Minty Fresh

Mint2Having just finished a push for domestic consistency by installing Ubuntu 16.04 on practically every machine I control (which therefore definitely excludes a certain Significant Other’s Windows PC!), I now see that the Linux Mint crew have just released a new version of their green and fragrant distro.

Never one to let the opportunity of a new distro installation pass me by if I can help it, I have accordingly just installed the Mate version onto my ancient(circa 2009) laptop… and it’s running nicely. Pretty slow, of course, but hardly unbearable. I probably don’t want to be doing Blender renders on it any time soon, but it’s fine for a bit of web editing, browsing, video playing and photo up-touching.

It also has its windows controls (maximise, minimise and close) on the right side of the window title bar (which is to say, yes it’s on the right-hand side, but it’s also the correct side as far as I’m concerned!) It is a small cosmetic change from vanilla Ubuntu, I guess; but it’s enough that it might persuade me to deploy it on my main PC instead of the current Ubuntu install. Time will tell.

I noticed in passing that though I had written simple installation scripts for Oracle 12c for a lot of other distros I’ve dabbled with over the years, I had curiously neglected to write one for Linux Mint, of whatever vintage.

So I’ve rectified that. On the Oracle articles page is a new one for installing on Linux Mint 18. I’ve run out of inspiration for my script names now, so this one is just called Mentha -which, as we all know, is the Latin for ‘mint’.

I tested it on both the Cinnamon and Mate spins, but the screenshots in the article are all from Mate (for absolutely no reason at all, other than I happened to have it handy at the time the screenshots needed to be taken).

I should perhaps mention that I’m trialling the use of new ‘slideshow’ technology in this new article: it means the bazillion screenshots don’t take up nearly so much room on the screen and fade neatly from one to the other as you step through the slideshow. The image captions provide the instructions. It looks good -but there are at least two issues with it. One, if you’re using script blockers, the slideshow won’t work properly. And two, the plain-text version of the article (obtainable by clicking the ‘print’ link at the very end of the it) displays all the screenshots sans instructions, which is somewhat less than useful! If that is an issue for you, let me know and I’ll re-think… I am not entirely sure how many people bother with the plain-text versions of articles, so I don’t know how much of a deal-breaker this is. As I say, tell me (in the comments) if it is one for you…

Closing Windows (for good?)

I don’t mind Windows 10, on the whole. I think it’s quite ugly to look at, but it mostly doesn’t annoy me too much and lets me get actual work done. There are some privacy concerns with it, but for the most part they are probably over-blown and, if you’ve the time and inclination, can be ameliorated with a bit of digging through the OS configuration options. It’s a shame it’s all ‘opt-out’, and that your privacy is compromised from the start with all the opt-in default settings, but you can take control and sort it, if you are so inclined. Still, there are some lingering concerns, and together with the fact that it’s been at least a year since I switched operating systems, I got to thinking that it might be quite nice to let Linux back onto my desktop.

The choice of distro wasn’t hard this time: it has to be Linux Mint 17.2, largely because I liked it last time (back in version 16 days), and 17.2 was freshly-released at the end of June. The other thing going in its favour: it’s based on a Long-Term Stable release of Ubuntu (14.04), meaning that it’s supported for security patches until April 2019 and I can therefore put off the evil day when I have to deal with systemd until at least then!

Normally when I switch operating systems, I just whip out the install CD and wipe the hard drive without thinking about it too much… but I’ve been using Windows 8/8.1/10 long enough that on this occasion, I thought a bit more thoughtful preparation might be in order.

Specifically, I undertook a software audit of what I had installed on Windows and, using a virtual machine with Linux Mint 17.2 (Cinnamon) installed and tested out what replacements or equivalents I’d have to consider in each case.

Here’s the complete list of programs currently installed on my Windows 10 desktop PC, and what I think their likeliest replacements in Linux might be:

7-Zip Already built-in. Right click a file, select Compress and then choose the .7z extension. The first file you do this to requires you to select “7z” as the compression algorithm from a long list; but once you’ve compressed one file with 7z, that will be the default suggestion for future compression (unless you select an alternative algorithm in the meantime, of course, at which point that becomes the new default, until you select something else… etc ad infinitum).
Adblock Plus Available as an extension to install into Firefox, so completely OS agnostic.
Adobe Air Don’t quite know what installed this in the first place: it’s an Adobe application development framework. Seems mainly needed for the Adobe Media Player, which I don’t care about.
Adobe Captivate Used to create video screen presentations. Not something I use a lot of these days, but possible alternatives are Wink and Kazam. Kazam is in the Mint repositories; Wink has to be downloaded and compiled from the developer’s website. However, only 32-bit version of Wink is available and that won’t compile of a 64-bit Mint O/S. Kazam it is, then…
Adobe Media Player Not required. SMplayer/VLC/whatever video player and Amarok/whatever audio player I decide on will do all the media playing I could ask for.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 GIMP is the obvious alternative, but it’s nowhere near as good. This is one area Linux really suffers compared to Windows: no superb graphics editing capability. MyPaint (available in the Mint repositories) looks plausibly good as possible substitute. Lacks a lot of the powerful Photoshop stuff, of course, but looks adequate as a simple photo cropper, toucher-upper.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.7 Darktable (in the repositories) looks possibly adequate as a replacement. Nowhere near the functionality as far as I can tell, but maybe enough for my purposes. Requires quite a bit of re-learning effort, of course.
AnyDVD Tricky. Ripping of standard DVDs is trivial in Linux. Handbrake will do it direct off disk, if the libdvdcss library is installed. Blu-Ray? Much harder: Handbrake will rip an unencoded BluRay, but how do you decode one?

MakeMKV might do the trick, though it’s not in the repositories and has to be compiled from source and isn’t free (as in zero dollars, except in beta) and it requires 100MB+ of prerequisites to be installed first, though the apt-get install command is simple enough…. Then it turns out that it’s AUD$76 after the first 70 days if you want to keep ripping BluRays. That’s pretty expensive. That said, it compiles easily enough and looks fairly functional (not yet tested with any actual recent release BluRays, though).

Could AnyDVD run under wine? (See below). Maybe running AnyDVD in a Windows virtual machine is a possibility?

Audacity Available in the repositories
Bitdefender Antivirus Clamav (available in the respositories –install clamtk to get a GUI front end, then clamav, clamav-base, clamav-daemon and clamav-freshclam )
Calibre Available in the repositories
dbPoweramp Hmmm… an entirely separate essay probably needed on this one! Wanted: a good CD ripper that can output to WMA Lossless in a tag-sensitive manner.

Soundconverter won’t do it (it’s output formats do not include WMA Lossless).

FF Multi Converter (not in the repositories, and depends on ffmpeg, so you have to add in two new ppa respositories instead) does output to lossy WMA (progress!), but not lossless (oh :-( ). It also has an alarming tendency to install old versions of Libre Office (though it will work without doing that if you don’t install unoconv). It’s lack of WMA Lossless output is probably because ffmpeg itself doesn’t support WMA Lossless.

However, bearing in mind that some 46,000 tracks from my CD collection are already ripped to WMA Lossless, you could argue that I don’t really need rip-to-WMAL functionality anyway: most of my ripping days are behind me (I hope). So, for any music acquired in the future, it will be fine to rip to FLAC. I might then batch convert using dbpoweramp in a Windows virtual machine. Or I might not: there’s no great harm in having different files in two different lossless formats… consistency is the hob-goblin of small minds, after all!

So, what’s the best ripper to FLAC that’s tag-aware? In the repositories, both Asunder and ripperx are available.

Ripperx is ghastly: ancient interface, very little track-naming or tagging capabilities. Asunder is much better. But my favourite (warranting another essay) is abcde, a cutely-named (“a better cd encoder”) command-line only tool that rips a CD with one trivial command. It’s also in the repositories, so installation is very easy. It’s output can be tweaked with something like the EasyTag tag editor.

Deluge 1.3 Bittorrent clients are ten a penny. Transmission is installed by default as part of the standard build, and is more than adequate for my purposes.
Foobar2000 Hmmmm… another Essay required. Maybe Foobar2000 under Wine? Doable, sort of (see below). Maybe Guyadeque (available in the repositories, but it can’t display album art embedded in WMA Lossless files). Maybe Amarok, which does display the embedded art but looks like it was sat on by an Ugly Hippopotamus. Banshee is the default media player and works reasonably well, in fact –plays Lossless WMA right out of the box, without the need for things like Fluendo to be installed first. And it gets the embedded album art right etc. But it’s terribly slow to scan 900GB of music: I have my doubt about how it will cope with a music library of my size.

You will conceivably have to bite the bullet and convert everything to FLAC. There is enough disk space available on the servers to keep a Lossless WMA and a FLAC version of everything, though it’s hugely wasteful.

Google Chrome Available in the repositories as chromium-browser
GpgWin For file encryption: Mint has native support for gpg (it’s already a part of a default install), though it’s all command line stuff. But a GUI is not really required anyway (even on Windows, it doesn’t add much to the party!)
Greenshot Shutter or gnome-screenshot, both available in the respositories. Shutter works very well.
Handbrake Available in the repositories. Scrobbler Not needed; Banshee, Amarok and Guyadeque all scrobble natively.
Lastpass Firefox plugin Available.
Mediaeval CUE Splitter Cuetools (in the repositories). Command-line only, so maybe not as straightforward, but pretty decent.
Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 LibreOffice, of course. Nowhere near as good as MS Office in some ways, but competent enough. I wouldn’t want to write documents whose format has to translate between platforms perfectly, but LO is good enough for the office work I do.

What about email? (IE, how do I replace Outlook?) Thunderbird is not in active development [by Mozilla, at least] and was never that good anyway… so how about Claws Mail (also in the repositories): it has lots of good features, including plugins like SpamAssassin and vCalendar, for email/calendar integration. It looks a bit tired and dated, but it works quite well.

Microsoft Silverlight No equivalent (and not needed, I suspect)
Assorted Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables No equivalent (and not needed, I suspect)
MobaXterm For ssh connections, the basic terminal in Linux is fine all on its own. If you really wanted to, putty is in the repositories (!).

No really good tabbed ssh client seems to be available, however. Terminator (in the repositories) lets you easily split a single terminal window into multiple separate terminals and thus allows creating and viewing multiple ssh sessions very easy. Doesn’t help with storing ssh session details, though.

Remmina has an ssh plugin and can do tabbed SSH sessions, but I couldn’t get it to connect to one of my servers: every time I tried, it complained that the public key had been changed, and would never actually attempt to make a connection. Maybe worth pursuing and trying to get properly sorted.

Mp3Tag Easytag (in the repositories. It’s interface is not as comfortable to me, but it is capable of using tag data to rename and move files to appropriate folders. However (and it’s a biggie!)… it doesn’t work with WMA Lossless files. Does Mp3Tag itself work under Wine? See below.
MuseScore Available in the repositories
Notepad++ Scite. Despite the name, it’s perfect (and in the repositories).
Oracle VirtualBox Available in the repositories
ownCloud client Available in the repositories
PL/SQL Developer SQL Developer is cross-platform and free, but PL/SQL Developer can be made to work under Wine.
Samsung Magician A tarball of Samsung Magician is available from here. Haven’t yet played with it… not clear if it is kept up-to-date.

See also:

Note that the command line tool does NOT do Rapid Mode, but does allow firmware to be updated.

Also, read: …which strongly implies that Rapid Mode is rather less to sing and dance about than first appears… so not being able to do it under Linux might not be a bad idea!

Stellarium Available in the repositories
SumatraPDF Evince. There’s even an Adobe reader available for Linux (though I wouldn’t use it)
SyncBackSE Tricky. rsynch is the obvious candidate, but it’s hard to set up and get working perfectly. There are GUIs for rsync, too, but none of the ones I’ve used have been spectacular. Short answer: rsynch, but there’s a learning curve.
TrueCrypt Not available in the repositories and you’re not supposed to find it elsewhere either, as the developers have declared that all development of the tool is finished. Linux does encrypted file systems natively, though (I’m thinking of LUKS), so whole-disk encryption is pretty straightforward without TrueCrypt. Encrypting individual files… that’s what gpg is for.
WinSCP Filezilla (available in the repositories)

You’ll notice a number of references to “will I be able to get the software working under Wine” in that lot, so here are my detailed answers:

  1. Does Foobar2000 work well under it: yes, but it doesn’t understand WMA Lossless. Plays FLAC perfectly well, though. Banshee plays FLAC and WMA Lossless equally well, mind (as do most other Linux players mentioned, such as Amarok and Guyadeque), so although it’s a plausible program to run under Wine, I don’t believe there’s actually much utility in doing so.
  2. Does Mp3Tag work well under it: yes, but it doesn’t understand WMA Lossless files and their tags. (Neither does EasyTag). Feed it a FLAC file, however, and it copes just fine. Doesn’t display very nicely (nothing under Wine does!). I think that mastering EasyTag is the more productive way to go here.
  3. AnyDVD doesn’t work under the Wine supplied in the Mint package manager. It installs OK, but attempting to launch it simply brings up an error message: Failed to init ElbyCDIO. There are no workarounds as far as I can tell.
  4. It is apparently true that you can run Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 on Linux under Wine. See, for example, as a description of how to get Photoshop working in Wine, rather torturously as far as I can tell! See also for proof that Lightroom on Mint is possible with Wine… though I note that the instructions on how to do it are a bit thin on the ground, it was only tested with Linux Mint 17, only works with Lightroom 5.0 or earlier, doesn’t work with Linux Mint KDE and so on and on. I think using these tools under Wine looks to be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s not like I actually use more than about 10% of the functionality of these programs anyway, to be honest. ToH’s a different proposition, though…

Summing all that up, then: there are a satisfyingly large number of programs which work exactly as-is on both Windows and Linux. No learning curve there at all. Things like Stellarium, Handbrake, Firefox, Chrome, Calibre, Audacity and MuseScore are all truly cross-platform.

Many programs have equivalents which, to one degree or another, lack a bit of functionality -or have loads more functionality than their Windows’ equivalents, but at the cost of a learning curve (of various degrees of steepness). Notepad++ ↔ Scite, for example; or Lightroom ↔ Darktable, MS Office ↔ LibreOffice, Mp3Tag ↔ EasyTag and Captivate ↔ Kazam.

In some areas, though, the “equivalents” are profoundly different and require entirely new work flows. I’m thinking of how abcde rips CDs like dbPowerAmp can do, and even has rudimentary tagging and album art embedding capabilities, but as a command line tool is profoundly different from the point-and-click world of dbPowerAmp. Not only do they behave differently, abcde is not going to allow tag editing before ripping in the effortless way that dbPowerAmp does, so whereas I can often rip a CD currently and get all the tags and embedded album art completely right from the start, with abcde I’m definitely going to have to use EasyTag in a separate step to clean up the tags and get the album art correct. It’s not impossible to do in Linux what I currently do in Windows, for example, but the work flows will be completely different.

That leaves one or two areas where there simply aren’t real alternatives and no amount of re-thinking one’s work flows will get you an equivalent capability. I’m thinking of graphics: Gimp is no replacement for Photoshop, though it might do in a pinch if all I want to do is a quick picture crop or simple touch-up. The matter therefore really becomes one of questioning the assumption that you need a specific set of capabilities in the first place. Can one, instead, live without?

In my case, I am no photo virtuoso, so do I really need Photoshop’s capabilities? Would a much less capable program still let me do what I do? And even if I do occasionally use capabilities that only Photoshop provides, perhaps the question to ask is then: would running it in a Windows Virtual Machine prove adequate? (Because faffing around with Wine seems in all cases more trouble than it’s worth).

One of the more obvious of these “no go” areas is anything to do with WMA Lossless audio. Playing it is fine: Banshee even does it out of the box, no need for Fluendo. But none of the encoders can produce it; many of the players can’t play it; and EasyTag will have no truck with it at all. At this point again, I have to ask myself whether I really need WMA Lossless encoding capability (not sure!); whether I could live with old files as WMA Lossless and new ones as FLAC (probably); or whether I could just switch entirely to using FLAC (requires more thought). There are ways around the issue, therefore; I just have to work out what suits me best.

Watch this space, I guess.

Meanwhile, putting all of that into a single “install everything in one hit” command results in this:

sudo apt-get install kazam mypaint darktable handbrake wine winbind audacity clamtk clamav clamav-base clamav-daemon clamav-freshclam calibre abcde chromium-browser shutter cuetools evolution terminator remmina easytag musescore scite owncloud-client virtualbox-nonfree stellarium filezilla grsync luckybackup aisleriot gnome-games gcstar openconnect network-manager-openconnect-gnome gparted

The picture speaks volumes: today was a tad warm! Note that the thermometer is in the shade, yet still displaying 41…

I dislike this sort of weather. Thank heavens for air conditioning is all I can say!

I took the opportunity to install Linux Mint 16 (64-bit) on my getting-a-bit-long-in-the-tooth HP Folio 13 ultrabook. It’s not used much these days, thanks to the existence of my Toshiba P870, but it’s handy to take on holidays: it’s portable in a way the Toshiba very much isn’t!

Anyway, nearly everything works out of the box; for those handful of glitches I encountered (video and wireless, basically) , I pulled together a short article describing the workarounds.

Linux Desktops (part 163)

My principal desktop, as regular readers will know, is forever changing. One minute it’s Windows XP, another Windows 7… and the next it’s one flavour of Linux or another. If it stays the same thing for three months on end, it’s (a) unusual and (b) signifies that there’s something unusually satisfying about that particular OS or distro.

So maybe it’s worth mentioning (or maybe not, but here goes anyway) that I’ve been using Linux Mint for three months to the day, and I’m impressed enough by it to have coughed up some cash for it (by way of a donation) -which makes it only the second distro I’ve ever paid money for, Suse 7.3 being the first.

It is, of course, Ubuntu with some (green) knobs on -multimedia codecs already installed, for example. But I like it more than Ubuntu simply because it’s not playing silly buggers with things like the default choice of desktop (Ubuntu 11.04, due any week now, is ditching the standard Gnome desktop in favour of “Unity”) and the placement of window management icons (maxmise, minimise and close buttons are all, by default, on the right in Mint, left in Ubuntu 10+). Yup, you can change Ubuntu back to standard Gnome, and you can alter the placement of the windows management icons, but I prefer not having to.

For all that, Mint inherits the general simplicity and functionality of Ubuntu, making it a piece of cake to use. It seems snappy enough, too, and the software is usefully up-to-date.

Not everything in the garden is rosy, I suppose. Having said I disliked Ubuntu’s choice of windows decoration placement and it’s forthcoming choice of Gnome shell and X layer, I have to confess that Mint’s choice of one panel at the bottom of the screen annoys me too -and I changed it 2 minutes after installation into the more-standard one-on-top/one-on-bottom arrangement. I also ditched the special ‘Mint’ menu and reverted to the standard Gnome Applications/Places/System one -though that’s one decision I might change. In any case, these seem small cosmetic issues -whereas Ubuntu’s innovations are right at the core of what a desktop does.

Of course, this might all end in tears: the Mint team seem already to be flirting with fiddling for no good reason (with things like logos). Who knows what will happen if Mint ever stops being fun and starts being an exercise in corporate branding and recognition?!

I also note that the Mint developers seem to be toying with the idea of leaving their Ubuntu roots behind them and building themselves on top of Debian. (I know Ubuntu is itself based on Debian, but I think the Mint guys want to stop being something that’s built on something that’s built on Debian and just go back to the pure ‘source’ for themselves). That actually sounds like a good idea to me, since I happily used Debian itself as my desktop for several months… but there’s no denying (I think) that Debian is generally a little less easy, a little less friendly to use than Ubuntu -so one would expect Mint’s own scores in those areas to regress a little.

Actually, there is already a Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), and they’ve done a great job in making Debian look and feel, for the most part, just like its Ubuntu-based cousin. But it’s not quite as polished as ‘the original’ and I haven’t adopted it as my own desktop just yet. Maybe soon though, since the really good thing about LMDE is that it’s a ‘rolling distro’, meaning you don’t have ‘big bang’ releases every April and October. You just install once and keep on upgrading for ever, confident that as you do so, you’ll always be on the (b)leading edge. That sounds like something I’d want my desktop to do, for sure.

(Oh, and if you’re that way inclined, there’s also a Linux Mint with KDE version and a Linux Mint with LXDE version (I use that last one on my netbook, since LXDE is a much ‘lighter’ desktop environment than either Gnome or KDE). There’s a whole ecosystem of Mints out there, in other words, and they all try hard to be themselves whilst exhibiting general family characteristics.

I dare say I shan’t be on Mint for ever. But I like being on it for now, so it gets a hearty thumbs-up from me.