Category Archives: Linux

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

Note Taking Software for Linux (A Review of NoteCase)

**UPDATE**  This review is of the current build in the Ubuntu Repos, which the author of the software has notified me is out of date, for the most recent release (With several of these issues addressed), download one of the precompiled binaries (available for most any systems) from their website.**UPDATE** (Thanks again for this information).

I believe many people choose to use Linux on their laptops for the simple reason that it works, and works well on low-powered machines. As a student, a low-power machine is the only viable option. Also, as a student, good note-taking software is a must. Before I switched over to Linux, I was an MS OneNote guy. Let me begin by saying that there is no direct equivalent…yet.

The most viable solution currently is NoteCase. While OneNote is like a Nasa-Grade Swiss Army Knife, NoteCase is the scalpel. It does one thing real well, but you wouldn’t want to open a bottle of wine with it. It takes notes, organized in a hierarchical tree and saves them as a single file.

**Edit** This review applies only to the Non-commercial version of the software.  The author of the software has informed me that the program is substantially more robust and powerful in the commercial version.  **Edit**

Let’s Talk Strengths

  1. The interface is very intuitive. You have seen these buttons before. It only takes a minute to figure out how to insert images, or bold text.

  2. Multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. Adding new child nodes can be done by right-clicking in the tree column, or by a pull down for those who like to keyboard and use ALT. I rarely touch the mouse while taking notes.

  3. Very customizable interface. You can set a default text color, size, background, etc. and it will be persistent. You can even set it to open the same file automatically when the program opens. For a student who only needs their single NoteCase file that has a parent node for each course and a child node for each day’s notes, the immediacy of opening the program and being greeted by the last document you used is highly efficient.

  4. Autosave. This is priceless, especially if you are on cruddy battery power that could fail on you at any time. You can set how often it saves.

  5. Autobackup. You choose how many different backup files it saves and where it saves them.

  6. Links. You can add links directly into the document with the push of a button.

  7. Very Low Resource Requirements. This program runs like a champion on a 512 meg, 1.7ghz processor. You could probably open 50 windows at once (Haven’t tried this, but you know what I mean).

  8. Solid Code. I have not had a single crash in over 3 weeks of avid daily use. I’ve inserted Images, Links, and a variety of lengths of text.

  9. Export Function. HTML, TXT, or a stand alone Executable.

Let’s Talk Weakness

  1. Weak font features.

    -Features you have: Bold, Italic, Underline, Strike-through, Text color, Background color.

    -Features it lacks: FONT SIZE. This is a major weakness, but not a deal breaker.

  2. Weak image control features on inserted images.

    -Features you have: Insert PNG or JPG. Resize them at moment of import.

    -Features you lack: Ability to resize post import. Anchor Points (The image is inserted as a giant letter, displacing all text around it.) No option for “Text Surround” of the image. No support for GIF.

**Edit**  Thank you to the author of the software for informing me that this program supports import for any GTK supported Images formats. **Edit**

3. Not enough Export Features. HTML and TXT are great, but I would love a direct to PDF for the sake of universality.

User Options

The User Options are very informative about the limited but powerful potential of the program.

Summary

This program does exactly what it claims to do: Let you take an almost unlimited number of notes, organize them in a tree, and keep them in a single file, or “Case.” It never claims to be a powerhouse, and I think when we meet its limitations we should be asking ourselves if we really want it to be bogged down and bloated by a solution to every situation. Most importantly, it is a rock solid program. I’ve tried to crash it and failed. I would like a few of the smaller features that lacks to be added at a later date, but I don’t feel it needs much more. The font size issue is a big deal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time (as you can change the font size program wide, just not a single word).

If you find yourself with a few too many TXT files of varying types and sizes you should look into this program for precise, near surgical organization.

For installation, I can attest that it is in the Ubuntu Repos. This means that if you run any *Buntu derivative you have access to it (Gos, Mint, etc.). If you use a non-Ubuntu distro please let us know if it is in your Repo.

Sorry Windows and Mac users, this program is only available for Linux. Correction: packages are available for Windows (may require GTK), Mac OS X, and even Open Solaris (thanks Michael!). For non-OSS alternatives to those on Windows and Mac, check out OneNote one Windows, or OMNIoutliner for Mac. I’ve used both and they are startlingly, almost frustratingly bulging with features (and will leave your wallet startlingly not bulging with money).

Dropbox Goes Live – Free 2GB of Synchronized Storage for All!

Dropbox logo

I am pleased to report that Dropbox has fully opened to the public, no more invitations needed! A few weeks ago I reviewed Dropbox (see review) and concluded that it was the online storage service of my dreams. I still hold to that claim.

Everyone who signs up receives 2 GB of storage space. Not only that, you can easily link multiple computers to your Dropbox account and effortlessly keep your files in sync. It’s like FolderShare, but with an online backup element. Yes, it’s a dream come true. :-)

Clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (beta). There’s even an iPhone client. Here I am installing the Dropbox client on Ubuntu 8.04.

Freshly Installed

As of now, Dropbox is the free storage service that I recommend most to others. If they rollout a “Pro” version with more features and storage, I’d be tempted to upgrade. Still, the free service is excellent.

If you only use one online storage service, I heartily recommend Dropbox.

Get Access to Box.net Storage from Ubuntu in Seconds

I’ve had a Box.net online storage account for a few years now. While they only offer 1 GB for free, it’s handy for quickly backing up small important files, such as handouts I create for the classes I teach.

While anyone can log into the web interface at any time, it’s also possible to access your storage space through WebDAV. Here’s how to do it on Ubuntu Linux, though any GNOME-based distro should work the same way.

First, go to the Places menu → click Connect to Server. In the window that spawns, change the Service Type to WebDAV (HTTP).

Enter the following information:

  • Server: box.net
  • Folder: /dav
  • Check the Add bookmark box (so you don’t have to go through this process later)
  • User Name: (optional) enter your Box.net e-mail address
  • Bookmark name: anything you prefer

Click the Connect button, then enter your login credentials in the next window.

I suggest choosing the Remember forever option, unless you are on a shared computer. Voila! You should now have read/write access to your Box.net storage space from within Nautilus. Go ahead and try adding or deleting files.

Quick tip: You can also directly edit files on the Box.net server. In the screenshot below, I’m using OpenOffice on Ubuntu to open a document stored in my Box account.

The only quirk is that OpenOffice spawned a window asking me to provide login credentials again, but after that, it’s just like editing a document directly on your computer (albeit slower).

Tested on Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron.”

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How-To: Create Screencasts on (nearly) Any Operating System

Screencasts, or capturing a digital video of movement on your computer screen, are a great way to create tutorials, presentations, and even entertaining videos. Software used to create screencasts abounds for (nearly) every operating system, and ranges in price from free to upwards of $50.

As an example, here is a sample screencast (2.5 MB – Ogg Theora) showing the installation of Google Desktop for Linux. If you can’t open the video, please use VLC.

Naturally, I prefer the free options, but will give credit when credit is due if a paid option is simply better than a free option. That said, here is an overview of some of the screencast options available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, and possibly other operating systems.

Windows

Option 1: Wink

Price: FREE

wink-logo.gif

Wink is a free screencasting program aimed at creating tutorials. As such, it offers a plethora of options in addition to simply recording the action on the screen. Some of the options include audio recording, inclusion of navigation buttons, adding text, and exporting to various formats, such as PDF, HTLF, and SWF. Wink also allows you to capture still screenshots, including the ability to capture screenshots based on the mouse and keyboard input.

wink-image.jpg

If you simply want to record the action on your screen, choose the designated section on your screen and press SHIFT + PAUSE to start/stop recording. When finished, you can render your video as a Flash movie. Continue reading

“Ghost” Your Windows System for Free Using Open-Source Tools

The following tutorial is intended for those with some knowledge of Linux and the command line. At the least, you should be comfortable with creating and navigating directories, and should possess a fundamental knowledge of hardware device names under Linux.

Sound scary? A “point-and-click” guide to accomplishing most of the same tasks is also available.

The Problem

Like it or not, Windows needs to be reinstalled occasionally. Whether the cause is a bloated registry, a virus/spyware attack, or an idiotic user, with time Windows just seems to slow down and/or behave erratically.

Re-installing Windows from scratch is a pain. Once you get the base system installed, most people have to download millions of updates and patches, scour the web in search of the latest drivers, and reboot, reboot, reboot.

The Solution

Once you get your Windows system installed and configured the way YOU want it, you should be able to restore to that pristine state in a matter of minutes, not hours. The way to do this is to create an “image” of your freshly-installed system, from which you can later restore when necessary. Of course, there are a number of commercial packages available to do this task, but what if you do not want to spend any money?

Linux and open-source software to the rescue. Yes, you can quickly, and (dare I say) easily image and restore a Windows system using open-source tools. Before we begin, please back up any critical data. This procedure worked for me, but I am not responsible for any data loss.

The Main Tools

Repeat after me: “I am NOT afraid of the Command Line!”

The open-source tools that we are going to use are:

  • ntfs-3g – a driver for NTFS
  • GParted – a partition editor
  • ntfsclone – exactly what it sounds like
  • a Linux “live” CD

In order to restore Windows, you need to run from a different working environment, such as a Linux “live” CD. Any Linux “live” CD with the above tools will work, but two available options are SystemRescueCD and Puppy Linux. Both allow you to boot and run entirely in RAM, freeing your CD/DVD burner for any additional tasks that you might need. I successfully completed all of the tasks detailed below using both Puppy and SystemRescueCD. Just grab the latest version of whichever you prefer.puppy-logo.gif

Note: If you use SystemRescueCD, I recommend typing docache doeject at the boot prompt. These two options will load the entire rescue environment into RAM and then eject the CD afterwards. Puppy Linux, on the other hand, loads into RAM by default. The rest of this tutorial will use Puppy Linux, though the commands can easily be issued from any live CD that contains the above tools.

Before you can image and restore your system, you need to consider a few things: Continue reading

Review: BLAG 60001 – Linux Without Boundaries?

BLAG: Linux Without Boundaries?

If you happen to visit the BLAG Linux homepage, one of the first words your eyes will read is “overthrow.” Specifically:

[blag] works to overthrow corporate control of information and technology through community action and spreading Free Software.

Interesting. I’ve tried a lot of Linux distros, but this is the first one whose “anarchistic” intentions are so boldly stated. Alright, perhaps referring to BLAG as “anarchistic” is excessive, so let’s focus on the facts.

What is BLAG?
blag_logo.jpg
Made by the Brixton Linux Action Group (hence the name), BLAG is a Linux distro, and not a very popular one at that. It is currently ranked number 79 at Distrowatch, using the “6-month” time-span. More specifically, BLAG is a one-CD distro based on Fedora. The latest version (“60001″ – as of this writing) is based on Fedora Core 6. Included on its one CD are numerous applications that a desktop user would “expect” to have.

I first heard about BLAG a few years ago, but did not work up the interest to try it until now. Is its lack of popularity deserved? More importantly, is BLAG worth installing over a more popular distro, such as Fedora, SUSE, or the venerable Ubuntu? Let’s find out. Continue reading