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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Enlightenment 0.16

Enlightenment Window Manager

Well, Enlightenment 0.17 is the latest version, and 0.16 is the most loved version yet. Of what? A window manager for Linux desktops. If you are a new Linux user, you probably don’t know about desktop environments or window managers other than KDE and GNOME. While these projects have been around for some time, they are less scalable and are feature packed than old ones and light ones like TWM, FVWM2, WindowMaker (which I will cover in a future post) and also the new and popular lightweight desktop environment, XFCE.

A screenshot of E-0.16. Pager on the left-bottom, and iconbox on the right-bottom.

Note transparency on the terminal program E-term.

Each mouse button is assigned a menu when clicked on desktop.

While all these other window managers are more about functionality than style, Enlightnment (simply and affectionately called E ) is in a different league. And it is not my favourite window manager, but it is what I would like my favourite window manager (WindowMaker) to look like. Simply put, E exudes class. It is the Mercedes Benz – no, make that the Bugatti, of window managers in Linux. It has some great graphical eye candy in all its themes, especially Ganymede, which will make other window managers look positively sedentary. Enlightenment was developed from code used on FVWM2. This window manager was highly customizable, and these characteristics continued into E. There are plenty of image maps and all are put to good use on the title bars and the decorations and window borders. Transparency used in locations which you would not have imagined. There is a set of applets called Enlightenment Epplets, or simply Epplets, which run on your desktop, everything from music players and sound mixers and desktop lock and screensaver controllers, a command line, a drive mounter, CPU and memory and network traffic shown as “flames” of different intensities, all right there, on the desktop. These applets, called Enlightenment Epplets, are themed by each theme which comes with E, and so everything on that graphical real estate in front of your eyes is a visual treat.

The menus don’t come on a task bar. There is no concept of one. All menus are accessible on a click on the desktop. And there are multiple desktops, virtual desktops and pagers. You can customize wallpapers for them, you can scroll down to the desktop above or below. Move your mouse to the edge of the screen and voila, you have moved to the next desktop. Navigating in a multi tasking environment could not be easier.

Then there are the task management facilities – there is an iconbox, which catches any window you may be minimizing, and stores it as a small image icon of the same. The kind of feature which Windows and some of these other Linux based window managers would have to kill to have. The titlebars and endlessly customizable. There are also the special effects – FX Ripples and FX Waves which create ripples and waves on your desktop. The menus are customizable, and there is the popular E-conf tool, which is also known as the Enlightenment Configurator – E-Conf, for short.
Enlightenment has been subject to criticism – for being a resource hog especially on lower end machines. It has crashes with some themes, but things can be set right by editing E’s configuration files in a text editor and restarting the window manager. Which is another superb feature – you can simply restart Enlightnment from a menu command and not affect the other processes you have open. This is really useful if you want to install a new theme or test a theme you have created.

E-themes are highly customizable!

Note E-epplets on left cluster and right, also a special menubar on the extreme right! There’s plenty to play around with in Linux, and Enlightenment window manager is a good place to start. It is a clean desktop environment and is really very slick in terms of visual quality and the “gnarly” factor. If you want functionality with style, albeit without the heavy customizations and conventional styles of the other window managers like KDE and GNOME, try Enlightenment. It won’t let you down. 🙂

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Posted by on September 30, 2006 in Reviews

 

Launchy for Windows

Launchy opening an .mp3 using the Default skin 

From Launchy.net

Launchy is a free windows utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager.

Launchy indexes the programs in your start menu and can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes!


More details are available here. It’s a very useful tool. Simply press the key combination: Alt + Space to bring up the launcher and in a few keystrokes, you can run your favorite program. Furthermore, you can also index your documents, music, etc.  Of course, if you’ve found a better alternative, please feel free to leave comments.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2006 in Reviews, Utilities

 

Better Fonts

A friend referred me to this superb fonts site called Better Fonts.

The site calls itself user-friendly, and that is precisely what it is. The site lists over 10000 free fonts for viewing and downloading. Usually fonts sites are cumbersome to navigate through, and previews are either unavailable or misleading. Clicking on one link could take us to another site altogether. Advertisements litter the pages and you generally have a hard time before you find a font you were looking for (which is unlikely) or before you settle for something lesser.

Better Fonts is better in so many ways because it shows a direct and immediate preview of every font. There are very for all types of documents, listed in alphabetical order. There are some interesting fonts like A Bug’s Life and A Picture Alphabet. Navigation is a breeze.

This is the interface of the site.

Clicking a font from the list on the left will display its preview on
the right. You can change the  preview text as well. After this, if you
wish to download the font, you can immediately do so from the link given
below.

Go ahead and download your favourite fonts now! 🙂

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2006 in Reviews, Utilities

 

Microsoft Max

A year or so back, Microsoft decided to develop applications that made use of Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and the new .Net Framework 3.0. So far, Microsoft seems to have developed only two such applications, the first being the New York Times Reader (see screenshots here) and the second, Microsoft Codename Max. A friend of mine told me about Max in October 2005. At that time it was simply a photo-sharing tool. I saw screenshots and description on the web and that was all. I didn’t think it would be useful since in order to share photos with someone, the other person would need to download the software too. In November or December 2005, Microsoft added a news reader to Max. I downloaded it this time, but uninstalled it after a couple of days. The software was way too heavy for my 700 MHz Pentium III Dell Laptop with 512MB Ram. Finally, this year, Microsoft added the ability to add RSS feeds to Max. Since most bloggers were raving about how gorgeous it was, I decided to download it and give it a try. This time I was downloading it on a faster 1.6 GHz AMD Turion Laptop with 512MB Ram.

As mentioned earlier, Max is a photo-sharing tool and an RSS reader. Now, I have no idea why one would need both these features in one piece of software. In this review, I’ll examine the features of Max.

Installation:

The software installation process is painfully slow. It takes 20 – 30 minutes (because the .NET framework has to be installed too) and the computer needs to be rebooted at the end of it. I guess things will improve with Vista. As of now, the software is not compatible with Vista, though.

The photo sharing features are decent.

One can make some cool looking albums in 2-D and 3-D view, but there is no provision to publish it to the web. As mentioned above, you can share photos only with people who have this software installed. On the whole, I don’t see this as a very useful feature.

The news/ RSS reader, on the other hand, though rudimentary, is gorgeous. Adding a feed is simple – simply click on “Add a feed” and enter the address. All feeds that you’ve added are visible on the left. Clicking on any of them brings up a nice view of the page, as shown below. Deleting feeds is also a simple two step process. However, several advanced options that are available in web-based feed readers, are not available in Max.


On the whole, Max makes great use of WPF but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make this product useful.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2006 in Reviews, Utilities

 

Header Trouble

I created this image with some pictures I got from Google..
I wished to make a header out of it.. but obviously I cannot show all of it! 😦

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2006 in Misc

 

Analyzing the Zune


<More pics here>

*Firstly, thanks to “phoenix” for inviting me to post on this site. This article is a slightly modified version of the one I posted on the sparks team blog.*

Microsoft until now followed a model where they provided a DRM scheme to hardware manufacturers such as Creative, iRiver and Samsung and didn’t get involved in the hardware part. That model has obviously not worked in its favor, since Apple controls over 75% of the mp3 market in the US. Some time late last year, Microsoft decided enough was enough and asked J. Allard of the XBox team to start working on an mp3 player. Last week, Microsoft finally (officially) launched their own mp3 player. Newspapers and blog sites (the ones I read) have been abuzz with articles about it. So, why not add one more to the list? Here’s my take on the features, the UI, and the looks in general of Zune. I’ll list things I like and dislike about it and features that I’d like to see when it’s released. All this is based on what I’ve seen and read on the Internet and I’m liable to change my opinion in future. Let me start with the things I dislike about it.

  1. Firstly, it’s not as attractive as the iPod. It looks cool and everything, but I don’t like the middle wheel – it seems to be made of some cheap plastic.
  2. Also, why are there no markings on the wheel. That’s pretty weird.
  3. Is that an Ipod? Frankly, though, I’d rather that they copy the iPod than anything else. Also, MS holds the patent on iPod’s click wheel (although Zune doesn’t have one).
  4. Too little, too late: Microsoft is joining the party five years too late so you’d expect the device to offer something new or revolutionary, right? WiFi can hardly be considered that.
  5. It looks too big and unwieldy. Will it even fit into the pocket?

The things I like about it:

  1. Brown color: I love the brown Zune. I’m probably the only one in this country who does. Who cares. I like it nevertheless. It seems like a throwback to the 70s culture that Gap, American Eagle, Express, etc. are trying to bring back. Nice!
  2. WiFi: While WiFi will initially be limited to allowing people to share music, the possibilities, as MS has pointed out, are endless. I see a scenario where one can wirelessly transfer songs from the computer to the music player one day.
  3. Video quality/ Screen size: They rock. Not only does the device have a big screen, the video and image quality are also great (see the pic).
  4. FM radio: This seems to have been done well. You can see the name of the song that’s playing, which is pretty useful.
  5. The “click wheel” is not a click wheel: In an iPod, you have to move your finger over the click wheel to increase the volume. Now, although it may appear so to iPod users, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Thankfully, Zune has buttons instead of a click wheel.
  6. I’ve heard that the UI is more intuitive than the iPod’s.

Things that I’d like to see in the Zune:

  1. Developer support: I’d like to see people being able to develop applications and games for the Zune. I’m sure this is in the pipeline, since it’s already been done with the XBox.
  2. Games: Good ones, not the crappy $5 iPod ones. Free games created by Microsoft and third party developers (see point (1)). Frankly, this is where buttons are more useful than click wheels. I’ve played a couple of games on the iPod and the click wheel is a pain.
  3. Ability to stream videos from YouTube directly. I don’t even know if this is possible. If it is, I’d love to see it.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty decent offering from Microsoft, considering that this is their first time, for a product like tis. And, although journalists and pseudo-journalists have tried to label it as Microsoft’s “iPod killer”, Microsoft is definitely aware of the fact that it’s practically impossible to dethrone iPods with just a single product. This product is more of getting a foot in the door for Microsoft. I like their marketing approach too. Instead of trying to get big names like Bono to tout the product, Microsoft has instead chosen to go with smaller bands and viral videos. It’s a good approach and only time will tell if it’ll succeed. They’ve also come up with a couple of viral videos at comingzune.com. For more information and pics, go to zunethoughts.com or zuneluv.com or better yet, go to the source – Ceser Menendez runs a blog site, zuneinsider.com, where you can get the inside scoop on the product. It also features a list of sites related to Zune. So, check it out when you have the time. The product will be launched in the US some time in November and will apparently cost $229.

iPod and iTunes

The integration of iPod with iTunes and the songs on the iTunes music store may be of interest to techies and journalists, but frankly, do high schoolers and college going kids really care about all that? Do they really buy an iPod because of iTunes (it actually works the other way around)? Most youngsters buy iPods because of peer pressure. They don’t compare iPods’ features to those of other mp3 players. They just don’t care. They buy an iPod to fit in and for that reason, the initial release of Zune needn’t have any killer features. They just need to market it well so that these people will want it. And of course, they need all the luck they can get. It’s not easy. In fact, if you ask me now if this product stands a chance, my answer will be an unequivocal ”no!” Like all other iPod wannabes, this product will probably soon be forgotten. Of course, there’s one thing that sets this product apart from the rest – it’s been made by the world’s largest software company and for that reason alone it’s been generating a lot of buzz. It remains to be seen if this initial buzz will translate into sales, but based on the initial feature-set, I wouldn’t bet on that. In fact, I think it’ll probably eat into its partners’ marketshare first.

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Posted by on September 25, 2006 in Gadgets, Reviews

 

MIT OpenCourseWare

 

Are you a student or a lecturer in a college who is looking for good class notes and study material to help guide you? Are you looking for self learning programmes through which you can learn about new concepts in various fields or reinforce the fundamentals of some science, or mathematical technique? Are you looking for interesting ideas and theories in literature, art or for “further reading” books in various subjects? If so, MIT OpenCourseWare is a web resource that you should definitely look into. It is an online course material website, which has published around 1400 courses, in various fields ranging from the sciences, through engineering, art, literature and many more fields. MIT is well known as one of the world’s best universities in engineering, technology and science courses, and some of MIT’s initiatives are being followed by some other prominent universities, both inside the US and outside it, like universities in China.

My experience with MIT OCW’s course notes has been memorable, since their collection of course notes have helped me understand many aspects of aerodynamics, aeronautics and structural engineering, which I needed to learn in detail for certain projects on the job. Apart from these areas (and other engineering subjects), my friend and the other poster on this blog, Phoenix, comments that the courses in literature and psychology are well compiled and interesting and informative.

I think that distributing knowledge freely is one certain way to encourage students to embark on higher learning. This free course ware would also help people discover the things they want to study and perhaps lend focus to one’s career or academic interests. I feel that anyone who is interested in educating themselves on the job, should really consider visiting MIT’s OCW website and downloading the course notes of the subjects which they need to gain proficiency in. It worked for me, on my job. Needless to say, students will find this collection of course notes very useful. I wish I had had such course notes for some courses during my college degree!

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Posted by on September 24, 2006 in Reviews