I was recently given an ebook by a friend. It was a photography book, with tons of hi-res images and very little text. When I opened it with Ubuntu, Evince (the default PDF viewer that comes with Ubuntu) gave in: after a few pages, it slowed to a crawl. I did a bit of research, and found the program that rescued my viewing needs: MuPDF. The good news was that I could finally read my book. The bad news was that I found out that the company behind it has in the past misunderstood the terms of the GPL and started a (later withdrawn) litigation against Palm.
Since script extensions are going to be a part of our toolchain on creating Lunatics, I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with how scripts are created and run in Blender. As a learning project, I decided to create a script for creating 3D pie charts from CSV data files. My first task is to write this for Blender 2.49 using the API for Python 2.6. This is the version documented in the Python Scripting book from Packt that I recently reviewed, so it's a good place for me to start.
As I was working on a sound track project for a science-fiction film I've been working on, I remembered reading an article in Free Software Magazine, by Gianluca Pignalberi, in which he described filtering using Gimp and a command-line program then called "ARSE" (version 0.1). The program is now called "The Analysis & Resynthesis Sound Spectrograph" ("ARSS", now version 0.2.3). Combined with an image editor of your choice (I also chose Gimp), it also turns out to be a very interesting way to make original sound effects -- by painting the sound spectrum.
My son's hand-me-down motherboard recently gave up the ghost, and I decided that was a good excuse for an upgrade. Shopping around, I found that multi-core CPUs were finally in my price range, so I decided to build him a quad-core system. This build worked out extremely well, with almost no configuration problems, not even for accelerated 3D graphics or ALSA sound -- all using the latest Debian GNU/Linux (which means it'll also work with Ubuntu or other derivatives). This one has that "classic" feel -- everything just clicked into place. So I wanted to document it here. This also serves as a technology update to my earlier article on selecting hardware for a free-software-friendly system.
Three recent problems with packages in the last stable release of Debian GNU/Linux ("Lenny"), brought me face-to-face with what is still a major obstacle for acceptance of free software on the desktop: contempt for the values of the people who use it. Despite all the accusations of unfair trade practices or other excuses, this remains as one solid reason why free software is still perceived as "geeks only" territory. If we want to progress further, we've got to improve our attitudes.
Just as there are "classic" cars that never seem to go out of style, there are some classic pieces of software that remain useful long after most of their contemporaries. One of those programs is Xfig, a vector graphics editor hailing from the days of academic Unix workstations. Like the more famous TeX, Xfig hasn't seen significant updates in several years—and for the same reason: it's just about perfect like it is. It is showing its age in the style of its graphical interface, and it does have some fundamental limitations compared to more modern graphics tools, but for the simple technical diagrams it was intended for, it is still hard to beat.
The latest vector graphics package for GNU/Linux is a Linux port of a proprietary Windows application called "Xara Xtreme", which is in the process of being converted to a GPL license. There are a number of sharp broken edges along this path, including non-free library dependencies that need to be free-licensed or replaced with free versions, and support for free graphics standards like SVG in order to interoperate with other packages. As a result, you won't find this new application, called "Xara LX" in the main distributions yet. In Debian, it is filed under "non-free" in the unstable "Sid" distribution. However, this is an opportunity to get a sneak preview of what's coming.
One of the more challenging application areas for free software development is computer graphics. However, there are a number of excellent and popular tools for handling them. I use graphics a lot in my work, especially vector graphics, and I've tried a lot of graphics software.
For this series, I'm going to re-draw a single diagram that I found while working on my LAN printing system in each of seven different vector graphics applications, in order to provide a basis for comparing them.
One of the cool things about custom distributions of GNU/Linux is that they usually have better "eye-candy". However, it's not really that hard to provide your own. If you are setting up a multiple boot system, the GRUB boot menu will be an important startup step; remarkably enough, it is possible to include some graphics even as early as the boot menu.
Why it should be a lot more about feeling, rather than knowing, that free software and free culture is right.
Over the last ten years or so, free software has grown from being just a geek-phenomena. GNU/Linux has become a serious force in the business and server market with major companies now throwing their weight behind it. But on the consumer side of the market, things look still quite a bit different. Although GNU/Linux adoption has made some progress on the desktop too, it's still largely absent, Windows comes pre-installed on almost all new machines sold and you see even die-hard free software advocates using Mac OS X on their personal machine. Why is that?
Gimp is universally used for image manipulation. However, with a bit of creativity and a couple of tricks, it can also be used as an audio filter! Here is how...
There is always a time when your GNU/Linux machine's screen output stops working. Maybe it's displaying garbage to your monitor instead of Gnome or KDE. Or maybe it's displaying 640x480 resolution with 8 colors instead of 1280x1024 with 24 colors. Actually, this will happen with Windows as well. But unlike Windows, GNU/Linux provides a handy tool to fix it. It's called
Don't let the simplicity of use fool you. Both Kivio and Dia, two free software diagramming tools, are very efficient at what they do. If you need to design a complex flow chart or create a no-fuss UML diagram then you could do a lot worse than to choose either of these packages. The tools have 90% of the expected functionality with only 10% of the hassle and fuss that more complex and unnecessarily feature rich proprietary diagramming tools deliver. The learning curve is small and the end result is potentially professional.
I appreciate NVIDIA’s existing support for free software operating systems: their drivers are various, quite full featured, and they do upgrade the source of their minimalist free “nv” driver for those platforms they don’t support fully.
But where do the others stand?
_The matrix in this article has been superceded by the one in _this article.