“Anything you can do, I can do better…”

Remember that old song from Annie Get Your Gun, a 1950s musical, with the venerable Betty Hutton? The original context was women vs. men, and really a social reform / equal rights message hiding behind a musical. But, the song is perfect for a big player in open source: KDE.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Linux. The first time I tried it, back in the days of Red Hat 9, I wasn’t much impressed. Compared to Windows XP, or Mac OS X, it couldn’t do much. It didn’t “just work” like Apple Corp. says Mac OS does, and like Microsoft is now saying Longhorn will do.

There were a few things that I couldn’t get past. For starters, you couldn’t plug in hardware and have it instantly recognized and working. That’s a key part for your mantra to be “it just works.” Also, I had a horribly disheveled desktop, with mismatched icons, different widget toolkits depending on what program I was using, and an overall “I’m in Windows 98” feel. I couldn’t print easily, and there was no Photoshop (only this evil program called the GIMP). The office suite felt underpowered. If you were looking to do “cool” things, like import pictures from your digital camera, burn CDs, watch DVDs, then you might as well had better switch back to Windows.

I’ve come along way since then, and I obviously now realize that you can import new themes, and download new software. But Linux has come along even more so, including the K Desktop Environment. KDE calls itself a “desktop manager”, which means it includes a common GUI desktop, a window manager, a centralized help center, a centralized control center, common widgets and dialogues from app to app, and a wealth of apps that integrate seamlessly. That’s the goal, anyway. When it started it way back in 1998, it was a long way off from that. But fast forward to 2005, with the release of KDE 3.4, and it is a different story entirely. Nowadays, KDE (combined with the power of the latest Linux kernel, version 2.6) can do anything Windows can do.

I have come up with a list of must-have requirements for a desktop in the home (and possibly small business). It describes what KDE can (or can’t) do. The results are suprising, even to me.

Printing. Sure, there’s an “Add Printer” wizard that has as many print drivers (maybe more) than Windows XP. You can also save anything to a PDF document. That’s on par with Mac OS X, and one up on Windows. That same wizard lets you add your friend’s shared printer on his Windows machine, or your boss’s shared printer on his Apple PowerBook. And of course, you can see ink levels, monitor the print queue, and set different quality levels.

Digital Photos. Plug your camera in. A pretty little camera icon shows up on the desktop (again, a lot like Mac OS X, and not much like Windows, where it buries itself in the “My Computer” paradigm). Click the camera icon, and you can browse your photos. Most new and old digital cameras will work: Fugi, Canon, HP, Kodak, Mustek, Sony. This is thanks to Linux 2.6 adding in support for so many USB devices. My wife’s brand new Kodak EasyShare DX7630 worked out of the box. Even better: install a KDE program called digiKam (not part of official KDE, but connected to the KDE universe). My wife loves it. She plugs in her camera, opens digiKam, and clicks on the menu item that reads “Camera: Kodak EasyShare DX7630.” A dialogue appears, much like the photo browser included with many digital cameras, and from the dialogue she can download all or selected pictures (she’s seeing thumbnails) to any of her albums or a new album, or she can delete all or selected pictures. Once in an Album, she can click a photo’s thumbnail to “make it big”, and touch it up with a wealth of plugins. That includes digital artifact reduction, red-eye removal, color, lighting, and painting effects. If she wants to get real crazy, she can open the image in GIMP and do some serious editing.

Music. Windows is lagging in this area. Most music lovers have switched to iTunes and their beloved iPods, while the rest are using WinAmp. A few “regular users” are stuck with MusicMatch, Napster to Go, or RealOne. Does anyone even use Windows Media Player? Anywho, KDE now has several options to choose from. If you’re looking for a straight-up jukebox, use JuK. But if you need to feel the power of iTunes or WinAmp, there is a program for you: amaroK. amaroK can be as simple as WinAmp 2 (or XMMS), or it can be an advanced media browser, complete with playlists, smart playlists, radio stations, cover art (and a wicked-cool cover art manager), context browsing, MusicBrainz statistics and intelligence, lyrics, and yes: iPod support. It even says “your iPod” in the help text of the portable media player browser. That’s dumb, because not everyone has an iPod like me, but oh well. They realize that the iPod will forever dominate. Oh, and I’m pretty sure it works with your silly Creative Zen / Dell Jukebox. The only thing missing from this excellent setup is the iTunes Music Store. The current workaround is using PyMusique, a python/GTK-based interface to the iTMS that allows for browsing, previewing, and legally purchasing. Coincidentally, it also strips the purchased song of any copy protection. Binary packages are available for my favorite distro, (K)ubuntu.

Video. The strong contenders in the Windows digital video market, both on and offline, include Microsoft’s Media Player, Apple’s Quicktime, Real’s RealPlayer, and (more recently) Macromedia/Adobe’s Flash player. Of those, Real and Flash are officially supported in Linux, with those companies compiling a Linux port of each new version. But the real question with Quicktime and Windows Media Player is codecs. AVI, XviD, DivX, WMV, MOV; sound familiar? Those are all video formats. Currently, KDE and most distributions do not ship ready to play these file formats. You have to install Mplayer, plus a KDE frontend for it (Kplayer, KMplayer, etc.) or just install the codecs they provide. They have support for about a zillion codecs natively, and they also support Windows DLL codecs. That means any new papa that comes to town with a new video format for Windows hasn’t excluded Linux. Personally, I prefer Kaffeine, a great KDE video player, that supports multiple backends (default is xine). With Kaffeine (and those darn codecs installed), I can play Quicktime movies, DivX movies, AVI files, Windows Media Video, Digital Video Broadcasts, DVD video discs, VCDs, RealPlayer streams, and whole lot more I haven’t tried. So, video is ready and working, it just needs to be included by default in all the Linux distributions.

Office. There are two major office suites available for Linux: KOffice (KDE’s office suite), and OpenOffice.org (Sun’s open-source office suite). KOffice has many more parts, such as a project manager, database GUI, forms creator, vector illustrator, personal information manager, and more. It sounds a lot like Office 2003, yes? OpenOffice.org, while having few applications, is actually further along in the process of being a very powerful office suite. OpenOffice can open and save Microsoft proprietary-format documents. KOffice has trouble opening them, and has no plans to support saving to them. But, that is only important if you still have Microsoft Office within your circle of friends. OpenOffice is available on Windows, so convert everyone, and no more fuss. :) In recent news, the OASIS group came up with the OpenDocument format, which all open-source word processors, spreadsheets and presenters will support and hopefully use by default. I’ve heard that Corel might add OpenDocument support to WordPerfect. All we would need then is to create a filter for Microsoft Office to read and save OpenDocument files. And, since it is an “open format”, we shouldn’t have any trouble doing that!

Email. Well, duh. KDE’s KMail is miles ahead of Microsoft’s free Outlook Express. I even prefer Kontact to Microsoft Outlook 2000. Nothing, however, is as BAD as Mac OS X Tiger’s Mail.

Web. I wish I could say that Konqueror is ready for the masses. But it wouldn’t be true. They need to simplify the web profile, and they need to ditch KHTML. Yeah, Safari is based on KHTML, but they have not and never will (probably) see backports of Apple’s improvements. Konqueror really needs to use the Gecko (Mozilla Firefox) engine. Until then, I’ll be using Mozilla Firefox, with a theme applied that makes it look and feel like the rest of KDE. That still doesn’t provide full integration with KDE desktop, though, including DCOP calls and KIO slave support. But Firefox in KDE is a lot better than Internet Explorer in Windows.

Burn CDs & DVDs. Yes. With flying colors. K3B is quite possibly at the top of the open-source software coolness list. It burns CD data, CD audio, CD-RW, Video CD, DVD data, DVD video, DVD audio, DVD-/+RW (depending on what your drive supports), and supports CD audio ripping, CD ISO file creation, and DVD ripping.


So if you are ever wondering what’s cool in the Linux world, go do a Google search for digiKam, amaroK, Kaffeine (oh, and how about a few QT/KDE apps I didn’t mention — Scribus and Inkscape.)

KBerry – Blackberry Sync for Linux

No, it doesn’t exist. But boy, do a lot of people wish it did! Currently, there is no driver support whatsoever for Blackberry devices in Linux. I believe it is a combination of a few problems: the official Blackberry Windows driver/software has export restrictions (?!?!) and breaking the encryption scheme on the data may break DMCA law.

That aside, I present to you KBerry, the KDE Blackberry Sync Manager.

KBerry Mockup

For the simple purpose of konsistency, the KBerry user interface should look a lot like KPilot. Think about it: a Blackberry isn’t much different from a Palm in functionality, so logically, the sync program should be similar. We wouldn’t be able to actually USE KPilot, because the interfacing between a Blackberry and Palm is completely foreign. KBerry would hopefully be a frontend for a command line Blackberry interface tool and library, so that other apps (GBerry?) could be written. Also required is a Blackberry-RIM kernel module (Yet to be developed).

So hackers, get to it! Please!

Wired

I just found a very promising digital audio workstation for Linux. Wired is beta quality, but the screenshots look great. It is a KDE app, much like Rosegarden, so that makes me happy.

I think that with the right hardware, Linux+Wired+Rosegarden could make a very happy studio. Now, if only they had Reason for Linux. (Yes, I do own a copy of 3.0, and yes , it works on both Windows and Mac OS X).

Linux TCO?

Slashdot has an article dispelling some of the myths about Windows vs. Linux. Just reading the Yankee poll makes me seethe. That aside, now you know my camp.

Do you really want to know the TCO breakdown for a small business? I’m the IT Administrator at a charter school, so I would say that we are a classified as a small business. Let’s take a look.

I have 4 Compaq Proliant servers running Windows 2000, as well as running IIS, ISA, Exchange 2000, and Veritas Backup Exec. They cost the school very little, because they were paid for by a grant. They cost the grant roughly $30,000. That includes the price of the hardware, 300 Windows CALs, 300 Exchange CALs, Windows Servers Licenses, Exchange Server Licenses, and Veritas Licenses. We bought it all in 2002. Now it’s 2005. The hardware is doing great, but Windows 2000 is clearly being pushed to the back at Microsoft. Windows Server System has been out for a while, a new service release for 2003 will be out this year, and Windows Longhorn Server should be available sometime within the next decade (okay, 2007, really).

Needless to say, it is time for an upgrade. This will be a real world upgrade, and does not get confused by things such as “value” and “features.” Those words are very defined in the real world, and only get muddled when found in surveys, studies and polls. Since our hardware is doing great (4 dual 1.4Ghz PIIIs with almost 1 terrabyte combined total in hard disk space), we’re only going to upgrade the software. The obvious options are: Windows Server 2003 with Exchange Server 2003, or Linux. Note that I cannot use Windows Server 2003 Small Business Edition, because it has a user cap at 75, and we need at least 300 seats, including staff machines and lab machines.

Windows Server 2003 Upgrade Path (prices from microsoft.com)
Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition (includes 10 CALs) – $1,199 x 4 = $4,796
Windows Server 2003, CAL 20-pack – $799 x 13 = $10,387
Exchange Server 2003, Standard Edition – $699
Exchange Server 2003, user CAL – $67 x 300 = $20,100
ISA Server 2004, Standard Edition – $1,499
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer Training with 2003 Server Path – approx. $10,000
A technician to run it all (me) – same in all situations; does not affect TCO.
WINDOWS TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP = $47,481

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Upgrade Path (prices from redhat.com)
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 – $3,196
Red Hat Certified Engineer Training for RHEL4 – approx. $4,496
RED HAT TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP = $7,692

Looks like Windows costs about $39,789 more for our business. Let’s take it a step further.

Ubuntu GNU/Linux (prices from /dev/null)
Ubuntu Hoary 5.04 CD – $0.00, including shipping and handling
Apache Web Server – $0.00
MySQL – $0.00
PHP – $0.00
Samba – $0.00
Postfix Mail Server – $0.00
OpenLDAP – $0.00
Jabber IM Server – $0.00
Horde Web Mail – $0.00
Squid Proxy Cache – $0.00
Mondo Rescue Backups – $0.00
LINUX TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP – $0.00

A word to Ballmer and Gates: no more FUD! It doesn’t make any sense!

More Fun with Kubuntu

This is a continuation of my original Kubuntu usability post. I’ve dived much deeper into Kubuntu juice now. Here are some fun things I have working:

  • DVD Video playback, with full 5.1 audio, in Kaffeine
  • Media playback on the Internet, such as Apple’s Trailers and NPR Radio. However, media only plays embedded in Konqueror. Firefox opens Kaffeine (and then crashes – don’t worry, I filed a bug). I think to solve this we need a working generic xine plugin for Firefox. That way Ubuntu users don’t have to wait for a totem-mozilla plugin, and Kubuntu users can stop worrying about Firefox crashes.
  • Full 3D acceleration, using an ATI 9700 Pro. Some people in the forums have said that I won’t be able to use compositing with 3D acceleration enabled, especially on an ATI. But we shall see.
  • digiKam – a great photo organizer for my wife. It accesses all her photos on a FAT32 partition shared with Windows.
  • DOSBox – I can now play all my favorite abandonware, such as King’s Quest, Space Quest, Duke Nukem, and Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure.
  • ZSnes – I can play all my old ROM images. Hurray! Although now I really need to find good NES/Genesis/TurboGrafx emulators.
  • BibleTime – Bible study software
  • Asaph – A Java-based worship database
  • Scribus – Desktop publishing software

However, here are some areas that need a lot of work:

  • Kynaptic needs a serious overhaul so that it more closely matches Synaptic. I want to be able to see what repository a package is from, and I also want to be able to see the packages sorted by how they are laid out on the KMenu. There also needs to be an update notifier that can sit in the system tray.
  • The package makers need to remove all the unnecessary GNOME requirements from the Firefox package.
  • Can we get Gecko into Konqueror? If so, maybe we can forget this Firefox business.
  • gtk-engines-gtk-qt needs to be on the default installation, possibly with the Clearlooks Crystal theme applied, so that when an unsuspecting user installs a GNOME app, he doesn’t know the difference.
  • There are a few KDE Improvements (kio-locate, kio-ipod, etc.) that have made it high on the list at kde-apps.org and should be considered for default inclusion.
  • OpenOffice.org looks awful. Please, please, please recompile it using the KDE OpenOffice project’s build. That one uses KDE widgets, themes, and dialogs. We’re a KDE distro, right?
  • amaroK needs to add iPod shuffle support.
  • Is Krita in universe? If not, it makes a decent KDE Gimp replacement.
  • That’s all for now, folks. Tootles!

Ubuntu Review

DistroWatch just announced this Ubuntu review on a weblog: “Ubuntu is the latest and greatest operating system built on the Linux kernel, Gnome, the GNU utilities, and the Debian packaging system. Ubuntu 5.04, otherwise known as “Hoary Hedgehog”, was released a little over 48 hours ago. It is the first Linux-based system I have encountered that is tolerable enough for me to use for everyday work. That is a great achievement. But Ubuntu is still rife with design flaws, some of them severe.” Read the full article “My first 48 hours enduring Ubuntu 5.04”.

“This one is pretty realistic, and shows standard bugs inherent in most mainstream Linux distros today.”

It also has a surprise ending. Enjoy.

There’s Hope For Desktop Linux

I’m listening to Shane Barnard’s The Answer in full 5.1 surround sound. It’s playing from my iPod Shuffle.

“You mean from iTunes, right?”

No.

“Oh, so you’re playing it directly from the Shuffle in Windows or on your Mac.”

No.

“So what then?”

I opened gtkpod, selected all the songs, and added them to my amaroK playlist. And yes, I have full control of my Creative SB Audigy 2 sound card, including the rear, center, and subwoofer channels.

“How is that possible?”

The beauty and ease of Kubuntu Linux.

“How can I do that?”

See my howto on the Ubuntu Forums.

Short Weekends Should Be Outlawed

Every weekend should have at least 3 days. Especially for those in ministry. In fact, anyone who does major ministry work during a weekend should be given another weekend to compensate. I’m not complaining about lost time, I’m just worried about a lack of energy to make it in to work tomorrow.

Friday, the Priority band drove up to Phoenix and played for a Valley Rim Association youth lock-in. It was at North Phoenix Baptist, which is nice, but it started at 10:30pm, which ain’t so nice. The worship in concert, or “Overflow 2” as we affectionately called it, was a success. There were some internal band issues regarding preparation of the heart when leading others in worship, but I think it has been resolved. And of course, we led worship Sunday morning and evening at the Priority College Service. This morning a guest speaker preached, Dr. David Johnson of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. A good word on “the most important thing in life”: taking God seriously.

Later on we’ll be going to Chipotle and then Jenny and I will try to catch this week’s Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. Hope that Monday doesn’t come tomorrow.

Kubuntu 5.04 Rocks!

I can’t do a full review of Kubuntu yet, since it is a full-fledged Linux desktop. I’ll need some time to make a final decision. I installed Kubuntu 5.04RC onto an Athlon 1600+ desktop. I can tell you that this is how painless my installation/setup has been so far:

  • Installation was the old Debian fake GUI, but it was so easy!
  • It recommended a partition scheme for me
  • Xorg set my resolution to 1280×1024. Cool, but I actually wanted 1024×768.
  • The wired-network autoconfigured itself
  • It detected and installed my Audigy 2 automagically. I’m listening to my mp3 collection now.
  • To install my HP Photosmart 7350, I went to the KDE Print Manager. It had a lot of drivers, including the one I needed! Awesome!
  • To install my Gravis USB Gamepad, I plugged it in. Seriously.
  • I’m downloading all the updates to the packages I already have via Kynaptic. I also opted to install kde-games :)
  • Next, I’ll install the Gimp, Scribus, Inkscape and rdesktop packages
  • I’m almost afraid to plug in my iPod… I think it will actually work!!
  • No 3D rendering yet, because I’m using an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro. I either need adjust some glx settings or install the ATI proprietary driver.
  • I effortlessly copied a music CD using K3B. That’s amazing!
  • This is actually fun! I like Linux when it works.

Update: Using Kynaptic, I easily upgraded all my packages, and then installed Firefox, Gimp, Scribus, nmap and rdesktop. It’s like I press a button and I get a new program! Kubuntu/Ubuntu is the Linux desktop ready for the masses.