Hudzilla Coding Academy: Project Two

Group test: home finance software

Apps

In the past, Linux was not overly blessed with decent budgeting software, and installing GnuCash was regarded by many as the epitome of a descent into dependency hell. Thankfully, things have since changed, and anyone using a modern distribution could now have the software ready to go in just a few minutes.

Reviewed: Popcorn Hour A-110

Hardware

If you've ever tried to build yourself a multimedia PC for watching videos on a television, there are a few things to bear in mind. The PC needs to be as quiet as possible. Few people are going to accept the hum and whirr of a computer while you're trying to watch the conclusion to Miss Marple Investigates.

The machine also needs to be powerful enough to play CPU-intensive high-definition content, which means that the PC is going to generate plenty of heat, which will in turn require a beefy fan or two. Finally, you need to squeeze all of this technology into a case that isn't going to look out of place next to your television. Combine these three issues and building your own media PC seems harder than fitting the 1,186 surviving pieces of the Forma Urbis together. Which is where the stupidly named Popcorn Hour steps in.

Benchmarked: Ubuntu vs Vista vs Windows 7

Distros

In depth: A lot of people have been chattering about the improvements Windows 7 brings for Windows users, but how does it compare to Ubuntu in real-world tests? We put Ubuntu 8.10, Windows Vista and Windows 7 through their paces in both 32-bit and 64-bit tests to see just how well Ubuntu faces the new contender. And, just for luck, we threw in a few tests using Jaunty Jackalope with ext4.

CrunchBang Linux hands-on

Distros

In depth: Ubuntu has a lot to answer for - in four short years it has risen to dominate the Linux landscape. It has also spawned several re-spins, including the excellent Mint Linux, and now CrunchBang Linux. The principal method of installing CrunchBang is by using a Live CD, which will enable you to get a taste of the distro before installing, and never before has this been more important than it is with CrunchBang.

For starters, it's designed to be minimalist in order to increase performance, but not to lose any functionality in the process. To aid this, the developers have opted to use the Openbox window manager, which is extremely minimalist.

Hudzilla Coding Academy: Project One

Tweak KDE 4 to your liking

KDE

In depth: Have you been clinging to KDE 3.5 like a polar bear to the last Arctic ice shelf? If so, now is a good time to consider jumping on to the mainland - hundreds of bugfixes and refinements mean that the KDE desktop is now a stable, functional and productive environment. It's faster, more streamlined and full of eye candy, and is also where all the developers' effort is now concentrated.

Things are only going to get better for KDE users. But, as with all these big changes, there are still teething problems - things don't always work the way you expect them to and many of the newer features are poorly documented. We've spent the last few weeks delving into KDE and making a note of everything we changed to help the desktop environment feel a little more comfortable, as well as to sidestep a few of the issues we ran into.

30 days with Haiku

LXF

In depth: Haiku is a free operating system and an alternative to Linux. It celebrated its seventh birthday on 18 August, and it's still being actively developed. Haiku is nowhere near being considered a finished product, but it's now stable enough for everyday use.

Most importantly, it's very interesting. The design of Haiku closely mimics that of BeOS - but Linux Format magazine's Graham Morrison has never used BeOS. He doesn't know if it has a web browser, a file manager or even a command line. He has no idea how packages are installed, or even if they can be. This is his story...

Version control with Git

Code

In depth: Anyone who's used SVN, CVS or one of the other major versioning tools for backing up, reverting and (trying to) collaborate will understand what drove Linus Torvalds to give in and write his own. Versioning software often drives coders mad - and Git has been called the versioning system that you need a PhD to understand. The complexity comes from its simplicity and its aim to make it easier to work in large groups of distributed developers, but if you approach Git calmly you'll get a lot from it.

Banish your daemons!

LXF

In depth: A daemon is a task that runs in the background, and there's a small army of them that are started when you fire up your machine. There are daemons for controlling automated tasks, daemons for managing power and CPU use, daemons for printing and daemons for writing the system logs. Some denote their status by ending with the letter 'd', while others prefer the anonymity of names like 'binfmpt-support' or 'brltty'.

Daemons are obviously an important part of the running environment. But there's also a slight problem: without any divine inspiration, the average Linux distribution can't accurately guess which daemons are going to be of use to you, and which aren't. The result is that they'll normally play it safe and err on the side of caution.

This means that your desktop may include a laptop power management daemon, or Bluetooth tools, neither of which may be of great use. These will still get loaded up and use valuable memory, so you can save boot time and memory by spending a little time pruning your daemons, and fitting them to your own requirements. The trick is knowing which ones to cut...

Building the KDE UserBase

Interviews

In depth: Most software developers, whether open source or proprietary, would agree that the success or failure of any endeavour depends on building a community. This may be a community of fellow developers, advocates or just users, but unless a significant number of people take a project to their hearts, it's unlikely to make an impact.

If you're an elite coder who dreams in C++, making your mark on a free software project could be relatively easy; you take the code - magically available under the GPL - and work out how to do something new or more efficient with it and then bash out your edits on a keyboard. You release your patch and the community sings your praises while you begin the process over again with the same or another project.

For those of us who dream in boring old pictures, making an impression may seem like a pipe dream, but there are ways that end users can get involved in free software development and help improve not just the software itself, but also the experience of other users. In this case, it's not our (lack of) coding skills that are of use, but the diverse ways we use software and the experiences we can bring to the community.

Enter UserBase and Anne Wilson. The former is a collection of pages dedicating to helping users everywhere get the best experience when using KDE. The latter, meanwhile, is a retired teacher with a passion for Linux, learning and KDE who has become a key contributor to UserBase.

Hassle-free mobile phone syncing

Hardware

In depth: There's a long history of syncing mobile devices with Linux. That long history is mostly filled with one device not synchronising, followed by another device not working, followed by another.

The problem is that the protocols and software used by most devices to talk with one another are closely guarded secrets, and anyone attempting to write an open source client needs to decode those protocols bit by bit, and then stay ahead of any changes. Hopefully, newer and more open platforms like Google Android, the freshly open sourced Symbian or Qt will mean that decent open protocols can be developed to ease the pain for Linux users and device compatibility.

Despite the negativity in our first sentence, things have recently got a lot better. There are several workable solutions you can use today. They might be a little messy, and use a hotchpotch of Gnome and KDE applications, but they can be made to work and we're going to show you how.

10 simple ways to make your Linux box more secure

LXF

In depth: Most articles on security for Linux are firmly rooted in the guidance of tried-and-tested Unix usage. This means that they dust off the same dry points on keeping the network locked away, minimising the risk by locking down the system and only giving access to the people who really need it, then draw a conclusion that boils down to a form of the old adage 'it's better to be safe than sorry'.

That's not to say those techniques aren't useful, but they often aren't particularly applicable to the average installation. We want to rejuvenate this age-old advice with a checklist that's relevant to everyone's installation. If you follow each tip, your system usage will many times safer than most. But even if you don't do absolutely everything, changing just one bad habit can still make a big difference.

Group test: web browsers

Apps

In depth: Never before has the once humble browser been so powerful. These days it's not just basic tasks that can be undertaken without leaving the confines of a Firefox or Konqueror window; some of the jobs that used to require complex desktop applications - database design, video editing, photo manipulation - are now perfectly viable for those with just browser software and web access.

This kind of power makes your choice of browser almost as crucial as your distribution and operating system. If an application is written using standard technologies - such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS - it should run well on anything capable of rendering those technologies, whether the browser launches from Linux or another OS. In fact, a good browser can make your choice of OS largely irrelevant.

There are other more proprietary and equally widespread technologies around, but as these in-browser application frameworks rely on plugins to work correctly, it could be seen as a little unfair to judge them in this Roundup. However, we're concerned with getting things done, so if a favourite site works better in one browser than another - even as result of better support from a developer - then we'll take it into account.

Think of it this way: we could offer a picture of how well each browser does on the Acid 2 test, chuck in a table of features and have done with it. But that would be lazy, because browsers rely on content from other sources and you need to know what really works best for you.

Hudzilla Coding Academy: Introduction

TuxRadar launches; world + dog vaguely amused

TuxRadar

Few people like reading the news when it's plagued by adverts or over-complicated design. And no one likes it when stories are split across 10 pages just to boost the impression count. So the smart bods behind Linux Format magazine (that's us) have launched this new site with a few goals in mind...

  • To get some of our content online for everyone to read and learn from.
  • To post news stories about free software matters
  • To launch and run the Hudzilla Coding Academy
  • To have some fun with a twice-monthly podcast, while covering some serious free software issues
  • To do all the above using a site that loads super-fast, doesn't split stories into a zillion pages, and is pretty light on adverts too.

So, tell your friends, tell all your friends: it's time to kick-ass and chew bubblegum, and penguins don't much like gum.

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