The End of Google Plus — Just Another Blathering

Google Plus Grave StoneIt never gained as much popularity as some other social media platforms but I liked Google Plus. It was (is) a social media platform whose users seemed to focus on positive things, projects and so forth. It lacked the kind of cruft that keeps me from spending much time on other social media platforms.

My primary reason for liking Google Plus was that it seemed as though it was used for productive conversation and collaboration. I have enjoyed the positive sharing and discussions on interesting topics from different Google community Groups. I wonder where a few of these Google Communities will find another home such as the “Going Linux Podcast” and some retro tech Communities for the Amiga and Commodore 64.

What I like About Google Plus

I really enjoy the tech content on Google Plus. Two of which being the Going Linux Podcast and Linux in the Hamshack. I am a regular listener to the podcasts and like to participate from time to time. I read pretty much everything posted there. It is active enough to keep me interested but not so active that I can’t keep up.

I like to keep up on the Solus Project from their Google Plus Community Page, though admittedly, it hasn’t been as active as it once was but this has been my preferred method for keeping up to date on how that project has been rolling along.

Commodore-64-Computer-sm.pngGoogle Plus has become a kind of bastion of a lot of the Retro Tech communities too. I follow Commodore and Amiga groups where I have seen some fascinating projects. I have recently learned about some other new hardware initiatives for the Amiga 1200 and 4000 or something rather fun was this Commodore 64 Paper craft that I found on one of the community pages.

Despite the somewhat clunky interface, my main reason for liking Google Plus is that it doesn’t seem to have any of the cruft you see on some other social media sites. It’s just a nice place to visit that just doesn’t have the propensity for polarizing or aggravating conversations. It is a nice place where people happily share their hobbies.

The Problem with Google Plus

I will not pretend like Google Plus was all peaches and cream. The fact is, the layout of Google Plus got a little weird and never recovered. I liked how it looked much better some 4 years ago and I never utilized the circles. I think I understand what the designers were going for but I just didn’t want to invest the time and effort in meta-tagging people and things. I knew where people belonged. I didn’t particularly care for the three column layout, although, not a horrible thing, it was just a bit more challenging to figure out what was new. It took some time to scan through to find specific posts as they would shift around.

Google Plus 3 columns.png

The interface for Google Plus was a bit cumbersome. It took a few extra clicks to get to where I wanted to go but once you got used to this quirkiness, it wasn’t so bad. I would say, it felt like Google kind of gave up on Google Plus about two years ago. They didn’t really continue to invest in it, which I think is unfortunate as it resulted in it became a bit of a social media joke.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have a replacement for Google Plus at this time. I have heard about and just started looking into Diaspora but I don’t have the mental space to figure it out. I also like Mastodon but I don’t have the WordPress auto share tie to use it.

I have enjoyed the pleasant Google Plus communities for years and they will be missed. I hope that they will find another place to land to continue to exist. Knowing that Google Plus only has about 10 months of life left, I am not going to abandon it. I will continue to use it until the bitter end.

Related Links

Diaspora Foundation

Mastodon Federated Social Network

Commodore Amiga Revitalized with New Retro Hardware

Going Linux Podcast Google Plus Community Page

Linux in the Hamshack

WordPress Mastodon Share Plugin

Commodore 64 Paper craft

Solus Project

Amiga Google Plus Community Page

Commodore 64 Google Plus Community Page

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Docks and Bays, Accessorizing the Dell Latitude E6440

e6440-01-smI have been using the Dell Latitude E6440 since March of 2017. Since day one, it has been running openSUSE Tumbleweed. Initial production of this laptop was in 2014 and the model was discontinued sometime in 2016. I don’t buy things brand new because I have no need to stay on the “cutting edge” of technology and running Linux substantially extends the life of hardware. Even though it is an older machine, I have to say that the Dell Latitude E6440 is quite possibly the best laptop I have ever used. It really isn’t the best in any one metric of a machine I have used but the cross-section of capabilities and expandability of it makes me appreciate it the most. I will be hard pressed to find something comparable.

It took me 9 years before I replaced my Dell Latitude D630 as my primary machine. I still use the D630 regularly, but it just stays home now in its dock station. From the time I decided that it was time to replace the machine to the moment I committed the cash for a new machine, took me about 18 months. I am slow to make a decision on buying new hardware. I have to really process it out, make sure it is what I want because I am committing to this piece of hardware for a significant period of time.

Serviceability

Inside bottom e6440-02.png

Whatever machine I buy, it has to be serviceable. That means, I need to see screws and the design intent of the manufacturer was that it is mean to be in service for an extended period of time. Since I have been using Dell for quite some time and they tend to be slow to change basic components, like the power supplies, I intended on sticking with the Dell brand and specifically with their Latitude line which is generally certified on some distribution of Linux.

The whole bottom panel of the E6440 removes with only a few screws and leaves everything accessible on the underside of it. Once the panel is off, you have access to the memory and one of the mini-ePCI, one more panel in easily freed up reveals the last two mini-ePCI slots. I am very pleased by how easy it is to work on this machine. I am not sure what I will do with the WWAN labeled slot, maybe nothing, but it’s there.

Inside bottom e6440-02-sm

Dock Station

I like a good computer with a hardy dock station. I realize that this is quickly becoming a thing of the past but a good dock station that I can drop my computer onto that has all the ports on the back that works reliably is a must for me. I like having the dock supply power, access to two other monitors and peripherals all available to me in one simple, quick action. This dock station has worked flawlessly for multiple dock and undock cycles in a single day. The monitors always appear just as they are supposed to and I don’t know if it is a Dell thing or an openSUSE / KDE Plasma thing but this process just works and has worked 100% of the time. I have seen some Thunderbolt docks on Windows 10 work very poorly but it was also not on a Dell.

Dock Station.jpg

My dock station has USB 3, this is not available on all E-Series docks.

Battery

Two options that I know of, a 9-Cell battery and using the dock system, I can add a second 9-cell battery called a “battery slice” which also gives the computer a nice comfortable tilt. The downside, it does make it a bit heavy, especially if you are packing more than one laptop in your bag. Regardless of the added weight, having this capability gives me a very welcome 9 to 10 hours of battery life under low loads. If I am encoding video, that changes things

e6440 Batteries.jpg

Legacy

I do a number of things with older hardware. Just because something has been considered “end of life” by the masses, doesn’t mean that it is obsolete. The most important legacy port, for me, is the serial port, and secondly, the parallel port. PS2 is not as big of a deal but nice to have for testing old hardware. I have a few uses and since I do keep around a lot of old tech, it is handy to have a trusted device for testing the hardware.

Legacy Extender.jpg

3 Drive bays

Can I call them drive bays? Maybe slots? There is an mSATA SSD slot, 2.5″ SSD and I can swap out the optical drive for another 2.5″ mass storage drive. This is very convenient and keeps me from having anything hanging off of the computer when I go mobile. I use the 3rd drive in the caddy for storing my virtual machines. I still use my optical drive because I still buy DVDs. I realize that that this a less common activity for people but I am more than happy to do entertainment this way.

e6440 3rd Drive.jpg

Final Thoughts

There are more powerful, more capable machines that are lighter and newer but this one hits all the reasons I want to drive this one into the ground of uselessness or at least a few more years yet. Heck, maybe longer as the rate of speed increase hasn’t been as dramatic as it has been in the past. Looking at CPUbenchmark.net in the top 10 CPUs available on this site, it is still in the middle of the pack.

This machine really only really lacks one thing and that is a Thunderbolt port. If I could have all these features, plus a thunderbolt port, this computer would be everything I need. Sure, the CPU is a few generations behind and the AMD GPU is not top of the line but for my purposes, it does a fine job. I realize that the traditional dock port is becoming less popular since USB-C / Thunderbolt became a thing. I think it is unfortunate but I largely understand why. For now, I will enjoy my newer yet aging tech and appreciate the capabilities of the E-Series dock system running openSUSE Tumbleweeed nice and reliably.

Related Links

Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

Dell Latitude E6440 mSATA Upgrade

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Latitude E6440

Dell Latitude Dock Station

Dell Battery Slice

Dell Legacy Extender

CPUbenchmark.net Intel Core i7-4610M

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Franz on openSUSE.pngDuring one of my web-searching, rabbit-hole voyages, I stumbled upon this Franz application. I was immediately thrilled with the idea as I have a number of chat services I use on regular basis. It has almost grown out of control and my current solution for these services was less than stellar. I have a mixture of Electron applications and tabs open in a browser to keep connected to all these different circles of people and organizations. I consider it a rather untidy and disjointed solution of maintaining Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Telegram, Discord and a few others. Most recently I added Slack to the mix and I thought for a moment, this is far from the good ‘ol days when I just used IRC and AOL instant messenger to talk to everybody.

Bottom Line Up Front, I like Franz. I do indeed recommend it as a solution to try to consolidate your chat services and remove the burden from the Web Browser or the spattering of Applications.

Installation

My first course of action is to see if the application is in the openSUSE Software center. I have more trust in ensuring an application is properly updated from that source than others (with some exceptions). Franz is available from here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/franz

I am using a community maintained version so there is a risk that it might not continue to be maintained should the maintainer discontinue using it.

The other option is to use the AppImage. Also a fine choice for this application:

Franz AppImage Download

A word of caution, it may be up to you to ensure that you have the latest version of this application on your system. I only have one AppImage I use that does warn me of updates. The others do not.

Setup

I was just a bit surprised that the usage of this application requires a login. I completely understand having this for the paid, supported version but I am not sure exactly as to why the free version would require it.

Franz-01-Start Screen

I am undecided as to whether or not I am content with this requirement. I do understand the reasoning from the perspective of the developers to know how many users there are but I just don’t know about it.

Franz-02-Create Account.png

This is certainly not a deal breaker by any means, I just have to realize that there is some control that I am resigning by using it. Ultimately, no more than most of the other chat services running in a Browser Tab but I don’t have to log into the Falkon Browser to use GroupMe or Facebook Messenger… just a thought.

Memory Usage

I was interested in comparing using this new Franz application alone to using Falkon with just the tabs for each client combined with the native applications. It seemed like a reasonably fair method of comparison. First, I tested the existing method:

The existing method of Telegram, Discord and Skype using the stand-alone installed applications, one session of Chrome for the Hangouts, plus Falkon with only tabs of the rest of my messaging services used 2.6 GiB of RAM. Truly a shocking amount of resources for sending text messages and pictures.

The Franz alone method, running the same 11 Chat services for approximately the same amount of time consumed 1.8 GiB of RAM. This still seems just a bit on the high side just for sending messages but clearly better. When using the AppImage, I didn’t notice any signification memory usage differences.

Whether using the existing method or the Franz method, I did notice some memory usage creep from the beginning of each timed test to the end of the test. I didn’t let it play out for days to see if it became increasingly worse. I also didn’t have the tools or patience to determine the cause in either case but it seems reasonable to assume that there would be messages and pictures cached over time.

Application Usage Experience

I tested both the distribution managed RPM and AppImage versions of Franz and it is good to know that they both used the same configuration files which I have discovered to be here:

~/.config/Franz/

Franz-06-Operation.png

I was very appreciative of the System notifications for new messages on the different services. There were some that didn’t have any new messages over the testing period. When running these services in Firefox or Chrome, you can turn on notifications. In Falkon, my currently preferred browser, you cannot and do not get notifications. Clicking on a notification will bring up the Franz window and switch to the conversation to which that dialog belongs. This is very handy as that is not always the case when using the Hangouts or Telegram applications.

When using this, I have noticed that some of the services can fail and require being reloaded. This has happened when I have Suspended to RAM and moved locations. The solutions is easy. Either reload the failed service or all of Franz.

Franz-07-Reload Menu sm

What I don’t like

The application is themed with light colors. I frankly do not like anything with a light background. I make exceptions, such as working on a document that I know will be printed onto white paper. White paper makes sense to work with as that will be my intended final product but anything outside of that needs to be light text on a black background.

This program is essentially just wrapping the web content in a more native-feeling application. From what I can tell, it doesn’t actually use the APIs of any of the services for its own built in application. I can’t really put a finger on why I don’t like this as much as a native application so I will call this a nitpick dislike and perhaps rather unfair.

What I Wish It Would Do

Some sort of style sheet overrides to allow for a dark theme applied to everything. I use an addon with Firefox to force this and for the right sites it works very well. I do wish Franz somehow wrapped in the Linux client of Telegram. I do not like the web UI as compared to the native application almost enough that I might just not use the Telegram service in Franz.

Final Thoughts

I am now considering removing the native applications from my system but at the same time, I do like the idea of having them because I find the idea of native stand-alone applications pretty great as well. It brings a smile to my face to see that Telegram, Discord and even Skype have a specific Linux installation and I want to support that, even if they might just be Electron apps wrapping the Web content.

The amount of memory that browsers and even this Franz solution takes does seem a bit absurd. Under the best case, running these chat services still take up too much memory, in my opinion. Using Franz for all 11 services used 1.8 GiB which breaks down to 163 MiB per chat service. I can’t help but wonder, what is really going there?

Although this issue doesn’t apply to me, there is one immediate drawback to Franz, It appears as though you have to use the paid version in order to use self-hosted services like Mattermost. If you don’t mind paying, not a problem, but if that is not in the budget. You may have to find another solution.

Overall. I am quite pleased with Franz and I will continue to use it until I find something to challenge its “seat” as my multi-chat client of choice. I do like freeing up my Browser from chat services and the notification feature works just as you would expect. This is a great piece of software and worth checking out.

Related Links

Franz Main Site

Ubuntu Pit article on Franz

Franz from openSUSE Software

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE — Fall Time Blathering

HP_TouchPad_Title-2.png

After working with Plasma Mobile on the Nexus 5X and although it is not quite ready for prime time, it is nearly there. It is so close, I can taste it and I am very ready to see Plasma Mobile as all I see on my mobile. I am also continually seeing interest on the aging HP Touchpad. It too is a fine piece of hardware that is still very capable and now, I can’t help but wonder how much work it would be to port Plasma Mobile to that hardware. I see that there has already been work with the Halium Project for the HP Touchpad. Unfortunately, my understanding at what goes on at the base hardware level is EXTREMELY limited.

Plasma Mobile Experience

Nexus 5X-PlasmaMoble-01The look and feel of Plasma Mobile is pretty great. Like all things Plasma, it is highly customizable. What that means to me, I can make my Mobile experience exactly the way I want, not something dictated by a corporation as to how they intend for me to use my technology.

So then I thought, I know Plasma Mobile is still in early stages, many things are still being taken from Plasma Desktop but that really should only require some adjustments. Over time, Plasma Mobile, much like the Desktop Counterpart could very well end up being the nicest, cleanest and yet most customiziable interface ever.

The HP Touchpad

HP_TouchPad-12-LineageOS.pngThe Touchpad, by today’s standards is not spectacular, but it isn’t terrible either. Its CPU is a dual core Scorpion clocked at 1200 MHz. It has 1 GiB of RAM and either 16 or 32 GiB of storage. It is certainly adequate for many tasks. I can’t help but think how fantastic this Touchpad would be with proper Linux, access to the breadth of open source software.

HaliumThe good news is, the possibility of having a working Plasma Mobile interface on the HP Touchpad may be closer to reality than not. According to the Halium Project on GitHub, three have already been tests completed successfully. This is, unfortunately far outside my skill sets so there isn’t much I can offer here but I am watching the project with great interest.

How Useful Could It Be?

kontactI know multimedia is the thing… streaming Netflix, watching YouTube and GPU intensive games is the common usage for tablets but that is not what I am interested in doing with it. There are far more interesting and productive activities. Using the Touchpad as my window into my digital recipe collection, reference technical documents, access to Kontact, the KDE Personal Information Manager, or at least parts of it for time and task management.

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE

opensuse-logo2Then I did some more thinking. I have only begun dabbling in the fantastic Open Build Service, but what if that system could be used to build an openSUSE Tumbleweed distribution specific to the HP Touchpad, tested by the openSUSE openQA and released in a similar rolling snapshot to the regular openSUSE Tumbleweed. Even with a fraction of the stability, reliability of upgrades and the breadth of software, this would be a fantastic improvement as compared to what is available today. It would be a gigantic library of goodness with many the most useful tools readily available.

Now What?

Even though the HP Touchpad is far past its end of life, I continue to use it on a daily basis. I am very interested in seeing the HP Touchpad get a more genuine Linux upgrade and would like to toy with it now but I have to personally determine, do I want to take my HP Touchpad out of service? Would I even have the time test and experiment on it or do I continue to use it as it is? It is very usable today and works mostly well but a project like this might give it enough life for perhaps several more years and be more useful than it is now. For now, I will keep tabs on it but maybe in the very near future I will be able tip my toes in this arena.

Further Reading

Halium for HP Touchpad Project on GitHub

HP Touchpad Specifications

Open Build Service

Halium Project

open QA

openSUSE Tumbleweed Home

HP Touchpad in 2018

Plasma Mobile installation on Nexus 5X

KDE Kontact Personal Information Manager

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

Falkon on openSUSE.pngA web browser is a tool that is pretty much indispensable for day to day work and annoyingly, over the last few years they have become more and more memory hungry. My browser habits are as such that I am mostly using the web browser for research, gathering information and expanding my knowledge so very often, w3m is good enough for me most of the time but some sites just don’t read as well. My solution that has been working out for a few months now is the Falkon Web Browser, formerly known as QupZilla, it is a low memory and resource browser that is peppy and renders pages as expected. It uses the QtWebEngine which is based on Chromium but with any binary files and any auxiliary services that talk to Google platforms stripped out.

For the most part, I could exclusively use this browser but there are just a few things keeping Firefox open as my secondary browser.

Installation

Falkon, like anything else, is easy to install from the openSUSE repositories. I checked this time to be sure and it is available for both Leap and Tumbleweed… sure enough, it is in the official release repositories of both.

For the one-click method of install visit the openSUSE Software Site or alternatively, you can do it the fun and exciting terminal method

sudo zypper install falkon

If by some chance you don’t run openSUSE, check with your distribution’s software center or download it direct from Falkon here. They offer Windows binaries and an AppImage.

What It Does Well

If you read nothing else, read this: The biggest and most important thing this browser does is general web browsing, many, many tabs with almost no appreciable hit to memory. Even after having multiple tabs open for days, the memory doesn’t creep either. Somehow, Falkon is managing each tab as such that it doesn’t go all crazy over time. Sure, if you are running a big, beefy rig with 32 GiB of RAM, this isn’t an issue but running lowered powered hardware, this is an issue.

Falkon Browser-01-Start Page

Falkon is very fast and renders pages without any noticeable artifacts. Much less an issue with today’s browsers but some time ago, this has been an issue with lesser known browsers. Also, when using Falkon to post comments or create blathering pages (like this one), it doesn’t bog down over time.

Falkon Browser-04-openSUSE

Falkon comes with a built in ad blocker that can be turned off for sites as you wish with a click of the mouse. I leave the ad blocker on but turn it off for sites I use that depend on advertising dollars. I would consider this the best ad blocker but it filters out much of the cruft.

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 11.png

Falkon looks great with a KDE Dark Theme. It fits in well with my desktop theme and has a pleasantly minimal look about it with few buttons and just feels clean. Visually, this is exactly how I want my desktop and browser to be which is fantastic. There are some other options in the preferences if you want to make it look less good, if that is what you are most accustomed.

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 2.png

Browser history and bookmark manager are also what you would expect from any modern browser. I particularly like the interface but it is nothing that Chrome or Firefox are lacking.

Falkon Browser-06-Library

What It Doesn’t Do Well

It doesn’t do Flash but that isn’t such a big deal today. That means I use Firefox or Chrome to watch Homestarrunner.com videos. Most of the flash media on the web has seemingly disappeared. I’m still a fan of Flash… I might be the only one…

I can’t watch Netflix with Falkon as it doesn’t have the DRM Extension capability and there isn’t an extension that you can load to add the functionality. This is another “entertainment” activity, of which I am not generally using Falkon for anyway.

KDE Plasma Browser Integration is not an option but maybe will be in the future. I did some searching and couldn’t find any discussion on it but admittedly, I didn’t search very hard. This would be a nice function to add and would basically make Falkon almost “feature complete”.

I can’t do one-click install from the openSUSE Software Site and Telegram invite links will also not work in Falkon. These are actually the largest of issues for me with Falkon. My work around is just to use Firefox but it would be pretty great if Falkon could do this.

There are a limited number of extensions but truthfully, that is not a big deal for me as I generally don’t run any extensions… unless it’s Chrome but that is another story.

Why I Use It

I have found on numerous occasions that Chrome and to a lesser extent Firefox will start to memory creep over time. Using Chrome for a full workday with 6 or 8 tabs open will take up about 6 GiB of RAM and that is only having Gmail, Drive, Calendar and a few Google Documents open. On my machine with 16 GiB of RAM, this isn’t so much of an issue but on a 4 GiB laptop that I often use as a kind of side kick machine, this is an issue. This is so bothersome on the 4 GiB machine, I don’t bother with Chrome at all. It isn’t even usable but Falkon will do all the GSuite activities with a fraction of the memory resources without the memory creep. I can run that all day and not have a second thought about system resources.

Falkon Browser-07-Gsuite.png

Falkon doesn’t have any of the Google binary blobs doing unknown things. My primary reason for this is, I want my computer working for me, not working for someone else. I don’t need my computer cycles and electricity working to service a company unnecessarily and without my consent and I have no proof of this but I am starting to think that all this memory creep that happens in Chrome is largely due to those binary blobs.

Ultimately, I miss the days of using Konqueror as my daily web browser and this feels like a return to those good ol days some 12 years ago. Clean, simple and basic web browser that I feel like I can trust.

What I Wish It Would Do

Flash is on it’s way out so I don’t see the development team adding support for that at anytime. The next thing on my list would be the KDE Plasma Browser Integration. I do listen to some podcasts from some sites and I am able to start and stop the music using my Bluetooth headphones when using Firefox but not so with Falkon. That lack of functionality is unfortunate.

Another lacking point is having Smart Card Security Device integration. Just as I can set up Firefox and Chrome / Chromium with the Smart Card system, it would be nice to do so in Falkon.

Falkon isn’t able to open the appropriate software management program when using the One-Click install from the openSUSE Software site nor is it able to access web link invites for Telegram. If there was some way to shim it with an easy, user-level script, that would be great. I haven’t yet discovered (though, I haven’t looked) a way to do that but I am hoping it will in time.

Final Thoughts

Falkon is not what I would consider a “feature incomplete” browser but it is almost exactly as I want it. Simple and feature reduced. I don’t want my browser doing very much. I want its tasks to be limited to basic browsing and not gobble up memory resources.

This is a fantastic productivity browser. I use it for keeping tabs on different sites and bits of information handy as I go down my rabbit holes. Having multiple tabs open is also not an issue as Falkon does a good job of memory management and doesn’t start memory creeping when left open. It is rock solid and has yet to crash on me.

I highly recommend giving Falkon a spin. See if it will work for you. You just might be glad you did.

References

Download Falkon Browser

Falkon Browser Project Page on GitHub

Plasma Browser Integration

W3M Browser

More about the QtWebEngine

Falkon from openSUSE Repositories

Smart Card Security Device Integration Instructions