Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cool New Happenings in uPnP and Telepathy Land

There's some really cool stuff going on right now, and a lot of it is happening with stuff behind the scenes like Coherence and Telepathy.

1. Telepathy Integration Into Elisa Media Center

This video shows how Elisa can use Telepathy to share recommended media to other media centers on the local network or in chat rooms using Jabber.

2. Media Sharing in Nautilus Using Coherence

There is now the first sign of a uPnP plug-in for Nautilus. Just right-click on a folder and share the videos to uPnP devices. Pretty slick!

3. Coherence Not Gnomey Enough? There's GuPnP ... Ooops ... Rygel.

Rugel is a Gnome app (re)written completely in Vala. It is pretty much feature-complete and is now being hosted by Gnome. Welcome to Rygel!.

From the announcement:
1)The world's first fully open hardware/software. All system source(BIOS, kernel, drivers etc.) are open source, no close firmware needed.

2)High performance. Tests show that our platform is among the best performance for 7"-9"ultra mobile laptops.

3)Low power. Peak power ~12Watt for SSD version.

4)Low cost. We provide very competitive price.

5)High quality. This product is designed and produced by Quanta Computer, the No.1 notebook OEM factory.

6)Rich expandablity: optional HDD/wifi/camera, internal USB connector for expansion of GPS/Bluetooth etc.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lost and Lonely "About Me"

If you take a trip to System > Preferences > About Me, you'll notice a place for all your personal information:
  • A picture
  • E-mail addresses
  • Instant messaging accounts
  • Physical addresses
  • Web page
  • Blog
  • Calendar
  • Professional information
  • Password
It's probably completely empty. You've probably never visited there before. Why would you? It's not used for anything ....

About Me represents a great unused resource for the Gnome desktop. Evolution could access this information, setting up e-mail accounts for you as automatically as possible and supplying your calendar without extra work on your part. Empathy could use it to seed the initial accounts. Your picture could be set as an avatar if you like. More esoterically, gnome-blog could use this information and Nautilus could try to set up an FTP connection to your web page.

Why isn't About Me used for anything? Security. Developers are correctly concerned that making About Me central to your personality will create a situation where rogue applications could use this information to exploit you or your accounts.

Why don't we store the information in Seahorse (it handles passwords and keyrings)? On Gnome first run, you could be asked for this personal information. Applications which want it will need to be authorized by the user in order to access Seahorse. Ekiga obviously needs this information. The game you downloaded doesn't. End of story? Am I missing something? Probably.

About Me could simplify a lot of things on the desktop. It was created with that in mind. What a shame it's not really useful for anything right now.

Concept Desktop -- A Basic Sketch

This is something I've been kicking around in my head for some time now. It's not revolutionary, nor do I even claim it would be particularly good. It definitely needs more thought. The mock-up isn't intended to look how the real thing would (so I guess it's not really a mock-up, just a quick concept).

The main idea is obviously to improve "intuitiveness" by  mimicing a real desktop where possible. Points:
  • "No distractions" full-screen work with the bottom 10% of the desktop always visible. Click "show desktop" to work outside the application.
  • Task-oriented. Not application-oriented.
  • Completely DnD. Move an app to another workspace by dragging it to the workspaces area. Close an app by dragging it to the shelf. Create a note by dragging it to the wall.
  • Common office functions are accessed from the tools at the back of the desk. Should I have a music player?
  • In common with the concept for Soylent, communication is people-centered. The address book is all-important. The phone and SMS are there mostly for showing incoming alerts. "I want to talk to Joe. Oh, he's on IM." Not "I want to IM someone. Oh, Joe's on."
  • Large thumbnails of every document and application running. They appear in perspective.
  • Recent documents appear on the right, with the newer documents in the front and the older ones in the back. I guess you can bookmark documents, too.
  • If you open your calendar to a date, you can see a summary of communication and document activity on that date in addition to obvious stuff like appointments. Web pages visited? Is that a good idea?
  • When you mouse over recent documents, the thumbnail slides out and enlarges to give a better view.
  • The walls are available, though I'm not exactly sure for what. Right now, I've got applications on all desktops (Rhythmbox), contact info for my boss (the business card), and sticky notes. I guess I could put anything up there with DnD.
  • I don't know how to make search appear intuitively.
I've seen some mock-ups of stuff for Gnome 3 and Ubuntu lately, so I thought I'd put my 20 Korean won in. Like I said ... I don't think I've come up with something particularly special.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The TV Server I Always Wanted, Part 2 -- Options

In Part 1, I talked about what I wanted from my rebuilt media server. In Part 2, I'm going to go into some specifics and talk about options.


  • Pentium dual core
  • 2GB RAM
  • nVidia Corporation GeForce 8400 GS video card with s-video out
  • Intel 82801-based motherboard


There are a good number of choices for the interface. I've included a brief description of the major ones and a video demo for each (when available).
  • MythTV: Probably the most mature (and complicated) media center available on Linux. Luckily, there are a couple of dedicated distributions ( and ) which minimize the difficulty of configuring it. It has add-ons for just about every function you could imagine.
  • : Compared to MythTV's complicated system, Elisa is completly utilitarian. Fluendo, which licenses restricted codecs for Linux, intends the project to be that way.  There is no configuration utility yet. There are no add-ons. The are very few themes available for it. Still, Elisa has functionality. It uses GStreamer for the backend, so codecs for just about everything are fairly easy to install.  It handles DAAP shares and (supposedly, though I've had no luck) uPnP on the network.  Elisa requires a compocited display.
  • : This is a promising new project that is a fork of XBMC. It is supposedly GPLv2, but I don't see any available source code, and there is on whether the developers are compying with the license or not. The interface is hot and there are a lot of cool features. Unfortunately, the software is still in Alpha.

  • LinuxMCE: The software available is based on Ubuntu 7.04, but it's still rather amazing. If you need a media center for your whole house, I would check this one out. The software is created by an A/V equipment company, and it seems to work best with the hardware they offer.

  • Me-TV: Me TV was developed for the modern digital lounge room with a PC for a media centre that is capable of normal PC tasks (web surfing, word processing and watching TV). It is not designed to be a full-blown media centre, such as MythTV, but will integrate well with an existing GNOME desktop. This is designed as an add-on to a normal desktop. It's not meant for a dedicated media center

  • File Sharing

    • WebDAV: I've written about using WebDAV and Avahi to share files. It's easy and pain free. Many media files won't stream using WebDAV, but I don't intend to use the file sharing for that purpose, anyway.
    • Samba: Like MythTV, this is the swiss army knife of file sharing options. It can do anything. Getting it to do all those things can be difficult for new users, though.

    Music Sharing

    • Firefly: This is the most mature and friendly of the options. It handles playlists and can do transcoding. It can even pass videos if you have a client capable of supporting it. The configuration is done via web interface.
    • Tangerine: There's a Mono application to serve music files via DAAP, but it brings in Mono and GTK+. The only configuration utility is graphical. It looks fine if you are running a GTK desktop and already have Mono installed.
    • Perl Script: a Perl module exists to make a DAAP server fairly easily, but it's limited:
      • Currently only shares .mp3 files.
      • Doesn't support playlists. 
      • You can't skip around the playing track

    Video Sharing

    • : This uPnp server has a good web interface and is relatively feature-complete.
    • uShare: This is a simple server which is part of the GeexBox project (a mighty fine piece of software, by the way).
    • MythTV: Myth offers its own upnp server for items in the database. If you are going to use MythTV, you are going to use this option.
    • : This Python library is at the heart of the Rhythmbox uPnP plugin, and it has scriptable servers and clients. Not exactly a simple solution, but this would be a good choice for a computer with limited hardware.


    • : I've written a HowTo on how to set up a dedicated torrent server. It works. Well.
    • : This is a great headless torrent client. There are several good Howtos on setting it up. They generally involve using Screen to admin. That's not too user-friendly.
    • Azureus cum Vuze: This was the gold-standard for torrent clients for a long time, but had the reputation for being a resource hog because of Java. It now offers headless operation and a web interface as options.
    • Deluge: Deluge is the new Azureus. It's full-featured with a ton of plugins. I've written about getting it to automatically download your shows before. It recently got split into front and back ends, meaning that headless operation is now possible. With the simple web interface, you can do most things you need.
    • : MythTV has an add-on for automatically handling RSS feeds and downloading the content. It works with torrents, but there is a bug in Bittornado which makes this difficult because the client faults immediately after starting. My attempts at patching Bittornado didn't solve the problem. It also isn't set up to seed at all. Not good.
    • Boxee: There is a built-in RSS reader which was added recently and which uses rTorrent for torrent files. It's not automatic, though. You need to look over the feed and queue files for download.


    MythTV uses a database to keep track of recordings and movies. There is a perl script called RageTVgrab which tries to parse the file name and lok up show info on then add the show info into the database. There's also a bulk updater for videos called Mythvideo Bulk Updater, not surprisingly.

    Elisa browses the file system. Boxee categorizes files and picks up new ones, displaying them for you. I haven't used LinuxMCE so I can't comment on its organization.

    Remote Administration

    • MythWeb: If you use MythTV, you get a web interface which works specifically with it. You can download or stream your TV or movies, update movie information from IMDB, check the server status, and change settings for MythTV or the add-ons. It's pretty much a no-brainer if you're going to use MythTV.

    • : This is a newer web admin interface which works well but doesn't work well with others. eBox is completely destructive of configuration files, so there's no migration to or from eBox. It handles users, shares, DHCP, and just about anything else you want to do with a server. IT's designed to work with Ubuntu 8.04.

    • Webmin: The town elder of the web interfaces, Webmin deos it all (with Perl!) but not with style, certainly. Webmin's interface is as confusing as it is complete. It's not in the repositories for Debian Lenny or Ubuntu 8.04.


    My choices may notreflect yours, but that's why I laid out all the options instead of just telling you what to use. The bottom line is that there is a lot of choice in building a TV server. Based on my requirements from Part 1, I made the following decisions:
    • MythTV using Mythbuntu 8.04. Boxee looks really nice, but it's still alpha software. When I build my next TV box, Boxee will definitely be at the top of the list. LinuxMCE looks nice, but I'm not going to use 90% of the features. The same can be said for MythTV, but it's modular and I can take out most of the add-ons to reduce the footprints. Elisa got eliminated because I didn't want to spend a lot of time organizing the file system. That's what I did with my last server.
    • Samba won the file sharing war because it's included in Mythbuntu and already set up to share the videos and music after install.
    • For music sharing, I chose Firefly (mt-daapd) because I've used it for quite some time and know that it works well. I didn't want Mono on the server. The Perl option doesn't support my OGG collection.
    • MythTV includes a uPnP server, so I don't need to add anything. Totem also now includes a MythTV plugin by default.
    • The web interface is covered by MythTV.
    • For the torrent client, I actually went with two. I used rTorrent to watch a directory, then an RSS reader to automatically pull the .torrent files and put them in the watched directory. Finished files are moved to the Recordings directory immediately and continue seeding from there. Because rTorrent doesn't support seeding limits, I delete the .torrent files after four days using cron. That gives about download time plus three days' seeding. Because other downloads shouldn't appear in Recordings, I also run Torrentflux for one-off downloads.
    In Part 3 (next weekend), I'll give you a good HowTo on the setup I used to get hands-off operation.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Canonical Confirms High Returns of Linux Netbooks

Last week, MSI reported that return rate of its Suse-based netbooks was four times as high as that of the Windows XP version. Because of a lack of specific information, there was a lot of speculation about how high that return rate actually was and whether it was significant. Some doubted MSI's motives for making the announcement, citing the lack of a Linux version in many markets.

I wasn't surprised, though, given that the MSI Wind comes with a webcam and wireless, but the Linux software for the netbook doesn't work well with either of them. Who wouldn't return faulty / non-working hardware? The return rates might be 80%. Who knows?

Interestingly, Canonical has come out in support of MSI's claim, saying that returns of open-source netbooks are also higher, though it doesn't confirm MSI's 4x return rate. It appears that customers don't get what they expect. Sometimes, Canonical asserts, that is due to poor disclosure from the seller, typically online where the specs aren't clear and the customer can't get hands on the device. Sometimes, though, it's a problem of customer ignorance -- they just don't understand what the specs mean.

People want XP on their computers. It's pretty obvious these days. They don't really want Vista. Few want Macs (though the number is growing). Even fewer want any kind of Linux or Unix.

I think it's clear that netbook manufacturers need to drop the "it's a computer" line and push an appliance concept for their Linux-based netbooks. If customers don't expect a laptop or laptop replacement, they are more likely to want XP on it. If the manufacturers can create a great miniature interface that just works and isn't designed for expansion, why would anyone complain?

I mean, they're not complaining that the iPhone doesn't come with Windows, are they? Or are they ...?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The TV Server I Always Wanted, Part 1

The beginning

A couple of years ago, I wanted the perfect TV server. I ended up with a half-assed MythTV and file server hooked up to my TV. It worked pretty well, but it had some problems and wasted potential. It definitely didn't meet my standard for what I wanted.

The first problem was that I download most of my TV since I live in Korea and have very little English programming available -- outside of old Van Damme movies -- on cable. I generally only kept full seasons of stuff on the server and got the week-by-week stuff on my desktop. Being a true geek, I was truly ashamed of the setup, but I also didn't want to anger my gal by breaking something that was already working.

Another problem was that the TV programs that were on the server were in the main video section, clogging it up. I wanted to have the TV in the proper section (recordings), but I didn't get them from a tuner card, so they polluted my videos and generally made updating the video collection database a nightmare. Still, the server limped along.

Finally, I ran out of space and bought a new SATA disk to expand with. I had another SATA disk already in the machine so I figured I was safe. Unfortunately, Samsung only makes SATA II disks that use a software switch to move to SATA I, my motherboard only supported SATA I, the software for the disk was nowhere to be found on the Samsung website, and repeated requests to Samsung for help were never answered.

I bit the bullet and bought new hardware and started the whole thing from scratch.

The goal

Things I wanted from the new server:
  • A nice interface. There are quite a few options that I looked into, including MythTV (of course), Elisa, Boxee, XMBC, and several other, smaller media player interfaces.
  • File sharing. I wanted to use WebDAV and Avahi, but Samba was an acceptable alternative.
  • Music sharing. I wanted DAAP to use music from Rhythmbox. This required mt-daapd.
  • Video sharing. I wanted the videos on the server to be available on all the clients. Using Samba was certainly a possibility, but I wanted something more transparent. uPnP or something similar should just appear in Totem. The MythTV plugin also promised goodness.
  • Torrents. I wanted a hands-free experience similar to what I had with Deluge before using and automatic downloads.
  • Organization. I wanted the videos and TV to be organized without having to babysit the system like I used to have to do. I wanted to be able to find everything easily. The information on the shows and videos needed to be looked up without my help whenever possible.
  • Remote administration. I needed some way for the gal to handle videos on the server without needing to SSH in. She's not afraid of the CLI, but there's no reason to make her scribble stuff on post-it notes and put them all over the wall.
The decision process will be covered in Part 2, and part 3 should be the actual Howto on setting one up for yourself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My home server is back up, so ...

My home server had been down for a few weeks, so I had trouble setting up and moving forward on my Debian2Debian project, but things are back to normal now. I've reinstalled the system and stuff is mostly working right now, though there are a few snags.
  • WebDAV + Avahi works beautifully, but Nautilus appears to cache the entire file in memory before transfer to the share, so I can't transfer files larger than about 1.3GB. There is no error. The progress meter just stops and the estimated time adjusts itself continuously. I'll file a bug.
  • I didn't want Tangerine, so I brought in mt-daapd from Sid to share the music and it works fine. More than fine, actually. Beautiful, as always (I've been using it for years).
  • uPnP is giving me a headache right now. None of the available tools (MediaTomb and GMediaServer) seem to talk to the Coherence Totem uPnP plugin. MythTV has uPnP, so I'm going to install and try that. Since I'm at it, I'm going to hook the server up to the TV and use Myth there. I may need to end up writing my own Coherence script to make a basic server. At least that would be light.
  • DPAP is only available via Perl. F-Spot doesn't support it in the main trunk yet.
  • I'll start working on a backup solution soon.
  • The easiest way to see everything on the ZeroConf/Avahi side is to use the Gnome Service Discover Applet, but it hard-codes Nautilus into the applet so that some URIs don't open. The solution is to open and change
    cmdline = ["nautilus", url ]
    cmdline = ["xdg-open", url ]
    cmdline = ["gnome-open", url ]
I'll keep you informed. Hopefully, I'll have some pre-seed mini.isos up for the completed servers (both Debian Lenny and Ubuntu 8.04.1) and clients (Debian Sid and Ubuntu 8.10) within the next couple of weeks.
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