The Perfect Desktop!

What’s stopping you from completely switching to a free software operating system? Multimedia codecs? Out-of-the-box support for the off-the-shelf hardware peripherals that you use? Games?

What else? (Send your ‘what else’ requirements to lfyedit at efyindia dot com. We’d like to hear from you.)

Well, apart from support for a lot of games (the fault lies with the game developers anyway, that they don’t have a GNU/Linux or BSD port of the game application), and certain niche/professional requirements, we believe a free software OS can provide you with everything—that too, in a user-friendly, fool-proof way.

Seriously, all of you (or your friends) who rave about the so-called out-of-box experience in Winduhs, try to install a Winduhs XP, Vista, or even the soon-to-be-released Winduhs 7, and look at what all you get.

Did I hear you say, “Only a handful of applications…”? And please tell me, honestly, if that Winduhs recognises all your hardware peripherals without you installing the individual drivers, one by one.

While you are reading this, I’d love it if you reset your PC/laptop BIOS to boot from a CD, and pop in this month’s LFY CD into the drive.

Call it a coincidence, but the release of KDE 4.3 (a modern desktop environment) and the SUSE Studio service in August enabled us to prepare for you what we believe has the potential to uproot that XP/Vista thing out of your system—only if you’re willing to give it a try by learning and unlearning a few things. Give it a day (or at the most, a week), and if you don’t shy away from asking questions, we believe you can make it.

Getting started: The first-timers’ guide

Now that you’ve popped in the CD and reset your computer, you’ll be presented with a menu along with some information. Just hit “Boot KDE 4.3 Live CD” to boot into a live environment—i.e., boot the OS.

For starters, a live CD runs directly off the CD by loading the programs into your RAM, without touching your hard disk in any way. The minimum requirements are 512 MB of RAM and a decent CPU that’s not more than half a decade old. Newer and more powerful hardware would, of course, perform better.

You’ll now see a bootsplash screen with a progress bar soon to be replaced by a licence agreement. Read it if you like—or just agree to it by hitting ‘Yes’ as most of us do anyway. Although, if you don’t know the GPL, dedicating five minutes of your time to reading at least the first few paragraphs of the licence would make it more clear to you why free software is special.

After that, you’ll go back to a black and white screen with some text scrolling. Don’t panic—nothing is wrong here. You’ll soon notice the graphical desktop start.
Yes, it’s relatively empty—the only thing occupying the screen is a tiny panel at the bottom. Right click on the desktop and see what widgets you can run. I’d first recommend that you add the Folder View widget before anything else. This is like a container for your desktop folder, the place where you have all those icons, files and folders. The folder view comes in handy because even if you put your whole world on the desktop, everything is still accessible—nothing goes out of the screen because you get a scroll bar to help you navigate when this container fills up. Check out some other widgets if you like.

Hit the KDE menu (at the extreme left corner of the panel) to check all the applications we have for you. Here’s a round up:

  1. Office suite: OpenOffice.org 3.1
  2. Browser: Mozilla Firefox 3.5.2 (besides Konqueror)
  3. Audio player: Amarok 2.1.1
  4. Video player: SMPlayer
  5. Image editing: GIMP 2.6 and Krita 2.0
  6. Digital camera tool: Digikam
  7. Image viewer: Gwenview
  8. Personal information manager: Kontact (mail, RSS reader, organiser, etc.)
  9. Video editor: Kdenlive
  10. Disc burning tool: K3b

Besides these, there’s a chat client (Kopete), download manager (KGet), BitTorrent client (KTorrent), a PDF and document viewer (Okular), and various system and other miscellaneous tools.

There’s support for compressing and uncompressing RAR, ZIP, LZMA, BZ2, GZ, etc, files aided by the Ark utility. Whether your music collection includes songs in MP3, ogg, wav and flac formats, Amarok should be able to manage all of them. SMPlayer will play most of the MPEG, DivX, XviD, MP4, flv, ogv, wmv, and other content you throw at it, apart from its ability to play encrypted DVD videos. Besides, you can play YouTube videos using Firefox.

I don’t know what else you do, so please feel free to check the menu for applications. Here’s a simple trick: hit Alt+F2 and in the pop-up box, fill in a term like, for example, ‘audio’ and see what application plays audio. Yes, you can launch that application straight from this tool.

One CD! It has it all (well, almost)
Well, let me share a little secret! Most of our regular readers would know that we generally bundle a KDE 4 Live CD (based on openSUSE) with the LFY issue that follows the specific KDE version release. The plan was the same this time.

The KDE Live CD has all sorts of pure KDE applications—but nothing else. For example, it doesn’t have the OpenOffice.org (OOo) office suite nor Firefox. So, if you plan to install the CD, it means you’ll have to download these two, for sure. Besides, most Linux distros don’t bundle multimedia codecs out-of-the-box due to patent restrictions in some parts of the globe—just as with the KDE Live CD. Thankfully, in India, we don’t have software patent laws! So, why should we be deprived, and unnecessarily spend on bandwidth to make the system usable?

I’ll share another little secret: Pardus 2009 is perhaps one of the best drop-in replacements for your general desktop OS. It comes with the KDE 4.2.4, OOo 3.1 and Firefox 3.5.1, besides all sorts of multimedia codes. The only issue with it is that it was released before KDE 4.3 came out! So, we stole their concept, and aided by the release of SUSE Studio, we created our own Pardus replacement. Unfortunately, since none of us are developers here, our overall desktop integration is not as good as that of Pardus’.

To set your desktop properties, hit the KDE menu and launch Configure Desktop. You can finetune your desktop from there. Besides, the systems admin tool called YaST is where you can make system-level (as opposed to user-level) changes like configuring your network. The administrator (root) password is linux. So, if your system doesn’t get its IP address automatically from a DHCP router/modem (meaning that you need to fill in a static IP address for network access), or you need to enter your wireless access keys, you can do it here.

We have made sure that most of the Broadcom and Intel Wi-Fi cards should work out-of-the-box. In fact, if you’re on a wireless network or need to frequently change your IP address, it’s wiser to set up a tool called NetworkManager. Launch YaST, enter ‘network’ in the search bar and double click on the icon that reads Network Settings. You can ‘Edit’ your network settings in the Overview tab. To turn on the NetworkManager, switch to the Global Options tab and select the option that reads “User Controlled with NetworkManager”. Then hit the OK button.

You should get a pop-up message near the system clock at the bottom right side of the screen that would report about a certain change. Locate an icon with an unplugged network wire in the system tray and configure your wireless/wired network there. The appearance of the icon should change to show a ‘connecting’, and then ‘connected’ status.

Tip: If by chance it fails after you’re done with configuring the settings, log out (not restart) from the desktop and re-login as the live CD user ‘tux’ using the password linux, and try to connect to the network again. It should definitely work.

But this is only useful when the OS is on your hard drive and not on RAM, right? Which brings us to…

How about installing it on your hard drive?

Hit Alt+F2 and type ‘live’. Yes, launch the Live Installer application to put the entire OS on your hard drive. There are two reasons for installing it:

  1. Things will get a lot faster
  2. Your changes will stay across reboots

Why? Because, right now everything is on the RAM—so it’s heavily loaded—and the reason for everything seeming (sometimes, horribly) slow is lack of free memory. And, again, because everything is on the RAM, it all vanishes when you turn off your system.

The instructions on the installer are pretty simple and straightforward. The only place where you need some help is the partition screen on this installer wizard—i.e., only if you haven’t installed a GNU/Linux system before. You should have at least 4 GB of free space on your hard drive where you can install the OS. Proceed only if you do. Else, free up some space using your preferred method.

On the partition screen, click on the button that says Create Partition; the next screen will show your hard disk, followed by a screen displaying your partition table. Select the free partition and delete it! Now hit Add to create a new partition. Choose Custom size and enter 1GB there, before hitting Next. In the following screen, select the file system type as Swap from the drop down menu and click Finish. Again, hit Add to create another partition. Let it be the maximum size this time, and click Next. Let the file system type be ext3 now, and instead click on the option that reads “Mount partition”. Enter / (i.e., slash from your keyboard) and hit Finish. That’s it — you’ve successfully prepared your hard disk to install the OS.

This is, of course, not the best partition set-up. If you’re interested to know more about partitions, check out this TLDP guide.

The rest of the installation wizard is simple. The time taken to copy the OS to your hard disk depends on your system speed. On a relatively new system with good hardware specs, it won’t take more than 10 minutes. When it’s all over, you should get a pop-up indicating the same and that you should reboot and then remove the CD from the CD tray.

Upon restarting your computer, the system will configure a few things and you’ll land straight in the brand new desktop. There are a few more steps if you are one of those using the notorious Nvidia or ATI graphics chipsets. Follow the instructions at:

…to set up your display drivers. Note that the version of openSUSE OS you’re using is 11.1.

Tip: Your Firefox, GIMP image editor and OpenOffice.org suite will look ugly out-of-the-box (they are not native KDE applications). To make them look decent, launch the Configure Desktop utility, access the Appearance section and navigate to GTK Styles and Fonts. Set your style settings there—I prefer the Clearlooks style—and Apply. It’ll prompt you to log out for the changes to take effect. Do that, and you’re done.

While we’re still here, I’d recommend you go to the Fonts settings section and change the fixed-width font from Monospace to Liberation Mono. This fixes the issue with the cursor position in Konsole.

So there you are; your free software operating system is up and running. Now, honestly tell me how long would it have taken you if you had wanted the same functionality on your freshly-installed Winduhs system. With that, I rest my case.

P.S.: You can read a what’s new in KDE 4.3 here.

  • matt_770

    you wanted to know why cant use linux as my primary platform – cad (acad, revit, archicad) sketchup (almost works….) – and no the open source cad programmes dont cut it – yet

    but have been using linux in many forms on my laptop for 5 years or so – once can run this type of software on a linux platform windoze is gone for me – and id be more than happy to pay for the platform.

    cheers

  • aeon

    It works on WinXP too ^^

    s12.directupload.net/file/d/2049/rbirpede_jpg.htm

  • alwindoss

    One of the perfect desktops according to me is Hymera Open, why don't you ship it with the next issue of Linux for you magazine

  • Ahamed Rasheed C K

    Hey, all, why there is no detail about the current issue( ie. March, 2010) till today 11, March 2010.

  • Ravi

    Hi there,
    one of the reasons why I haven’t been able to migrate completely to a Linux Desktop is for the following reasons:
    a. Many vendors still prefer Internet Explorer to Firefox. (Using IE for linux didn’t help much either! and our organization’s financial consultants won’t let the user login, if the user doesn’t use Internet Explorer)
    b. As you have mentioned; those codecs and customizing the TV tuner software, etc…

    The above doesn’t mean that Linux isn’t a good choice (I am a very big fan of Linux and have been using a few distros for learning purposes) however, it just doesn’t have everything in one place which makes it a little difficult for people to get used to!

    Ravi.

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