Sunday, August 28, 2011

Improve font rendering in Fedora 15 KDE

Font rendering is a touchy subject for some, something completely irrelevant for others. It happens to be an important thing for me, for I find poor font rendering distracting, sometimes even demotivating.

When I tested Fedora in the past, I usually found font rendering different, poor when compared to Ubuntu's. That's obviously subjective, but I find Ubuntu font rendering smooth and good looking, while Fedora's is certainly not as smooth. In fact, this issue with font rendering was not limited to Fedora, for many other KDE distros apparently had the same problem.

In this particular case, I was testing Fedora 15 KDE for my King of KDistros article. I happen to love "Lovelock", so it kinda bugged me that font rendering was not up to par with the great overall quality of this last official Fedora release. As a result, I decided to do some research on the matter to make Lovelock look even better.

IMPROVING FONTS IN FEDORA

I quickly found that there are loads of resources available on the topic, often going into huge levels of detail. While I was finding those reads interesting, I didn't want to put that much time and effort into something like that, so I found a somewhat simple solution that provided a good enough result. Having said so, those interested may find the following two blog entries from Andreas Haerter particularly interesting:

How to change Fedora's font rendering to get an Ubuntu-like result

Ubuntu fonts installation for Fedora 15 Lovelock (and above)

Now, like I just said, I didn't go that far. Here are the steps I followed:

1.- In Fedora, install RPM Fusion (FREE and NON FREE) repositories (find more on this on RPM Fusion's own SITE).

2.- Install the freetype-freeworld font package.

NOTE: This package is not free (as in speech), so legal regulations may apply in your country.

su -c 'yum install freetype-freeworld'

3.- Install Droid Sans Fonts.(if you want to achieve the results shown in the screenshots below)

su -c 'yum install google-droid-sans-fonts'

4.- Create a backup for your fonts config file.

cp .fonts.conf .fonts.bak

5.- Edit your fonts config file:

kwrite .fonts.conf

6.- Change the hinting from hintmedium (as used in Fedora) to hintslight (as used in Ubuntu).

7.- Logout and then log back in.

NOW, HERE'S THE PROOF

That should do it, here are a couple screenshots showing the difference after applying the changes I just explained. First off, in a web browsing environment:



Now, in a desktop environment:



LIKE IT? USE IT!

So there you have it, a quick and easy way to make your fonts look a bit better in Fedora. As you can imagine, the same or similar steps would apply in other KDE distros with similar issues, only the freetype-freeworld package name may differ.

Have fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tux!

YES! Linux turns 20 years old today... now, ain't it awesome where the little Linus Tux has taken us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

King of KDistros - UPDATE

Hey, quick update on this one:

I am struggling a bit to get all distros together. On the one hand, I wanted to test Milestone 4 from OpenSUSE´s upcoming 12.1, but it´s been delayed. On the other hand, Mandriva 2011 will be out in a few days, so I want to wait until the final production release is out. Finally, I downloaded the recently released Chakra 2011.04-r2, but I can´t install it (I managed to build the LiveUSB following the website instructions and even got the greeting load menu, but it won´t get past there!). Fortunately, I have Kubuntu 11.04 and PCLinuxOS 2011.6 successfully installed and already tested, with Pardus 2011.1 currently in the works.

I am aiming towards an early september completion for this article (hopefully!), sorry for the wait!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mandriva 2011 Review

In my recent King of KDistros poll, several readers wanted me to include Mandriva in the comparison, claiming it had become a KDE exclusive distro and that it was doing a great job with its latest release, Mandriva 2011. Having tested Mandriva 2010 not so long ago and feeling disappointed by its apparent lack of progress, I decided to leave Mandriva out of the poll. I felt PCLinuxOS already somewhat represented the heart of Mandriva, but I have to admit I was not aware of the latest changes and progress at Mandriva camp.

Intrigued by those recommendations, I decided to download Mandriva 2011 RC2, the last of the release candidates, which with the exception of a few bug fixes, should not differ much from the latest official release. I must admit Mandriva 2011 pleasantly surprised me, showcasing a lot of refreshing ideas and quite an impressive amount of customization that is not usually found in KDE releases.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Having installed PCLinuxOS recently, I was quite familiar with the Mandriva installation process, which PCLinuxOS uses as well. Unlike more visually appealing ones (Pardus, Chakra), Mandriva installation goes straight to the point and gets the installation done and dealt with simply and quickly. A big plus for many, I am sure, but I think a bit more eye candy would help.

Booting the system begins with a legacy GRUB boot menu, which leads the way to a (not so silent) boot process that incorporates a simple yet interesting splash screen. The real interesting stuff starts with the KDM theme, though.

Although incorporating more similarities to Windows than I would like to admit, the Mandriva 2011 KDM theme looks awesome, with beautiful big user avatars and some cool animations. Simply beautiful, and a much needed fresh take on something that was getting old already at KDE camp. Unfortunately, I am having issues with my Virtualbox setup, so I cannot show screenshots of the KDM theme nor the splash screen that shows up before the desktop loads in KDE implementations. In Mandriva 2011 this cool little animation incorporates the distro's own ROSA icon theme, a neat appetizer before we reach the desktop.

THE DESKTOP


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Once again, I find the similarities with Windows a bit too obvious myself, but it's hard to deny Mandriva 2011 sports a beautiful desktop. At a glance, it is easy to tell that those are some new icons, and some cool icons they are. However, there is more to this desktop than just a few new icons.


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Just clicking on the main menu button brings the awesome ROSA menu, an interesting take on the by now popular dash that both GNOME SHELL and Unity are using. In fact, the functionality is quite similar, with three tabs at the bottom. The first of those tabs, which is the default one, is your typical "Places"/"Recently used" kind of deal. The second one is the usual "Applications", while the last one is meant to show a "timeframe". Apparently a registry of activity through time, I personally have not seen it in action due to the short time my testing required.


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The default wallpaper is nice, but is unfortunately the only one Mandriva provides. All other wallpapers available are default KDE ones. Luckily, customization continues in other areas, including a custom set of controls and window decorations, as well as a custom ROSA Plasma theme. Plasma widgets look great and so does the Logout/Shutdown dialog.


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Mandriva have made a bold move with this release, bringing a much needed fresh take to the KDE desktop. I believe this is a great thing in many respects: On the one hand, Mandriva starts its own path as a KDE exclusive distro and does it with style, making a difference and setting the bar high in terms of quality and Look&Feel. On the other hand, it's good to see KDE out of the same old Oxygen suit, which hopefully will encourage other distros to create their own icon themes, window decorations, KDM themes, etc.

It's important to note, though, that many of the new elements that Mandriva 2011 brings forward, such as the ROSA icon theme, still feel a bit like a work in progress. Not all system and application icons get their ROSA "representative", which sometimes ends up looking rather poor. Similarly, the window decoration could use some polishing, and a more original and unique control theme would also be welcome. I hope this new Mandriva beginning will close those gaps in feature releases, though.

Aside from the new pieces of functionality and eye candy, Mandriva does offer quite a special set of features accessible through its Mandriva Control Center. While this is by no means news, I think it's relevant for those who have never given Mandriva (and derivatives) a chance in the past.


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I will not cover the Control Center in depth here, but I can guarantee all kinds of users will appreciate it. Those coming from a Windows background will feel right at home, while the rest will find a powerful yet intuitive management tool that can do anything but baking a pizza. To give just two examples, as displayed in the screenshots just above and below, it provides a powerful partition manager and a parental control suite.


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Nothing is perfect, though, and I have always thought it was a bit confusing when both the Mandriva and the KDE Control Center were there, specially after using distros which rely in the KDE Control Center to manage everything. It doesn't take long to figure out which does what, but depending on your experience it may feel a bit quirky.

SOFTWARE & APPLICATIONS

Mandriva claims to be a very user friendly distro, perfect for Linux starters. I personally would agree with that claim for the most part, but there are some things that are downright quirky. A good example is how it manages software, which requires the activation of repositories to get started. Now, I am not sure if that is something to do with this being a release candidate version, but if the final release is the same, most users with no Linux background will get lost right there. I believe all essential repositories should be enabled by default, with a dialog offering the optional enabling of auxiliary repositories (i.e., Non-Free).


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Having said so, the Mandriva Software management tool, which is part of its overall Control Center, still works great and is easy to use (it could use an aesthetic revamp, though... The whole Control Center could).


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Mandriva includes an interesting software selection, including Firefox 5, Thunderbird 3.11 (weird, as TB5 is available in the repos), LibreOffice 3.4, Shotwell 1.10 (nice, hopefully more stable than the shaky DigiKam), Kopete, Gwenview, Clementine, SMPlayer and others.


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While I have no major issues with the default software selection, I find it weird that several popular applications (such as Dropbox or Skype) were not available for download, not even with all repos enabled. Coming from a PCLinuxOS experience, I was hoping these neat apps would be available for Mandriva as well.

In terms of media capabilities, Mandriva 2011 is ready to play about anything you throw at it. Clementine deals with music libraries with ease, and SMPlayer managed to play a wide array of video formats (AVI, MP4, MKV, etc.) How about browser plugins, you may ask? Well, Flash is installed and correctly configured, but there was nothing at hand to play quicktime material.


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HARDWARE MANAGEMENT

Once again, using PCLinuxOS led me to wrong assumptions on this one. In my recent experience with it, all the hardware in my HP 2740p was detected and correctly configured out of the box. I somehow assumed a similar result would apply with Mandriva 2011, but it was not the case. The first issue started with the on board Broadcom BCM4312 wireless card, which was detected successfully, but not correctly configured. The default wireless driver included was not able to make it work, so I was forced to look for a solution in forums and the like.


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Luckily, Mandriva provides some great documentation and help through its Wiki, and finding how to set up the B43 driver on Mandriva 2011 was fairly simple once I found where to look. For those interested, here are the steps I had to go through:

1.- From a terminal, run the following command to download the appropiate driver:

wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

2.- Extract the contents just downloaded:

tar xf broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

3.- As root, run the following command (bear in mind the path depends on where files where extracted on step 2.)

b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware/ broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4/linux/wl_apsta.o

4.- Activate it

modprobe b43

Voila!... That did it for me, and I must say that once the driver was configured, I am getting the fastest wireless connection times I have seen (Windows or Linux). Wireless is literally connected BEFORE the desktop shows up.


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As you can see, setting up wireless was not THAT difficult, but that is precisely what bugs me about it. If the system detects my card successfully and is aware of it not working, and if the solution to my problem was clearly identified and documented, why not providing a simpler solution, or at least some meaningful help? Given how advanced and user friendly the approach of Ubuntu/Kubuntu is on this matter, I think Mandriva has a lot of work to do before they can say they are the user friendly distro they claim to be.


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The next problem I found was with the on board webcam, which was again detected, but not configured... Meh, I didn't even bother to search how to set it up. After all, I was just testing, but I was again disappointed to see no simple way to get it installed and correctly configured.

On a different note, not entirely related to hardware management, I wanted to share something strange I found during my testing. After testing for a while I realized how hot my tablet was, and the fact that its fan was constantly working, sometimes at full power. I ran a quick check and found a worrying misuse of resources.


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Unfortunately, such behavior was not a one off, for it is consistently happening every time I boot (even with Nepomuk disabled and no other application running).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mandriva 2011 is quite an interesting turn in this popular distro recent history. After a few rough years that slowed down development progress, Mandriva seems to be alive and kicking hard again. I like its new ideas, features and unique character, the fact that they decided to commit to a single desktop environment and the potential I see looking forward. However, I think those ideas still need a bit of time to mature and settle down. Similarly, there are some things that need polishing or fixing, but considering I was testing a release candidate version, that's not to be taken too seriously.

In short, I recommend Mandriva 2011 once it goes live to all kinds of users. If you used it in the past and found reasons to move to a different distro, think about giving it another spin. For those who have never used Mandriva, well, this is a great time to start.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

King of KDistros (Poll Results)

Alright, thanks to mobile technology, I was able to put together a very quick note to let you know how the King of KDE distros went.


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Yup, the four distros that gathered most votes are OpenSUSE (30%), Kubuntu (29%), PCLinuxOS (28%) and Pardus (15%), so those will be the ones I will review back to back. However, since I very recently REVIEWED PCLinuxOS 2011.6, I will not cover it again in so much detail and use the space to include Chakra in the comparison.

Now, that's officially it until I am back from holidays... As always, thanks to all who voted!

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Holidays!

Sweet!...

Summer holiday time is here, so there will not be any posts during the next 10 days or so.

If you are on holiday or soon will be, ENJOY!...

If you are not so lucky, well, have fun with Linux. ;-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Try KDE 4.7.0 now

KDE 4.7.0 went live just a few days ago, ready for October releases to safely incorporate it into their software stacks. Impatient and adventurous users who don't get updates automatically on their distros can have a go at it now, though, obviously acknowledging the risks implied in this approach.

Many of the most popular distros out there offer ways to try KDE 4.7.0. I personally found Kubuntu's way easiest, so that's what I did. For those interested, I will discuss how to upgrade at the end of this article.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS



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As you can see from the screenshot above, KDE 4.7.0 does not look terribly different from KDE 4.6.5. Quite the contrary, it's only minor details that make it noticeable, such as the "Activities" button on the upper right.



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I was eager to see the new mobile broadband support in action, and after some brief testing, I have to say it worked perfectly!



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KDE 4.7.0 continues and perhaps even improves on its trend towards reducing its resource footprint. It's too early too tell, but it felt light, responsive, and fast.

INSTALLATION

If you want to install KDE 4.7.0 on Kubuntu like I did, simply follow the following steps:

Note that this is not the official Kubuntu implementation, so proceed at your own risk!

1.- From the command line, add the following PPA to your sources:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:kubuntu-ppa/backports

2.- Update:

sudo apt-get update

3.- And now upgrade (note that I am using dist-upgrade purposedly to force the upgrade through):

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Enjoy!

NOT A REVIEW!

Just to clarify, this is by no means a KDE 4.7.0 review, not even a preview.

Installing KDE 4.7.0 on Kubuntu 11.04 like this is not the best way to try it for many reasons. For one, the Kubuntu developers don't get a fair chance of polishing things down to their tastes and needs. Another reason is that Kubuntu tends to limit or simplify some of KDE's features, so there will be things that you won't find here. Last but not least, it seems like the KDE 4.7.0 version that was packaged on that PPA is not the latest, or at least not complete (things like Kmail 2 were missing).

In any case, I think it is a good opportunity to take a look into KDE edge, and a fairly simple one as well. If you decide to go ahead, have fun exploring 4.7!