All posts by Brian

DropBoks – Online Storage Simplified (Online Storage Series)

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One of the largest complaints I have about on-line storage services is that most of their interfaces are cluttered and confusing. Of these, XDrive is among the worst offenders, but is certainly not alone. On the other hand, one of the slickest interfaces I have seen is the service provided by Box.net. This is currently my favorite service, but while I easily understand the interface, I still had difficulty teaching one of my non-computer-savvy friends how to use it.

For sheer simplicity, the free on-line service offered by DropBoks is hard to beat. Simply create an account, and then you get one gigabyte of free storage complete with a 50 MB file size limit. This bests Box.net’s upload limitation of 10 megabytes.

The interface is starkly simple – there is a “Browse” button to upload files, and a “trash” icon to allow for the deletion of files. That’s mostly it. Here is a screenshot of a file upload in progress:

dropboks_uploading.png

The simplicity of the functionality complements the starkness of the interface. You will not find any options to create folders or “tag” items here – uploading and downloading files forms the bulk of the available operations. Some people will find this restricting, but others (like my non-savvy friend) will appreciate the simplicity. In fact, I’m willing to bet that anyone whose computer literacy exceeds that of a drunken cockroach can successfully use DropBoks. Want to upload a file? Click the “Browse” button. Want to download a file? Double-click (or right-click) it. Want to delete a file? Drag it to the “Trash.” Piece of cake.

For those interested, all file transfers are encrypted over HTTPS (SSL).

While I still enjoy Box.net for its added functionality and beautiful interface, I have a growing appreciation for DropBoks. It is now my most recommended on-line storage service of choice, especially to people of dubious computer skills. For the record, their free service is provided without ads, though they encourage small donations ($3) to help keep the service running. That’s fair. I hope they are able to stand the test of time.

Related article: On-line Storage Options

A Minty-Fresh Linux Distro

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Recently I heard about a fairly new distro of Linux dubbed “Linux Mint.” It’s an Ubuntu-based derivative whose claim to fame is the inclusion of many “non-free” codecs and drivers. This adds convenience and reduces the hassle of post-install configuration. In a typical scenario, one installs a flavor of Linux and then spends time configuring package repositories to enable the playback of DVDs, MP3s, Flash plug-ins, and various other multimedia types. This inclusion of non-free software comes with varying degrees of ease (or difficulty!) depending on the disto in question. Continue reading A Minty-Fresh Linux Distro

Most popular search term?

It’s become quite apparent to me through watching my web stats that the vast majority of visitors to this site come here for one main reason: GHOST!

That’s right. Most of you arrive at this site by searching for something like “ghost windows free.” My high ranking in the major search engines for terms such as these has caused a steady stream of traffic over the last few months. Naturally, the article that is causing this traffic is the one titled Ghost Windows XP for Free.

I find it ironic, of course. I take pride in my support of open-source software, and the most popular article on my site is for closed-source freeware on imaging a closed-source operating system. 🙂

The masses have spoken through their search requests. In the future I’ll dedicate some of my energies to extending this topic. Happy reading.

Linksys WRT54GL

Recently I bought a new wireless router – a Linksys WRT54GL. Interestingly, there are numerous open-source, Linux-based firmwares available for this router that unlock new features. Once can commonly hear it described as “turning a $60 router into a $600 router for free” just by upgrading the firmware.

I haven’t attempted this yet, but perhaps I will soon. Presumably, by upgrading the firmware one can boost the wireless signal, turn of SSH access, prioritize bandwidth allotment for certain computers and/or programs, and allow static DHCP, among other options.

My new router is working just fine right now with its stock firmware, but perhaps I’ll be daring and put Linux on it some weekend.

Run Finale 2007 on Linux with WINE

Linux is a terrific, free operating system whose strength as a server has been proven for years. As a desktop system, Linux will easily suit the needs of people who need a general purpose machine for browsing the web, e-mail, playing music, chatting, typing papers, etc. Linux can easily perform these tasks with the ancillary benefit that the user does not have to worry about the virus and spyware issues that plague Microsoft Windows.

However, one major complaint about Linux is the lack of availability of specific major applications, especially those pertaining to professional video and audio production. Examples of such applications include Photoshop, Pro Tools, Final Cut, and Finale. By no means is this the fault of Linux. Unfortunately, it is a Catch-22 with the developers of these products: they don’t port their applications to Linux because the market is relatively small, and the market is relatively small because major applications such as these do not run natively on Linux.

Fortunately, there exists a project the goal of which is to bridge this gap: WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator). Essentially, WINE is a compatibility layer that allows a growing number of Windows software to run stably and successfully, without having Windows installed at all. While the ideal solution is to convince developers to port their applications, WINE is getting better and better in the meantime.

As a composer of concert music, the Finale software program is an essential tool for me. In this “how-to” article I will describe the steps needed to run Finale 2007 on Linux with WINE. Before we begin, let me make a few assumptions:

  • You are comfortable with installing Linux.
  • You actually have the Finale software available. Do not contact me asking for a copy of mine. Buy your own.
  • I make no guarantees as to your success following this tutorial. You may have good luck, or it may drink all of the soy nog in your refrigerator.
  • You understand that I am NOT a helpdesk. If you have trouble, feel free to comment below. I MAY be able to help you, and maybe not. Please do not e-mail me begging for help.

All set? Let’s get started.

1. Install Linux.

It goes without saying that you need to have a Linux distribution installed. You are on your own here, but I highly recommend the more popular distros, such as Ubuntu, SUSE, or Fedora. For the purpose of this article, I am using SUSE 10.2 64-bit edition. It is far beyond the scope of this article to explain how to install Linux. If you don’t know how to do that, then you are probably not bothering to read this far into the article. 🙂

2. Install and configure WINE.

Once Linux is running happily, you need to install both the “wine” and optionally, the “winetools” packages. This will vary slightly between distributions. In SUSE 10.2, I simply launched the “Install Software” tool from the “Computer” menu, and searched for “wine” from there. In Ubuntu, try “apt-cache search wine” to see what it yields. In Fedora, try “yum search wine.” No matter the distro, install the latest version of the aforementioned packages. You won’t get far without them. At the time of this writing, the latest version of WINE is 0.9.24. (Note: though it’s unlikely, you may need to add additional software repositories to your system. For Ubuntu, see the ubuntuguide. For SUSE, see this article on hacking Opensuse. For Fedora, see the article I recently wrote on fixing common Fedora issues.)

After WINE is installed, configure it. From the command line, type: (without the “dollar” sign)

$ winecfg

Take a look at the options provided. I accepted the defaults, making sure that the Windows “version” was set to Windows 2000.

3. Install Finale 2007.

Now that WINE is installed and configured, let’s get Finale running. Insert your Finale 2007 disc. Once the disc shows up on the desktop, open the disc and browse to the “Finale” folder. You should just be able to double-click the “FinaleSetup.exe” file to open it with WINE, but if it doesn’t work, you can also launch this file from the command line. Try this:

$ wine (now drag the “FinaleSetup.exe” file to the Terminal window and press enter)

finale1.png

After a few seconds, the “Finale Setup” program should launch in WINE. Follow the prompts and do a typical installation, just like you would on Windows.

4. Launch and update Finale 2007.

If all went well, you can now launch the program. To do this, you first need to understand where the program is now located. In your “home” directory you can find a hidden directory where WINE keeps all of its information. That folder is called “.wine” (yes, there’s a period in front of the folder name). The full path to the “Finale.exe” file on my system is:

/home/your-username/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Finale 2007/FINALE.EXE

finale_wine_path.png

Open that file by right-clicking it and choosing “Open with ‘wine'” or by typing “wine” into the Terminal and following it with the path to the file. With any luck, Finale will now launch and run!

Note: I was also able to successfully install the update to 2007a on my system. Simply download the update and launch it with WINE. Choose “Full Application” update and let it run its course.

finale8.png

Things that work:

  • Opening files, including large files (I opened an concert band score of mine without issue).
  • Playing files with the softsynth. “Human Playback” even works. Scrolling playback works, too (NB: there are occasional audio distortions on my system. Your mileage may vary).
  • Entering notes: both simple and speedy entry (from the computer keyboard) work fine.
  • Entering dynamics and articulations.
  • Viewing from both Page View and Scroll View. I had no trouble changing the viewing size of scores.
  • Opening and saving files works.
  • “Save as Audio” works just fine.
  • Product Activation works.
  • “Dragging” the view with the right mouse button works.
  • I tried a few “Mass Edit” and “Page Layout” options without trouble. Of course, I did not test every available action.

finale_adding-notes.png finale_human-playback.png


Things that do not work:

  • MusicXML export

finale7.png

Things not yet tried:

  • GPO or Smartmusic install
  • MIDI keyboard input or playback (NB: I doubt this will work unless you KNOW your MIDI hardware is supported).
  • Printing
  • Product Activation (Update: activation by phone works just fine)
  • and more….

As you can see, the list of working features is quite long right now. Most importantly, in the hours that I have been using Finale 2007 on Linux, I have not yet experienced a single crash of the application. Of course, more testing is required, but the main aspects, correct display of fonts, basic playback, and overall stability, are working sufficiently. This is a far cry from two years ago when I tried this same procedure with Finale 2004. Though the program installed, some of the fonts did not display at all, playback did not work, and the program crashed every few minutes. By comparison, Finale 2007 is now quite usable on Linux.

Would I use Finale on Linux for my daily work? Right now, probably not. I’ve invested a lot of money in MIDI and audio hardware, as well as in software sample libraries, none of which run natively on Linux. If writing music was just a hobby instead of my main craft, I’d consider it. Looking ahead to the future, I have zero plans to upgrade to Windows Vista, meaning that within a limited number of years I will need to migrate my studio to either Linux or Mac-based systems. I’d like to keep Linux as an option, and the future is looking better and brighter.

Once again, it’s obvious that Finale is not a native Linux application, but WINE allows it to work stably and sufficiently, thus proving that Linux CAN be used for a growing number of “professional” applications. In an ideal world, Makemusic would create a version of Finale specifically for Linux. Until then, we’re getting closer and closer to a Linux-based creative studio, at least for this composer.

© 2007 by Brian Bondari

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Fix Common Fedora Core 6 Issues

Fedora Core 1 was the first Linux distribution I used extensively. As a result, Fedora has always felt like “home” to me, and I’ve tried every version since. Recently I installed Fedora Core 6 (Zod) from scratch, and decided to put together this little document on addressing some issues that I found.

Since this is not really a review, but rather a quick “how-to” based on what I did, I make a few assumptions:

  • You have (or will) install the x86 version of Fedora. Of course, there are similarities for the other architectures, such as x86-64, but some of the issues that I address are specific to x86.
  • You have an Nvidia graphics card. I do not use any ATI cards, so I can not help here. If you want to install the ATI driver, I suggest you start by looking here.
  • In my case, I’m using GNOME. If you prefer KDE then understand that some of the menu structures will be different.
  • You are smart enough to know how to install and use Linux. While none of this should break your system, I am not responsible for any damage that may result. That’s my standard disclaimer.

Now, on to business. Whenever you see the sharp sign (or hash) “#”, it means to run the following command as the “root” user. You can become root in the Terminal by typing “su -” and then your root password. If you are reading this, I assume you already know that, so let’s get started.

Add a couple of package repositories.

To enable the installation of some extra software, let’s enable two extra repositories. The first is Livna (rpm.livna.org) and the second is FreshRPMs (freshrpms.net).

# rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-6.rpm

# rpm -ihv http://ayo.freshrpms.net/fedora/linux/6/i386/RPMS.freshrpms/freshrpms-release-1.1-1.fc.noarch.rpm

By doing this, you will easily be able to install the Nvidia graphics driver. I believe you need Livna to install the ATI driver as well.
Once they are installed, use “yum” to update your system.

# yum update

Get the correct kernel.

Due to a known bug, the Anaconda installer may install an i586 kernel rather than i686. While the system is still usable, you will run into trouble if you decide to install graphics drivers or any other kernel modules. If this is the case, this is how to fix it.

# yum install yum-utils
# yumdownloader kernel-2.6.18-1.2849.fc6.i686
# rpm -Uvh –replacefiles –replacepkgs kernel-2.6.18-1.2849.fc6.i686.rpm

At the time of this writing, the kernel number ending in 2849 is the latest. Keep in mind that the number may eventually change, and you will need to adjust accordingly. If you have yet to install Fedora 6, I believe you can bypass this bug by booting the installer with the “linux i686” option.

Install the Nvidia graphics driver.

# yum install kmod-nvidia

Once you fix the kernel issue (if you were affected), you can install the graphics driver. You will need to restart X (or just reboot) before the new driver will work. To check if the new drivers are working, open a Terminal and type:

$ glxgears

If the resulting frame-rate numbers are at least in the hundreds (if not thousands), then your graphics drivers are successfully working.

Fix your screen resolution.

After I installed the Nvidia driver, the maximum display resolution on my 19″ LCD was reduced to 1024×768. Thankfully, this was easily fixed by going to System – Administration – Display – “Hardware” tab. In my case, I selected my correct monitor type (LCD Panel 1280×1024) From there I was able to choose my preferred maximum resolution.

Install the Adobe Flash player.

Now let’s add the repository to install/update the Flash player. We’re going to download the file with the repository information to the appropriate directory in Fedora, and then use yum to install the player. There’s more Fedora-specific information on this site.

# cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
# wget http://macromedia.mplug.org/macromedia-i386.repo
# yum update
# yum install flash-plugin

Make DVDs work.

Of course, it is old news by now that a number of Linux distributions do not provide DVD or MP3 support “out of the box” for legal reasons. Still, most users would like option of using this media. One way to make DVDs work is to install Xine.

# yum install xine xine-lib xine-lib-extras-nonfree xine-skins libdvdcss

This will give you DVD support with the Xine player.

And MP3s, too.

Yes, MP3 is a proprietary codec, and Fedora does not provide default support for it based on legal reasons. I don’t blame them at all for this decision, but if you need to play MP3s, that ability is not far away. Provided that you have the extra repositories enabled, execute the following command:

# yum install gstreamer-plugins-ugly libmad libid3tag

Now you will have MP3 support in Rhythmbox.

As an aside, if you want to “rip” CDs in the Gnome environment to either OGG or MP3, then I recommend Grip.

# yum install grip

While we’re at it, I also recommend Videolan-client as a media player, as it can play lots of differing formats.

# yum install vlc

Read NTFS.

If you need to “see” your NTFS drive (if you have one), install kmod-ntfs.

# yum install kmod-ntfs

Mine is a Linux-only machine, so this is all the help I can offer.

Make Nautilus better.

I prefer that Nautilus NOT open every folder in a new window. To simply fix this, open any window, such as your home folder, then choose Edit -> Preferences. Now select the “Behavior” tab. Near the top put a check next to “Always open in browser windows.” Curiously, Ubuntu does this by default.

While this is by no means comprehensive, it should give you a good start in increasing the functionality of your Fedora Core 6 system. If you have any tips that you would like to share, please feel free to comment below.

Here are some additional resources for configuring your Fedora system:

http://www.fedoraforum.org/

http://www.fedorafaq.org/

— Brian Bondari

December 2006

To VPS or not to VPS…

That is the question. Whether tis nobler a choice in web hosting options than “shared” hosting will be determined, though I have high expectations.

If you are confused and are wondering what on earth a VPS is, I call your attention to my article on “Web Hosting Options.” Essentially, most “shared” web hosting offers are completely unrealistic borderline on being outright scams. If you read the TOS (Terms of Service) for almost any “shared” host, you will find clauses limiting your use of the server CPU. So, what good are those terabytes of bandwidth if you willl NEVER be able to use them. I’ve seen TOS contracts which state that your account will be suspended if you consume more than 1% of the overall CPU. Excuse me? I understand that hosts need to protect themselves from CPU overload, but they should be more forthcoming about it. I’d much rather see a hosting plan that features “CPU minutes” rather than oodles of bandwidth. Will it ever happen? Not with shared hosting.

This is why a VPS is attractive to me. So what if a shared plan supposedly offers ten or twenty times more bandwidth? You’ll never be able to use it before they slam you for CPU consumption. Hosers.

I plan to switch fully to a VPS by the end of the year. Yes, it will cost a little more than my current shared plan, but at least I won’t have to worry about actually having to handle more than a few site visitors at a time. I have a few articles in the works that should generate some traffic this holiday season, and the last thing I want is for my host to lock me out of my own site (again).