Linux: Things I’m Looking Forward To

Closed source Skype 2.1.0.81 in Ubuntu 10.10.

Open Sourcing Skype

Skype is already available in Linux and usually works well. However, Skype to due to release an open source client (keeping the back-end closed source). Fortunately for Linux users, this means that you will likely get to use only one messenger client such as Empathy or Pidgin without ever opening the old Skype client and still have your Skype buddies listed in Empathy or Pidgin.

Closed source Skype 2.1.0.81 in Ubuntu 10.10.

While the announcement was released in November 2009, there is no expected date of arrival. So unfortunately, Linux users could be waiting anywhere from a few more weeks to a few more years.

I’m looking forward to never having to launch the Skype client again and simply using Empathy alone to chat and call all of my Skype friends!

Dropbox 0.8.x

Anyone who has ever used Dropbox knows that it is dang good at what it does. You need something backed up? Drop it in your Dropbox folder and forget about it.

Current Dropbox 0.7.110 in Ubuntu 10.10.

Experimental builds of Dropbox 0.8.x have been in the works since February 2010 and appear to be progressing nicely.

With Dropbox 0.8.x, we will gain a new feature called “Selective Sync” which will enable you to pick which files and folders from your Dropbox to sync, giving you more overall control.

Dropbox 0.8.x also  brings a wealth of performance improvements to the table. With faster startup times and lower memory consumption when idling, this update is sure to be well received. File attributes are now noted and properly synchronized, so if you make a script executable on one computer it will be updated on all others as well. This is very handy for Unix/Linux users.

Rhythmbox Last.fm Plugin Updates

Being a Last.fm user myself, I find myself scrobbling a lot of music and very few options to manage my profile. I’d love to see this plugin integrate the ability to “Love” and “Unlove” tracks that you are playing from Rhythmbox itself.

Rhythmbox + Last.fm plugin in Ubuntu 10.10.

According to OMG! Ubuntu!, a developer by the name of Jamie Nicol will be improving this plugin in the  Google Summer of Code event. The details of what will be improved with this project are vague to say the least, but very promising.

Ubuntu 10.10 Sound Indicator Applet

The sound indicator applet is receiving an update which will manage to bring all of your sound controls into a clean and simple menu.

Case scenario mockup (image source).

With this project well underway, you are already able to view what’s playing in Rhythmbox and pause/play the song from the menu. The artist, title and album are also implemented, leaving album art, playlists, back and forward controls, and a song progress bar to be anticipated.

Windicators (aka Window Indicators)

Windicators, as Mark Shuttleworth describes them, are indicators located in the top right side of a Window’s title bar that indicate specific states of applications that users should be alerted of.

Mockup of Windicators for Ubuntu 10.10

From the mockup, you can see that Windows producing sound will likely have per app volume control windicators. Those dealing with stores and shopping carts will feature a shopping cart windicator to help you manage and navigate what you’ve stored away to buy.

I’m really hoping that this Windicator will be used in applications such as web browsers and the Ubuntu Software Center (which, by the way I think should be renamed to the Ubuntu App Store) so that web sites like eBay or Amazon and the Software Center can take advantage of this feature.

Theme enhancements for Maverick

There are a number of theme enhancements that are set to land in Ubuntu 10.10 and will help to polish the user interface.

One improvement will be closer maximize and minimize buttons. The improvement, as I image it, can be seen below, but is not meant to represent a final product in any way.

Closer max/min buttons mockup.

Scrollbar steppers don’t appear clickable. One design I’ve been hoping for, but have yet to see anything implemented, is some nice themed steppers. Nicer of course than my crude artistic example below. ;)

Mockup of a clicked or hovered stepper.

Also mentioned is “Changing GTK to allow for a rounded stepper,” which is why I rounded the button in the mockup (if you click to view the larger version).

There are several other changes to be made for the theme, but as far as I’ve seen they’ve yet to appear in updates.

Compiz 0.9

One of my favorite features in Ubuntu is desktop effects which are powered by Compiz. It seems like compositing windows managers have been changing at an incredibly unpredictable rate since I first started using Linux.

I first started using Beryl to get cool effects for the desktop way back in the early stages of Ubuntu. Soon after, Compiz-Fusion became the next big thing. This developed as a bit of a merge between Compiz and parts of Beryl.

Not long thereafter, various Compiz related branches were merged and the project became known simply as Compiz again. What’s cool about this is that in the merge, Compiz was being ported from C to C++ (also known as Compiz++) giving it a large number of benefits (that I won’t get into here).

Ubuntu 10.10 using the Cube in Compiz.

The good news is that Compiz 0.9 unstable has been released and is ready for regression testing! Hopefully it won’t be a great deal longer before Compiz 0.9 matures and is released into the wild.

Vavle’ Steam Client

If you don’t already know about Steam, according to Wikipedia it’s “a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation.”

The Steam client..

Its been rumored that the Steam client will be coming to Linux, but all we can do is wait in anticipation and see what happens.

Steam recently became available to Mac users, so it may not be too far fetched. If it does come to Linux then it will bring a plethora of games to the platform that would have otherwise never been available.

Here’s to hoping that someday soon I will be able to play Counter-Strike: Source without booting up into Mac or Windows (or using Wine).

Ubuntu Boot Screen Fixes

While there are ways to fix the boot screen yourself, I tend to prefer them just working automatically. This isn’t the case in Ubuntu 10.04 if you’re using the nVidia or ATI video drivers.

Ubuntu 10.04 Boot Screen

Being only in Alpha 2, Ubuntu 10.10 still uses the boot screen of 10.04 as pictured above. While this is a very nice boot screen, it does have several problems.

As I said earlier, if you’re using nVideo or ATI drivers then you’ll have problems where the boot screen’s resolution is horribly wrong and your boot screen looks more like a crash.

Ubuntu is on the track of speeding up boot times, but if your system hasn’t booted before the animated dots make their cycle then you get to see it again. While this isn’t a horrible failure, its still a very unpolished design and desperately needs some attention. Still worse, the shutdown screen uses the same animation which gives it the illusion of loading, not unloading.

Grub Boot Loader

I’m hoping that if they take the time to address the boot screen that they will also take time to polish the boot menu for dual booting users. In its textual state it looks like something straight out of the days of DOS, and since Ubuntu is “Linux for Human Beings” I would say its time to ditch the textual Grub interface and move on to a polished Burg menu…based on Grub, but graphical.

Ubuntu 10.04 SVG Dropbox Folder Icons

Here is how the new icon compares.

After a little bit of work, I was able to put together a folder icon for the Dropbox folder that is inline with the design of the home folder icon.

Here is how the new icon compares.

I’ve not created all of the icons to be used for this, only the one that you will see in Nautilus or your file browser, but I may eventually make the others as well.

Thanks to some work from Dropbox user “Charles A.“, I was able to modify a folder icon and add the themed icons.

Close up preview of icon #3 of 4 total icons.

Feel free to take what I’ve done and extend it further or improve on it! I’m by no means an artist. ;)

If you modify this icon, I only ask that you mention me and pass me a link to your improvements!

-Download (v0.1: 193kb)

EDIT: I’ve updated the package to include all 4 icons for images of (square) sizes 16, 22, 24, 32, 48, 64. You can grab the updated package below.

-Download (v0.2: 343.4kb)

Dropbox has File Smarts

I’ve noticed after uploading several files that Dropbox is now smart and can do an md5 hash check on other files that have been uploaded to their server.

How does this help you? Well, I’ll explain soon, but if you’re downloading a file that someone else has already downloaded and synced with Dropbox then it helps you tremendously!

Basically, Dropbox checks to see if anyone has previously uploaded the exact same file in the past. If they have then you’re in luck!

If the md5 hash matches (I’m purely guessing that they use md5 since it’s the commonly accepted standard for file checking) then they simply “copy n’ paste” what someone else has already uploaded into your personal upload space!

This means that the 347mb file that you want to sync could take 10 seconds to be synced with your account even over a dial-up connection if someone else has already taken the time to upload it for the first time!

If you’re the first person to upload your file then you will certainly have to wait the due time for a proper upload, so don’t expect it with every file.

This is an ingenious move by the Dropbox team as it saves them tons of much needed bandwidth performance and instead pushes the workload to the server side “copy n’ paste” routine…which will perform much faster than your dial-up or simple broadband connection.

Imagine the speed of uploading a 10mb file to Dropbox verses copying that same file from one folder on your hard drive to another folder on your hard drive. That is similar to the performance that you can expect.

It also obviously saves you time since you can sometimes drag n’ drop a large file…blink…then it’s done.

Don’t worry, your files are safe. Chances are slim that someone will upload a file that matches yours in filename and md5 hash code, …but it could happen.

It’s been proven that the md5 hash is insecure, but the chances of someone uploading a file that is recognized as one of yours is very very…(repeat as needed)…very slim.

Honestly, the biggest thing to worry about is the fact that if you delete a private file, someone else could happen to upload a file matching the filename and md5 hash and automatically have access to a file that you uploaded ages ago.

I’m current unaware of how long Dropbox caches the files that you store using their service, but I know that some files that I’ve uploaded in the past and deleted now have been removed from the server…so security is fairly assuring.

While it’s a little creepy and it sounds dangerous….it’s highly improbable.

On the Dropbox teams side, saving bandwidth means that you have that much extra bandwidth to upload content that you need sync’d. Bandwidth is very important these days especially considering that many of us are uploading videos (whether they be family or leisure) and music. Many of these files can range from 3mb for music up to 10gb for video (and blu-ray will bring even higher filesizes :P).

Of the sync services that I’ve used (and it’s been a lot so far), Dropbox is by far the front runner. With the features that they offer that you’re not normally aware of, they already pass up the competition hands down. That’s just my own personal opinion.

I’m currently on the free service (2gb), but I would highly suggest that you purchase their pay-for service that gives you up to 50gb of online storage if you’re one to upload a lot or need a lot on the go.

At the very least give them a try and download the Dropbox application. I’m sure anyone could take advantage of the free 2gb package that they offer online to backup important documents or whatever it may be. ;)

Rest assured that if you’re using Dropbox then you’re also using one of the best available sync services to be established thus far! Free space never hurt anyone. ;)

Free Google Wave Invites!

If you want a Google Wave invite, sign-up for Dropbox using my referral for free. After you’ve completed the registration and installed Dropbox I’ll send you an invite! It’s as simple as that!

Note: If you’ve previously installed Dropbox then the referral may not work if you try using an e-mail address that is already in their system or if Dropbox has been used on your computer previously.

After I get an e-mail informing me of a successful referral then I’ll immediately send you an invitation to Google Wave! :D

I currently have 06 invites left! So hurry!

Flickr: Backing up my photos

You know me. I’m always up to something on the computer. I can’t remember if I blogged about this a long long time ago or not, but I had a hard drive go bad. ;)

I had to “undelete” about 300GB of data ranging from several years of irreplaceable family photos to website backups and database backups to my music collection to VHS family videos that I had been in the process of converting to DVD, etc.

To say the very least, it was a horrible nightmare. I thought I had lost all of the family photos that I had been archiving for so long and even had organized by picture dates in folders and such.

Well, fortunately I was able to get about 80% of the data back off of the hard drive that went bad and store it all on another hard drive that I had at the time. The other 20% was basically expendable data that I could replace or was honestly just wasting space and wasn’t worth the effort of spending more time to recover.

I did manage to get most all of my photos back, however, I was not about to go through and try to date each and every photo again. Luckily for me, I had already done this and tagged them in Flickr and as it turns out you can use a Firefox extension to download all of the photos in your Flickr account (this may be limited for non-pro users) and it stores them in the appropriate folders based on the albums and tags that you apply. :D

This great extension is called Firefox Universal Uploader (fireuploader). I’ve actually used it in the past to verify that it worked as I needed it to, but I hadn’t actually used it dependently until now. It’s been around for a while and I’m sure that if you Google it you will find plenty of reviews and how-to articles.

I won’t cover how to use it, because it’s actually very simple. If you do need help then just Google it or see if it’s mentioned on the extension page. :P

I’m well on my way to backing up all of my old photos again and even organize my new ones into the collect. For a while I had just been uploading to Flickr and didn’t really store the pictures I had taken since I knew I was going to eventually just download them all into an organized group of folders.

If you have a large collection of important family photos then you should also invest in storing your photos online in places like Flickr (free 100mb/month but only the last ~200 photos are accessible..or..Unlimited Pro account for $25/year) or even just using Gmail to store them with GPhotoSpace for free.

Another thing that I’m doing now is using two separate storage devices to backup my photos and other valuables and synchronize them across machines so if I lose one then I still have the other.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned about storage, it’s that hard drives can and will go bad and typically with bad timing so it’s best to stay on top of your game and keep everything backed up all along the way. ;)