FFmpeg made easy

Apps

So you've got those expensive headphones you always wanted. You put them on, set your playlist on shuffle, lean back on the recliner, and hit play. And Robbie Williams sounds just as bad as he did on the older cheapo headphones. What gives? Unless you aren't a Robbie fan, the music doesn't sound great because it isn't encoded to.

If you've already read MythTV made easy and want to take your media knowledge to the next level, read on for our guide to audio conversion with FFmpeg, Mplayer, HandBrake and more...

Reviewed: AVG Anti-virus 8.5 for Linux

Apps

As long as NTFS partitions continue to sprawl over heterogeneous networks, anti-virus companies will dole out scanners for Linux. No surprise then that AVG Technologies, makers of the popular AVG Anti-Virus, has a scanner that runs on Linux in its latest 8.5 series bouquet.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.5 for Linux (hereafter abbreviated to AVG Free) isn't AVG's first scanner for Linux. The company has released binaries for both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures for Linux and FreeBSD, and the scanner itself is loaded with features up to the brim. Despite all this, it is utterly useless for the intended audience.

Group test: screencasting apps

Apps

Screencasts - digital movies with the desktop as a backdrop, the mouse as the protagonist and a voiceover - have become an integral part of electronic learning and form the basis of the computer-based training industry. As bandwidth becomes affordable and video-sharing websites start popping up, there's a huge influx of free and open source tools.

Not all tools follow the same methodology of capturing activity on your screen. Some rely on desktop sharing services such as VNC, some take a series of screenshots in quick succession and stitch them together into a video. Some give you the option to select an output format, and some will spew the video in patent-free formats only. Using these tools you can screencast your complete desktop or a particular window. Some enable you to narrate audio along with your videos and others don't.

Which to choose? Read on for our group test of the best screencasting apps available for Linux...

Organise your music with Picard

Apps

Organising your digital music collection can be a Herculean effort. Yet when you have several gigabytes of tracks to sift through, your only chance of finding what you want to hear is if your music files are properly tagged.

Don't panic if your machine can't tell Barry White apart from the White Stripes, though: the creators of Picard feel your pain. That's why, by the time Picard is finished with your music collection, each file will know the album it belongs to, the artist who performed it, its track number within the album and a host of other details.

Control your bandwidth with Trickle

Apps

Ever had one of those situations where you pause for a moment, think back to a time long ago, and say, I wish I knew this back then? Even if you haven't, Trickle will trigger many such memories. With Trickle you can control the upload and download speeds for applications such that no single application hogs all the bandwidth. This gives you the power to ensure that downloads from Firefox don't interfere with your attempts to download a file through FTP.

Reviewed: KOffice 2.0

Apps

Free software is often developed with the mantra 'release early, release often'. This is a great idea, because new tools can be tested, trialled and critiqued as they're developed, rather than waiting for some arbitrary point of readiness.

Which brings us to KOffice 2.0, the latest productivity package designed specifically for KDE. Like the completely rewritten KDE 4 release, KOffice 2.0 has been let loose in a state that isn't quite ready for production use. Read on for our views of the new release from the KOffice camp...

Geotagging with Linux

Apps

Geotagging photographs makes it possible to give your computer orders like “show me on a map where this picture was taken” or “find all my pictures taken within a three-mile radius of Buckingham Palace”. If you want to publish your pictures online, geotagging makes it possible to make your own maps hyperlinked to and from your online picture galleries or services like Flickr.

Digital cameras with integrated GPS sensors that automatically geotag every shot will become more and more affordable over the next few months, but that doesn't mean that there's no reason to learn how to do it yourself. Think about it for a moment: if you like the possibilities of geotagged pictures, the biggest obstacle you're likely to face is not the shots you'll take from your next holiday, but the thousands of pictures you have on your hard disk already. We're going to help fix that...

Group test: project planners

Apps

Computer-based project management and planning (PM for short) is a strange beast. Real geeks love to hate it: "What planning and deadlines? We'll release when it's ready!" PM, however, is vital in all large organisations and remains one of the reasons that keeps many desktop users locked into their old proprietary operating system - Microsoft Project does after all, run only on Microsoft Windows.

Don't despair, however. If you were suffering in silence because you thought you couldn't draw a Gantt chart or an RBS diagram on Linux, you were wrong. In this article we'll present five project managers that are aimed at non-geek desktop users. They're all programs that can work without an internet connection or relying on external servers, so their installation is really easy, even if they aren't already included in your preferred Linux distro.

Qt Creator

Apps

Reviewed: Linux isn't short of a few integrated development environments, but if your chosen development arena happens to be Qt, and/or KDE, the only viable option for the last eleven years has been KDevelop. KDevelop is a powerful application that supports many more languages than just C++, but the bewildering array of icons, panels, tabs, menus and windows are likely to scare beginners back to Blitz Basic.

There's a new version of KDevelop on the horizon, but Nokia has beaten them to the punch with Qt Creator, which comes included in the latest release of Qt 4.5 - that's the one with the LGPL licence.

Guake 0.4.0 is here

Apps

If you find yourself frequently launching terminal windows to Get Stuff Done, you should by now have discovered Guake - a drop-down, always-on terminal for Gnome (screenshots).

We usually set F12 to display/hide the terminal, which means multi-tabbed command-line power is only a keypress away. What's more, a new version has just been announced, so download Guake 0.4.0 today!

PS: KDE users - has YaKuake been replaced by something else now?

Get started with GnuPG

Apps

In depth: Thanks to software like GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or even just GPG), the kind of encryption that was used only by top secret government departments is now open to all. In many ways GnuPG is more than just a free software implementation of Phil Zimmermann's notorious Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) software, and a lot more than just another piece of cryptographic software.

With GnuPG you can check the integrity of an email message, authenticate the sender and keep its contents safe from prying eyes without going near a patented encryption algorithm.

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to liberate your files and communications from the tyranny of snoopers. For further instructions, calmly place this tutorial in your suitcase, put on the goggles and the hat, and make sure no one's following you as you exit the GUI lounge and make your way to the keyboard.

LaTeX made easy

Apps

OpenOffice.org and other word processors do a perfectly decent job for basic text, but sometimes you want better typesetting than that. LaTeX (pronounced "lay-tech" and commonly written Latex much to the annoyance of geek pedants) may look formidable, but once you get into the swing of it, it's remarkably straightforward, and manages to give you excellent control over how your deathless prose appears on the page without undue fuss.

This article will cover the basics, but you can do more or less anything else you have a mind to - although it's easy to leave Latex to do the heavy lifting for you, there's also scope to control your formatting more closely if you prefer. If you've already read MythTV made easy, LTSP made easy and Nagios made easy, read on to see what you can do with Latex...

Group test: getting things done apps

Apps

Turning to time management software to organise your life is fine, just as long as it doesn't become another obstacle to actually Getting Things Done. David Allen's decision to give his time management method the acronym GTD is a good omen, then.

Another is that GTD has more cultists than GNU Emacs. The common faith goes like so: dump everything you must do out of your head and into a trusted system based on next actions, regular reviews and a 'tickler', which remembers everything and magically shows what you have to do next. That way you'll be much more productive.

Nagios made easy

Apps

In depth: What's the best way to monitor multiple Linux servers for configuration errors, high load or other problems? The answer is Nagios, which is a fantastic (and free!) networking monitoring system that lets you track multiple servers (HTTP, SMTP, SSH and more) across multiple machines, all backed by a neat user interface.

Nagios gives you an unbeatable overview of all your machines, meaning that you can fix upcoming problems before they turn critical and be certain that you're not missing anything about your network. The basic structure of Nagios is pretty simple: you set up one machine as your Nagios server, and it gathers information on the client machines you point it at, then displays it in a neat web page format. Read on to learn how to get started with Nagios on your own network!

New releases catch-up

Apps

Here's some recent updates for those of you too busy to hit F5 on Freshmeat every 10 seconds. Ardour 2.8 is now available featuring track and bus templates, distributable VST support and AudioUnit state saving -- stuff which has to be cool if you're into digital audio. Gnumeric 1.9.5 brings everyone's favourite non-OOo spreadsheet closer to 2.0 with bugfixes en masse, while HardInfo 0.5 displays a shedload more details about your system, and remains the essential fact-gathering tool when you need to get Linux help. Some more updates after the break.

Free Software on Windows and Mac

Apple

In depth: There's a long running argument between two opposing groups of open source advocates. Does the availability of free software for a proprietary platform promote or inhibit open source adoption?

Some, such as Richard Stallman, argue that running free and open source software (FOSS) on OSes such as Microsoft's Windows or Apple's OS X gives people one less reason to switch to GNU/Linux. Others feel that the availability of free GPLed software gives people a taste of software that may be otherwise out of reach, promoting the quality and diversity of open source development.

But is there really enough cross-platform free software out there to tempt users?

Renoise 2.0

Apps

Reviewed: Soundtrackers are cool. They let musicians create music in a style reminiscent of the way assembler programmers write code. Notes become numbers and timing becomes a position in a list. Renoise is a proprietary sound tracker for Windows, OS X and Linux with a mostly functional demo version. But does it live up to the memory of OctaMED? Read on...

Group test: note takers

Apps

Paper - don't you just hate it? We live in the 'information age', and yet the much promised era of the paperless office still seems decades away. Our desks are cluttered with notes, reminders and scraps of random information that desperately need to be sorted, but it's hard to find the time.

You've probably tried the brute-force method of computerising your notes: keeping a plain text file (or word processor document) on your desktop, ready at hand to tap in phone numbers, reminders and other tidbits that you need to store in a hurry.

This system works fairly well at first, but it soon becomes unwieldy. As much as you try to keep notes together in categories and purge expired information when necessary, eventually you end up with a morass of data that's impossibly hard to manage. Sure, it's a slightly better system than playing 'hunt the Post-It Note', and it certainly saves on trees, but there has to be a more elegant solution...

Get more netbook screen space with PekWM

Apps

Netbooks, eh? Lovely little devices for light computing on the go, but they usually have pretty limited screen resolutions (by normal laptop standards). It doesn't help that most desktop environments and window managers cram panels and widgets onto the screen, leaving little room for the most important stuff -- your apps. O'Reilly Broadcast looks at PekWM, a cheeky little window manager which frees up valuable screen real estate, giving more room for your Firefox/OOo/Emacs/Nethack sessions to flex their muscles.

Amarok vs Songbird

Apps

Reviewed: Most migrants from other operating systems will seek out a Linux alternative to the ubiquitous iTunes, and chances are they'll come across Amarok 2.0 and Songbird 1.0. They're both contenders for the Linux music player crown, but take different approaches. Which one is right for you?

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