Bah, I just typed a small review of Frugalware, a new distribution based on Slackware, but I lost the text, probably because I hit the maximum session time of my blog system :-( That will learn me to save the text from time to time.
I won’t retype it completely. But to summarize: Frugalware could be an interesting alternative for Slackware fans, as it contains much more packages than Slackware, and is much more actively developed. But for users wanting a nice distribution without too much effort: forget about Frugalware. The installer is extremely cumbersome. It did not give any error message when the installation of the boot loader failed, and when it did, the kernel did not succeed in mounting the root partition in a VMWare system. So actually I never got to test the distribution itself. Oh, and the default software selection is unhandy, and too much things are installed by default (default install includes KDE + Gnome + XFCE + server tools +advanced console tools for experienced users and other things).
During the past week, I have tried out the Epiphany web browser as an alternative for Firefox. Long ago, I already tested it, but I did not like it, as it lacked too many features I wanted. But Epiphany has evolved a lot in the meantime, so it was worthwhile to evaluate it again. The version I tested was 2.18, as available in Mandriva Cooker and Ubuntu Feisty.
I’ll quickly note the most important points I remarked:
Nice Gnome interface: Epiphany’s interface is very beautiful in Gnome. It uses the same theme and toolbar settings from Gnome (I have set toolbars to show text next to the icon). Epihpany looks much nicer than Mandriva’s hacked Firefox theme.
Clean Preferences dialog: Epiphany’s Preferences dialog is very clean with only 4 tabs and not too much options per tab. Again a huge different with Firefox’ Preferences dialog, which has 7 categories, of which most of them have several tabs and/or buttons for other dialogs where you can configure things. In Epiphany, settings are taken from global Gnome configuration if possible (for example proxy settings).
Easy Adblock extension: Epiphany comes by default with some extensions, of which Adblock is one. Its configuration is very easy: you only have to enable it, and it will automatically use the Filterset.G Adblock rules. There’s no need to manually install and configure the extension as is the case in Firefox.
Tag based bookmarking: Instead of storing all bookmarks in a hierarchical list like Firefox does, Epiphany lets you define tags for bookmarks. This way, you can easily find bookmarks based on these tags. It’s much handier than the hierarchical list, as its easier to to find a particular bookmark if you have lots of bookmarks defined. Also a nice feature is that when you type a word in the URL bar, it will show you all bookmarks which have this word in its title.
No Flashblock extension: One of the extensions I really like a lot in Firefox, is the Flashblock extension. I don’t like Flash: it is often used for commercials or useless intro’s, often contain annoying sounds, and it simply does not work good in Linux. Try for example the webiste of the Belgian radio station Radio Donna. In Linux, the pop-up menus on the left, will always be shown under the Flash animations, which makes navigating this site impossible. For all this reasons, I use the Flashblock extension, so that I can decide myself whether I want to view the Flash animation or not. Unfortunately such a functionality is not integrated in Epiphany. I found a way to have the same functionality by modifying the user style sheet. Still, this functionality should be integrated in Epiphany, like Adblock, so user’s don’t have to fiddle with such advanced settings. Even Camino for Mac OS X has it integrated now.
Downloads and opens files by default: When you click on a download link, Epiphany will automatically download the file to your desktop, and open it in the default Gnome application for that file type. I did not like this functionality at all: after a few hours of browsing, I had my desktop cluttered with PDF and other files which I looked at briefly while browsing the web, but did not want to save. Fortunately, you can disable this behaviour, and then Epiphany will ask if you want to open or download a file and where you want to save it.
Problematic font configuration: I tried out Epiphany on different systems, and on all of them, I had problems with font handling. By default, the font settings are different than Firefox. On a lot of sites, by default the fonts were smaller than in Firefox. This problem can easily be seen by opening sites as LWN.net, vrtnieuws.net and the GMail home page in both Firefox and Epiphany. When changing the font settings in Edit – Preferences – Fonts & Style, I remarked some strange problems: for some reason, the minimum size in the global font settings, was not synchronized with the minimum size under the “Detailed font settings” dialog. The default font sizes are set to 12 points. When setting it to 13 points, I noticed that fonts became much bigger, and when going back to 12 points, actually, the fonts were still bigger than they were with the default settings! I also had the impression that when changing the font size, it was sometimes best to restart the web browser, as results seemed to be different than before restart of Epiphany. In the end on all of my systems, I had to spend a lot of time finding out the best font settings which looked reasonable on all sites. I remember I have changed the minimum font size in Firefox, but apart from that, fonts were perfectly OK by default in Firefox for me.
No download manager: When a file is downloaded, there is briefly some kind of download manager displayed where you can track progress, but after the download has finished, this dialog disappears automatically, and there does not seem to be a way to show it again. I find this very annoying, as this means I have to start Nautilus to navigate to the file to open it. And, like a lot of people, it sometimes happens to me that I do not pay a lot of attention to the location were I save the file. In Firefox I can look up the location in the Downloads dialog, but in Epiphany, I have to hunt down the file by hand. I suppose this functionality has got a lot less attention than in Firefox, because you are supposed to let Epiphany download all files automatically to your desktop…
Limited pop-up blocking: By default, Epiphany does not block pop-ups. I do not understand this choice as most competitors use this functionality by default now. The pop-up blocker is a lot more limited than the one you can find in Firefox or Internet Explorer. When a pop-up is blocked, only a small icon appears in the status bar, and I did not see a possibility to open a blocked pop-up, or put a web site on a white list. For example when clicking on the (Flash) link “Webcam” on the Studio Brussel website, I can open the pop-up by clicking on the button in the notification bar in Firefox. In Epiphany, the only way to view this pop-up, is by completely disabling the pop-up blocker in Epiphany’s preferences.
Annoying security warnings for broken certificates: When I try to visit the Mandriva Bugzilla by https, I get three different pop-ups warning for all sorts of problems: one that the certificate expired, a second one that the hostname is not correct, and a third one that some parts of the page are send over an insecure connection. When logging in, there is again a security warning that the information is send over an unencrypted connection. Of course these problems are actually caused on the server side, but still, Epiphany should try to collect all problems first, and show them in a single information dialog. The current pop-up flood is very annoying, and this does not encourage users to actually read and interpret all this information correctly. Maybe a supplementary notification bar with the message that some elements will be send over an insecure connection, seems an interesting addition to remind users of the problem, even when they clicked away the warning dialog.
No Greasemonkey script manager: One of the extensions I use in Firefox, is the slashdotter extension. It adds Coral Cache links to all links in Slashdot articles, which can be handy if a site is slashdotted. I suppose I can get similar functionality with this Greasemonkey script in Epiphany and tried to install it. After right clicking on the install button and choosing “Install user script”, I got a message that the script was installed correctly. Unfortunately, I did not see the links on the Slashdot website after that (could be a problem in the script itself too I suppose, I did not check this). I wanted to verify if the script was indeed installed, and remove it eventually, but I did not find any functionality in Epiphany to do this. Note: I have never used Greasemonkey in Firefox as I did not need it, so maybe I have wrong expectations.
No anti-phishing filter: As far as I can tell, Epiphany does not have an anti-phishing filter, like both Internet Explorer and Firefox have now. While I don’t care about this functionality for myself, I think it’s a useful addition for less experienced users
Does not use Gnome’s Keyring: Gnome now has a keyring manager, which stores all passwords in a centralized, eventually password protected, location. It seems not a lot of programs are using this functionality yet. I hope Epiphany will in the near future.
These are the most important points I noticed while using Epiphany. Last Saturday, I experienced four crashes in Epiphany, but after that Epiphany was stable during the whole week. Maybe a bug in the version of cairo (1.4.0) I had installed at that time or in nspluginwrapper on amd64 were involved in these crashes.
All in all, I have to say I liked Epiphany. Still, I think there are too much small features I miss, and this makes I’ll probably start using Firefox again for now. I’ll be following Epiphany’s development more closely though, and I hope that in the near future, I will be able to switch over completely. Having a perfectly integrated browser in Gnome, is really a must have feature.
I only started blogging one week ago, but a lot has happened already in the meantime. I had already plans for setting up a blog for some time, and had installed Serendipity a few weeks ago. Why Serendipity and not the more popular WordPress? Well, it was not a very rational decision. I remember a few years ago I was watching statistics by the CIA bot. Serendipity was at that moment one of the most active projects over there. I did a quick install on some test machine, and it seemed nice. And a few weeks ago, because I remembered that, I started looking at Serendipity again. It seemed to have all features I wanted (for example multilingual posts), so I decided to use it. Unfortunately, I discovered already several bugs (especially in the multilingual plug-in), so some work is still needed to get it in a perfect state.
With a new version of Mandriva, 2007.1 Spring edition, coming out soon, I decided to take a look at the choice of default applications installed, and posted my comments about Mandriva’s default KDE and Gnome installations on the Cooker mailing list. Concerning KDE, I’m afraid my comments have not resulted in a lot of changes, but the Gnome maintainer Frédéric Crozat was very interested in my comments, and after some discussion, several adaptations were made. One of the things a lot of people agreed about, was that the program gcdmaster (a front-end for cdrdao), probably was not the best choice as an audio burning application. For data CD and DVD burning, there is nautilus-cd-burner, but what would be the best choice for music CDs? There were a lot of suggestions on the mailing list, but not a lot of people had any real experience with them, so I decided to extensively review five CD burning applications for Gnome, in order to find a good alternative for gcdmaster. The applications I tested were: gcdmaster itself, Brasero, Graveman, Gnomebaker and Serpentine.
Gnome CD Master
Gnome CD Master (gcdmaster), a front-end to cdrdao, is what currently is installed by default in a Gnome desktop, so that’s where we start with. When you launch Gnome CD Master, a window is shown where you can choose the kind of project you want to start. There are 3 options: creating an audio CD, copying a cd or creating an image file. I choose an audio CD project.
The window now shows an empty waveform view. There are buttons to play the sound, and a button to start recording, but no button to actually insert a music file. Neither do I find this option in the File menu, where I had expected this, but in fact it’s hidden in the Edit menu where I find “Append File”, “Append Track” and “Insert File”. I choose “Append Track”, and open an MP3 file in the file chooser. When clicking OK in the file chooser, the file chooser actually does not close, which is very confusing: the first time I thought I had not clicked correctly, and clicked three times. The result was that the file was inserted three times. The MP3 file is immediately decoded, which takes some time for large files and the waveform is shown in the window.
When you have inserted some music files, the interfaces enables you to split up the music in tracks, and add silence gaps. So Gcdmaster is especially interesting for burning gapless mixes in separate tracks.
I noticed an important problem when using gcdmaster: the decoded WAV-version of the file is saved in /tmp, and filled this partition without giving my any warning. Using /tmp by default is not smart, as a lot of people are using tmpfs for this file system, which means its size will by default be half of the available RAM. On a lot of machines, this will not suffice to store a 74 minute audio project. Instead, it should use the tmp subdirectory in the user’s home directory.
On the other hand, for simple audio CD burning, this application is much too complex, the interface can be confusing and is not intuitive enough for simple use.
Brasero, formerly known as Bonfire, is developed since the last quarter of 2005, and is now at version 0.5.2.
Just like gcdmaster, when you start up Brasero, you get presented with the different kind of project you can create. Apart from creating audio CDs and copying CDs Brasero also supports the creation of data DVDs and CDs.
Adding files to the project is very easy: you select files in the right pane, and drag and drop them in the left pane. Or you select them and use the + button. Brasero is very intuitive, it is just a pitty that you cannot shown the windows horizontally, above each other, as the current lay-out takes a lot of space in the width. Another usability problem, is that Brasero by default still shows all files in the right pane when you create an audio CD project. By default, it should only show known music file formats.
By clicking on the Pause icon, you can easily add a two second gap between tracks, and it’s easy to change CD-TEXT information by right clicking on a track and choosing Edit Information.
In the View menu, you can enable the preview. When you select an audio track, you get a small music player in the right pane which permits you to listen to the selected file. This is a nice feature.
Beneath in the left pane, there’s a bar which clearly shows how much space/minutes you have left on your CD, and you can esily switch between other cd lengths by clicking on the CD icon. When everything is finished, you click on the Burn button, where you can choose a CD title, select the burner you want to use, and set some advanced if you want. The default should do fine in most cases though.
Then, if you have put a used CD-RW in the drive, Brasero will ask you if you want to erase it. After confirming this, the deception comes: the Mandriva Brasero packages still uses cdrecord, which is not available anymore and has been replaced by cdrkit. Brasero should really check the availability of these dependencies before letting you create a project. There is already a bug report open for this. The reporter made some symbolic links to cdrecord binaries, but even then there are issues that Brasero does not work correctly, except if started from a terminal window. These are really showstopper bugs unfortunately. Debian does have a patch for using cdrkit, but as it’s for an older version, I’m not sure if it still applies. I opened an upstream bug report to support cdrkit.
It seems that Fedora and Ubuntu have built Brasero with the libburn libraries. Although libburn is actively developped, I’m afraid it is still too early to use this back-end in production. Still, as it seems Brasero developers are investing a lot of time in this back-end, Mandriva should at least start including it too, even if not yet as Brasero’s default back-end (even if compiled with libburn, it won’t use it until configured to do so with gconf).
There are several important bugs open for Brasero in Gnome’s Bugzilla. Since the release of Brasero 0.5.2 was published, two important bugs have been fixed in svn, for which the patches should be included in Mandriva’s packages: http://svn.gnome.org/viewcvs/brasero?view=rev&revision=151 and http://svn.gnome.org/viewcvs/brasero?view=rev&revision=152 Progress of Brasero’s development, can be followed with CIA bot. All in all, Brasero seems to have great potential, but it’s too early right now to include this in the Mandriva 2007.1 default Gnome installation.
Graveman has a completely different user interface than Brasero. It does not use different windows, but shows all different project types and the settings in the same static window: the projects are shown as tabs on the left side of the window; on the right side you see the contents, and the settings again as tab pages. This seems a bit strange to me, as it permits you too easily to create for example an audio cd project, and then get lost in the data dvd screen.
I test again with an audio cd project. Adding files is intuitive: click on the “Add audio tarcks”, and then click on First problem: Graveman does not seem to support burning of MP3 or Ogg Vorbis-files! Only WAV files are supported. According to its website, Graveman should support this if sox supports it. Maybe Mandriva’s graveman or sox is missing some dependencies. Anyway, this is a major showstopper.
Just like Brasero, there seem to be problems with the migration to cdrkit too. Another major problem is that Graveman’s development is not progressing a lot currently. The last release was published in June 2006, which was already more than one year after the previous version. So the future of this application is very uncertain.
Gnomebaker’s user interface is heavily inspired by k3b, KDE’s burning program, which is the most versatile graphical burning program available for Linux. The top half of the window shows the file system, while in the lower half, the cd or dvd project can be created. Just like most other burning applications, the user first has to choose the kind of project he wants to create. There are three options: data DVD, data CD and audio CD. In the tools menu, there are more options for blanking and copying media and for burning images.
When clicking on the Burn icon, a dialog with some options is presented. The user can choose the burn speed, and the writing mode such as dao, sao, tao etc. Normally dao is used to burn without the two-second gap, while sao includes it. This should be made more clear by a seperate option where the user chooses if he wants gaps or not, like most other programs do. Strangely enough, burnfree was not enabled by default.
When you click on the Start button, the music files are decoded. I did not found an option to burn “on-the-fly”. Unlike gcdmaster, Gnomebaker uses the home directory to store the converted files, so there were no problems with /tmp filling up completely. For some reason, it ejected the CD and reloaded it immediately. Then it ejected the CD again, and there was a message that the burning process failed. There was no clear explanation why, except in the debugging dialog where there was a message stating that I should blank the CD-RW before I can burn to it. It’s a pitty that Gnomebaker does not explain this problem more in detail, and that it does not propose the user to blank the CD for him. I had to blank the CD-RW by hand (“Fast blank” was not selected by default, which is really a shame as a full blank takes a lot of time!), and then I restarted the burning process, which means I had to go through the decoding step again.
The progress bar and the estimated time remaining often was incorrect (it tended to overestimate the remaining time), but In the end the burning process completed successfully, and the audio CD worked fine.
I tried to get an idea about bugs and development progress by registering on the forum on GnomeBaker’s website. Strangely enough, even after registration, I could not access the fora, because I was not member of the “moderators” group. Looking at the mailing list, it seems that development currently is also rather slow due to lack of developer’s time. There are plans for a new version called Gnomebaker NG which will be based on libburn, but there does not seem to be real code yet.
Serpentine is a simple audio CD burning application written in Python. It has been the default audio CD burning application in Ubuntu for a long time. The latest version dates from june 2006. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much progress in development since. Serpentine’s user interface is very simple and does not take a lot of space. Because it only support audio CDs, you don’t have to choose which kind of project you want to create.
There’s an Add button which opens a GTK+ file chooser which lets you select the tracks you want to burn. CD-Text information can be changed easily by clicking on the artist name and song title in the main window. The disc capacity can be changed easily, and the remaining space on the disc is clearly shown. When you click on Write to disc, it does not show a configuration window where you can select the speed, etc. If you need to change this, you have to go to the menu Edit – Preferences. In this dialog, the user can also select if he wants a two-second gap between the track.
When starting the write process, Serpentine proposed me to erase the CD-RW. Then it started to decode the audio files, which it did in /home, so no space problems here. When writing, there is a progress bar, but unfortunately there is no estimation about how much time actually remains.
Of the five applications tested here, only two of them really succeeded in writing my audio cd containing an MP3 file and an Ogg Vorbis file: Gnomebaker and Serpentine. Actually Serpentine was the only one which did it without any hick-up. Clearly a lot of development is needed before a lot of these applications are really mature.
Gcdmaster is a very complex audio application, useful for burning DJ sets and other gapless compilations. Its interface is too complex for simple audio CD burning though, and it failed in writing my audio CD because it filled up my /tmp partition without any warning.
Brasero probably has the nicest interface of all applications presented here. It is at the same time very versatile but very easy to use. Unfortunately it does not support cdrkit (yet), but prefers the rather experimental libburn. Mandriva’s Brasero package has not been built with libburn support, and the libburn package in Mandriva seems outdated too. Both libburn and Brasero are actively developed, so this application is certainly one to watch out for in the future!
The user interface of Graveman, is less attractive than Brasero’s. Graveman’s development seems to be frozen for some time already, and Mandriva’s package did not succeed in burning MP3 and Ogg Vorbis files. Gnomebaker is heavily inspired on k3b, and succeeded in writing my audio CD, but only after I blanked the CD-RW first by hand. Its development seems rather slow at the moment.
The winner of this test is clearly Serpentine: it did what it had to do without any problems or complaints, and its interface is very easy to use and really follows the Gnome philosophy. If you need to burn an audio CD with a Gnome application, Serpentine is your best option for now.