My Impressions of KDE 4.2

February 25, 2009

I have actually been meaning to write this post for a while now, but as usual school takes away most of my ambition to do things such as write to this blog or write fun code.

I have been using KDE 4.2 on both my Gentoo systems (laptop and desktop) since about a week after it was released. I still run it now and plan on running it until the next big release of KDE.

KDE 4.2 really took my breath away on many fronts. First of all the Phonon sound system works properly. This also means that I can use Amarok 2.0 which is a HUGE plus for me. In 4.1 I had all sorts of annoying problems getting Phonon to even play sound, and when it did it would block any other applications from using the sound card. Not so any more!

Also, the Plasma widgets are running much cleaner and faster. In KDE 4.1 they seemed to resize slowly and imprecisely. Now, not only do they resize correctly, but if you stick them off the screen in a strange way or place them in some funny manner they try to arrange themselves in a neat fashion. For someone as OCD as myself this feature is wonderful!

The fact that you can now use a Desktop View widget as a desktop is probably good news for some because it means easier access to icons. Personally, I don’t really care about that because I hate desktop icons to begin with. I launch all of my programs through the Run Command interface anyway.

I started using Kopete recently as well, and that has seen huge improvements since the last time I used it. I’m not sure when they changed the interface around and added all the animations, but Kopete has now replaced Pidgin as my default messaging client.

In terms of looks… well KDE 4.2 looks very much like KDE 4.1 or even 4.0. They updated the default theme a little bit, but it is still the same fundamental idea. This is fine with me. I love the new Oxygen theme and it gives a fresh look to my desktop.

As far as running KDE on my laptop is concerned I like 4.2 much better for basically one reason alone… The battery meter widget shows the time remaining now and is also aware of different processor throttling states. This is a great improvement over what I experienced in 4.1 and it makes KDE completely useable on my laptop. Also, since KDE is now more aware of dual screens and screen settings it made it nice to use while I was giving presentations with Okular (the new KDE pdf viewer) on my laptop. I’ve yet to play around with the GUI for changing the display settings (I use xrandr from the terminal) , but I hope to give that a try some time in the near future.

Dual screen support in terms of my desktop setup seems to be about the same as it had been, but I think that is because I am using the proprietary ATI driver and not the open source one. It works well enough that I don’t have any issues. I really like the feature where if you have a maximized window on one screen you can just drag it over the other screen and it stays maximized. Maybe other versions of KDE had this… but either way it is real handy.

I can hardly say enough good things about KDE 4.2 and I am really looking forward to the 4.3 release and some additional bug fixes.

Now that I have gone on and on about the positives I will list a few bugs and whatnot that I have found, but am confident they will be fixed in later releases. The first is that the “Run Command” feature seems to crash if I have KDE running for too long. I typically leave my system running for days at a time so I don’t like it when stuff like that breaks. Also, when I first installed KDE 4.2 I had to clear out all my KDE 4.1 settings before it would run correctly. This is only a minor annoyance, but if you have a bunch of settings that took forever to set up it would be a bit of a bummer to reload them all.

Overall I am extremely happy with KDE 4.2 and would reccomend it to those who have been holding off on account of stability issues. I use it everyday for doing school work and I have not run in to any problems that have caused me to need to downgrade to 4.1 or to switch away from it entirely. Great work KDE team!

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fglrx Drivers — Getting TV Out to Work

January 11, 2009

About six months ago my friend sent me a link to Hulu.com and one day I simply stumbled across the service Joost.com. Since then I have been hooked on internet television. I rarely use the normal form of watching TV, and why should I? I can watch the shows I want to watch WHEN I want to watch them. Additionally, both Joost and Hulu offer subtitled and dubbed anime, which is far more than I can get on TV. Anyway, that’s not the point of my post, but rather the reason I became interested in getting the TV Out on my ATI Radeon 9800Pro to work. As a final note I am using the ati-drivers (fglrx) version 8.561 . For you Gentoo users it is currently masked in portage so you are going to want to add “=x11-drivers/ati-drivers-8.561” to your /etc/portage/package.keywords if you plan to use them. I don’t know what version they started supporting the features I am talking about so it might work with your current setup just fine.

Sadly I must use the closed source driver, for now anyway, because Spheriosity will not run properly for me on the open source driver. I used to switch between the two drivers, but that became terribly inconvenient because I needed to maintain two Xorg.conf files since each driver has its own little nuisances. I kept reading that the closed source driver (fglrx) supported TV-Out, but I was failing to setup the Xorg.conf file correctly and I noticed that xrandr didn’t seem to work. Eventually I noticed here (scroll down a bit) that fglrx does not support the randr extension. At that point I was ready to give up, but I noticed the aticonfig tool. This has a few options that can be changed on the fly, which is exactly what I wanted. Normally I run a dual monitor configuration with big desktop and only on occasion do I want TV output. With the aticonfig tool it was quite simple:

aticonfig --query-monitor

This shows what monitors are seen by the drivers. Here is what mine looks like:

jinto@lightflame ~ $ aticonfig --query-monitor
  Connected monitors: crt1, tv, crt2
  Enabled monitors: crt1, crt2

To enable the TV you simple issue the following command:

aticonfig --enable-monitor=tv
             OR
aticonfig --enable-monitor=tv,crt1 (if you want tv and a monitor)

You may have to replace crt1 with whatever output you get from --query-monitor, but hopefully you get the idea. KDE 4.1 did seem to have some minor annoyances while switching between configurations so when I watch TV I simply use a failsafe login to avoid my plasmids from getting all messed up. Also, there are ways to adjust the size of the image being output to the TV using the --tv-geometry flag. aticonfig will complain about not being able to edit the xorg.conf file, but it seemed to change it for me on the fly so I’m not sure what the story is behind that. If you want to understand how to use --tv-geometry just issue aticonfig --help | less and it is near the top. If you are interested the tv geometry I use it is:

aticonfig --tv-geometry=43x55-1+1

What you need to use probably varies from TV to TV so unless you have a 27″ Sony Trinitron you will probably have to tweak that command πŸ˜‰ .

Oh yeah… and if you want to go back to your original configuration just issue:

aticonfig --enable-monitor=crt1,crt2

Or whatever monitors you wish to active. If you only have a single monitor then all you need to do is issue the previous command without the “,crt2” part πŸ™‚ . Good luck!


Quick Thoughts on Amarok 2.0

December 27, 2008

I’d like to more thoroughly review Amarok 2.0 later, but I have a few initial impressions as well as an explanation of why I can’t give the full review now. I was very pleased to hear that Amarok 2.0 had finally been released and I have been awaiting it for some time now. I had heard stories of people not liking the new interface, but I didn’t have much of an opinion on it because I hadn’t used it.

Amarok 2.0 installed just fine out of Portage, the Gentoo package manager, though it is currently masked so you will need to unmask it if you wish to install it.

The first thing I noticed was that the interface did look a bit cluttered. The three columns simply take up too much space and maximizing Amarok is not really my thing. However, you can simply collapse the column which shows you collection information and whatnot when you aren’t using it. It seems they have also done away with the mini-player, which is a real shame because I liked that a lot. I am hoping they just haven’t implemented it yet. After collapsing that column I had absolutely zero problems with the interface and I like it just as much as the old one.

Now, when Amarok scanned my collection it was going along great until it seemed to basically freeze for several minutes. I suspect it was getting hung up on my folder which has roughly 1600 songs in it. This was only a problem because it locked up the rest of the player, and had the same annoying bug when it would check my collection for updates. I’m sure they will fix this in a future release so I don’t consider that a big deal.

Also, I like the feature which lets you drag an entire album onto the playlist, which I don’t think was present in Amarok 1.x. Searching for music, adding it to the playlist, and playing it is just as easy and speedy as with previous releases of Amarok so there’s not much more to say about that.

Finally, here is the main problem I had with Amarok 2.0 and truthfully the problem is more with KDE 4.1 than Amarok. As some of you may know Amarok now uses KDE’s audio backend (Phonon). Apparently doing so renders my Linux audio usage back to the old days where only one application could use the sound card at a time. This is particularly problematic because I use applications such as Pidgin, which play a noise when I receive a new message, or simply having Amarok open seems to prevent Firefox from playing the audio in a YouTube video. I find this to be intolerable to the point that I had to switch back to Amarok 1.x until this issue is resolved. I have had numerous other issues with Phonon as well… such as it trying to use EsounD even though I don’t even have it configured. I know that sound in Linux is a mess and that is a real shame because I loves me some good audio.

Overall I am really looking foward to Amarok 2.0 more than ever, and I hope that the bugs inΒ  both Amarok and KDE are worked out shortly πŸ™‚ .


Gentoo, KDE 4.1, and Font Issues

December 20, 2008

Update [01/3/2009] : Eventually I was able to fix the problem πŸ™‚ .

For a few weeks now I have been running KDE 4.1 on both my laptop and desktop machines. Both run Gentoo Linux primarily and can boot Windows XP (for games). Unfortunately, when I updated Xorg on my desktop machine things got a little messy. It seems, for whatever reason, that the Helvetica font is impossible for KDE 4.1 to load. This is a problem since it’s the default font for used in virtually all the widgets. The reason I suspect this is because you are allowed to change the font on the digital clock widget and if I change to anything other than Helvetica it works great. Sadly, I can’t change any of the other fonts or I would have settled for that as a solution.

I have been trying to fix this problem for several hours now with no such luck. I can’t even seem to locate a KDE log file. The Xorg log file seems to show that all fonts are being loaded correctly. I also reinstalled all packages that I had installed from media-fonts/ and that did not correct the problem either. My next recourse is to reinstall KDE 4.1, but I really don’t want to do that because it takes a heck of a long time. The laptop and desktop have virtually the same configuration yet the laptop works and the desktop does not.Β  After spending all this time trying to fix this… I must say that it is starting to get old.

I wish I knew more about how Linux dealt with fonts, but I am finding a surprising lack of resources on the web about this. Up until this point I took fonts and how Linux did all that sort of stuff as magic…

Oh well, I guess I just have to keep at it :-/ .


Windows …

November 25, 2008

Recently I was asked by a friend to rid his Windows XP machine of a particularly annoying virus/malware. It faked the Windows Security Center and was constantly displaying annoying pop-ups. It sat in the system tray and would not go away. It disabled your ability to change the desktop background and also disallowed you from accessing the task manager. Anytime you clicked on it the virus would open Internet Explorer and try to make you download some other virus.

I searched around the Internet for a while trying to see if people had several problems. After trying a bunch of different solutions I decided I should just investigate the problem by myself. First I checked in the usual places such as msconfig and in the Run folder in the registry to see if it had added any entries there. That didn’t turn out to be very fruitful. I loaded up TRK and ran the AVG Scanner and the BitDefender Scanner and both of them came up with some minor entries, but not the actual problem virus. Eventually, in a moment of desperation I cleared out all of the IE Temporary Folders. As it turns out the virus had installed itself in there. I imagine it was activating itself through the “Active Desktop” feature of Windows which is why they didn’t want you changing the background.

As I would find out getting rid of the virus was the “easy” part. After that was gone I spent another hour trying to make it so you could change the background again. Everything I read said it was real easy… you just click the “Web” tab under “Customize Desktop” which was under the tab for changing the desktop background. Well… this virus had removed that tab altogether. I then followed several guides to try and get the tab back. No luck >_<. Eventually I resorted to a System Restore, which I actually hate, but that ended up solving the problem. Though it rolled back my installation of Spybot S&D which was a bit of a pain, but I figured it worthwhile to reinstall it since this person said they didn’t want to use Firefox.

This sort of experience is what makes me love Linux that much more… πŸ™‚ . I have been a Gentoo user for a little over 4 years now and I will take a broken package problem over an annoying virus any day!


Gentoo and Xorg 7.4

October 3, 2008

(EDIT 1 [10-03-08]: I was able to find a way to get the synaptics touchpad to work :). So I changed the section where I talked about the touchpad.)

(EDIT 2 [12-19-08]: Updated package.keywords for xorg-server-1.5.2 and added a small section talking about a small problem I encountered.)

So today I was trying to get dual monitor support to work with my laptop and an external CRT I have laying around my house. Sadly though… somewhere between xorg-xserver-1.2.0.0 and xorg-xserver-1.3.0.0 support for mergedfb was dropped. This was particularly problematic for me since that is what I use to do dual screens. I accidentally received the upgrade when installing OpenOffice a week or so ago. Apparently versions of xserver less than 1.3.0.0 are no longer in portage.Β  So… I figured if I was going to run an “unstable” version of X I might as well try out Xorg 7.4. To do this I had to add the following to package.keywords

/etc/portage/package.keywords:

########## Xorg 7.4 #################
=x11-base/xorg-x11-7.4
=x11-apps/x11perf-1.5
=x11-apps/mkfontdir-1.0.4
=x11-libs/libXrender-0.9.4
=x11-proto/renderproto-0.9.3
=x11-apps/xprop-1.0.4
=x11-libs/libXau-1.0.4
=x11-libs/libXrandr-1.2.3
=media-fonts/font-xfree86-type1-1.0.1
=x11-libs/libXxf86vm-1.0.2
=x11-libs/libpciaccess-0.10.3
=x11-apps/xkbcomp-1.0.5
=x11-apps/sessreg-1.0.4
=x11-apps/xset-1.0.4
=x11-apps/mkfontscale-1.0.5
=x11-libs/libX11-1.1.5
=x11-apps/xdpyinfo-1.0.3
=x11-libs/xtrans-1.2.2
=x11-libs/libXinerama-1.0.3
=x11-libs/libXmu-1.0.4
=x11-apps/xrdb-1.0.5
=x11-libs/libFS-1.0.1
=x11-apps/xwininfo-1.0.4
=x11-apps/xauth-1.0.3
=x11-apps/luit-1.0.3
=x11-misc/util-macros-1.1.6-r1
=x11-misc/xinput-1.3.0
=x11-libs/libSM-1.1.0
=x11-libs/libXfont-1.3.3
=x11-libs/libXv-1.0.4
=x11-apps/xrandr-1.2.3
=x11-libs/libXScrnSaver-1.1.3
=x11-libs/libxkbfile-1.0.5
=x11-libs/libXft-2.1.13
=x11-libs/libXext-1.0.4
=x11-base/xorg-server-1.5.2
=x11-proto/xproto-7.0.13
=x11-proto/xextproto-7.0.3
=media-libs/mesa-7.1
=x11-libs/libdrm-2.3.1
=x11-proto/inputproto-1.4.4
=x11-proto/xf86driproto-2.0.4
=x11-proto/dri2proto-1.1
=x11-apps/mesa-progs-7.1
=x11-misc/xkeyboard-config-1.3
=x11-apps/rgb-1.0.3
=x11-apps/xinit-1.0.8-r3
=x11-proto/randrproto-1.2.2
=x11-drivers/xf86-input-keyboard-1.3.1
=x11-drivers/xf86-video-ati-6.9.0
=x11-drivers/xf86-input-mouse-1.3.0
=x11-apps/xwd-1.0.2
=x11-drivers/xf86-input-synaptics-0.15.2-r2
=x11-libs/pixman-0.12.0
=x11-apps/xev-1.0.3

Then I simply ran:

emerge -av xorg-x11

Then I let the magic begin. This will probably not work for everyone and certainly if you aren’t running at least modular X already you will have many issues because you need to follow the modular X migration guide.

Anyway so far it has been running very well, and I love having the use of xrandr. Especially on my laptop where I do a lot of moving around and switching of external monitors. I had several problems this week getting my laptop to work with projectors and I am hoping that this will help solve some of those problems as well. It really is quite amazing how far along X has come since I first started running Linux about 4 years ago.The one problem is that the synaptics driver does not compile against Xorg 7.4. I can still use the touchpad and as long as I can disable tap to click all will be well πŸ™‚ . However I did find a synaptics driver. To install it I had to add the follow to /etc/portage/package.keywords:

/etc/portage/package.keywords
=x11-drivers/xf86-input-synaptics-0.15.2-r2

Then I emerged it:

emerge -av xf86-input-synaptics

Another problem I encountered was that during the upgrade has to do with an ABI change that occurred. If you read those friendly messages at the end of the emerge there is one that goes like this:

You must rebuild all drivers if upgrading from xorg-server 1.4.1
or earlier, because the ABI changed. If you cannot start X because
of module version mismatch errors, this is your problem.
You can generate a list of all installed packages in the x11-drivers
category using this command:

emerge portage-utils; qlist -I -C x11-drivers/

That happened to me, but in a more subtle way. Everything was working except for a USB mouse I had hooked up. All I had to do was re-emerge the mouse driver. If you are not sure which driver to re-compile the quick and dirty way to compile them all at once is:

qlist -C -I x11-drivers/ | xargs emerge -v 

At this point you should be all set to restart X and hope that it works right :).

On another note, I am starting to think my “only update every 6 months” policy needs some refining. Once I am done with college hopefully I will be able to afford updating more often. At present I don’t enjoy dealing with the potential breakages that can occur with upgrades when I need to get work done. Luckily this problem occurred at the beginning of my fall break so I had some extra time to mess around with it πŸ™‚ . Hopefully I can get in another blog entry or two in this time as well!


The Magic of Computers

September 28, 2008

I had some plans that were cancelled today so I found myself with some extra time, and decided to write about something that was on my mind a day ago.

When I think of magic I don’t typically think of computers. They are rather finite machines that can only do an assigned task. However, it was my initial enchantment with computers that led me in to the major I am in. Wondering exactly how a window was opened, wondering how the computer booted, wondering how to install software, etc. This is the stuff that kept me wanting more which brought me deeper in to the world of computers.

I find that as I move further in the computer science world, and in my experience as a coder, some of the magic gets lost amongst the code and the understanding of how things work. I no longer find it impressive when I compile my code and run it from a terminal. No longer do I stare at a scene in a video game and wonder how everything fits together. I can assemble and repair a computer and it doesn’t seem terribly difficult or nerve racking.

I started thinking about these things a day ago when I had to recompile my kernel to add support for an old floppy drive. For some reason it brought back memories of when I first compiled the Linux kernel (yay Gentoo Linux ^_^). I got such a sense of accomplishment out of watching my computer boot from the configuration I just devised out. That magic has been lost on me because since then as I recompile the kernel as if nothing is special about it. Even more than that I did it through several ssh tunnels I had configured to allow me off campus access to my dorm room computer. I gave none of this even a second thought I just knew it was what I had to do. The magic of all those things has been lost. I’m sure anyone who was around me when I learned about ssh, or more recently the -D, -L, and -R flags could have told you I was like a kid in a candy store. Absolutely enchanted by the assortment of options I had just been given, and never content just trying one particular flavour or style. I desired to know the ins and outs of ssh and every additional piece of information was as awesome as the last.

Why do I write all of this? Well, during my pondering I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I understood so much that I never found magic in computers. Even though certain aspects of computing no longer excite me the way it used to I know there are many more areas that are littered with things for me to explore. I remember reading an interview with one of the Gentoo devs on gentoo.org. He was saying that now that he works on all this essential tools he longer sees the magic in computers. I don’t think he was particularly bothered by this, but it struck me as sort of a sad thing. I LOVE discovering new commands and gaining knowledge about computers. It is one of the things that keeps me coming back for more. I often feel that there is no way I could ever learn everything about computers (or come close), and I sincerely hope that is true.

I always enjoy seeing a new CS student delight in some of the awesome things you can do with ssh, or to see their excitement in finally getting a tricky program to just compile (let alone run). It reminds me much of myself, and I think it is those sorts of people that will be most fulfilled in jobs as computer scienctists, but also the people that will require the most fulfillment out of their job to continually enjoy working somewhere. With any luck I hope to find that in a job, but I don’t expect I will land a programmers dream job straight out of college either.

I suppose only time will tell, as they say πŸ™‚ .