Conky Manager

Well, it’s been a long hiatus! With a new job and Summer and kids, the last three months just flew by!

And the world of Linux is ever moving along.

This evening I’d like to draw your attention to a very useful application, and something I’ve been hoping would come along for quite a while now. I’ve mentioned Conky before, a lightweight system monitor for the X window system that can display all kinds of information about your computer hardware, operating system, network, weather forecasts and more on the desktop. It can display any kind of information or graphics and there are tons of Conky scripts you can download and run in Linux operating systems. I’ve tinkered around a tiny bit with some of these scripts to change what and how Conky displays information, but I never felt ambitious enough to learn the scripting language to make my own Conky scripts from scratch. And there was no GUI application for lazy bums like me to make using Conky easier. Until now!

Conky04_2013-09-05 09:10:30

Conky Manager is a cool little app that makes adding Conky to your desktop a breeze. Conky itself can be installed from most Linux distros, or if you use an Ubuntu or Debian based distro use the Software Center or Synaptic Package Manager to install. Then check out the Conky Manager website. All the info you need is there, plus a link to install a huge number of extra Conky Manager scripts. The application gives you many options for tweaking the scripts, too. On my computer running Zorin OS 6.2/Ubuntu 12.04, some of the CM scripts don’t run quite right, though, or they’ll run briefly when I check them and then quit. But most of them work fine, like one of my favorites called ‘Pencil’ above, a variation of the ‘Gotham’ Conky theme.

And here’s some more info from WebUpd8 on extra Conky scripts and updates. There are many very different and very wild visual styles you can use to decorate your beautiful Linux desktop. Go nuts!

My favorite free RSS newsreaders

Since Google Reader will be shutting down in a few months, I was looking around the internet at the Linux alternative newsreaders/feed readers.

After looking over and trying out several alternatives (without discussing ALL the alternatives in detail), here are my personal suggestions:

I prefer a web-based newsreader instead of opening up a stand-alone application. Though Liferea seems like a good choice for Linux users if you want a computer-based application, and it’s already in many Linux distro repositories.

The Google Reader replacement I’m now using on the Chromium/Chrome web browser is The Old Reader (since Chrome doesn’t have RSS built-in). It looks and works pretty much like Google Reader. It transferred all my RSS subscriptions from Google without any problem, except that it took a few days to finally download my feeds. Because a lot of people are scrambling to find another newsreader, it seems the servers at The Old Reader were backed-up. When I clicked to import my news feeds, I was put on a waiting list of several thousand other people. But  about two days later I got an email notifying me that my feeds were ready, and now The Old Reader works great! And unlike some of the other alternatives, there are no subscription fees.

Old Reader Screenshot

My other favorite feed reader, which no one seems to be mentioning much on the web, is Firefox. I’ve been using Firefox Live Bookmarks for years to keep tabs on my favorite RSS feeds. It’s quite easy to add a feed to wherever you want in Firefox just by right-clicking on an RSS link on a web page. But if you want to use an RSS extension in Firefox, this article will give you lots more options. Of course,  Chromium also has many extensions for this too.

And if you want a newsreader that syncs with all your devices, Feedly looks like a popular choice.

That’s all for now…

Native Linux Tax Software?

 

My wife is the one who does our income tax returns every year (God bless her!). It usually takes her about an hour or so and it’s done. Up through 2011 she’d been using TurboTax on our ancient G4 Power PC Mac that I bought in 2002.

Since then I put the old Mac in storage (the kids had been using it) and replaced it with a not-as-old computer running Linux. When this January rolled around I was wondering what we should use to prepare our taxes. The Mac uses OS 10.4, which is too old for the new 2012 edition of TurboTax to run on. Unfortunately, TurboTax still does not offer a Linux version of their software. And since we use Linux-based operating systems for everything else, I wanted to find a Linux tax return application that would be comparable to TurboTax.

This proved to be a much more difficult task than I would have imagined!

The first alternative application that was recommended to me was Open Tax Solver. The website was updated January 7th of this year and states that the new tax forms aren’t ready yet , and that the new version of the software for this year should be available by the last week of January. However, as of this writing there is still no new version to download.

Another thought I had was installing WINE or VirtualBox and running a Windows version of TurboTax in Linux. But that seemed overly complicated and I haven’t used emulation software because I’ve never had any need to run Windows or Mac software. There had to be a better option!

The other application that seemed like the best Linux alternative is TaxACT, which can be installed to your computer and has Linux, Mac and Windows versions. However, for some reason I was a little hesitant to try it since my wife is used to using TurboTax. Now, TurboTax, like H&R Block and other Tax preparation sites, has the option to file your returns online. This did not initially seem like a wise thing to do. But the more I searched about online, the more I discovered that the majority of Americans seem to be filing online these days.

I did more searching which led me to Ubuntu and other Linux forums, and it seems like most Linux users are doing it on the web! When going to the TurboTax website, the documentation says you need a web browser running in a Windows or Mac environment, but this is not exactly accurate. I found THIS page from the TurboTax forum. Click on the link in that article and it takes you to the webpage that will allow most users to access TurboTax online with a Linux operating system. If that doesn’t work for you, there is also a User Agent Switcher extension for Firefox and Chrome/Chromium that makes a website think you’re using a Windows or Mac browser.

Why Linux-based web browsers are blocked from some sites to begin with really pisses me off, but that’s a discussion for a different place!

But I finally got the TurboTax website to let us log in and my wife had our returns done in no time! It certainly is easy to do your taxes online. I hope time will tell that it’s also safe enough, considering how many people are doing it these days.

 

Redo Backup and Recovery

Useful Software Department:

While roaming around the internet recently I found a Backup/Cloning solution that works for Linux and Windows that I was not familiar with. It’s called Redo Backup and Recovery, and it’s a Live CD image that’s based on Ubuntu. It seems to do what Clonezilla does, but with a very easy-to-use GUI (Graphical User Interface). I’ve used Clonezilla before to clone my hard drive to an external drive, and it worked great. If you want to copy your entire OS with data, applications and user settings, cloning an image of your system is the way to go. However, it could be a little daunting to use Clonezilla’s text-based interface. If you’re new to this sort of thing (and not a command-line guru) it could be a bit confusing and stressful.

I HAVE NOT used Redo Backup and Recovery yet myself, but from everything I’ve seen this looks like an excellent and foolproof method for copying your system to a safe place in case of hard drive failure. Or if your system gets screwed up or becomes unusable for whatever reason, you can easily restore everything back to the way it was with a simple user interface.

I’ve downloaded the ISO file and am going to try this out. Like any Live CD, it boots from a disk (or a USB stick) and it also comes with many other utilities for checking partitions and even restoring deleted files. Here’s another link for more info from MakeUseOf.

Right now I use Grsync for backing up data, but Redo looks like an easy solution for cloning the whole shebang!

Next Time: Searching for Linux Tax Software! 

Linux Apps and Icons and Themes, Oh My!

I’m here today to share a few more Linux applications that I find particularly useful, plus a GTK theme and an Icon Theme that I’ve recently become very fond of.

First up is a really easy to use and useful little app called ClipGrab. It’s a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and many other online video sites. It works a lot like some video download extensions for Firefox, but it’s a standalone application that I think is a little easier to use and has more functionality. It lets you download and convert on-line video to many different formats, and is dead simple to use. When you start the application, ClipGrab will automatically inform you when there is a downloadable video URL in your clipboard and it starts to work by just clicking on the notification. Or just highlight a video URL, and ‘Ctrl+C’ to start the download. And it also has a web search functionality and many different settings. The website has more info and screenshots.

Another application I’ve been using for a few years now on several Linux distros is Radio Tray. This little app lives in your panel and is a wonderfully quick and easy way to listen to internet radio streams. It’s easy to configure and plays shoutcast radio streams as well as many other playlist formats. Check out the home page. This is one of my must-have applications! It does one thing and does it very well. And it also just happens to come pre-installed in Voyager Linux.

I’ve been using a groovy little calendar application for quite a while that  I’d also like to share with you. It’s cross-platform (works on Linux, Mac and Windows) and I’ve found it to be the perfect calendar/to-do application that sits on my computer desktop. It’s called ‘Rainlendar‘, and I discovered it on one of my Linux forums.You can drag it around and put it anywhere on your desktop, and keep abreast of appointments and such at a glance. Rainlendar has many features and is highly configurable to show monthly, weekly or daily activities. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. But check out the website, where you’ll find everything you need to know.

There is a completely free version to download, or a more advanced paid version for a minimal price. I, of course, am using the free version of Rainlendar and it does everything I need at the moment. I’ve quickly become quite fond of this app. I hope you’ll find it useful as well.

Another well-known full-fledged media player app that I’d also like to suggest is good ‘ole Banshee. It’s been around for a while; and years ago I didn’t care for it much. I used to prefer Rhythmbox, but today Banshee has an interface that is usefull and that I can comprehend; it has all the functionality I need and more; and it hasn’t given me any problems in a long, long time. And it’s easy to burn music CDs using Brasero. You just need to select songs from a playlist, then right-click and go to ‘Write CD’ and Brasero automatically opens. I like programs that are useful and just work!

And to finish up today I wanted to recommend a lovely new icon theme I recently discovered. It’s called Nitrux and it resembles a slightly more streamlined/modern take on the very popular Faenza icons. There are a few variations of Nitrux; the one I’m using in this screenshot have the slightly rounded button edges.

I’m a big fan of dark themes. Sometimes I like to switch to a lighter one, but I guess my aging eyes just find the lower contrast/brightness of dark themes easier for lengthy viewing. And the Xfce theme I’m currently using is called Plasma Shock. It also can switch between different hightight colors. Some dark themes seem too washed out to me, or have problems with print and background contrast; but this theme seems just right for me.

Those are my humble recommendations for today. Very soon I’d like to talk about the new version of Bodhi Linux; a very nicely done distro that uses the Enlightenment Desktop Environment.

Making backup copies of DVDs

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of movies and some favorite TV series on DVD. There’s nothing worse than getting some scratches or other damage (flood; fire?) so that you can’t watch your cherished videos. And years ago I never realized how fragile DVDs actually are, especially when kids are involved! So a while back I looked around for a relatively easy way to make copies of my DVDs with Linux.

The first application I used about six months ago when I was using Kubuntu was K9Copy. K9Copy was awesome! It worked great, and the nice thing was it would rip a DVD and directly create an ISO file of the video that could then be burned to a blank DVD and played in your DVD player. The only problem is that since July of 2011 K9Copy is no longer being developed (Click on ‘What’s New’ from the K9Copy website for this notification). You can still use it, but no more updates unless someone else decides to continue work on it in the future. Also, since I’m using Xfce/Voyager at the moment, I didn’t want to install K9Copy along with all its KDE dependencies. So after searching for popular Linux DVD ripping software, I next tried AcidRip. This program is also pretty easy to use, and worked well at converting a movie DVD to .avi format. However, every movie I tried converting with AcidRip included subtitles/closed captioning, even though I set it not to include them. I looked around on the web for help, but could not get AcidRip to leave out the subtitles!

Next I tried Handbrake, a venerable application that lots of people love. And Handbrake is what I’m using now, because it’s simple to use and works every time. It converts a DVD video to MP4 or MKV format and I’ve had no trouble using it with old and newer encrypted DVDs. Just make sure you have installed the libdvdcss2 packages on your system to play the newer restricted format DVDs. Instructions for Ubuntu can be found Here.

After ripping the DVD video I use DeVeDe to create an .iso file of the saved video file which I can then burn to a fresh DVD to play on a standard DVD player. DeVeDe is intuitive to use and lets you make simple menus (nice for TV episodes) and use your own image file for a background and even include music.

All the above software is available to install via Synaptic Package Manager or in the Ubuntu Software Center. For newer versions, you may need to use a PPA.

It’s nice to have backups of those beloved videos, just in case of an unexpected catastrophe, or simple human clutziness!

Reinstalling applications with Synaptic Package Manager

This is a post I wrote last summer on my other blog, but I think it’s a useful one so I’m re-posting it here. 

I’m here today with a handy tip for Linux users. Most people who use a Linux-based operating system may already know about this; but for those who don’t or newer Linux users this can be very handy.

A couple of weeks ago the hard drive failed (as they all eventually do) on my old HP Compaq computer that I use to experiment with different Linux distros. Months ago it started making those funny ‘chicka-chicka’ noises every once-in-a-while to let me know that the hard drive was wearing out. It didn’t happen very often, but the other day it ‘chicka-chickaed’ for the last time and the system froze. I tried to reboot, but the BIOS could no longer find the hard drive.

Fortunately I’d done a backup to an external hard drive about 2 weeks earlier. I should probably do it more frequently, but I don’t use that computer as often as our other two. Rule #1: Backup often!

I really like this computer. I bought it used about two years ago and it works great. It has a relatively fast processor (Pentium 4) and 2 Gbs of RAM and I know the hardware works well. So I stopped by the local computer store to see about replacing the hard drive. They had a spankin’ new 500 Gb HD for $70. But, not desiring to spend any more than I possibly could, I ended up buying a used 80 Gb HD for $20 which still has twice the storage capacity as the old one. I brought it home and put the new(er) drive in.

I popped in a Live CD and installed Bodhi Linux, which I’d been using on the old hard drive. In a short time I was back in business with Bodhi. Now comes the fun part.

Along with backing up my /home partition, I also use Synaptic Package Manager to periodically make a backup list of all my installed packages (applications and their dependencies). To do this you need to be using an Ubuntu-based distro or one that uses Synaptic. I’m not familiar with doing this in other distros that use a different package manager. But in Bodhi Linux, Linux Mint, or any other Ubuntu/Debian derivative, just open Synaptic; go to File> Save Markings. Make sure to check the little box that says ‘Save full state, not only changes’ and then save that file to wherever you want (preferably wherever you saved your /home backup).

Then when you need to reinstall an operating system, after applying all updates, you can open Synaptic, go to File> Read Markings and choose your saved Packages file. As long as you’re connected to the internet it will automatically download and install all the applications and other packages that you had originally installed. This certainly saves a lot of time and trouble so you don’t have to search for and reinstall all your applications. You can also do this if you don’t have an internet connection by using APTonCD. But that’s another story.

Gimp 2.8 is great!

A month ago the stable release of the new Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) 2.8 became available. I’ve been using the FREE Gimp 2.6 for a few years now. For all my image manipulation and digital painting needs it’s fantastic, and does just about everything I used to use the definitely NOT FREE Adobe Photoshop for.

I just upgraded to the new Gimp a couple of days ago by adding the PPA for Gimp 2.8 using these instructions on Webupd8. Since the Ubuntu repositories that I use with Synaptic Package Manager in Xubuntu 12.04 only has the older 2.6 version of Gimp until the next release of Xubuntu 12.10, using the PPA comes in quite handy for getting the new Gimp now. And it is a wonderful thing, indeed! Some very nice improvements over Gimp 2.6.

But for further info, go to this brief video review of Gimp 2.8  from InfinitelyGalactic Here.

Voyager: A Beautiful French Remix of Xubuntu

A few weeks ago, in my endless quest for new and useful Linux distros, I came across a very groovy remastered version of Xubuntu (Ubuntu + Xfce Desktop Manager) called Voyager 11.10. The website is in French, but you will notice a pop-down menu to translate it into English or numerous other languages. The Google translation is a bit quirky (pretty funny, actually) in English, but you’ll get the gist of it.

Over the last few months, while searching for alternative Desktop Environments to use instead of Gnome 3 or Unity, I’ve become very fond of Xfce. It uses less system resources than Gnome or KDE and thus runs quicker on older hardware or computers with less RAM. For this reason I installed Xubuntu on our almost 8-year-old Dell D610 laptop that gets daily use in the kitchen for web browsing/email/internet radio listening. It’s a faithful old machine, but only has 756 Mb of RAM; so Xubuntu runs pretty well on it. I’ve also run Bodhi Linux, WattOS, MoonOS and a couple of other distros on it.  But one day I heard about Voyager 11.10 on the PinguyOS forum as one of someone’s top 3 ‘perfect’ distros. So I downloaded the Live Voyager ISO image and installed it on my ‘testing’ computer; a used HP Compaq desktop machine that is about seven years old, which the kids are now using. And I was very pleased and impressed by the numerous great tweaks the Voyager people have made to the standard Xubuntu experience.

Instead of the bottom panel with launcher icons that comes with standard Xfce; Voyager has the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) installed instead. See my screenshot above. Voyager also comes with a nice, unobtrusive little conky setup along the top edge of the screen to monitor hard drive space, RAM and cpu usage, etc. There are also numerous applications and utilities installed that are not standard on Xubuntu; like Synapse, Zoho Cloud Office Web Apps, Cheese Webcam app, Minitube (a nice way to watch Youtube videos without using Flash), and one I use a lot: Radio Tray, among many other tweaks and Firefox extensions. Flash and mp3 playback are also pre-configured. Oh, and the developer of Voyager is apparently really into travel photography; it comes with a lot of nice wallpaper photos!

Voyager comes with a default Ubuntu Ambiance theme and has all the functionality of the Xfce panel and menus. I’ve really come to love Xfce lately. Because of its ease and configurability, I think I now prefer it to the old Gnome 2 experience! And Voyager is a stylish and useful variation on Xfce/ Xubuntu. I would recommend giving it a try on any system, but especially on an aging computer.

Voyager is now installed on our laptop. On a final note: last week the trusty Dell laptop screen stopped working; nothing but dull psychedelic flashy colors. So I hooked up a spare 17 inch LCD monitor and rebooted. Then in the Xfce System Settings under ‘Display’ it showed both the Laptop monitor and the Dell LCD monitor and I was able to enable the one and disable the laptop screen. So now we actually have a larger, nicer monitor for the old laptop!

To leave you, here’s a short video of a preview of Voyager 12.04 that will be coming out at the end of April (along with Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Kubuntu/Lubuntu). It comes with a new conky configuration manager that looks really cool!

My Experience So Far with Kubuntu

About the second week in January I decided to try out a Linux distro that uses KDE on our main computer that I share with my wife. This was a result of numerous large and small frustrations with Mint 12/Gnome 3 and Bodhi Linux/E17.  Updates caused some major breakage with E17 (Enlightenment) and I was tired of using numerous extensions to get Gnome (as good as the Mint enhancements were) to do what I wanted it to do. Cinnamon was just in its infancy and I wasn’t that keen on MATE. And I wanted something that looked really nice and was configurable.

So I thought: the one major Desktop Environment I had checked out a little in the past, but had never been my cup of tea, might be worth another look. I’d heard of nice improvements from KDE versions 4.6 and 4.7; and 4.8 was imminent. But now the big question of which KDE distro to try?

I was very impressed with the OpenSuse 12.1 version of KDE. And I had also tried Pardus Linux a few months back and really liked that, too. Recently, however, the future of Pardus development is in doubt. Hopefully that project will continue. Also PCLinuxOS and Chakra Linux seem like solid, popular KDE distros. But I ended up choosing Kubuntu 11.10 for the simple reason that I’ve always used a distro based on Ubuntu. I was familiar with how Ubuntu works, the package management system, the terminal commands; everything would be familiar and relatively easy, except with KDE! If I was going to try a completely different Desktop Environment, everything else should work pretty much the same.

After two and a half months I’m pretty satisfied, for the most part, with Kubuntu. In fact for several days after I first installed it I was delighted by how user configurable it is; how easy it was to set up, and the beauty of the Plasma Desktop and Kwin. There’s a wonderful attention to detail about Kubuntu and KDE specifically that I’d missed with the newest versions of Ubuntu and Mint (though both are improving by leaps and bounds over the past months).

With any operating system or distro, there are a few minor things I needed to figure out. And as with most Linux distros, the Kubuntu forums were very helpful. Printer setup was fast and as easy as any Ubuntu distro. KDE does use more RAM than any other DE I’ve tried; but I expected that and with 4 Gb of RAM I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve learned to use some KDE applications that I never used before; and for the most part they’re pretty nice. I don’t use a computer-based e-mail client, so I don’t use Kmail. That’s one KDE application I’ve heard from reading the forums is a bit wonky. My wife uses Thunderbird on her user account, which works great in Kubuntu. Another KDE app I have become quite fond of is K3B, the Disk Burning utility that comes with Kubuntu. Actually, it does a lot more than just burn CDs/DVDs; and it generates an MD5 Sum for any ISO image (Like a Live Linux Distro CD/DVD), which is pretty neat! I always liked Brasero in Gnome, but K3B is an even better alternative.

But I’m not going to go on much more at the moment about my KDE love. Suffice to say Kubuntu has fulfilled my Linux needs on this year-old mid-range AMD Dual-Core Athlon desktop machine. For lower spec or older computers I would go with a lighter desktop manager. Which will lead to my next post about XFCE and a groovy French remix of Xubuntu I’ve recently discovered.

Stay tuned for more, Linux Lovers…