Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fedora 17 released!

Fedora 17 "Beefy Miracle" was released today... yes, better late than never, I guess!!

Instead of going through features or anything like that, I'll let the Fedora project leaders and developers present it themselves, in this neat little video. Enjoy!



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Eternal Night

Since I just wrote a review about Ubuntu Studio, I thought it would be good timing to share what I am doing with it and how accurately it fits its "Linux for creative humans" slogan. In order to display just a tiny bit of what can be achieved using the amazing software included with Ubuntu Studio, I put together a video including one of my songs and a very simple demonstration of what OpenShot can do with the help of Blender (needless to say, I am as far from an expert on those two as one can be).



The video includes images of my very humble studio, as well as some of the gear I use to record. I hope this provides some insight into what I do and how far you can go with this software if you let it take your creativity to new grounds.

For those into Audio Production, I recorded all drum tracks directly from Hydrogen into Ardour. All other tracks are real instruments either mic'ed (mostly the acoustic tracks and some guitar solos), or recorded direct from my POD X3. All of the mixing and mastering was done in Ardour. All effects come from the pre-installed LADSPA effects.

Hope you enjoy the video and the song!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ubuntu Studio 12.04 Review

Shortly after I started using Linux in late 2007, I realized one of the biggest challenges before I could leave Windows behind was to find an alternative in the open source World to record my music. After a bit of research, I found about Ardour, Hydrogen, Jack, LADSPA and so many other great apps that were already available in Linux. I also found about the need of a low latency Kernel, so I needed an easy way to get all those ingredients installed in an simple and convenient packaging, something I found Ubuntu Studio covered well. For me, it was a natural move, given that Ubuntu was the distro I started with, so since April 2009, I was a happy "Ubuntu Studio-er".

One of the reasons I had not updated my Ubuntu Studio 9.04 installation was that the recent past of the project had been a turbulent one. The previous release went through lots of trouble, as could be read in the official Ubuntu Studio 11.10 RELEASE NOTES. Essentially, the team behind the distribution almost disappeared, the transition to XFCE was far from complete, a low latency Kernel was nowhere to be found... Things were upside down, leaving last October´s release in a difficult position. Surprisingly (and it was a very happy surprise, I tell you), it seems things are now better than ever (sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom...) and this new LTS release has lots to offer. Here´s a list of some highlight features:

  • Live-DVD
  • GUI-based installation
  • lowlatency kernel installed by default
  • i386 images use the lowlatency-pae kernel
  • XFCE is default desktop environment
  • Pulse Audio <-> JACK bridging enabled by default
  • New theme, icons, and default font
  • New LightDM and Desktop background/backdrop images
  • Documented work flows/new application choices provide better user support
  • Menu restructured for better work flow support
  • ARandR included for improved multi-monitor functionality
  • mudita24 replaces envycontrol24 for ice1712 chip audio interfaces
  • Long Term Support release (3 years)

Right after reading those features and knowing how good Ubuntu and Xubuntu 12.04 had proven to be during my testing, I couldn´t wait to start downloading and testing Ubuntu Studio as well!

GET INTO THE STUDIO

One thing that concerned me was that I had a perfectly working system in Ubuntu Studio 9.04 and there was always a question mark on whether 12.04 would still provide support for my hardware (a simple, but old, M-AUDIO 1010 LT PCI card). On top of that, it had been years since I did all the configuration on 9.04, so I was not all that confident that I would remember what had to be done to get 12.04 moving with all my Ardour and Hydrogen projects.

One of the many new great features in Ubuntu Studio 12.04 is the ability to run it as a LiveDVD, which allowed me to see my hardware was still fully supported. In fact, I have to say hardware support, just like in Ubuntu 12.04, is stellar: everything was correctly detected and configured on my desktop. The 1010LT soundcard was no exception, but most impressive was the seamless integration in the sound applet from the notification area, which would make it a breeze to change the default hardware audio output for different media applications. On top of that, of course, the LiveDVD allowed me to take a quick tour and check the vast array of applications included, as well as the new and attractive looks of the debuting XFCE desktop manager. Long story short, I had found what I was looking for and it took only a few minutes before I was clicking the install button.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

As with any other x-buntu distro released back this April, the installation is superb. Quick, intuitive, only asking relevant questions and leaving the confusing bits aside, mature and stable. Thanks to the ability to download updates during the installation, I got a fully updated Ubuntu Studio desktop right off the bat, albeit taking longer than an "offline" installation would have, of course.

The Ubuntu 12.04 splash screen is beautiful, impressive, looking very professional and sharp. Unfortunately not like it is the login screen, which looks a bit archaic, even if sporting a beautiful background image. Just as it is the case in Xubuntu, the LightDM theme in Ubuntu Studio is far from being as sleek as Ubuntu´s. Hopefully we will see improvements in this area come future releases. If not, thanks to the reduced complexity of LightDM, changes to the background picture, login window theme and fonts are fortunately quite simple.

The desktop uses the same background as the login screen, incorporating a few changes from the GNOME Classic days. All in all, the default theme, fonts and icons look OK. However, since I love customizing things to my needs and Look&Feel means a lot to me, it didn't take long before I started tweaking. Conky, a change in fonts and the lower panel, plus the Faenza icons theme, all sitting on top of a better fitting wallpaper, put a smile on my face pretty quickly.


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APPLICATION GALORE

Unlike Xubuntu, Ubuntu Studio 12.04 leans towards GNOME in its applications of choice, so it is no surprise that Nautilus handles file management, instead of XFCE´s Thunar.


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Another departure from Xubuntu´s defaults is the text editor of choice, good old Gedit.


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Aside from a few minor differences, though, the similarities with Xubuntu are obvious. This should come as no surprise since both are using XFCE now. A good example of those similarities is the identical System Settings tool.


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The Audio Production application catalog is full of candy. Mudita 24 quickly helped me manage my 1010LT input and output levels, while Jack gave me a hand in choosing the hardware interface and adjusting connections. I still get an old issue at times, when my two audio cards seem to battle to take the first spot (HW0) at boot, making my default Jack setup fail. Choosing "default" in Jack Interface drop-down menu didn´t help, unfortunately. Now, I know there is a fix to this which involves hard coding which interface should go in first, but I was hoping this would be managed automatically at this stage. Oh, well.


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I quickly fired Hydrogen (testing version 0.96) and loaded one of my songs. Of course, I had to go through the tedious task of mapping instrument layers, but I was happy to see some new features that made my life a little easier when recording. All in all, though, Hydrogen is still poor in several areas, the user interface being the one I probably have more problems with. It does get the job done, though, and since this is an Ubuntu Studio review, I won´t go on about it.


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I then started Ardour (version 2.8) and was happy to see all looking very much familiar. I loaded some old projects and it all went buttery smooth. I only had to remap connections through Jack to get my drum tracks in, and I must say I am getting the best results ever in terms of latency, with less than 10ms. and almost zero xruns.

The whole thing comes preconfigured with LADSPA effects, mastering tools like Jamin and players like Audacious, among many others. Thanks to the intuitive audio setup, I now find it very easy to master my songs, export them and then check them out through my standard speakers or regular headphones, all without having to switch or change anything on Jack. It´s making mixing and mastering way easier and faster!


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Ubuntu Studio is not focused solely on Audio Production, though, Video, Image Manipulation and Digital Animation are very much part of it thanks to applications like OpenShot, GIMP and Blender. I have no skills at animation, though, so to me Blender is just a great companion to OpenShot for the 3D titles.


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The default Video Player handles a wide arrange of formats, but I find it is no match for my favorite: VLC. Luckily, Ubuntu Studio 12.04 benefits from being part of the x-buntu family and includes a fully up to date version of the great Ubuntu Software Manager, which made installing VLC (just an example) a breeze.


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As can be seen, the application catalog in Ubuntu Studio is impressive, but I think there are better options than Brasero for burning CDs/DVDs, specially in a distro like this, which may take such applications to their limits. Personally, I would have included K3B, my favorite.


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GIMP (which does include all of its plugins by default) I use quite a lot on most of my installations, but it does feel good to have it here, on a dedicated distro. Ubuntu Studio will probably handle all my image manipulation from now on.


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A SINGLE WORD: CONGRATULATIONS!

At the end of last year, the future of Ubuntu Studio looked uncertain, so to see the distro come back to life in such style is a most welcome and impressive surprise. The best thing, though, is that it just starts there, but only truly unfolds when one starts using it in depth and finding how good Ubuntu Studio 12.04 actually is. Its 3 year support resulting from its LTS nature is very welcome added plus.

Aside from the release itself, I think the best piece of news is that the team behind the project seems to be in best shape, which only raises expectations towards better upcoming releases. Yes, there is still work to be done around things like LightDM or a smoother XFCE integration, but looking at what those guys have achieved in such a short amount of time I can only congratulate them and thank them, hoping that future releases will stay this good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The road to KDE LightDM-0.2

Dave Edmunson, one of the lead developers behind KDE LightDM recently published an UPDATE describing some of the features (and shortcomings) already part of the first KDE LightDM release, as well as explaining a bit of what´s coming along in the next few months for the 0.2 release.

Dave explained how some KDM features are still missing in KDE LightDM-0.1, but in turn, some of the screenshots he´s sharing look very promising. Among others, the benefits of using LightDM is, as its name rightly points out, its relatively low weight when compared with GDM or KDM. On top of that, there are obvious gains in terms of looks and flexibility. To give an example, changing the login screen wallpaper and/or welcome image will be very simple. Along the same lines, things like having the login screen and KSplash incorporating the same wallpaper the user has in her/his desktop should be easier. Inconsistencies between login screen and KSplash in terms of resolution and things of the like should also be out of the way thanks to the common QML thread.

Here´s a picture of the Login screen control module, as it looks today. Note these are early days for this piece of functionality, so chances it may not look exactly like this come future releases:

Here are some early ideas as to how the login screen could look using KDE LightDM.





In my opinion, all looking gorgeous and very interesting. Kubuntu could get KDE LightDM by default come the Quantal Quetzal later this October, certainly a feature to look out for!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Xubuntu 12.04 REVIEW

Most of the machines I use are laptops or tablets, but I also have a desktop that I use for recording my music. On that desktop, though, I have two different hard drives split in three (roughly 250GB) partitions, something that allows me to have different distros installed on it. Since late 2010, that machine had Ubuntu 10.10, PCLinuxOS KDE and Ubuntu Studio 9.04 spread across those three partions available. It was about time I went for a change, for a number of reasons, including the fact that Ubuntu 10.10 recently went out of support (needless to say, so did Ubuntu Studio 9.04). On top of that, PCLinuxOS had been stuck on KDE SC 4.6.5 for about a year, so I wanted a fresh update on all my partitions to get fully supported distros and up to date applications and features.

The first thing that came to mind was to go for Fedora 17 GNOME and KDE on two of those partitions and then Dream Studio on the third one. However, I had doubts about that approach, mostly because of the feverish Fedora tendency to keep updating the Kernel time and again (which may lead to trouble on somewhat old hardware when planning for a 2-3 years installation). Along the same lines, the fact that Dream Studio releases happen several months after Ubuntu ones do meant that I had to wait a few more months if I wanted the LTS release. All in all, I felt it was somewhat risky to go for Fedora, plus I wasn´t willing to wait that long for Dream Studio. Moreover, Dream Studio sports Ubuntu´s Unity, and let's just say it is not what I want to see on my Audio Production setup.

I recently stumbled with the latest Ubuntu Studio release announcement and it quickly grabbed my attention. The lack of a low latency kernel which had put me off in recent releases had been remediated, and a move to XFCE (as opposed to Unity) made this release all the more interesting. Not only that, but the fact that it is an LTS (Long Term Support) release and the huge array of Multimedia production tools available in the DVD made it the perfect candidate for me (expect an Ubuntu Studio 12.04 review soon!.)

I had had very little experience with XFCE, though, so before installing Ubuntu Studio, I wanted to use the opportunity of the recent Xubuntu release to give it a go and learn more about it. Long story short, the experience was so positive that I decided to use it as a replacement for Ubuntu 10.10 on my desktop, which is saying a lot. Kubuntu 12.04, which continues the improvement pace from recent releases, was the perfect candidate to close the circle, taking over PCLinuxOS as the KDE "representative" on my desktop (I will post a Kubuntu 12.04 review in the next few days as well!.)

...SO HOW ABOUT XUBUNTU?

As I was considering Xubuntu, trying to get an understanding of what XFCE could do, I started trying things on the LiveCD, checking configuration options and learning more about its flexibility and power by researching on the Internet. All I found was positive, including immediate, complete and correct hardware recognition and configuration out of the box. It didn´t take long before I made up my mind and went for the installation.

As can be expected, installing Xubuntu is very similar to installing any other X-buntu distro. The installation process is great, smooth, and if running in a system connected to the Internet, it can provide a fully up to date desktop right off the bat (albeit with a significantly slower installation time).

Aesthetically (and I know this is very personal), the default Xubuntu setup is, well... not beautiful. However, the good news is that most of the good old customization that was very easy in "classic" Ubuntu, still is in Xubuntu. Icons, window decorations, fonts, rendering, wallpapers, even Conky, Compiz and Emerald are easily set up and customized. In other words, don´t get too caught up by the initial impression, because it does not take much to make Xubuntu look stunning, as hopefully the screenshots in this article show.


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(Just to provide some background on what I changed, I added the Faenza icon set, the Ambience theme and window decoration and then changed fonts from Android to Ubuntu. Cairo Dock, Conky and a fitting wallpaper complete the list of changes.)

From a functionality stand point, as could be expected from a lightweight DE like XFCE, Xubuntu is very responsive, but also simple and intuitive. The System Settings application is clear and easy to grasp, but in general I would say Xubuntu just makes sense.


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Common settings are right there where most users would expect them to be. For instance, I know it is a small and probably meaningless detail, but I was happy to see window controls (minimize, maximize, close) on the right. Similarly, right clicking on the desktop brings back most of the relevant options one would expect to see.


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Thunar, a fast and no-nonsense file manager is consistent with this simplistic approach. It does lack some features that other more powerful alternatives like Dolphin offer, but it should satisfy most regular users needs.


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DEFAULT APPS

Xubuntu is great in itself, but it obviously helps if the default applications of choice are just as good. In that sense, I have to admit that the preinstalled applications list is full of good and interesting choices, some of which surprised me very positively. Firefox, Thunderbird and Pidgin take Internet browsing, email and instant messaging duties respectively. Music is managed by the impressive GmusicBrowser, which surprisingly loaded my entire music collection without complaining one bit.


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Image viewing is handled by Ristretto.


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Parole is in charge for video playback.


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Office productivity apps Abiword (text processor) and Gnumeric (spreadsheet) are simple and lack some of the features available in more popular alternatives, but in turn they are simpler and more responsive. If, like me, all you use them for is to open a spreadsheet every once in a while, they probably suffice. If not, a quick visit to the Ubuntu Software Center should fix the issue in a few seconds.


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All in all, the set of applications accompanying Xubuntu is consistent with its spirit, sporting somewhat modest yet powerful features, fast and easy to use. If the default set of apps does not fit your needs, though, installing other apps is easier than ever with the latest version of the Ubuntu Software Center, which works great, but I will save my speech for my soon to come Ubuntu 12.04 review.


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NOTHING IS PERFECT

Xubuntu is no exception to the rule, it is not perfect, and I did find my share of minor issues here and there. Here's a short list of the issues I have found so far:

  • Double clicking on the window bar does not maximize windows, even if the window management settings say it should. Not sure if this is a Xubuntu or an XFCE issue.
  • Thunar is lightning fast once it's been run for the first time, but the first run takes longer than I was expecting from such a lightweight file manager. On the same hardware, Dolphin needs less time for that first run under Kubuntu.
  • When booting the system, once I enter my credentials on the Xubuntu login screen, the time to load the desktop is a bit slower than usual with other distros/DEs.
  • Configuring automounting external drives on startup is not possible through the UI (at least I didn't find how), so I had to do a bit of /etc/fstab tweaking.
  • Loading Conky scripts as I ran them in Ubuntu didn't bring the expected results. The Conky window was not below nor transparent, so I had to do a bit of research before I found the right parameters to make it work correctly.

Like I said, minor stuff, but maybe someone can benefit from sharing my experience and issues.

UBUNTU FOR THE NOSTALGIC

Moving from Ubuntu 10.10 (sporting Classic GNOME) to Xubuntu 12.04 was extremely easy, pretty seamless. Ubuntu users who feel alien to new desktop paradigms brought forward by the likes of Unity or GNOME Shell, will feel right at home with Xubuntu. In fact, given it incorporates many of the latest Ubuntu improvements and features, as well as a set of apps that bring a fresh take to daily tasks, I would say many will feel positively surprised after giving Xubuntu a go. Personally, I can only recommend it, for it has truly surpassed my expectations.

NOTE: I do enjoy the new desktop paradigms GNOME Shell and/or Unity propose and I use both regularly. This article is by no means opposing or demeaning those alternatives, it´s just that XFCE and Xubuntu are a great alternative as well and that´s why I encourage using them. In other words, I have no interest in getting into the "A is better than B" discussion that is usually around when talking DEs. The way I see it, most are good in one way or another.

Friday, May 4, 2012

KDE SC 4.8.3 is out now

The may bugfix release for KDE SC 4.8 series was just announced today. I know Kubuntu users already have it available in the update PPA, but I am sure other distros will be making it available in the next few days.

According to the OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT, this bugfix release brings "...significant bugfixes (that) include improvements to the Kontact Suite, bugfixes in Dolphin and many more corrections and performance improvements all over the place..." As is the case with most bugfix releases in KDE SC, it is recommended as it will not incorporate new features, but only further performance and stability benefits.

I am wondering, though... Will the Dolphin animations that got lost in KDE SC 4.8.1 be back with this bugfix release? Let's wait and see.

EDIT (May 7th, 2012): I have now received the KDE SC 4.8.3 updates on my Chakra machine and I can still reproduce the Dolphin animations bug, they are still missing. I have been trying to find information about this and why the animations disappeared, but can't find anything... Anyone knows why they got lost after KDE SC 4.8.0?