Blatherings

KDE Partition Manager on openSUSE

I have become quite the fan of Gparted over the years of my Linux life and I started wondering if there were other partition management options out there. Specifically one that is Qt based instead. This is not a light on GTK based applications, I just find that they don’t tend to look as nice and clean as Qt apps. In this off-hand search, I stumbled upon PartitionManger which is in official openSUSE Tumbleweed and Leap Repositories.

I should note, they both Gparted and KDE Partition Manager use the same icon.

Installation

Since this isn’t installed by default with the Plasma Desktop, arguably it should be, here is how you o about it. I noticed on the openSUSE Software Site, its short description is that you can Easily manage disks, partitions and file systems on your KDE Desktop. So I guess we will see if this holds true.

It is also described as being software that allows you to manage your disks, partitions and file systems that allows you to create, resize, delete, copy, backup and restore partitions with a large number of supported file systems. These file systems include ext2 ext3, reiserfs, NTFS, FAT32 and more. I am guessing you can also do Ext4, BTRFS and others.

It goes on to say that it makes use of external programs to get its job done, so you might have to install additional software (preferably packages from your distribution) to make use of all features and get full support for all file systems.

That’s good news as I am hoping it wouldn’t re-implement anything and just use existing tools.

To install in terminal:

sudo zypper install partitionmanager

or navigate here for the Direct Install Link

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

As expected, it installed very little, a total of 4 new packages:

  • kpmcore – KDE Partition Manager core library
  • libkpmcore7 – KDE Partition Manager core library
  • partitionmanager – Main Application package
  • partitionmanager-lang – Language support

Considering I have Gparted already installed, most of everything else is likely already there. I have a great respect and love for Gparted at this point, I am hoping that I am not losing any features by using KDE Partition Manager.

First Run and Impressions

Using the handy Plasma menu with the search feature, I started typing “Partition” and it popped up. I launched it and was given the dialog for root user permissions.

I am on the fence if I like that very detailed command being being shown by default. Instinctively, I say it is fantastic, but for a less experienced user, it could feel a bit overwhelming, perhaps.

After the root login requirement, I had this warning pop up which I thought was fantastic!

I have been using Gparted for quite some time and was having issues with an SD Card. My laziness, I just ignored it and now I see what the problem was. I needed the exfat utilities and now the world is right again. Adding this was as easy as running this in the terminal:

sudo zypper install exfat-utils

This automatically selected fuse-exfat package to be installed as well.

Once all this was up. I was greeted with a nice clean and familiar interface

What sets this apart from Gparted is that it shows you all the devices in a side pane instead of the drop-down. I will say, I much prefer the side pane to the drop down. It gives a better overview of what you are doing.

Gparted with the drop-down to select the device

I wanted to format a device and give it a label for my upcoming experimentation with Ventoy for keeping and testing Linux distribution ISOs. So that is what I did.

Mainly, I just wanted the appropriate label. I also took this as an opportunity to format that SD Card, also an easy success.

Final Thoughts

It works! I can’t say it’s any better than Gparted as they both seem to work the same and have a similar appearance and workflow. If you can use one, you can use the other. The biggest difference is the devices side menu. I do like that more than the Gparted drop down. It provides a better snapshot of the status of the storage devices on your machine. Outside of that. KDE PartitionManager as well as Gparted are fantastic tools and this is mostly an appearance preference as I am sure they are using all the same backend of tools.

References

https://software.opensuse.org/package/partitionmanager
https://www.kde.org/applications/system/kdepartitionmanager
USB or Removable Media Formatting in Linux on CubicleNate.com

KDE Plasma 5.19 on openSUSE Tumbleweed

It was not so long ago that Plasma 5.18 graced my computer and very excitingly, 5.19 is here now. Since Tumbleweed is my main Linux system I use, I decided to share my experience on openSUSE Tumbleweed but it should be noted that you can enjoy Plasma 5.19 on Leap as well using the backports repositories. Leap is not my preferred method but it is an option.

Bottom Line Up Front: It is another fantastic release with much attention being made to the finer details that enhance the usability experience without taking away from any of its functionality.

This release of Plasma is being called the “more polished Plasma” and I think this is absolutely correct. The transition for me has been quite delightful. New little bits of happiness have been sprinkled about my desktop experience. There is nothing particularly earth shattering going on here. Just continued refinements.

The Little Things

I will be the first to call me out and remind anyone that I would totally poo-poo on making a big deal about the little touches of a desktop environment. I will hold fast on my belief that function over form but when you can add some form to function, you really hit the sweet spot with me.

For starters, what really stands out is the Bluetooth connections applet that shows the status of a connection. It is just a small thing, a status icon on the disconnected devices.

Discover is becoming my favorite software center now. It has been working quite nicely. The only thing it is missing on openSUSE is access to the Snap store. It has been handling updates quite nicely as well as anything with Flatpak. I do have a propensity to use the terminal because I love the terminal but Discover is really eating into that a bit.

It’s easy to use, responsive and has been working very well for me when installing new applications. This is not the Discover of 2 years ago and if you haven’t used it in a while, now may be a good time.

The neatest feature that I think is noteworthy is how system settings are presented to you know when you call them up. For example: in Plasma past, when you opened the display settings using krunner or in the application menu, it opened up that specific module only. Now, calling the Display Settings, will open up the module but in the context of the system settings menu so you can Select < All Settings arrow back to all your settings and continue on with your modification of things as you may see fit.

This is just a little thing but it is a great little thing and quite welcome.

The Media Player applet looks a lot nicer now. Before it was fine but now it has a more appealing layout and you can adjust the volume of what is being played back right there, which is very nice.

There was some talk about improving the spacing to give a more consistent look but it must be so subtle to me that I am just not picking up on the differences there. I will say that the notifications are is far better now than it was a year or so ago where it would become an almost epileptic mess of dialog boxes and rendering other applets non-functional until Plasma was done telling you what it insisted upon telling you.

What I Like

All theses little tweaks and user experience enhancements certainly plays into the idea that this is mostly a “Polished Plasma” release. I would say, that these incremental enhancements are very welcome and further underscore why I enjoy using Plasma, day in and day out. It is as though the developers have my interests at heart when they do their fantastic work.

The Memory information is nothing new but I really enjoy just looking at it sometimes. I often wonder, what exactly is going on right now that the memory is fluctuating like it does. Regardless, it is just a fun informational display that really appeals to my nerdiness.

What I don’t like

Due to the nature of rolling distributions and enhancements, I do have a lot of updates in a week or if I wait, a couple of weeks. Because of this, I am often eagerly looking for updates to see what has rolled down. This means, when new things are coming, like Plasma, I am going around and updating everything excitedly to see the new shiny. Not is not a bad thing about openSUSE or Plasma but rather a problem with me as I have a hard time waiting to the end of the work day or weekend to see what great newness I get to play with. It has also made me very spoiled and when I do, on the rare occasion, have an issue I can forget how good I have it.

Final Thoughts

I would most certainly call this a “Polished Plasma” release and I am very content with it. I look forward to further releases like this. They make the time spent on my computer just a bit more enjoyable. Not just with new features but all the different usability and customization tweaks to which they give me such easy access. I hope they continue down this fantastic path for years to come.

References

KDE Repositories for openSUSE Leap
KDE Plasma 5.19.0 release notes
openSUSE Tumbleweed Download
Plasma 5.18 Release for openSUSE Tumbleweed on CubicleNate.com

UbuntuDDE | Review from an openSUSE User

The Linux and open source community is a wonderful thing and as part of a BDLL community we have these distribution challenges. Try out a different distribution and talk about your experience. There was a lot of excitement about having the Deepin Desktop on the Ubuntu base and I decided to commit to this challenge. After using I was thinking, you will often hear that the Deepin Desktop is something remarkable and “beautiful” and stands apart from other desktops because of this. I also find, that for some reason, there are these ideas that stick in people’s heads that is so matter of fact, that going against this is like passing gas in church during communion.

This is my biased review as a fairly seasoned openSUSE User. I openly admit that my views are heavily slanted towards a very specific paradigm and not eager to change, but I am open minded to different ideas and make an effort to appreciate the art in a distribution. I should also note, I have a strong disposition towards to KDE Plasma for my Desktop Environment. That, to me, is the pinnacle of the desktop experience.

Bottom Line Up Front: Ubuntu DDE appears to be a distribution that is well on its way to becoming something special. It is built on a fantastic foundation of Ubuntu. The team building it haven’t made any bazaar choices for limiting universal package functionality. Right out of the gate, you have access to the wealth of AppImages, Flatpacks and Snaps. The Deepin environment is okay. I don’t really see what the big deal is but there is certainly a fan base. Would I use it? Nope. There is far too much functionality I would miss that is easily accessible within Plasma that I enjoy using too much and although it has the great Ubuntu foundation, I just happen to prefer the openSUSE base.

Installation

I navigated to the UbuntuDDE site to get the ISO to try out this Respin of Ubuntu. The site is clean, uncluttered experience with a pretty bold claim. “…the most beautiful desktop environment”. That certainly ratchets up my expectations of this experience.

I selected the Download menu option and chose the Torrent link. Maybe it is an old-fashioned idea, but I like using and seeding torrents of any distribution I try out in order to a very tiny part of helping out with the network effect. If torrents are not your thing, there are other options.

After the ISO downloaded, I set out to test UbuntuDDE in a VM. When I try out a ‘new’ distribution, I do it in a VM first. If I really like what I see and find something really compelling, I will move to actual hardware and kick the tires some more, really open it up, as it were. I knew that I am stepping into something real beautiful so prepped my socks to be blown off.

On the initial boot of the ISO, it goes through a check process. I don’t recall going through this on other distributions, but not a huge deal, I’m patient and maybe I will thank it later?

I am also given a “Friendly Reminder” that it has detected my use of a virtual machine which will affect the system performance and operation. I am a bit puzzled on the wording of “Friendly Reminder” as I am quite aware of the performance penalties of using a VM. I went for “Normal” mode to enjoy the fast performance. I think a better explanation is in order here as it also hampers the usability. More on that later.

My initial impressions, welp, my socks were still in place. The desktop was okay. I’m not sure it lives up to the claim of being “the most beautiful desktop environment” but it is very okay. I have to let things slide as I am using it in a VM. Perhaps my experience would be different if I chose to use effects instead.

The next step was to go through the installation process. Thankfully, it was super simple as it uses the well known and loved Calamares Installer. Once you launch the installer, select your language, hit next then your location.

Your next task will be to specify your keyboard layout followed by your partition preference. Since I am running this in a VM, I want to just have it use the entire virtual disk. After that you will have to supply user information. There is no option to set a root password.

Last step is to review, do a sanity check and think about your actions you are about to take.

The installation process takes a bit longer than you might be expect for an Ubuntu Distribution. Not a huge deal just noteworthy. It’s not like you install Linux every day so a super fast installer is not that critical.

Once you are done, you can reboot and experience the all the wonders of the Deepin Desktop on Ubuntu

First Run and Impressions

The login screen is pretty nice. Very pleasant and not the boring flatness that seems to be trending. So points there. The default picture is a little funny… kind of makes me miss the days of old when default users where whimsical Linux and open source related clipart.

After logging in and waiting for the desktop to settle I was greeted with a little error.

I of course selected to report that problem.

The default menu is by far my least favorite style of menu. It takes over the whole screen, there is no organization and hovering over an icon provides no further information.

Thankfully, there is an option to change the menu style to a more sensible menu. Still no organization but it does provide quick links to locations in your home directory. I think, if you are going to have one of these two lack-luster menus, the second should be default.

My next area of exploration was to look at the control center and view my options there. I have heard many good things about it and now it was time to see what all this goodness is about.

The control center is fine. I don’t mind it. I think it is a nice consolidated and simple example of what a control center can be. Overall, I find the experience to be straight forward and simple but in a way also quite limiting. To be clear, it is very functional but very controlled with a reduced set of options. I would venture to guess that it will suffice for most but it lacks a lot of the detailed control I enjoy in Plasma. I don’t fault the DE for this as I think the user focus is different than what you would have on Plasma.

I do like this neat feature of of the control center of the double-click test. You have a Kawaii looking cat that when you successfully double-click will appear raise and lower behind a kind of concealment .

When I decided to use the pager or virtual desktop switcher I would get this error that I need to have effects enabled. To fix this, you have to go into the Control Center > Display and toggle the effects there.

Another VM-ism, perhaps but I was super annoyed with the Normal Mode not being able to use the virtual desktops. If you recall earlier, there were two options, “Normal Mode” and “Effects Mode.” This leads me to believe that “normal mode” means, limited functionality mode. I don’t find that to be “normal”. It would be better if that screen that asks you what mode you want actually spelled this out a bit more clearly. “Effects Mode” means fully functional, while “Normal” means limited functionality. I personally am not okay with using a system that doesn’t have multiple desktops.

Once activated, you will have access to the wonders and freedom of virtual desktops.

Selecting a “Dark Theme” doesn’t mean that you will have a dark theme throughout your desktop. I can specifically specify that the file manager use a dark theme but even after doing so, the settings window still does not respect the dark theme. I would say, this anti-feature alone makes this NOT the most beautiful desktop.

On a positive, without having to fuss at all, Firefox is multimedia ready. I can watch YouTube or Netflix without having any issues. I don’t have any issues with adding restricted codecs but having them readily available is a huge plus, especially for new users.

The standard office applications are available right from the installation making access to spreadsheets, presentations and word-processing readily available.

Disappointingly, there is no consideration into the Qt theming. I checked Kdenlive, a very important application and not only was it the wrong theme, but there were no options out of the gate. It is usable but it doesn’t feel like it is part of my Deepin Desktop experience, at all.

In the end, it is not a bad desktop. I have my issues with it and if not having used Plasma, before, I would have probably been far more accepting of all the little quarks.

What I Like

There are a lot of cute little things about the desktop. The attention to the double-click is what stands out the most for me. I like how accessible and fun that little bit is and I encourage such creative ideas.

I can use AppImages, Flatpak and Snaps right out of the gate on UbuntuDDE without having to fuss with anything., I think this is such an smart way to go about building a desktop. Not even my beloved openSUSE makes it this easy. You have to turn on Flatpak and Snaps in order to use them, which is not a big deal but I want to give marks where marks are appropriate for UbuntuDDE

The whole process was clean. Everything from downloading through the installation process. There were no headaches in any of it. I appreciate that and it tells me that UbuntuDDE is targeting a user that doesn’t want to fuss around with mundane details.

What I Don’t Like

The Normal Mode or Effects Mode needs some clarification on what you are losing out on. This isn’t a just a difference between having the nifty effects or not. This is a reduction in functionality and having “normal mode” therefore means “less usable” mode and this needs to be corrected.

Not a huge deal, but when I would change the resolution on the VM to match my actual display, I would be logged out of the session. I chalk this up to a VM-ism and something I wouldn’t have to deal with on actual hardware

Not all applications respect the theme selection by the control center. This to me is a rather large irritation. I could deal with it more so if it was just Qt applications that were not respecting GTK themes as that is basically expected with all GTK based desktops. My issue is that the file manager didn’t respect the dark theme and that is just no good. I would call my experience here, far, far less than beautiful.

Final Thoughts

UbuntuDDE is a satisfactory Desktop Environment. Would I say it is the most beautiful? No, not a chance. I think it is fine though. What bothers me most about it is the very limiting feeling I get from it. I don’t feel attached to the desktop. I don’t feel like it is mine and things like not all applications respecting the dark theme just added more to that pile.

Despite my experience with the desktop. I think you should give it a try, in a VM or on actual hardware. After all, your experience may be far different than mine. It could be all roses and puppy dogs or maybe Kawaii cats hiding and appearing. After all, I am a biased openSUSE Plasma user that wants his bacon fried to a certain perfection. My tastes are different than yours so you should explore and find your Desktop Home.

References

UbuntuDDE Home Page
Calamares Installer
BDLL community

openSUSE Tumbleweed on an HP Zbook 15 G2 with Nvidia Quadro K2100M

I have reached the end of the road with this machine. We have been together for about three years and before sending it off to the ether, I wanted to try out openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. It was something of a question I have been asking myself since I was first assigned the piece of hardware. Windows 7 worked fine on it but how would it spin with the Plasma desktop.

The Opportunity

Since I had received my ‘new’ computer and transferred everything over, I decided now was the time. I felt it important to wipe the SSD on it anyway before shipping it out so trying out somethings seemed like a good idea. In order to boot from the USB drive, I had to change the boot order. I went into the BIOS to access the boot option. To go into the BIOS I pressed F10 on the POST Splash screen.

Using the fantastic openSUSE installer, I set up the machine very easily. I realize, that at this point, this installer is like second nature to me so making it more “user friendly” would likely not be to my liking.

I did note that the default drive arrangement now is to have a single BTRFS partition with a Swap partition. That isn’t my preference but I went with it.

After setting up all the bits, it took about 6 minutes to install the standard KDE Plasma desktop. Fir reference, I am using snapshot 20200612 which includes Plasma version 5.19.

The initial boot took 32 seconds to get to the login screen. Not sure if that is “fast” enough for most people but I was happy about that. After logging in, it took another 7 seconds to a settled desktop… which is not to my dark-theme liking but easily remedied.

I have my color preference stored here but I really should put it out there as a downloadable theme… someday, perhaps.

Specifications (the ones that matter to me)

Using my favorite system info tool, neofetch, I installed that first.

sudo zypper install neofetch

and ran the thing to get the output of those little things that matter to me about the system

This basically told me what I wanted / needed to know

  • CPU: Intel i7-4810MQ, 8 thread at 3.80Ghz 4th Generation Core
  • Screen: 1920×1080 matte finish screen
  • GPU: Nvidia Quadro K2100M
  • Memory: 32 GiB
  • Storage: 477GiB SSD (no idea the brand, didn’t care)

This is by no means a new machine but it did do its job very effectively as a CAD machine.

Setup and Configuration

Since the secondary monitor was to the left, I had to use the screen selection hotkey Fn+F4 to get to the onscreen switcher, arrow over and done. Plasma is beautiful in the way it works like that. Sicne the dark theme was added as previously described, I had to install the Multimedia Codecs from here. It’s also good to check to make sure that my instructions are still valid. They are!

The next thing to fix was this single-click nonsense. Not a fan of this out of the gate but I understand that openSUSE likes to stay close to the upstream. Not my preference but thankfully that is an easy fix by going to System Settings > General Behavior and changing the Click behavior to “Double-click to open files and folders.

The other thing I wanted to do was to set the window decoration to have the “Keep below” and “Keep above” buttons on it. These are buttons I use quite often. Mostly the “Keep Above” and to not have it makes my titlebar feel… inadequate.

Next was to install the Nvidia packages to take advantage of this GPU. The easy way can be found here on the openSUSE Wiki.

I used YasST to do the installation as I was thought, why not.

There is more than one way to get to managing the Repositories. I did it through the Software Management tool under Configuration > Repositories…

Next, I selected “Add” in the lower-left corner of the window then Community Repositories. On the next screen, I added the nVidia Graphics Drivers.

When it begins the process of adding the repository, you are asked if you want to Import an Untrusted GnuPG Key. I of course will trust this because, this is the openSUSE community!

After the import was complete, I searched and selected the nvidia-glG05* drivers which triggered the other required dependencies.

I selected the final Accept and the installation began.

Everything seemingly installed properly but I couldn’t use my secondary monitor after my reboot. No idea why. I event tried the older drivers but nothing. I chalk that up to Nvidia being what Nvidia is… painful to deal with. Maybe another distro would have recognized it better but I wasn’t interested as my time was incredibly limited with this machine.

I also downloaded the LeoCAD app Image because, why not do some fun CAD on this machine!

Since that worked out fantastically well, I thought I would do the other basic tests that I would need to do like visiting my favorite YouTube channels and made sure I could watch Netflix on Firefox. It all went well and really, I wasn’t disappointed.

I did end up removing the proprietary Nvidia drivers and going with the open source option so I could use the secondary monitor. Not a huge deal, a bit of a disappointment but at this stage I just wanted the secondary monitor.

The Good

This machine feels super snappy. Fast boot times, used very little memory when settled. Seemingly things work fine, for regular user usage. Though, this machine was specifically set up from HP as a CAD focused machine. Having 32 GiB of RAM, and 8 threads is pretty great. I didn’t get the opportunity to really test the hardware out as I would have liked but what little I did do, was pretty great.

The Touchpad is of a nice size and I like that there are buttons above and below the pad along with the Trackpoint between the G, H and B.

The Bad

The keyboard on this machine is just miserable. I am not sure what HP was thinking with this but the key-press is not consistent across the keyboard and they just don’t have a good feel to it. I feel like I have to use unnecessary forceful key presses to get the keys to recognize.

The arrow keys are of a silly layout and I often stumble a bit on it. Either hitting the up and down together or up and shift. It wasn’t meant for my long gangling fingers.

The Ugly

Nvidia didn’t play real well. It worked but not like I would have preferred. I wanted this to be a hugely bragging story about openSUSE and working well with Nvidia. I am sure that had I dug into it a bit, I could have ironed it out but I was less than happy. I have had other great success stories with Nvidia an openSUSE but this was not one of them.

… insert shrug emoji…

Final Thoughts

Outside of the Nvidia issue, which I may have eventually worked out if I had the time or the inclination, openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop was a nice experience. At least, far nicer than the Windows 7 experience and now that I am thinking of it. The graphics drivers on Windows were wonkey too. I often had to reboot the machine to clear things up. So, it is possible there may be something not quite right with the hardware. It is also possible the keyboard may have been abused before I obtained it so that might account for the poor keyboard performance too.

If I had more time, I would have probably tried a few more distros on it. Leap being one and Pop_!OS being the other. Just to see if the Nvidia issue was a hardware thing. Would I ever buy this machine for myself? Nope. Lots of little things I don’t like about it, really. I would call it an “almost” machine. Everything about it is almost great but just happens to fall short in a lot of areas.

References

Download openSUSE Tumbleweed
CubicleNate.com openSUSE dark theme
Cubiclenate.com Multimedia Codecs terminal instructions
Nvidia Drivers on the openSUSE Wiki
LeoCAD AppImage Download

Noodlings | LeoCAD, DeWalt and a UPS

Dusting off for the 14th installment.

14th Noodling of nonsense and clamoring

LeoCAD from Design to Publication

Designing, organizing the timeline and publishing a MOC (My Own Creation) on Rebrickable.com using LeoCAD on openSUSE

DeWalt cordless Power tool platform

A little trip outside the cubicle for my appreciation for a great cordless tool platform that enables me to do more with greater efficiency. My mission to simplify and reduce life complexity

APC UPS Battery Backup Rebuild

Fixing is my preferred option to buying new. Not only is it financially but environmentally more beneficial.

BDLL Followup

Thoughts about Lubuntu and Linux Mint choice to forbid Snaps.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE + LibreOffice conference will be online. See the news article for details on on the Open Source Event Manager system, the online Summit and submitting for talks for it.

Tumbleweed Updates for snapshots 20200609 and 20200610, both trending stable scores.

Snapshot Reviewer Site

Computer History Retrospective

In the 5th episode of the 1st season of Computer Chronicles in the year 1983 was an episode about Robotics. Lots of interesting speculation about the commercial viability of robotic devices.

Even at this time, robotics in manufacturing, or machines in general were starting to do many of the more dangerous tasks that could easily be replaced by some sort of structured process where robots could excel.

The fear of robots taking away jobs as seen in the early 20th century but the speculation that robots would completely eliminate all jobs doesn’t seem to have come into fruition. I know that today we speculate that automation will replace us in every way. It has in some capacities but I do believe it opens up the world for more skilled occupations. Robots and computers are certainly very disruptive to society, but they also give us new things as well.

Here is the video in it’s video tape recorded glory from 1983.

Final Thoughts

We all have immutable characteristics, things about us we cannot control about us. That will never make you less of a person

LeoCAD 19.07.1 on openSUSE | Building to Publish

I have previously talked about LeoCAD on openSUSE and it is a pretty fantastic experience. There is a lot of fun to be had with designing or documenting your designs using this application. I also find it incredibly enjoyable, just because it runs so well in Linux. In my case, of course, openSUSE. I have been using the AppImage as of late, mostly because of the reduced hassle in dealing with installing the parts library. It seems that some sets I have downloaded from LDraw.org to recolor (that’s another story) didn’t have the correct geometry. Rather than dink around with that, I decided, the AppImage is the way I will go for now.

Installation

I am using AppImageLauncher to manage all the AppImages on openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma as my desktop environment. The LeoCAD AppImage can be downloaded from here. The “installation” and menu integration is all handled incredibly nicely by AppImage Launcher, so you can easily forget this is not managed by the system package manager.

I have been running version 19.07.1 of LeoCAD and it matches my system theme perfectly, so my previous reasons for using the native packages really went right out the window.

Making Things

Since this isn’t my first time using LeoCAD, I am quite comfortable with the interface. It is a bit different than PTC Creo that I use for employment or Fusion 360 that I use for designing personal project but I seem to easily be able to move between the applications well enough. I think that the navigation method LeoCAD uses may now be my favorite… I think… ask me again tomorrow, I will have probably changed my mind.

The MOC

Assault-Invader MOC on Rebrickable.com

Since I am perhaps stuck in a bit of a rut, I can’t help but to design and build sets in the vintage (but awesome) Blacktron Space theme from late 1980s. I designed (in collaboration with my kids) a modification to a set called the Blacktron Invader that can carry 6 passengers. The intent of this was like a troop transport but also be like a porcupine and look aggressive to have adventurous battles with my boys or, alternatively, if I am playing Legos with my daughter, to carry all our friends to the shopping mall or equestrian farm. When I started on this design, it was my intention from the beginning to publish another MOC (My Own Creation) on Rebriclable.com.

Creating a little “Story”

Part of the fun of this is to create a little story about your MOC. Using a bit of imagination to explain your MOC. I do with all my MOCs, so far, and some of them get a little feedback, largely because “Blacktron” were the “bad guys” and I have rejected that narrative. I have turned the script a bit to say that they are the good guys.

MOC Name

This is the most difficult part of the publishing. What do you call the thing you created. In this case, I created a variation on a set called the “Invader” and since my design intent was to be an “Assault” module, I called it the Assault Invader. Kind of a silly name, severely lacking in creativity and doesn’t exactly sound like something every kid is going to exclaim to their parents that they want for Christmas but this will do. I can change it if necessary.

Build Instruction Viewer

After uploading the “directions” I noticed (maybe missed it previously) a really awesome build instructions feature in Rebrickable. You can go through, step-by-step the build process in this fantastically executed virtual instruction viewer called the “BI Viewer” (Build Instruction Viewer).

I thought this was so dang cool. Not only can you see each step like modern Lego build instructions with pieces required for each step, it also shows where they go on the model and you can rotate it around and zoom to get a detailed look at it. So incredibly cool. This means, I had to make my uploaded CAD files properly stepped in the timeline tab so that it would be an enjoyable experience to build, should anyone actually do that.

Adjusting the Timeline in LeoCAD

When going through the instructions on the BI Viewer, I noticed that it was a mess. The steps were all kinds of nonsense. You can’t hold pieces in mid-air and build beneath it. So I took the appropriate time to properly order the steps in LeoCAD using the “Timeline” tab.

The process in which I found this worked best was to start with the last step and pick off the top most parts, or take it apart step-by-step to put on a new step at the end of the timeline. This was the most efficient way I found to order the steps quickly.

Uploading CAD file for Inventory

This is an important part of the process so prospective builders can make it for themselves. Here is where I ran into some issues with my models. It appears that LeoCAD has parts that are now considered obsolete; they cannot just remove them from the inventory of parts as it would “break” some designs. That said, Rebrickable lets you know if the parts are not current or correct. Thankfully, they have a way of selecting an alternate part.

Final Thoughts

I don’t generally have a lot of time to “play” with Legos, either real or virtual. When I do, it is mostly with my kids as a fun, family activity. Using LeoCAD is a great way to document the designs or work out ideas without having all the appropriate pieces and also makes for a great education tool to use with children or adults.

I am able to take time, now and again, to explore my limited creativity and to share it with those that have similar interests on the Internet. Sure, my reach is probably only a dozen or so people scattered around the world that are approximately my age but that is just enough. The positive is, it ensures that when I go to Bricklink.com to order the parts I want, they are not in high demand and I can get what I want pretty reasonably.

I can’t thank enough those that are volunteering their time to create LeoCAD and all the tools that make my openSUSE Linux machine possible. Not to mention the various web services and sites that make sharing possible too. It’s a pretty great time in which we live, especially if you are a nerd.

References

CubicleNate MOCs on Rebrickable.com
LeoCAD.org Project Page
Companion Video on YouTube
LeoCAD on openSUSE on CubicleNate.com
Distracted by LeoCAD once again on CubicleNate.com
LDraw Model Repository
Bricklink.com Lego Marketplace
Assault-Invader MOC on Rebrickable.com

APC Smart-UPS 1500 Battery Replacement

I am of the opinion, if you plan to have a desktop computer, and by that I mean a machine without a built in battery, you need to have a UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply. I am of the belief, go as large as you can reasonably afford. Should you have a power interruption, your computer and equipment will thank you in the best way it knows how, by not turning off unexpectedly and corrupting your data.

I Received this used, APC Smart-UPS 1500 a few years back. They did work when I got them, not for long as the batteries failed. After building my workstation / server / desktop unit that I make do things all the time. I decided, after a power outage, it was time to investigate the failure and fix it. I was 99% sure that the batteries were dead as it was the “Replace Battery” light that was on.

Video montage of repair. It’s not very good…

Disassembly

Like in any repair of mine, I find that disassembling it first is the best way to go about it. I have had countless other projects that have gone wrong because I trusted online documentation and batteries for a UPS are never cheap. The first objective is to open it up. The tools required for this was just a crossed-recess (Phillips) screw driver. I opted for the battery operated driver because I am lazy.

Two screws on the front hold the battery compartment door shut.

After removing the batteries, I was completely certain that they were dead as the multi-meter made that very clear.

Search for Batteries

My initial search for batteries lead me to realize that this was not going to be a cheap repair. My local supplier of batteries had them listed at $54.00 each. Others I found all were comparably as expensive.

Then I stumbled upon a site called BatterySharks.com that had these batteries for sale $48.00… for a pair. For a pair! I double checked the specs from the old batteries to the new batteries and I completed the order.

I can’t guarantee that the prices will stay so low but was certainly a fantastic deal. Shipping wasn’t too bad, another $24.59 which brought the grand total to $72.55. I was thinking, however, I am making a $72 gamble that there isn’t anything else wrong with this UPS.

Installation

It didn’t take long for the batteries to arrive. The rather weighty package landing with a thud on my front porch signaled it had arrived. The actual installation was really quite simple. Just a reversal of disassembly. Installing the terminal connections, reinstalling the protective terminal caps, I used a little double sided sticky tape to hold them together like the originals (and thinking about it, totally unnecessary), and screwed it back together. Extremely basic.

I did clean up the corrosion with white vinegar just to be sure that there wouldn’t be any issues from the old battery acid that leaked.

Testing

After assembling it, it was time to do the initial “smoke test” to make sure that I didn’t mess anything up. Sure enough, I turned it on and an incredibly uneventful yet thrilling beep followed that meant, all was well and ready to be used. I did want to do some testing.

This included using a laptop hooked up to see that when the grid power was removed from the UPS, that it would continue kicking out uninterrupted power. Upon removal of the power, a clunk with a 60 hz hum sound coupled with an alarming “beep” to signal the loss of power and sure enough, just like its name, the power to my computer was uninterrupted.

I let it sit a while so I could watch to see the battery charge meter climb while it remained plugged into the mains. Since it all seemingly worked well so I shut down my server, router/firewall, access point and switch to plug it into the UPS. The load indicator was fluctuating between 1 and 3 bars out of 5 while I was standing there and monitoring it for a while. That was good news as it is well within the limits of this newly repaired but well aged device.

Power Loss

Within a week of installing this newly finished UPS system, the power went out at my house. The server, and network equipment kept chugging along and the battery charge held surprisingly well. Since I was using my laptop, I could still access all things on the server, wirelessly, though I was unsure as to how long it would hold out. After about 40 minutes or so, I thought I should probably start shutting things down nicely. I checked the display and I still had plenty of battery to go so I left it and within 20 minutes of that, the power was restored.

The timing of this repair couldn’t have been better…

Final Thoughts

This was one of those projects that was well worth the time and effort. I do know that I can connect this UPS up to a computer and have it do things but I really am not sure what. I think I need to start playing with the power awareness features so I can figure out how to safely shut down my server and Firewall safely should power levels get low.

Buying a new UPS can be quite expensive. Repairing a used one is much more affordable and also, a better choice for reducing e-waste. Hopefully, this little writeup and crap-tastic video will give someone just enough courage to try it out themselves.

References

https://www.batterysharks.com/APC-RBC7-p/APC-RBC7_ups12-18_x2.htm
APC.com UPS manufacturer website

Rebuilding a Ryobi 18v NiCad Battery

This was one of those unscheduled projects that I really had no intention of doing but when you have a persistent 9 year old that wants to take apart and rebuild a battery for some Ryobi tools, sometimes, you just have to give in.

I did purchase a bunch of NiCad 2200 mAhr C-cell batteries with tabs some years back with the intention of rebuilding my batteries when the time came. In that time, I changed tool platforms and went with Lithium Ion as the capacities are greater and the packs lighter, so the batteries sat along with some dead batteries.

I don’t use Ryobi batteries but have cordless Ryobi tools that I use with DeWalt Batteries. Doing that was easy, I just bought an adapter, popped it into the tool, slid on the DeWalt battery and I was off to the races, or at least, in many cases, off to burning my hand at my lack of attention paid to the hot end.

Sure, it looks a little goofy, but the benefit of having only one battery is quite substancial in keeping life efficient and simplified. By having one battery system, I am always ready with a cordless tool… But that is not what this is about, at all.

What started me down the path of this was that I needed, or rather wanted, a chemical sprayer for my garden to spray fertilizer or insecticide around the house and the like. Since I live in Michigan, bugs are a plenty and I use it to keep away things that will eventually infiltrate the house, like ants. I have a manual sprayer, but that is, well manual, so I bought this Ryobi One+ 18v Chemical Sprayer in an effort to enhance efficiency. My intent was to sell the battery and charger on Ebay but for whatever reason, my oldest took a shining to this system and made a case for why we should keep it. Although I didn’t fully agree, I appreciated the effort and we agreed on his active involvement with certain chores if I keep it. Ultimately worth the $40-ish I would have made from it on Ebay.

That same day, I was at my workbench riffling through the things littered about. It has a lot of my fix-it projects at various states where my kids put things that they break. They seem to expect whatever they place there to magically heal so I have to stay on top of that. I pulled out an old dead Ryobi NiCad battery along with a few other brands of battery packs I have been hording. I also had some 2200mAh cells in some boxes so my boy begged me to rebuild an old Ryobi battery.

This was not anywhere on my plan for the week or month but he insisted, I again struck a deal with him where he obligated to other various tasks if we were to do this. So, the project began. He started taking apart the battery and exposed the innards hidden away in its plastic tomb.

Once figuring out how they were chained together. I was able to replicate it with some “new” NiCad cells.

Building was tedious and since I don’t have the proper equipment, I used a lack-luster soldering iron and the tabs that were already welded in place. The soldering job is absolutely embarrassing so to ensure I never get a job soldering, here it is under construction.

Unfortunately, I misread the pack and thought that minus meant minus so I did have to rewire the connectors after I was finished soldering it. I could have probably handled it better but the battery is together and functional.

My son did help me put together the final bits and he finished screwing it together. Unfortunately, after putting it together, I discovered that I do not have correct Multi-chemistry charger for it so I had do charge it the brute force way. Regardless, it was a success, it holds a charge and seemingly operates as one would expect.

The Glue gun looks almost as silly with this battery as it does the DeWalt battery on an adapter. I don’t know how long this battery will last and if was worth the time it took to make but it was certainly educational. I don’t see myself making any effort to use this but it is amazing how excited a 9 year old can get fixing a 12 year old battery

Final Thoughts

Power tools are another nerd hobby of mine. I am amazed by the amount of power and capability you can get out of a plastic casing hand tools. Tearing them apart and seeing what is inside and fixing them, certainly, gives you a sense of accomplishment. It does make your tool much more yours.

Though I don’t see myself using the fruits of this exercise very much, what I do hope it sparks in my son is the desire to not just use but understand his tools, whether they are power tools, computers or any other electronic or mechanical device. That is ultimately why I did this with him. Strike while the curiosity iron is hot. I have also given my son a sense of ownership. Not only does he suddenly want to care for these tools but also use them properly. I see it as a great step forward in his growth.

References

Ryobi One+ Cordless Chemical Sprayer
Tenergy Batteries

Outside the Cubicle | DeWALT 20v Max Cordless Tool Platform

Outside of the Linux thing and retro tech hobbies of mine, I like to build things and generally improve my domicile so I enjoy tools, especially cordless power tools. Not having that tether to the wall has a kind of freedom to it that makes working with your hands much more enjoyable. I have been using cordless tools in the form of the Porter Cable 18 volt line for about 10 years. It has been a fantastic platform of cordless tools but unfortunately, it was the decision by the company to abandon the 18 volt line and move to this 20 volt Max line without an upgrade path. I stuck with the Porter-Cable tools for quite a while but in the last year or so, the batteries were all giving out. No batteries were available in the stores anymore so I bought some knock off batteries on eBay. I had to repair both of them after using them due to a manufacturing flaw but that was the deciding factor that I could not continue to stay with the Porter-Cable 18v line of tools.

Did a lot of research online, wanted to hear harsh opinions of all of the tools, read or watch anything that told me the good and the bad with every aspect I could fine. I wanted a tool I could afford but one I could rely on with a broad selection of tools and a non-restrictive technology. I wanted to have some level of trust for the intentions and motivations of the company that owns the brand. After all of my searching, studying and evaluating each of the value propositions, I landed on DeWALT.

Value Proposition

How I ended up on this decision. Keep in mind, this is an evaluation of what I value that works best for me. This is not universal to all people, nor should you take this as a recommendation that works best for you. You will have to determine this for yourself using your own value proposition wheel.

Durability

I need tools that will handle my level of abuse. I do try to be careful with them and I do keep them clean but I am not exactly good at preventing me from happening to my things. I am prone to drop, kick, knock off high places and so forth my power tools. I need things that can survive my usage. Based on my contractor friends’ preferences. DeWALT tends to be their preference. Though, my plumber friends tend to go Milwaukee for some of their plumbing specific tools, I don’t have Milwaukee money.

Variety of Tools

The next most important aspect of my choice was to have a large variety of tools to remove complexity in accomplishing tasks in my life. My time is limited and I need to maximize efficiency whenever possible (side note, much of the reason I use Linux and specifically openSUSE but that is another discussion for another time). Suffice to say, I want options, lots of options and DeWALT has the best score here for my preferences. I also want the ability to use easily use batteries with other tool platforms (supported or not). Since DeWALT is a popular platform, there are many hacks out there so that is also a big win.

Battery

It was a absolutely a necessary requirement to have options for large capacity batteries for higher draw tools. I don’t like extension cords. Sure, that is the universal power source but it is also very inconvenient and I tend to mangle my extension cords over time. In this are, DeWALT really fit the bill. Not only do they have their 20 volt Max line with 6 Amp Hour batteries but they also have batteries that will flip to 60 volts (actually 54v nominal) for a chain saw, table saw, and a miter saw. These vast options bolstered my decision to go with the 20 volt Max platform.

As an aside, Makita cordless tools batteries had the high capacities but should I choose to refurbish them with new cells, they would no longer function. This would not work for me. Milwaukee arguably have the best battery in the business and the price reflects it.

Commitment of Long Term Support

My experience with the 18 Volt Porter-Cable line was good, but within 4 years they started their transition to the 20 Volt Max along with their DeWALT and Black & Decker counter parts. Unlike DeWALT, there was no provided upgrade path. Had I bought into DeWALT 18 volt line years ago, I could have upgraded batteries over time and slowly transitioning to the 20 Volt Max line. I wanted to have some kind of corporate commitment or at least the perceived commitment that I would be able to use these tools for many, many years. Based on the rate of expansion of the tool line, there is some sort of engineering and product development commitment and therefore, it is likely to be around for a while.

Based on these three bits of criteria plus the bonus if it being “manufactured in the USA with globally sourced materials” I decided that DeWALT would be my best decision. It hit with the highest marks on all parts.

The First Purchase

I was at Lowe’s to get materials for a project and I saw there was special on DeWALT Tools. What cought my eye was a 10-pc tools set, last one and when I did the math, I would spend less than $60 per tool, factoring the two batteries and charger, it appeared to be a spectacular deal for DeWALT. Buying so many, tools at once meant I could completely change over my cordless platform. I am not going to give a full review on each component, just the highlights and drawbacks.

Drill

This model has brushed motor, feels good in the hand, slightly smaller, faster and more powerful than the 10 year old Porter-Cable 18v cordless drill. A nice feature of it is the work light in the front turns off after approximately 20 seconds after you release the trigger.

The anti-feature of this drill is the speed selector switch is a bit ropey. The one and only feature that is lack luster. This would have been a top-of-the-line drill 10 years ago but today, there are many better options.

Impact Driver

This model has a brushed motor and is much more compact than the Porter-Cable 18v equivalent model. The 3-LED front work light with similar delayed turn off feature makes this fantastic for working in dimly lit areas, which seem to be the work environment I end up more frequently than not.

The anti-feature of this is that although more compact than what I have been used to, not as much as I have seen and a brushless motor would be nice, even if not necessary.

Reciprocating Saw

This is the larger, brushed motor model, feels beefy in the heads and is a bit weightier than the Porter-Cable 18v unit it was replacing. It looks and feels like it will take more of a beating than it is likely to get in my possession.

The anti-feature is that it is longer and heavier than what I would like but it’s really not worth complaining about as this isn’t a tool for which I am likely to put a ton of hours.

Circular Saw

This is the brushed motor model with the 6-½” blade. It is well balance and the over all use and feel of it is quite satisfactory. This has seen many linear foot of wood travel past it’s spinning teeth. Since I have used it quite a lot I can confirm that it does the job very well.

The Anti-Features of this tools is that the chips from cutting wood somehow seem to jump into my face more than my previous Porter-Cable model, it also lacks a laser guide and a 7-¼” blade would have been preferred. This also does not have a laser guide like you would see on some brands as standard.

Angle Grinder

This tool is very similar to the Porter-Cable 18v unit it has replaced. Although I haven’t heavily used this tool, it has chewed through many pipes and nails. I like how the design of the tool has a built in hand guard.

The anti-feature is that it has a slightly slower maximum rotational speed (RPMs) than my previous cordless unit but it seems to perform similarly. No complaints here.

Oscillating Multi-tool, XR model

This is the brushless motor model and at first, I didn’t like the trigger vs switch as compared to the Porter-Cable equivalent. After actually using it, I found that the trigger with the lock was more ergonomic and ultimately easier to use. It also has a very bright work light in the front with a similar delayed shut off.

Anti-feature, the learning curve for this different switch mechanism but I wouldn’t change this.

Blower

I have used this for numerous functions around the house besides blowing sawdust off of my projects. It’s great for clearing the driveway and the front porch. I have also used it to inflate an air mattress or exercise ball more than once. It isn’t loud and painful on the ears like some air pumps.

Anti-features, it could be more powerful and have a longer nozzle attachment but that would likely put it in another class of blower so I will not complain about this either.

Vacuum, DCV517

This could almost be my favorite tool in the pack and it is the one that gets used nearly every day. I have found that this vacuum is not only great for cleaning up your work, the tools after getting them dirty but also great for quick cleanups around the house and in my truck. The detachable hose makes it very useful for cleaning up dust bunnies in corners, or on ceiling fan blades and when paired with round brush attachment makes quick work of cobwebs between the floor joists or cleaning underneath the couch cushions. It should also be noted that this is a wet/dry vacuum, of which I have used it for both.

Anti-feature, it could suck with a bit more force but considering the size of it, I believe it to be adequate.

Bluetooth Speaker

It’s a nice portable speaker that I pair with my computer, usually my Dell Latitude E6440 and listen to podcasts while I work around the house. The KDE Plasma Bluetooth module had no issues pairing and remember this device (the Linux tie-in). I find that this one gets a lot of use too. Also, with the Plasma Media Integration, starting and stopping the podcast or YouTube video playing on Firefox worked perfectly. Additionally, I could use my phone to stop the media playback using KDE Connect. Pretty fantastic.

Anti-feature, it could be louder.

Flashlight

Frequently, this is considered the “throw off” or “sandbag” item, and I can agree to that with some sets but this is a nice flashlight and also gets a lot of use, mostly by my kids. The pivoting head is great for setting it in a particular direction to light up your work.

Anti-feature, it could be brighter or have an adjustable focus.

Summation

These are not DeWALT’s finest tools by a long shot but spending about $60 per tool, I would say that it was quite worth it. Admittedly, the flashlight isn’t worth $60 but as a package deal, very worth it. There really is only one tool for which I am not completely satisfied and that would be the drill. I knew this going into it and I wasn’t about to drop the coin on having a set that consisted of nothing but the top of the line XR tools as I don’t use them enough to warrant that.

Tools that I like most in the set

Impact Driver – The key feature of the impact driver I like most is how compact it is and the three LEDs on the front of it. It feels good in the hand when pared with a 5 cell battery and spectacularly drives screws into stubborn materials.

Vacuum – Although not exactly a tool someone is likely to seek out, this is the tool that gets the most use in my house, day in and day out. It is a wet dry vacuum that really sucks. I have used it more for cleaning dust bunnies, crumbs and floor dirt than anything else but with the hose being an integral part of the tool, makes this fantastic for quickly cleaning up the messes of life. This has done more to simplify and improve efficiency of my life than any of the other tools in the group.

Blower – As odd as it may sound, this cheap tool has been used a lot. Everything from blowing leaves, cleaning grass off the sidewalks to inflating exercise balls (darn thing had a leak).

Tools I Don’t Like as Much

It is not that I am disappointed with anything it is just to give an honest bottom three in this 10 piece tool set ranked from least to most disappointing.

The Reciprocating Saw is fine, very powerful and also quite heavy. It is better than the 18 volt Porter-Cable model I had but also, having held the XR line of more compact Reciprocating Saws by DeWALT makes this one feel a lot more like last decades technology.

The Circular Saw, it’s really quite decent but it as such that I feel like I get hit in the face with wood chips / dust more often because the saw blade and motor are opposite to what I am most accustomed. Also, it is a 6 ½” blade as opposed to the 7 ¼” blade that is standard on typical corded circular saws. This saw feels a lot like the 18 Volt Porter-Cable but a mirrored version of it.

The drill, although not bad and better than the Porter-Cable Drill that I loved so dearly for a decade is probably the least thrilling of the bunch. I only say this because of the XR line of brushless cordless drills available. Those are something special, this is just, meh.

Of these bottom three, the drill needs to be upgraded for me to be happy with the tool set. I could get along fine with this drill but I would rather move this drill into the kitchen as a hand mixer and have a better compact XR drill for making and fixing things.

Amendment to Cordless System

This is just may be me, but the cornerstone tool of any kit is the drill and before I actually left the store, I had already made up my mind that I needed to get a second drill anyway. The drill I ended up purchasing, on eBay, was the DeWALT DCD791, a part of the XR Line with an extremely bright work light light on it, just above the battery. There are three settings to the work light. Dim, Bright and super bright. The “Super Bright” also has 20 minute delay on it so you can pull the trigger. set the drill down and brighten the dim corner you are working for quite a while. This is super, super handy. No regrets on that $80 purchase.

The second tool that I also needed to have the tool set complete enough for my next series of tasks was a hammer drill. I ended up getting this DCD996 Hammer Drill. My mistake that I made was purchasing it without the side handle. The performance of it is to my satisfaction and it too has that very handy three setting light system. In a pinch, you can set these drills up around you to brighten something up.

DeWALT 2, 3, 4 Ah BatteriesAlso purchased two, 4 Amp Hour batteries because the two, 2 Amp Hour batteries were not sufficient. Lowe’s also had a buy one get one deal going so I purchased another charger with a 3 Amp Hour battery.

I found that I was ripping through batteries pretty quickly with only having two, 2 Amp Hour batteries. Having the additional batteries made it possible to always have at least one charged and ready to go and one sitting in the vacuum.

Where to from here

This was the first phase in my goal for simplification for my project tasks. Not just for fixing, building and making but also for general operation to include cleaning and maintaining my domicile. Little things like a vacuum at the ready with batteries in reserve has made my life a lot better. The next steps were to replace my aging 18v Line of Black and Decker outdoor tools as well as replace my mower with a DeWALT cordless variety.

Final Thoughts

There have been many times when I have made purchases that I have regretted shortly after. That is not the case at all with this 10 piece tool set. After selling off my old tools the difference would have been about the coast of new batteries. Surprisingly, 10 year old cordless tools hold their value pretty well.

I am very glad I purchased a few extra batteries as it allows me to rotate through and always have a battery on hand. I have subsequently put in several hours of use on each of the tools I have briefly described here. They have all performed to my satisfaction, even the lack-luster drill has been used pretty heavily. I have made several mean pots of mashed potatoes with it.

I am not sure where I am going to go from here. I have no intention of doing any work to failure videos or tests as there is no way I would get any value out of that. I may focus on more interesting tools at a later date on if it suites me. I can guarantee that some of these above will make cameo appearances on future things as they are very often in supporting roles.

Tools are very much a necessity in many, many aspects. They are force-multipliers in chores and tasks which consequently make life more efficient and help to make my time in this fallen world a bit more enjoyable. A quality tool is never (maybe rarely) a wasted purchase and from what I can tell, I have purchased quality tools that have, so far, held up quite nicely.

References

Lowe’s 10 pc tool set product information
DeWALT Tools
KDE Connect Article on CubicleNate.com

FreeOffice on openSUSE

I am not really much of an “Office Snob” but in recent weeks, I have heard people hammer and clammer about this FreeOffice for both “in favor of” and “against” it. In full disclosure, I mostly use LibreOffice and I still use Microsoft Office 2007 for certain very specific reasons. That said, I am obviously not an open source purest. Back to the reason for this write up, I use office products a lot for the purposes of creating product for home educating my kids as well as for many administrative things that I do as a part of my employment. For the most part, I don’t do anything terribly complex but I do like a certain uniformity and bits of information on things to keep me organized.

Bottom Line Up Front, FreeOffice is a fine, well polished, very complete application. I am only using the “Free version” and I am very impressed with it. The user interface is flexible to your liking, looks clean and modern, most things work fantastically well and I am not sure how they get away with the look of the UIs similarity to Microsoft Office. Although this would likely serve all my needs, I will stick with LibreOffice because it is what I am most accustomed and I don’t gain anything by switching to FreeOffice. At a minimum, I would have to keep LibreOffice Draw for a few specific tasks.

Installation

The installation process for openSUSE is very straight forward. You can read their directions here:

https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux

They also have other distros there too if you are interested but since I am writing this specifically as a user with an almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project. I will summarize the process here because I need to feel like I am actually doing something.

There are two ways you can go about doing this. First would be to download and install the RPM which will give you the shell script to add the repository. Alternatively, you can hop into the terminal, my favorite place (sometimes), to use the fantastic Zypper command to do all the heavy lifting for you.

For simplicity, I’ll break this down into steps using a terminal. If you don’t like the terminal… you should like the terminal because it is pretty awesome once you understand it.

Import the Public Key

Arguably this is an optional step, you could really just ignore the warning you would get other wise but for the sake of completeness, download the public key here. By default Firefox will put it in your “Downloads” folder, navigate to it and this is how you will import the key, using the terminal:

sudo rpm --import ./linux-repo-public.key

You’ll see some output, read it, then move on to the next step.

Add the repository

sudo zypper ar https://shop.softmaker.com/repo/rpm FreeOffice

Agree to whatever is necessary to move forward to the next step.

Refresh the repositories

The next step is to refresh the repositories. Depending on your inclination to install the public key or not, you may have to select ignore to continue.

sudo zypper refresh

Install the application

The last step will be to install the application. This does seem to take a while. I am note really sure why but the installation process seemed to take an unnecessarily long time.

sudo zypper install softmaker-freeoffice-2018

Once complete, you will have the application links in your menu and the associations with your mime types so opening a document from the file manager into FreeOffice works as expected.

First Run and Impressions

Office productivity applications are not exactly the most exciting activity to dig into but I do find them to be an important staple in the refrigerator that is personal computing. Most people I know have office applications on their systems as a necessity. I do realize that it has also somewhat become in vogue now to use online office productivity suites too so perhaps this not relevant.

In order to really use and evaluate FreeOffice, I decided I would take the time and see how working in FreeOffice would be, instead of using my typical preference, LibreOffice. Therefore, I left the automatic file associations defaulting to this, essentially forcing myself to use it.

When you first start it up FreeOffice, you are given six options to set the user interface to your personal design preference.

The top row are three Ribbon menu and the bottom three are Classic menu toolbars options. I went for the Ribbon Dark Theme. Interestingly, there is a “Touch mode” that has larger icons and menu entries. I didn’t try that as I am not using this on a machine with a touch screen interface.

Next you are going to be greeted with entering your user info and you are off to the races.

My initial impression of FreeOffice is the professional feel about it. Very nicely, there is a convenient side bar welcome to get you started. It just feels like the kind of application for which I would have had to shell out some cash on any operating system.

I tend to use one open document formats so I loaded up one. After all, it is one thing to stare at a blank page, it is another to actually use it so I decided to open up and do some of the “work” with it. In this case I was working on product for my home education board for my kids’ weekly memory work.

Using the application, I find that the layout of of the ribbon menu looks very familiar to another, offering by our friends from Microsoft with one caveat, this has a fantastic dark theme. On Microsoft Office 2007 there is a gray theme but nothing dark so this is also a welcome design choice.

In the weeks I spent using it, I did run into one issue with FreeOffice, it seems that the crop performed on an image using LibreOffice isn’t necessarily respected in FreeOffice. This does seem to be a consistent issue. I am showing one example below but this does appear to be a consistent problem. This was only an issue where I cropped images.

There is one specific feature that not having is a kind of deal breaker. That feature is the ability to “Export to PDF.” In FreeOffice they give you a kind of print dialog which is, in my opinion better than just having the save dialog you are given in LibreOffice.

I haven’t used any of these options, I don’t have a particular need for it but I do appreciate having the options there. It would be important if you have some publishing requirements, I suppose.

The thing that I found that was rather lack luster with FreeOffice was the file picker dialog. It is okay, but not nearly as nice as the Plasma File Picker and certainly better than the default GTK file picker.

I would say this is the most disappointing part of my FreeOffice experience. Though, it is probably not very fair because I have been incredibly spoiled by Plasma and the niceties that come with it. It would be nice if there was some option to select to utilize desktop native file picker.

Just to see a side by side of the different office applications I use, I thought I would throw it here. Not for any particular reason other than just to compare the look of the UI. What is interesting to me is that Microsoft Office 2007 (yes, I know it is old but I prefer the look of it), has more screen real estate for the cell display, by default.

I happen to like LibreOffice the most in looks, but I still prefer to use Microsoft Office in the spreadsheet department. I just happen to find it more usable and I do like the built in Visual Basic for some of the fun things you can do with it.

Looking at the free versus paid versions of FreeOffice, there aren’t too many features I would say I would need. The only features that may be missed would be mail merge, not that I have used it in a long time and perhaps the “Presenter View” for the presentation software. The annual cost of $29.90 for the home use license for up to 5 computers is really not a bad deal and it keeps the project going.

For more information, visit the site here:
https://www.softmaker.com/en/comparison-freeoffice-softmaker-office

What I Like

The interface is familiar to anyone using Microsoft Office. The layout and look of the ribbon is comfortable and logically laid out which is welcoming. Since this seems to be what is normal and expected, I can see very clearly, why many people use this office application suite over some others.

The application appears to be just as responsive as LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. I have no complaints as to performance, whatsoever. It is surprisingly enjoyable to use

The specific feature that I use most and is readily available is the PDF Export. This is important because when I create “product” for my home education board, I want to “freeze” it to make it easier to share. The whole PDFs this is, um well, portable… Not having this would be a deal breaker for me so I am glad this is there.

What I Don’t Like

The file dialog box is irritating to use. It is functional but not at all what I like. I could be spoiled by the Plasma file dialog and since everything else is just not nearly as good, I am much less tolerant of this. I can understand a need to be desktop agnostic so this might be a necessity. I would like to see if it could somehow detect the desktop environment and use that desktop resource, much like LibreOffice and Firefox do. Although, that could be an openSUSE thing.

There seems to be a bit of a compatibility issue with LibreOffice where it will mess with size and ratio of the pictures in the word processing document. I am thinking, if I just use one or the other, it would be fine but this is an area I would like to see properly working.

Outside of that, I think it is pretty great.

Final Thoughts

FreeOffice is a great office solution that is very familiar feeling, nicely laid out with a clean interface. Installation is very straight forward and they support openSUSE so that is a huge plus. I absolutely appreciate they have taken time to support it. This was also much of the reason I decided to give it a try.

If I were to set up a machine today for someone, totally unfamiliar with Linux, used to the Microsoft Office suite, I think I would set up FreeOffice for them. If they have been using LibreOffice, I would still default to that.

In the end, for me, I am going to keep FreeOffice installed. I like it. I have the repository set up, and it isn’t a drain on my resources to have installed. I have adjusted the the file type options to make LibreOffice my default application for office documents. I will periodically check in on it and use FreeOffice to stay familiar with it and to check for any improvements. I am very glad I took the time to try out FreeOffice and evaluate it. If you have any inclination on trying office software, this should be on your list.

References

https://www.freeoffice.com/
https://www.freeoffice.com/en/tips-and-tricks-linux
https://opensuse.org