30 March 2010

sox and mp3

This is just an info nugget that I hope will save someone else the half-hour it just cost me. In Debian, sox won't play mp3 files by default--even with the baddest, ugliest gstreamer bits installed. The magic bit of fufu dust you need to make sox play mp3 is the libsox-fmt-mp3 package. But as long as you're at it, you may as well just install all the libsox formats with:

# aptitude install libsox-fmt-all

28 March 2010

GNU IceCat and file managers

There's no shortage of essentially identical Mozilla-derived browsers in Linuxspace now. Firefox is the official Mozilla product. Two better known variations are Iceweasel--a Debian project that replaces the not-really-covered-by-a-free-license Mozilla branding stuff in Firefox with really-covered-by-a-free-license branding, and Swiftfox--which offers processor-specific optimized compiles of the Mozilla code.

Perhaps a lesser-known variant (as of this writing) is GNU IceCat. IceCat is very similar to Iceweasel in that its main purpose for being is to remove the non-libre Mozilla bits from Firefox. It goes one step further than Iceweasel in its pursuit of libreness in that it redirects its add-ons explorer to a GNU-maintained list of add-ons that are fully-libre. Don't worry--you can still install any add-on that you can in normal Firefox by visiting Mozilla's add-on site. Seems like a winner: promoting libre software without limiting the use of proprietary software.

However, more interesting than the above for me is something I've found to be case with the latest version of IceCat that is not the case with the other three. In any of the other three (or four if you count hand-installing the official Mozilla binaries rather than the Ubuntu and Debian packages), no matter what I've tried, I have not been able to tell the browser in the downloads dialog to "open containing folder" using the file manager of my choice. Whatever I've tried, they all insist on opening folders in Nautilus. However, IceCat has a file: application type with which you can set the desired file manager just as you might with any other type. And there was much rejoicing.

The weird thing is that I seem to recall that the file: application type was present in older versions of Firefox--e.g. as included in Jaunty. So I don't know if the current lack of the file: type is a temporary abnormality or the sign of things to come on all fronts. Whatever the case, IceCat is my default browser on my Debian machines because I tend to use a custom Openbox/Thunar environment most of the time. It not my default on Ubuntu because it--along with Swiftfox and the binaries directly download-able from Mozilla--does not respect your system font rendering settings. (It's always something, isn't it?)

There's a PPA for Ubuntu users and deb packages for 32-bit Debian users if you wanna give it a go.

23 March 2010

Ubuntu as not Linux



Yesterday, I commented on how there seems to be a concerted effort by Canonical to brand Ubuntu as an independent OS and conceal the Linux that it is. I based this view mostly on UI and software developments I've seen in the last few Ubuntu releases. Today, I got a bit more curious about the PR side of things and had a look at the Ubuntu website.

As a start, I wanted to see how prominently the site featured the term "Linux". And after visiting a whole bunch of pages a typical user would, I couldn't find a single use of the term. Compare this to the respective sites for Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, and even openSuSE, all of which state very plainly on their home pages that they are Linux-based distributions.

So, I fired up Google and searched for "linux" site:www.ubuntu.com to see if I missed something. Excluding mentions in security reports (which a typical user will almost certainly never access), the term "linux" popped up in Google's results in three places:
  1. The Ubuntu Server Edition page--which a regular (i.e., desktop) user will likely never visit.
  2. The Ubuntu MID Edition page--which is intended for use by industry folk building MIDs, not by end users.
  3. In passing in the list of download options. (Look for it ... can you find it?)
This is making me sad.

22 March 2010

Gamesters of Triskelion


Like a few others, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the direction that Ubuntu seems to be headed. In essence, it seems that there is a concerted effort 1) to brand Ubuntu in such a way that it conceals the Linux that it is and 2) to do this in a way, along with some other stuff, to lock users into the OS. In other words, the motivation behind Ubuntu may not be to create a better Linux through which the parent Canonical will make money by providing support to Enterprise and other commercial users; rather the whole raison d'etre may be to develop a platform to market and sell to regular desktop users proprietary services that will increasingly come glued to the platform. And it just so happens that a Linux base provides most of the functionality for the required platform--as well as a core of well-meaning developers who are willing to work for free and who will have done all the heavy lifting for you

In other other words, I am concerned that the monetization of Ubuntu via content services is the gold standard and that the love-for-all goals stated in Canonical's publicity is just propaganda meant to get people on all sides on board. I really, really, really hope I am wrong and that I am being far, far, far too cynical because I've been well conditioned with the nutty stuff that Microsoft is known for doing, Apple has started doing, and Novell is doing with openSuSE.

In any case, based on my growing concern I did a tiny bit of research into Canonical Ltd. Just about everyone knows that it was founded by Mark Shuttleworth, who is (according to Wikipedia) South African by birth, a SA and UK citizen, and a space tourist. But not everyone may know that the company he founded to develop Ubuntu is registered in the Isle of Mann.

It's worth noting that the Isle of Mann is not part of the UK--it is a British Crown dependency. However, it is a great place to setup a business because, "The Isle of Man is a low tax economy with no capital gains tax, wealth tax, stamp duty, death duty or inheritance tax and income tax rates of 10% and 18%; corporation tax is at 0%." In fact it is quite well known as a center for offshore banking, and, "banking and other services now contribute the great bulk of GDP."

I now place the tinfoil hat firmly upon my head.

The national symbol of the Isle of Mann is the triskelion:

Compare this with:

Just a coincidence or a weird joke?

06 March 2010

Karmic and Pulseaudio (not SOLVED)

I have been bitten by the bug reported at https://bugs.launchpad.net/pulseaudio/+bug/352732 . In fact, I was bitten by this back in Jaunty. There the problem was isolated to logging out of a non-Gnome session (and into Gnome? I forget exactly). In Jaunty I solved the problem by killing pulseaudio before terminating non-Gnome sessions. Now in Karmic this solution doesn’t seem to work in all situations, so I am trying the suggestion in post #77. Namely, in /etc/pulse/default.pa, comment out the line load-module module-device-restore

Here is the snippet from my /etc/pulse/default.pa:

### mfk addition: comment out "load-module module-device-restore"
### see https://bugs.launchpad.net/pulseaudio/+bug/352732 #77
#load-module module-device-restore

We’ll see how it goes.

Update (2010-03-10)
I just noticed that my soundcard input selection is being disrespected. There are two inputs on my lappy, and the system always defaults to input 1 no matter what. I don't know if this is related to the above or not.

Update (2010-03-12)
I re-enabled load-module module-device-restore , and my input settings began to be respected. However, the trashing of output settings returned. So ... pick your poison. I guess I am coming down on the side of those who complain that Pulseaudio is (still) not ready for prime time. Or is this a problem with the way it's implemented in Ubuntu?