Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ubuntu on National TV?

I was watching "Fringe" at when towards the end of the show this image of "Olivia's" computer was shown.

I cannot be certain but it sure looks like Ubuntu to me. Though laid out very simply, no real clutter to speak of. No top Gnome Panel present and I couldn't be sure because of the focus, but the Ubuntu logo may be in the left side of the panel.

You be the judge, I know this much. that isn't Windows and they prominently display the Dell Logo throughout the show. My guess obviously leans towards it being the Gnome desktop, modified obviously, but still Gnome and the color scheme smacks of "Human"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How To Configure A Ubuntu PPTP VPN Client

As a Linux user and an telecommuting employee one of my biggest challenges was configuring the VPN Client to connecct to my employer's VPN server so I had access to the Knowledge Base as well as all other Internet services:

Linux, unlike Windows, requires additional routing configurations. Fortunately this is an easy step once you understand what it is Linux is looking for.

This how to uses KVPNC as the VPN manager. The Network-Manager in both KDE and Gnome has a known issue with VPN and therefore is unusable. Ideally it would be best to use it instead of adding another network managemet tool into the mix. However, KVPNC works well in both KDE and Gnome and I assume other GUI interfaces as well.

I am using Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) in this example.

Start by getting the needed packages:

sudo apt-get install kvpnc pptp

NOTE: pptp-linux which is another pptp client program did not work for my VPN. This may only be a Ubuntu flavored issue. It is recommended to use pptp only.

Once you have installed KVPNC in Ubuntu it can be found in the Internet section of the menu.

Start KVPNC and run the wizard. Plug in your base information. You will not to be able input all information but at this point all we are interested in is getting the profile created. We will use the configuration editor in KVPNC to properly setup Linux to connect to the VPN.

This is the General options window. Gnome users should uncheck “Use KWallet” KDE users will most likely want to leave it checked. Leave “Do not quit by clicking close button” checked. Otherwise KVPNC will not minimize to the system tray.

You may select “Hide on startup” If you choose.

Click “Apply”

Now select General under the Profiles section.

The Profile name should be the one you gave it when you ran the Wizard.

The description is optional.

The connection type should be PPTP

The Gateway address should be the actual IP address of the VPN gateway on the Internet.

Click “Apply” if you made any changes.

Now go to Routes under the Network section

Okay here is where we have to set things up so that everything works like its supposed to. Linux unlike Windows does not automatically setup PPTP routing. This is where we run into issues. It is important you setup the VPN routing exactly as I show you otherwise your access to the Internet can be severely hampered if not outright broken. Linux's default settings will set the VPN tunnel as your only access route to and from the Internet. Most VPN servers are not designed to handle this. So we have to set a route that sends only traffic that is targeted for the VPN to go there while all other traffic uses the default system route.

First thing is tell KVPNC to “Keep default route” otherwise it will use the VPN tunnel for all traffic. The default is “Replace default route” Simply click the drop down arrow and change to “Keep default route” to get the desired behavior.

Next we need to set the VPN route for all traffic associated to the VPN. I will use as the example. To do this click the “Add route” button. This will bring up the settings dialog box.

Set the remote network to with a netmask (matrix) of 24 (default) leave “Use gateway” unchecked and check “Use interface” and then from the drop down select ppp0 for the device.

Click “OK” then click “Apply” in the Network Routing Window.

Now go to PPTP under Connection specific.

Okay this is the final step to get Linux to communicate with our VPN. Make sure that “Require MPPE” is unchecked if you do not use encryption. MPPE is the encryption method for PPTP so this must be off or you will not connect if your VPN doesn't use it. Ensure the “Authorization Method” is set to chap (in most cases) and not pap.

Once you have made these settings click the “Apply” button and close the settings dialog.

Click the “Connect” button and Linux should make the connection to your VPN. You should now be able to access your VPN services and the Internet without restrictions.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Gnome Menu With Eye Candy

Making the switch to Gnome 2.24 from KDE 3.5.10 has been, for me, a fairly fun and interesting experience. I never had a lot of luck with Gnome in the past. I found it clunky and awkward compared to KDE at the time. Now however Gnome has reached a level of sophistication I can easily work with.

I like to be able to customize my system's look and feel and make it unique. Which is why I went to all the trouble to learn how to change the menu button for Gnome Main Menu.

Now though I want to discuss a new menu option for Gnome called, appropriately enough, GnoMenu.

GnoMenu is a fork of Gnome Vista Menu, orignally by qb89dragon at Gnome Look here. Whise (Helder Fraga) has vastly improved the GnoMenu version and has fixed many errors and bugs found in the original Gnome Vista Menu, though it is still in its initial development state. GnoMenu is a fully functional replacement menu that adds eye candy to the otherwise bland selections of available Gnome menus.

Many will not like GnoMenu's Vista like look. However, there are other themes available. Even a couple that are XP like. GnoMenu is a very serious attempt to bring a fully themable eye pleasing menu to the Gnome desktop.

GnoMenu is easy to install and configure no matter what distrubution you use. Once you download the package and unpack it all that is required is to make sure you have the correct dependencies installed, which are listed in the "README BEFORE INSTALLING" file. Then as root run the "make install" command. GnoMenu will then be listed in your "Add to Panel" options. Simply right click the Gnome Panel and select "Add to Panel" and then select "GnoMenu" to add it to the panel.

The preferences dialog allows one to select the various theme options, Menu, Icon Panel Button and Program Widgets. You can mix and match these as you please. However, under Program Widgets the selection of Animated is not recommended as it does not properly work (yet) and its best to select Classic. (These are the only two available options under Program Widgets at this point.)

GnoMenu, being in its initial development state, has some issues and annoyances. The menu does not disappear if you click the menu button again. In one instance GnoMenu actually remained on my desktop until I restarted it. It also does not revert to the main selection level after you select an application to run. The menu does not use the system default Icons and uses its own defined Icon themes. Finally you have to scroll to the bottom of a sub-menu to go back to the previous menu. Despite these annoyances I am using GnoMenu for its eye candy ability.

GnoMenu is a definite step in the right direction in bringing more eye candy to the Gnome desktop. Though the initial Menu Theme options are very Vista or XP like its still, in my opinion, better than the bland looks that Main Menu, Main Menu Slim and Menu Bar offer.

GnoMenu is well worth the look, and well worth using if you want additional eye candy for your Gnome menu. As more people start making use of GnoMenu and create more themes and options for it I expect it to become more fun to use and play with.

GnoMenu is availabe through Gnome Look and can be seen and downloaded from here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How To Change the Default Gnome 2.24 Menu Button

I'm stubborn, no doubt about. I wanted a particular look and I got it. Weren't easy, not in the sense of doing it, in the sense of finding out how to do it. So here are my instructions.

Change the button for Gnome Main Menu:

First select the graphic you wish to have for the button if it is a SVG file you will not need to alter it. However, if its a PNG file using GIMP open it up and scale the image to have a height of 128 pixels.

Make sure you know the current name of the Icon Set you are using in Gnome.

Open Nautilus in root mode, "gksu nautilus"

Go to /usr/share/icons/(theme name)/scalable/places/

Rename the file start-here to something else.

Copy your graphic file into the places folder and name it start-here (be sure to keep its correct extension.)

Restart the Gnome Panel "killall gnome-panel"

Your selected menu button will now display itself in the Gnome Panel.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From KDE to Gnome (A User's perspective)

I wasn't happy with many of the things with KDE 4 and where it was going. So I decided to give Gnome another try. Though it isn't the smoothest transition I have ever made it really has been a fairly pleasent experience. There are some things about Gnome I don't care for. However, I could also say the same concerning KDE. I needed to upgrade to Intrepid for networking (specifically wireless) improvements. Yet after some thought on this matter I realized that KDE and I simply needed to part ways. KDE 4 just isn't what I want in a GUI.

I have played with other GUIs of course but Gnome was really my only option. I needed one that had the extras to meet my productivity requirements. I may do a lot of experimenting on my computer but reality is, I need to be able to do my work too. KDE for years was how I met those needs but KDE 4 is clearly not ready and is going in a direction I wasn't happy with. So I went with Gnome.

The Gnome panel isn't as feature rich as Kicker in KDE 3 is/was. KDE 4 goes in an entirely new direction with Plasma. Though I was quickly able to setup the Gnome Panel to be more favorable to my desires its not really what I want. KDE menu options are far greater than those in Gnome and I truly believe that needs to change. There is a Vista like Menu system for Gnome but it lacks severely in fuctionality so its unusable in its current state and from what I can gather it isn't being developed beyond what it is at the moment. I personally would like to see a Kickoff clone in Gnome.

Gnome can easily be made to be just as beautiful as KDE if one is willing to do the work. Yeah I modified my Gnome Interface. The following screen shot shows what I mean:

Yes I am using the Oxygen Icons from KDE 4. I love their look. The Tango and Tangerine Icons are a bit flat looking. I have always preferred Icon sets that had some gleam to them. Thankfully KDE 4 and Gnome both comply to the Open Desktop Standards for Icons so using the Oxygen Icon set is no great trick to do. You just have to get them installed via another method instead of using the ones in the Ubuntu repositories.

One thing I really like about Gnome is its use of SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) for Icons and the panel. This makes for a more seamless transition of Icon sizes. KDE still uses set sized PNG files but I'm sure they will eventually move to SVG as well. Selecting alternate Icons in KDE is still easier to do than it is in Gnome.

Programs that I used to replace KDE apps:

Nautilus replaced Konqueror. This is a gimme but I wanted to note that I miss having a location bar I can type in. Other than that Nautilus is great and I already prefer it to Dolphin. I hated Dolphin in KDE 3 and though it was greatly improved for KDE 4 I still wasn't a big fan of it.

Totem replaced Kaffiene. I still use the Xine backend. Functionally the same but Kaffeine has more configuration options, but to be honest I rarely used any of them if at all.

Guake replaced Yakuake. Functionally they work almost identically and for all intent and purpose they are the same.

Weather Report replaced Kweather. Weather Report has more features like a forecast tab and it grabs a radar map (if available) of the local area as well. Hands down it beats Kweather.

Pidgin replaced Kopete and Konversation. Kopete is much better when it comes to features and plug-ins. Pidgin (formerly Gaim) is still working on many of these things. I doubt web-cam support will be there soon. However, Pidgin better integrates with Evolution's address book than Kopete does with Kaddressbook. Pidgin also has a great IRC interface built into it as well.

Evolution replaced Kontact. Comparing the two of them side by side is like comparing apple and oranges. Both are PIM suites, but each works from different philosophies and methods. Kontact is designed to integrate software such as kmail and kalendar into a single central interface. Kontact is the sum of a central interface that calls separate applications into use. Evolution uses the all in one approach. One program all functions.

Philosophically Kontact is about security and is extremely rigid in that regard. Evolution, however, is about cross platform compatibility with the Windows world. Evolution is far less rigid on security features, but you can make them just as rigid as Kontact's if you want. It strives to be Outlook friendly so that we Linux users can better work with Windows users. Personally I prefer setting my own security measures instead of having them dictated to me by the program developers.

Issues needing to be addressed:

Evolution: Overall I am glad I made this switch but there are three issues I have.

1; The mail filtering is crap compared to Kontact. In Kontact I was able to set the filters in exactly the right way to get my email sorted not only by sender but content as well. In evolution I can set one or the other parameter but not both together. Still having a fight with getting my mail filtered to what mail folder I want them relayed to.

2; Cannot iconify Evolution without using the AllTray applet. This is, at best, a work around and a fairly shoddy one at that. I see no reason why the Evolution developers can't put the option in to have Evolution in the system tray and running. Kontact did it very well. Evolution maybe a Outlook alternative, that doesn't mean it needs to function like Outlook.

3; RSS Feeds should be separated from the email folders. I believe Kontact's use of a separate integrated program (a.k.a. Akregator) is a better solution and makes for a more pleasant experience. In Evolution's case have a Feeds Folders sub category like there is a Search Folders

Switching to Evolution allowed me to get back many of the things I miss out on otherwise. (HTML based email being one. Yeah I know but many of my friends are HTML email designers and I couldn't see their work in Kontact.)

KDE programs I still use:

K3B, Hey its simply the best CD/DVD creator program for Linux.

Scribus, This is a separated QT app so not really tied to KDE. I just don't see anything else like it for Linux.

Quanta and Kompozer, One needs web design apps, I also use Amaya, Bluefish and Screem and really have always used them all.

ManDVD and ManSlide, Again not tied to KDE but are QT based interfaces. I just like them.

Krita, I have always been a GIMP user for the most part. But now and again I use Krita for a couple of specialty things that are either complicated to do in GIMP or just really not do-able with GIMP.

KBarcode, I need barcodes once in awhile and i just don't see a gui gtk based barcode generator/printing package.

Kshisen, KDE 4 version on this one. Love the game and xshisen sucks. There is no Gnome version of Shisen-Sho so here I am.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Going Gnome. So long KDE it was fun while it lasted

I did something I thought I would never do. I stopped using KDE and switched to Gnome. I have used KDE for a very long time. I have always preferred KDE to Gnome. I was never Anti-Gnome but reality has set in. The KDE development is going in a direction I do not feel happy with. Plasma is a wonderful idea but the implementation of it is not sitting well with me.

So now I am running Ubuntu instead of Kubuntu. So why am I not happy with KDE's new direction?

In a nut shell I don't care for the look and feel KDE4 is going to. Yes its a major improvement in many ways but the overall effect is well... I don't want to bash any KDE developers but I'm afraid they are losing touch with what the users want. All the bling is nice but users aren't as interested in that as they are functionality.

Besides what good is the bling if you can't customize it. I loved KDE 3 for the simple fact I could customize it. Gnome wasn't as easy to customize but KDE 4 is a bit (actually a lot) harder than either.

Of course I already got rid of the stock Gnome layout and fitted it to suit my desires. I will miss kickoff but maybe I can convince a gtk developer to make a similar style for menu system for Gnome.

Evolution has one issue. It doesn't iconify into the system tray like Kontact did. I have to use Alltray to get that and its a bit of a PIA but hey now I can see the html design mails I get now and then. A trade off I can live with.

Finally I was actually running more gtk based apps the qt based apps. Seems to me it is simpler to use the gtk based GUI where those apps integrate readily. Honestly it was worth the switch.

Oh and the updated hardware support in Ubuntu Intrepid ROCKS!!!!