tar.gz

3) Double click 'wallpaper'
4) Click 'Run'

5) Select folder containing your pictures

6) Change the time to display each image and transition time (Optional)

7) Click 'OK'

Hopefully Gnome will incorporate a similar utility directly into the Appearance preferences in future release.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to install proprietary codecs on Ubuntu Linux 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) Flash, MP3, DVD

Most Linux distributions, Ubuntu included, ship with only "free software". Not just free as in price, but free as in freedom. That is software that is free of patents, licensing restrictions, copyright restrictions and DRM (digital rights management), where the source is fully available for anyone to modify or extend. Free software has many benefits and in many cases, free software is of much greater quality than its proprietary or commercial counterparts.

Shipping without proprietary software, also means shipping without proprietary media codecs such as Mp3, AAC, Flash, Mpeg4 (DVD) or h.264 (HTML5, Blu-Ray and many others). Instead they come with codecs such as Ogg Vorbis and Flac for music and Theora for video. These are wonderful formats and I am lucky to have all my computers and devices running Linux so I can take full advantage of them. However, device support across the board is not so great, and for those less fortunate, or those just getting into Linux, who might have large collections of media stored in "bad" formats, their media will not play out-of-box on Linux. You may simply just wish to watch YouTube, play your own DVD's, or listen to music purchased online from the Ubuntu One Music store for instance, which also because of licensing constraints and even because of legal issues in some countries cannot be played on a fresh install of Linux.

Well have no fear, you can play pretty much anything on Linux, very easily, you don't even need to visit the terminal. Just follow my simple video below:

If you don't already have Flash installed and cannot watch the video here is what to do:

1) Open 'Software Center' from the Applications menu
2) Search for 'Ubuntu restricted extras' and click 'Install' then enter your password at the prompt -- the install may take some time, it is downloading and installing tons of media codecs

You now have support for most media except for playing back encrypted (commercial) DVD's, to add support for encrypted DVD's:

3) Press 'Alt' and 'F2' on your keyboard at the same time to bring up the run dialog
4) Type 'gksudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/' and click 'Run' -- the command will run and you will not see a confirmation unless you check the 'Run in terminal' option, either way it will only take a few seconds

That's it, You can playback just about all of the popular media codecs in use today! Most people will can stop at this point.

So what about the more obscure formats? If you want to be able to play just about any format imaginable (and then some) there are just a few more steps. This is one of the few times that I will request you use a terminal, because it really is a much easier route to take.

1) Open a new terminal by going to your Applications menu, then Accessories and click 'Terminal'
2) Copy and paste the following command and press Enter:
echo "deb lucid free non-free" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list
3) Copy and paste the following command and press Enter:
wget -q -O- | sudo apt-key add - && sudo apt-get update
4) Open 'Software Center' from the Applications Menu
5) Search for 'non-free codecs' and click 'Install'

Monday, May 17, 2010

How to change titlebar button location on Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx

Why did Canonical designers decide to put the title bar buttons on the totally unusable position of the left hand side? I can bet you a pretty big part of it is because Canonical has hired a new design team to work on the new branding, and they happen to all be using the totally unusable Macintosh OS X. While I'm not going to go into the details of the usability issues with LHS buttons vs RHS buttons or the politics of Canonical using Mac's to design Ubuntu, what I will do is show you how to change them back to the "Correct" location on the right hand side.

Like most things with Linux there are several ways to accomplish this (and without touching the terminal). You can:

1) Use gconf-editor
2) Use Ubuntu Tweak (which sets the gconf key for you)
3) Customize an existing RHS theme

However, all of these methods will reset back to the left the instant you go clicking around in your appearance preferences. If you want to make it stick and be able to switch themes at any time you will need a new theme. You can either download a theme or create one yourself very easily.

The video below will show you have to create a new RHS theme.

Now you have the benefit of keeping the default theme but with the button layout changed, and you can switch between LHS, RHS or any other theme as you wish, without having to reset your tweaks or gconf keys each time you change your appearance settings, which for most people means finding your old bookmark or searching Google to find those confusing instructions again.

If you are the type that would rather download the theme, I have made my customized theme available. As an added bonus, it also adds the application icon to the menu.

1) Download Ambiance (Right)
2) Go to the System menu and select Preferences > Appearance
4) On the 'Theme' tab, click the 'Install' button
5) Find '125070-MyAmbiance.tar.gz' in your Downloads folder and click 'Open'
6) Select the 'MyAmbiance' theme from the list

At least those designers only job is the artwork. I would hate to see Gnome's Nautilus suffer to the lackluster usability of Apple's Finder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Debunking Linux #2: A Tour of Ubuntu Linux

One of the most common things I hear about Linux is that "It doesn't do anything" or "To do anything you are required to type a bunch of commands in the terminal". This spawns likely from 2 things:

1) From the infancy of the GUI in the mid-late '90s. But what was it pitted against? Windows 95 and Windows 98 in the Windows camp, and System 7 and System 8 on the Mac side of things (if you want to even consider a Mac side existed in that period before Microsoft bailed out Apple). The Linux GUI at the time consisted of windowing toolkits left over from Unix which was heavily console based. Gnome hadn't reached version 1 yet and KDE was not even a sparkle in someones eye. Would you still compare the latest OS X to Windows 95? Hell, I would even argue that the Windows 95 GUI was more functional then than the OS X of today! But that's may be a topic for another time. So why do people still compare the '70s Unix desktop to the Linux desktop of the 2010s? Because, either they haven't bothered to take a look at a recent release or have never bothered to look personally at any release and are just repeating the F.U.D they read online.

2) Because a lot of online documentation and tutorials reference how to do things via a terminal. There is nothing wrong with this, the terminal is easily accessed and very powerful. Often times it is much quicker to type a command (or copy and paste if you are following a guide), than it is to interact with a GUI. And it is definitely a lot easier to walk someone through a one line command than to try to explain to them every single mouse movement, button press and keystroke in a GUI and having to use outlined screenshots and videos to convey your information.

Ubuntu Linux 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) was just released on April 29. It is a modern Linux distribution and features the latest Gnome Desktop for its user interface. They both follow a strict 6 month release cycle between releases and almost daily updates between releases. This ensures your computer is always up to date with the latest bug fixes, security enhancements and new features available. No more waiting 6 years between OS releases only to get a new theme and new hardware incompatibilities. This release adds two new themes (with a high resemblance to OS X), faster boot up and shutdown speeds, social networking integration, better desktop integration with Ubuntu One giving you 2GB of free cloud storage, a new Music Store and a lot more.

In the last Debunking Linux we looked at how fast and easy it is to install Ubuntu. Today we will look at what you get by default when you install it. The following video contains only software installed by default. The only setup done prior is installing video drivers, setting up email, chat and broadcast accounts and setting location. All of this is done easily using the menus on the top right of the screen. Also MP3 support was installed which you are prompted to install the first time you open Rhythmbox or access the Ubuntu One Music Store. Warning, the video moves very fast but it is the best I could do trying to cram so many features into the 10 minute constraints of YouTube.

Here is a list of what we just saw:

1) Installing software through the Ubuntu Software Center
2) Installing updates to all of your software through the Update Manager
3) Check and compose Email, Manage your to-do list and calendar and Send out meeting invitations with Evolution
6) Integration to chat and broadcast accounts with all your favorite social sites
7) Communicating with friends in chat and Facebook/Twitter with Empathy and Gwibber
8) Watch a DVD with Totem
9) Import music from CD, Copy music to and from an iPod, Listen to social radio, and browse the Ubuntu One Music Store from Rhythmbox
10) Import, Manage, Edit and Export photos with F-Spot
11 Open Word documents, Powerpoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets with and PDF's with Evine
12) Tabbed file browsing, two-pane browsing and connecting to network shared folders with Nautilus
13) Watch YouTube with Firefox and Totem
14) Manage your windows and organize your desktop with virtual desktops
15) Customize your themes and appearance

That is a lot of functionality there, right out of the box, without ever having to visit the terminal to enter a command. There is so much more that I didn't have time to include such as:

1) Creating slideshows and dvd's
2) Creating home movies and uploading them to YouTube or Facebook
3) Synchronizing your files, contacts, bookmarks, notes and music between your computers using Ubuntu One cloud storage
4) Connecting remotely to Windows, Mac or Linux computer with RDP or desktop sharing
5) Central account management and secure storage of keys and passwords
6) Advanced desktop management and desktop effects
7) Using Linux to clean or restore your broken or virus infected Windows OS

And this just barely scratches the surface of what is possible when you install additional software and customize your desktop. We will visit some of these features in more depth in following Debunkings and How-To's.

So what do you think? Is Linux a viable desktop alternative? Are tasks easy to accomplish without resorting to the terminal? Does the desktop environment look and act as you would expect a modern computer to? Are there other features you would like me to cover in the future? Use the comment button below to communicate with me.