Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kobo disses Linux

The day before Thanksgiving, I had found a great deal on something I had been pining to get ever since my cousin got one: an ebook reader. Now, I had ebook reading apps on my Android phone and Linux desktop, but the phone's screen is too small for proper book reading compared to tablets and ereaders like the Kindle. So I was stoked to find that Dollar General was selling this ebook reader for a jaw-dropping $50 on Thanksgiving Day only(I should have waited a week as it's now $45 for Christmas). So I ordered it online on Thanksgiving and received it in the mail on Monday.

After fiddling around with it a bit, I figured out how to add ebooks to it via USB to my Linux desktop PC. An easy affair, but today I wanted to give the Kobo bookstore a try, since the ereader's maker claimed that it worked with Kobo.

Unfortunately, Kobo failed me here. It turns out that Kobo follows the "iTunes/iPod" model when syncing to ereaders that lack internet capability. The ereader I bought did come bundled with the Kobo Desktop app, but only for Windows and Mac. There's no Linux version at all(officially at least), and when I got an ebook via the Kobo webstore, it doesn't give the option to download the ebook for USB transfer to the reader. So I'm left with no way to put Kobo-bought books on my device.

But instead of slamming Kobo for this, I'd like to suggest a solution for this lack of Linux support(I'm aware there is an "unofficial" Debian-based port of Kobo Desktop, but it's 32-bit only and won't install on my 64-bit machine): Make an OS-agnostic web version of the Kobo Desktop app. Or at the very least enable USB syncing via the web bookstore. Until such a solution is made, my only options are getting non-DRM ebooks elsewhere or get a different ebook reader with better Linux support(meaning either way that Kobo loses my business).

Update: I have installed the Windows version of Kobo Desktop via Wine, and it works great except that the app won't recognize the ereader when I connect it via USB . So I've made some progress, but the main complaint still stands.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ubuntu Natty Narwhal Alpha 3: State of Unity Review

A while back I gave a pretty harsh review of Ubuntu Natty Alpha 1, to the point where I basically ran back screaming to Maverick Meerkat. Well, as I promised in the comments, I've given it another shot with the latest alpha release. The short review is this: Unity has progressed nicely, but still needs some polishing work, and be prepared for quite a few desktop workflow changes.

Unity: Almost there

Unity desktop on Alpha 3

Unity has definitely come a long way since Alpha 1 tortured me to death, but it still isn't quite polished enough for me to use as a decent desktop. But still, there's a lot improvements worth talking about. First, all the desktop launchers I had on my ~/Desktop directory no longer clutter up Unity's sidebar, although it's not immediately apparent how I can go about adding a launcher to it if I want to. When you launch an application like Firefox, you'll notice something quite jarring at first but makes sense given Canonical's recent design changes: the application menus are no longer shown in the application window(with a few exceptions), but rather on the top of the screen, like how it is on Mac OS X. After messing around with applications a bit, I quickly got used to it and don't consider it a bad change.

One other little improvement is that the sidebar hides itself whenever an active application window goes fullscreen or is moved over to left side of the screen.

There's one significant change that solves one of the major problems I had with Unity, but has it's own problems. When you click the Ubuntu logo on the top left of the screen, a big fat slab window appears with a search bar and some other stuff. While some folks may like it, I prefer it show menus similar to what you get when you click the Ubuntu logo in Gnome. I don't want to go around type-hunting for an application. Actually, this is pretty much the major thing keeping me from considering Unity as an actual desktop.

Gnome: Where "Classic" doesn't mean suckage
The "Classic" desktop: Gnome
 Canonical's worked so much on making Unity so compatible with Gnome, that Gnome actually feels like Unity(just without the sidebar or search slab window). It's still the same old Gnome, which isn't bad at all. The only major change you'll notice is in the default applications. Rhythmbox is gone, having been replaced by Banshee. While Banshee is a Mono application(I view Mono as pretty much a "necessary evil" as I need it for OpenSim), Banshee does its' job pretty good, and earns a spot as a worthy application for me. Firefox has been updated to a 4.0 beta release, bringing a few UI changes and Sync feature allowing remote preference, bookmark and settings backup and restore. has been replaced with LibreOffice.

All in all, Alpha 3 has shown major improvements to the point where I have decided to keep it on my desktop machine. If you decide to install it, I have one protip for you: install it without choosing to download updates or proprietary packages during install. The installer bombed out when I tried that, and had to redo the installation. Hopefully that will be fixed in the next alpha. Nevertheless, good job, Canonical!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Puppy Linux: A distro well-suited for a portable Second Life®

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon an old Lifehacker article about Linux distros that can be run from a USB stick. The author of the article wound up favoring Puppy Linux as the best of the bunch. While I've had a go-round with Slitaz Linux before, it still seems too svelte to be a decent USB distro.

So I downloaded the latest stable release, burned it to CD, booted it up and installed it to my flash drive. After a quick change to my desktop's boot sequence via BIOS, I booted my new Puppy flash drive for the first time, greeted by a desktop similar to the screenshot on the download page.

Once I answered a few simple questions(video resolution, date/time zone, etc.) I immediately went to the "browse" icon on the desktop. On first click, a window popped up giving me a choice of web browsers to download and install(Dillo is included by default, but is like ELinks wrangled into a GUI). I picked out the latest stable Firefox release, and restored all my bookmarks from a save file I had on my hard drive. When I was done, Puppy copied over the entire OS stored in RAM into a file on my flash drive, in effect making Puppy persistent.

Over the next day or so I played around with Puppy, particularly as I was getting fed up with weird graphical glitches coming from the Flash player on Ubuntu. Just over an hour ago I decided to try an experiment to answer this question: Could I run an SL client on Puppy?

The answer turns out to be "Yes, if you can do without music and video streaming(due to the lack of GStreamer PET packages; can be somewhat mitigated using "About Land" and copying the URL to MPlayer)". Provided your graphics card is made by Nvidia, all you need to do is launch quickpet, go to the Drivers tab, choose "Click here to test your graphics card", install the Nvidia driver recommended, choose "Probe" in the Xorg wizard and pick a good screen resolution. That's it! Then you can download any viewer for SL/OpenSim(the official viewer doesn't run so well, but Imprudence works much better).

I haven't yet tried running OpenSim on Puppy, but I suspect that will be a bit harder to set up since I haven't seen any mono-related packages in Puppy's software repositories. I might have some luck if I try the official binary packages from the Mono website. Stay tuned for a future post if I'm successful, or an update on this post if not.