Archive for May, 2007

Your wish is Xubuntu’s command

I remember well how a friend of mine proudly showed me that he could easily launch Internet Explorer using a special key at the top of his keyboard. Today, I know that with Xubuntu, I can use my regular keys (and cheap keyboard 😉 ) to launch any program. Inspired by this article I decided to share this trick with you.

How it works? Simple. As you might know, a program on Linux is started when a command is executed. A command is executed e.g. when you type it in the terminal, but also when you click a menu entry in your applications menu. In Xubuntu, you can assign these commands to certain keyboard shortcuts, so that when you press the set key combination, the specified command will be executed.

Of course, in order to assign a command to a keyboard shortcut, you need to know which command you need. In order to find this, you can use Xfce’s Appfinder, which you can find in the Applications menu under Accessories.

Xfce4 Appfinder's default screen

Using the “Search:” box on top, you can find the program you need the command of. I wanted to find “Warzone 2100”, so I entered that and pressed “Enter”. It then showed up in the list. To find the command, I right-clicked Warzone 2100’s entry and selected “More Information…”:

View a program's information

As you can see, Warzone 2100’s command is, surprisingly, warzone2100.

I then fired up my keyboard settings from Applications->Settings->Keyboard Settings. On top, I selected the “Shortcuts” tab. The first time you want to add keyboard shortcuts, you need to create a new “Theme” using the left Add button. As you can see, I created the theme “Examples”, and had created the theme “Vincent” before.

Keyboard settings

Then using the right “Add” button you can assign a new command so a certain keyboard shortcut. I could’ve used Warzone 2100 here, but I used xflock4 because this command is not one you’d find with the Appfinder and I personally use it a lot. As you might guess, this command locks the screen (i.e. starts your screensaver).

Adding a command

After I clicked OK I was prompted for the command I wanted to use.

Setting a shortcut

As I like to use my left “Ctrl” key in combination with the “0” in the numpad on the right, I entered that. And that was it! I could now use that key combination to lock my screen!

The shortcut is added!

Admittedly, the “Keyboard Settings” window is not very user-friendly, and yes, the creation of themes sounds a bit useless to me to, but at least it works. You can use the same procedure to add a keyboard shortcut for all your favourite programs. For example, I used this to assign Ctrl+F12 to the command “firefox” which will, not surprisingly, open Firefox. So by combining with the Ctrl key, I already have 12 possible special keys on top of my keyboard!

In my next post I’ll show how to control your media player to skip to the next song when you press a combination of keys. Stay tuned!

About Ogg, Theora, Vorbis and FLAC

The newest version of Ubuntu, Feisty Fawn, prompts you to install proprietary codecs when trying to play e.g. an MP3 file. It displays the following message:

The use of some of this software may be restricted in some countries. You must verify that one of the following is true:

  1. These restrictions do not apply in your country of legal residence
  2. You have permission to use this software (for example, a patent license)
  3. You are using this software for research purposes only

The reason Ubuntu, and Xubuntu, cannot ship these “codecs” (software that allows you to play media in a certain format) is that several companies claim to own patents over these codecs and have been enforcing these patents. You can read more about these issues concerning MP3 at the Wikipedia page on MP3.

Of course there are alternatives to these formats which, if your preferred media player supports it, I highly recommend you to use. However, to be able to use them, you need to know how to, so in this post, I’ll try to highlight the popular alternatives. Note that I am far from an expert in this area, I’ve just done a little research.

There are two ways to save an audio file: lossy and lossless. Lossy means that, when saving an audio file, everything that the human ear cannot hear will not be saved, resulting in a considerably lower file size. Of course, the quality is reduced a little, and the removed sounds cannot be restored unless you have a backup, but the loss is not noticeable unless you are trying very hard. This is also the reason that it is unwise to convert your files from one lossy format to another, as the quality will be greatly reduced. As you might have guessed, lossless audio formats save the file without any loss. As a result, the file size is much larger than for lossy audio formats, though it can be reduced a little by some lossless formats.
WAV is, as yungchin tells us, a container format that most often stores pulse-code modulation, a way of digitally storing a close representation of an analog signal such as sound, together forming the most common lossless audio format. As far as I know WAV is not restricted by licensing issues in that it can come default on Xubuntu, but it is not open, as in free to edit. The most popular open alternative is Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). Another advantage of FLAC over WAV is that FLAC, even though it loses no data, still manages to compress the audio file resulting in a little smaller file sizes.

The most common lossy audio format, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, and which I mentioned earlier, is MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. If you haven’t heard of it, then you probably know it by the name MP3. This one not only isn’t open, but also cannot be supported by default in Xubuntu. The most popular alternative is Vorbis, which is half the size but of better quality, like Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (WMA). Vorbis is mostly used in combination with another format, within a container format called (thanks Bas) Ogg, and then referred to as Ogg Vorbis. To add to the confusion, it sometimes (mostly) is also referred to as simply Ogg. And it gets worse: Theora, an open video format alternative to MPEG-4 Part 14 (or MP4) which is also used in conjunction with Ogg, is also sometimes referred to as simply Ogg, and both use the .ogg extension!
So, when someone mentions Ogg, it is likely to be Ogg Vorbis when he refers to an audio file, and Ogg Theora when it’s a video file.

The Free Software Foundation recently started the Play Ogg campaign, which promotes the use of Ogg instead of MP3. As you can see on their, they mention “Ogg” all the time whereas they mean “Ogg Vorbis”.

If you want to dig yet a little deeper, you might also want to check out Wikipedia’s article on Speex, another format used with often contained in Ogg… In fact, even FLAC can be contained in Ogg, but this is not that common.

Now, on to converting your audio files to these open formats. The software you can use for this is SoundConverter, which you can install by opening Add/Remove… in the Applications menu under System. Make sure you have selected to Show: either “All Open Source applications” or “All available applications”.

When you start SoundConverter from “Multimedia” under the “Applications” menu, you will be greeted with the following screen:
SoundConverter

Before converting, you should check the Preferences under the Edit menu, where you can set the format to convert to, the quality of the newly produced file, and where to save it:
SoundConverter

After you have set your preferences, you can start adding files that you want to convert to the format you just selected. You can add whole folders at once, or add files one by one:
SoundConverter

When you are done adding files, click “Convert” to start the conversion process:
SoundConverter

That’s it, you now have your sound files in a shiny other format!

PS. As I said, I’m not an expert, so if anyone has anything to add (preferably backed by sources) please do so in the comments on this post.

ShipIt – painfully Xubuntuless

Update: A ShipIt alternative for Xubuntu is now available!

When I found out you could pre-order Ubuntu Feisty Fawn CD’s via ShipIt (Ubuntu’s free-of-charge CD shipping service) I immediately did so. This week they arrived and I took some pictures.

The package immediately reminds me about what an oudsider Xubuntu is:
Ubuntu Feisty cd
There is some information on the back about Canonical, and how its projects include the free and open source Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Edubuntu. Not a word on Xubuntu 😦

Ubuntu CDUbuntu CD Hosted on Zooomr

That aside, the CD looks very slick:

Ubuntu CDUbuntu CD Hosted on Zooomr

There are some instructions on how to use this CD and a block describing “The Ubuntu Promise”.

Ubuntu CDUbuntu CD Hosted on Zooomr

Oh, and there’s some info on Ubuntu on the back too:

Ubuntu CDUbuntu CD Hosted on Zooomr

But this is what I consider the best part: stickers!

Ubuntu CDUbuntu CD Hosted on Zooomr

Those stickers will look really nice on my pc 😉

Anyway, the reason Xubuntu is not available for free shipping is, according to Mark Shuttleworth:

i don’t think so. xubuntu, as i understand it, is a more specialist environment, so we probably would not fund cd shipments for it. it’s hard to justify on either philanthropic or business grounds. though it would be nice at least if you could order xubuntu

Well… I don’t know what exactly Mark means by specialist environment, I might ask him some time, but ordering at least would be cool. However, I do hope Xubuntu once becomes available for ShipIt because I use it not because my computer is so slow (it could run Ubuntu), but because it is extremely responsive and has some really nifty features Ubuntu doesn’t have. Let’s hope the folks over at Canonical will also come to realize that I’m not the only one. I’m not, am I?

It’s official: Dell will ship Ubuntu!

Update: You can now buy your Ubuntu PCs and notebooks from Dell!

You’ll be reading this a lot the coming days, but I think I’m one of the first: Dell will be shipping Ubuntu! Ubuntu has announced it at their website, Dell at theirs (with a video interview with Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu).

I’m sorry that I’m not posting unique content like I normally do, but it’s just very exciting! Perhaps it does not matter that much to you, but look at the average consumer. They can now buy a PC and use Ubuntu without having to install it, and all hardware that comes with that PC will just work with Ubuntu! And if Ubuntu (Linux) becomes more popular, it will probably attract more developers, which means that we end up with an even better product!

This is really cool, and if this helps Dell to regain their #1 PC vendor status, I’d be very happy 😀

Let’s hope that the Linux community will put their money where their mouth is, otherwise it will be another while before another large computer manufacturer will even consider putting Linux on their PC’s.

How did it come this far, you ask?

Good question. Firstly, Dell losts its position as #1 PC vendor on HP. Of course, Dell wanted to take back that position, and thus adopted a new strategy. From now on, it would listen to its customers. They did this with the Dell Idea Storm website. The idea was that visitors could submit ideas for Dell, on which other visitors could vote. This allowed Dell to easily view which ideas were most popular, and thus which idea had most consumer demand.

However, the results were not quite what they expected. The most popular idea was that of pre-installed Linux, closely followed by pre-installed OpenOffice.org, pre-installed Firefox and a whole slew of other open source requests. Well, Dell had asked, and the whole world could see what the answer was. On the Direct2Dell blog, Dell published a Linux survey which, among others, asked those who took the survey which Linux distribution they would prefer. Meanwhile, Michael Dell revealed that he too uses Ubuntu. Apparently, Ubuntu emerged from the survey as being the most popular, as this morning (at least, in the Netherlands) rumours spread Dell would ship Ubuntu. One of Canonical’s employees announced it on his blog but later had to remove that. However, now it has been officially announced and hopefully soon you’ll be able to order your Ubuntu PC’s! Until then, you’ll have to do with the instructions on how to install Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Dell published on its website April 30th.


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