Bashtop on openSUSE | Terminal

I am generally behind the curve when it comes to the new hotness out there. Not sure what it is, maybe I am out of phase with the rest of the world, maybe just behind on my podcast listening or not really paying attention, so while everyone else has moved on to the next new hotness, I am hanging out in one-month-ago time and have enjoyed this thing called “Bashtop”

What is Bashtop and why do I care?

If you are a nerd about what your system is doing and like to see the numbers, charts graphs, etc, than Bashtop is going to be an application you absolutely adore. The little bits of information it gives you from CPU load, load average, and frequency is superb. The chart it produces on the CPU usage looks fantastic and really makes you wonder how they accomplished this when it is only in text mode. Truly a feat of terminal engineering!

Installation

Bashtop, at the time of writing, is not in the official repositories of openSUSE, but it is built by the Open Build Service and available from software.opensuse.org. Select the the appropriate version version of openSUSE for you and use the “one-click” installation button to get going.

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

Alternatively, check out this resource for other Linux Distributions:

https://github.com/aristocratos/bashtop

Features

Bashtop provides a very easy to digest, visually appealing overview of what various aspects of your system is doing, this is very similar to htop but in a more aesthetically pleasing presentation.

This gives you a quick snapshot of your CPU, Memory, Disks, Network activity and processes. Essentially, all the core bits of interesting information about what the computer is doing. In my case, I have a 4 core/8 thread CPU where I am given the CPU information, frequency and load per core as well as temperature.

The lower-left section shows you memory usage, disk usage and network activity. The graphs look great with the gradient coloring. Not sure how they pull this off but they pull it off well.

The processes table is great. should you need to filter the processes, just press “f” and start typing to find the application for which you are searching. It is that simple and easy to use.

Bashtop has a fantastic Menu of options and if you weren’t paying close attention, you might not realize that this is all in text mode. The way the larger font of “Options,” “Help,” and “Quit” look, you might be deceived into thinking that this is invoking some kind of fancy graphical mode.

Though I have left the options at default, you may wish to tweak some of the options. The default_black theme works well for me and the update interval is fine at 2800 ms. I would change the clock if my system default wasn’t 24hr, which, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t adopt 24hr.

The key take away here with the menu is that it is very user friendly, no squirrelly commands need to be typed in the terminal when launching Bashtop to get it just as you would like.

The “Help” menu item give you your key command list with an explanation of what each key sequence does. It’s nice to see that there are alternates as well.

Depending on what you are trying to extract from your system monitoring, this can come in handy. Especially so when terminating processes that have gone rouge. The Help screen provides a great snapshot of capabilities right in this application to make system management a more satisfying task.

What I Like

Although it is a text display, it uses some less commonly seen ASCII characters to give the impression of it being a graphical display. This really gives the impression of a very modern looking and feeling application that could be misconstrued as a graphic user interface.

The layout of the application is well done and a good usage of screen real estate. The CPU graph at the top is the right choice for the first thing your eyes pan down. The graph combined with the immediate state of the CPU is a nice touch. The rest of the information, Memory usage, Disk Usage, Network activity with graph and the process list fill out the bottom nicely.

The menu system in Bashtop is top notch. Once you have it tweaked out to your preferences, you probably won’t use it as much but the “help” screen is also very informative. I know that I can’t always remember what keystrokes do what so the help is great for a guy like me that doesn’t use it day in and day out.

What I Don’t Like

As compared to top or htop It is a bit heavier on resources than htop and top, though I think it is worth every byte and CPU cycle, just for the overall visually satisfying experience. I can see the arguments as to why some don’t like to use bashtop but this isn’t something I keep running continually, just when I want to nerd out and see what’s going on.

This is not a big deal and it may change in the future, but Bashtop is not in the official openSUSE Leap or Tumbleweed repository. Setting it up is easy to do with the one-click installation process on software.openSUSE.org.

Final Thoughts

I have historically made htop my go-to terminal system monitoring application. I still think htop is good but I happen to enjoy the experience of Bashtop just a bit more. It feels more like a full fledged product as opposed to a terminal application. If you like such technical information, I highly recommend installing and trying bashtop. I believe you will really enjoy it.

I have been informed, today, that there is yet another system resource application to try in the terminal called bpytop. That means, more relishable application exploration is on the horizon! Linux and open source software is so much fun!

References

Bashtop from software.opensuse.org
Bashtop from Github

Noodlings 22 | On the Edge

Click here for the 22nd single serving sized podcast episode

Computers are a tool, it’s a wrench or hammer, maybe more like a drill as it is a kind of power tool. It is there to serve you in whatever the task is. Whether it is organizing and storing information, one of the core functions of computers; entertainment, home security or designing and building something to improve your “foxhole”, it is a tool. Computers can just be fun to tinker around with too. It’s for people who like to mess around with computers and learn how they work as well. It’s for all types. Linux along with the free and open source applications on top of it just happens to be the best solution for me.

Would open source software be the best and most ideal solution? Of course it would, but that is just not the case much of the time. What I do believe is best is that the core and base layers of the operating system are free and open. Having projects like KDE Plasma, Gnome and Xfce which are completely open source Desktop Environments is the key. Should you need some proprietary applications to run on top of it, sure, it is less ideal but much preferred to the whole stack being closed and proprietary.

I run Fusion 360 on my machine as well as FreeCAD, I support the FreeCAD project but I still have some trouble with it. I do think it is getting better but for the time being Fusion 360 is my go-to CAD application because of what it can do so effortlessly. Does that make my system, as a whole compromised? I don’t believe so. Would running only free and open source software be better? Absolutely but that is not where things are today and rather than get upset, I would rather get projects done.

Consider this, if your living was dependent on designing and building widgets and you needed to collaborate with other designers, what would be the best tool for the job? I can’t say for certain what your case may be, but if I were working on a project and collaborating with a team, as a small business owner, Fusion 360 has those tools baked into it. If it reduces the time-to-market enough to offset the costs, it is worth it. If it shortens the development time enough to offset the cost of software, than it is indeed worth it.

On the contrary, if you have developed a method for product life-cycle management while using FreeCAD, and you are able to do all that is required, to include the machining process, just as well. Than go with that application. The bottom line is, you MUST use the tool that works best for you and you shouldn’t receive grief by anybody for it.

Personal computers should be just that, personal, use what is best for you. Should someone choose something different or go down a different path to get to their ultimate solution, even if it is a winding path, that personal discovery is extremely valuable. The best ideas will surface and suppressing the journey is of no benefit to anyone.

Give people space to discover and grow at their own pace. Allow them to figure out their world, show them kindness and grace as they learn and ask questions. Technology is but one vehicle to make our world a better place, positive and supportive attitudes are another. Stop and ask yourself why you do the things you do and have that honest conversation with yourself.

Microsoft Edge Browser on openSUSE Linux

I have recently installed and started using Microsoft Edge Browser. It still in the “Development” channel and it is pretty fantastic. The browser works so well, even though it is in development yet. I have received a couple updates on it now. Though I haven’t noticed any differences as of yet, I do appreciate the work being done on it.

I have been one of those individuals that have been the opposite of a Microsoft fan… for many years. I do have to give them credit where credit is due. We can start with Microsoft Basic that was essentially the common thread between the computer in the 8-bit era. Commodore BASIC was licensed from Microsoft and between the different computers of the time, it was very similar with the variations being in how you control graphics, sound and I/O. Fast forward to the 90s Microsoft began down a road of dominance which lead to congressional hearings on monopolistic business practices and later with Steve Balmer telling the world that Linux was a cancer. We are also reminded about their historic practice of “embrace, extend, extinguish” and the numerous law suits that kept Linux and open source software from growing at a greater speed.

Despite all their flaws, when you remove the emotional context and look at their contributions to the technology industry, you will see that there are countless contributions they have made in pushing the boundaries and making technology more accessible. Sure, they made mistakes, we all make mistakes, we are flawed humans running flawed organizations making flawed decisions but that doesn’t mean we should negate the positives because of the negatives. Lets look at today, lets look and see what they are doing today. Should we be weary, sure, perhaps, I prefer the “trust but verify” approach.

Today, Microsoft has been saying that they “heart” Linux. Cynically, you can say, yeah, they heart the money they get from developing and licensing technology for Linux. That is what business does. Now they are building a browser, Microsoft Edge, for Linux. It is based on Chromium and therefore reducing some of the technical liabilities associated with using their own web engine. Would I have preferred they used Firefox’s Gecko engine? Sure, that would have possibly been better but I can’t really say. I think, no matter what Microsoft did, it would cause backlash in the community.

The bottom Line is, Edge is good, it’s real good. I am nothing short of impressed by how it performs. This browser may still be in the “Dev” channel, but it is shockingly good. If I had to choose between Edge and Chrome for my corporate sponsored web browser, I would choose Edge as it does not chomp system resources up like Chrome.

What I Like

The installation process and package manager integration couldn’t be any better. I have already received updates to the browser and Zypper didn’t have a single issue with it. I certainly wasn’t expecting issues but you never know. The bottom line is, openSUSE is a “first-class” Microsoft Edge citizen!

The Edge Browser is a high performance application. It is shockingly lean and fast. If I had to choose between Chrome and Edge, I would choose Edge. The performance and memory usage improvement is not insignificant. I need more time on the browser to give a better performance evaluation and do some side by side tests against my current Firefox preference. Since Microsoft has made openSUSE a first-class citizen means that I am going to do my part to give them a hand in usage reports and the like.

The settings interface may be my favorite I have seen. It is laid out as such that it makes sense to navigate. There isn’t any digging to get to what you want to customize. This does support the claim that it is an easily customizable browser. I say, well done! 

What I Don’t Like

Although you are given a very nice dark theme, it is not my favorite. Also, since I am into the green highlights, I would prefer the theme integrates better into the desktop. This is the only spot that Chrome has an slightly higher mark.

This is a mixed opinion, but I wish there was more in the Edge browser extension repository. You are essentially directed to the Chrome store for things where Edge is lacking. The upshot is, you have access to all the Chrome extensions. Edge is based on the same Blink web engine as Chromium / Chrome in effect, reducing the technical burden on development and opening up a world of extensions. My biggest concern is that the market seems to be drifting to a single browser engine and doesn’t look good for the future of Firefox.

I am not currently able to log into my Microsoft account, which was a known issue. It would be nice if that was working but I am willing to bet that this will be fixed. When this is fixed, I am certainly going to see how well all the associated services work.

This is a nitpick, but the letter casing on “openSUSE” was wrong on the documentation… yeah, I’m certainly grasping at straws to come up with a fourth thing I didn’t like about Edge.

I highly recommend giving Edge a try. If you don’t like Microsoft and refuse to use any of its products, then don’t use it. At the same time, if someone else likes it, let them like it. It’s not your computer anyway.

FISH | Friendly Interactive SHell on openSUSE

I can’t help but to be so super excited about using FISH for my terminal. It makes the terminal alive and interactive. The “F” in FISH should really be “fun” because of how it helps guide you through commands as well as it does. FISH is able to parse the man pages and help you build a proper command to accomplish whatever terminal task you are doing. The Tab key become so much more powerful opening up a menu of options that are easily understandable. It is truly an amazing improvement and if I had my way, this would be the default shell in openSUSE.

I have been totally fine with using Bash, I started on CSH in the HP Unix days, when I went to Linux, I was introduced to Bash and I thought it was pretty great. What I appreciated was the tab-completion on commands. I had heard about ZSH and FISH but since I didn’t have a problem with Bash, I had no desire to change my shell. The interactive nature of FISH makes using anything in the terminal so much better and dare I say, “fun”. Maybe instead of “Friendly” the F in FISH should stand for “Fun”. I really enjoy the terminal a lot more and I believe that making this the default shell for not just openSUSE but all distributions would really help with greater adoption with living in the terminal.

Branded vs Unbranded Laptop Batteries

I have often been cheap on many of my decisions. Since I do have a bit of an addiction to all things tech, I try to do it as least cost prohibitive as possible. That has also gone for batteries for my laptop. I purchased a replacement battery on eBay that was unbranded from my Dell Latitude E6440 to save a few bucks. Not only did it arrive broken, as well as the replacement, the computer didn’t like it. This is like the last unbranded battery I purchased. It would have an affect on the computer performance. The result would often be forcing the CPU to be capped at around 800Mhz. Popping the battery out or using a real Dell Battery and the CPU performance is back to where it should be. The battery also was only at an estimated 94% of life left in the first week, after a week or so, 88% and three weeks later, 78%. Also, these knock off batteries don’t seem to hold up for very long. I had a similar issue with my Latitude D630 as well. The battery would only hold up for three to four months, tops. There is a common thread so I changed my ways.

I purchased a genuine Dell battery this time. A real battery that has the Dell name imprinted on it. The battery health is 100% and there isn’t any crazy CPU governing. It may have taken me 10 years, but I finally learned my lesson. Sometimes, genuine is the better way to go.

Halloween Festive Lights

For the benefit of the towns folk and the trick or treaters, using my Linux-powered Festive Lights, I did a sequence to Ghostbusters with which I was ultimately not pleased. The main reason being, I ran out of time in getting some additional pixel lights mounted and the purple string of LEDs did not flash in time with the musical sequence as I had expected. Any of the effects that were directed towards the pixel LEDs did just as they were supposed to do so that worked out.

One passer-byer asked me how I did it and since I didn’t want to have to give him a full explanation, I just said, as a matter of fact, “Linux”. He accepted that answer and carried on. Maybe he will become curious and look into it but chances are, he will completely dismiss what I said and go on to consume the more traditional forms of entertainment more easily digested.

I am getting ready for the big dance now, this year. I will be adding a lot by means of pixel bulbs on my house. It will likely be a good show and I look forward to what I will be able to share.

BDLL Followup

The bulk of the conversation on BDLL was discussion Utilities and what people use. Rocco was absent so Dan ran the show. The discussion is always intersting, at least, it is for my nerd brain and what I found most interesting how sour some people watching became when we talked positively of the Microsoft Edge Browser. BDLL got its largest number of down-votes I have ever seen and I can’t help but wonder, why?

There were a few visceral comments in the dislike for Canonical as well which I find incredibly disappointing. Canonical has done so much for the Linux Desktop in pushing the design, concepts and emphasizing the need for polish. They have greatly improved application accessibility to many Linux distributions though Snap and do a lot to encourage development on Linux. Do I agree with everything they do? Nope, but I agree with their mission and you have to look at their character as a company, not focus on one or few decisions with which I do not agree.

Microsoft is putting time, people and resources into the Linux desktop. They have given us Microsoft Teams and Visual Studio Code to name a couple. Now they are building a browser, Edge, for Linux as well. Am I a fan of telemetry, no or rather, it depends. If I can give them information to improve my personal experience, yes. I also like it that they are going up against the likes of Chrome as well. Although, they both use the Blink web engine, there is some significant variation in the user experience that is quite welcome.

I am a little disconcerted by the amount of dislike for any company putting resources into the Linux desktop. I understand the lack of trust but to out right show contempt for it is just not beneficial to anyone.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE Community to Have Kickoff Session for Leap 15.3

The openSUSE community is inviting all stakeholder to join the kickoff for Leap 15.3 on November 4th of this year. This is an invitation to package maintainers, contributors, and open source developers to join the community with a virtual meeting at:

https://meet.opensuse.org/LeapKickoff.

Tumbleweed Roundup

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Computer Entrepreneurs (1984)

The computer industry has brought wealth to many people at various levels. Some starting companies that go on to be enormously successful like Apple. Some were able to make great livings and gain historic notoriety many others have fallen into the relative obscurity as time has marched on. The 1970s gave rise to the computer entrepreneurs, mostly wearing, at the time whatever they wanted and just looking to create the best product possible for themselves, as in the case of Steve Wozniak. He was free to define the project as he saw fit so was able to explore and learn. Changes in the early 1980s shifted the industry to become a lot more professional.

The computer industry went from garage bound to billions of dollars in an incredibly short time. Wosniak was very humble about his beginnings and the foolishness of corporations looking down on upstarts, though, largely software upstarts at this time.

It was in the first 10 years or so of the fledgling industry that anyone with the knowledge and a few hundred dollars could start building hardware devices and people would have enough interest to commit dollars to it. The technically creative expressions were wide and varied, also largely incompatible with one another. Very few technically creative products being produced in the world by 1984 and things had already, largely, become commoditized. The computer was becoming more like and appliance similar to a refrigerator or washer where economies of scale were necessary to have a successful business model.

In 1984, it was not believed likely that there could be any new garage or hobby manufacturers but belief in software upstarts were absolutely possible due to the lower economic threshold requiring an application go to market as opposed to a new computer.

Adam Osborn, formerly of Osborn computers, made the statement that there isn’t room for new manufacturers, that business was locked up by and the computer is no longer “high tech” where price and reliability was the driving factor. He also stated that there will never be an IBM in software because you are dealing with $50 products and because of human nature, people will want something very different from one another.

Osborn went on to say that the computers collecting dust and no longer being used were ZX80 and ZX81 but largely served their purpose in the curiosity of getting people interested in the computer revolution. The Commodore 64 was collecting dust for reliability reasons and people just buying new machines because they were so inexpensive. Another guest stated that the IBM clone companies won’t make it because they are not delivering anything new.

It is interesting, looking at this from a historical perspective as IBM is no longer in the PC business and sold it all off because they were not able to hang. There was a software “IBM” called Microsoft or maybe now it is Google, perhaps it is Apple that is, in a way, the giant of today.

Today people are saying things like there is no room for another mobile platform or another desktop environment or another search provider or another social media platform. People are continually making these faulty assumptions and they are largely believed until they are no longer true.

Atari used to be the defacto video game standard until Nintendo and Sega battled it out, only for Sony and Microsoft to gobble up much of the gaming industry and crushing the likes of the Amiga CD32 and Sega Dreamcast.

Think about it, Yahoo and AOL once ruled the Internet and Microsoft was the only seriuos, game in town for office products. The industry is always changing. Linux is now dominant on many areas of technology and Microsoft has pivoted, in many ways, from the desktop and office applications to server or cloud based offerings. IBM purchased Red Hat and pushes open source solutions.

The bottom line is, no one knows what the future holds, just because a company holds the lead in any area, doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. This industry is always changing, growing, contracting, morphing and technology is finding new ways to solve problems and waste time. Hang on, enjoy it, stay flexible and like what you like.

Final Thoughts

Not everything in the world is going to be exactly what you want. In fact, it may very well be that what you want does not align with the majority of people. Does that mean you are wrong or they are wrong? No, it means you are a different person. You must find a way to show kindness to everyone, no matter what they prioritize. I believe you have to have faith in people. Short term, things might look bleak but long term, the good ideas will come to the surface. Discern was is good from what is not good and make decisions that you can live with, long term. Be a good neighbor in the digital world as well as the real world. A combination of kindness, patience and grace will ultimately win in every situation.

Ventoy | Multi-ISO Bootable USB Drive Made Easy

From time to time, I like to try a new distribution of Linux, not because I am dissatisfied with openSUSE as that is NOT the case but like going to another town to visit and see what culinary options they have to offer. I like to try out another Plasma distribution or something that is quite different than what I am used to using. Part of the fun of Linux is all the options and therefore, I want to peruse the buffet from time to time. Also, as a non-card carrying member of the BDLL community, we do these weekly “challenges” and I like to participate from time to time in that.

The annoying part about testing distributions is that I have amassed a collection of USB flash drives with various distributions on it and I am often fumbling finding one that I don’t want to write over. The solution, Ventoy. This allows me to have multiple distributions on one USB drive and I also do not have to write the images to the device. I just have to drag and drop the ISO right onto. The system will scan the device recursively so I can still keep everything organized into folders.

This is now my solution for all ISOs. I am going to put them right onto this as opposed to having them litter my /home partition.

Download the tar.gz and take note as to where you chose to download Ventoy. You will have to extract that archive. Using something like the Dolphin file manager, that is only a right-click away.

Alternatively, you can use the tar command in the terminal

tar xvzf ventoy*.tar.gz

Using a terminal, navigate to that location in the folder with the Ventoy executable, it is important you do so else the command later won’t work for you.

Keep in mind, your version may vary as this does continue to tick away.

Installation

This is not an application you need to install to your system. It is a shell script that you can execute from the terminal and since the terminal is a happy place, you should enjoy this process.

First I checked to make sure I was getting the correct device. There are a couple ways you can go about doing that. Using the File Manger, like Dolphin, navigating to the drive to right-click and get the properties.

Or you can go the terminal route and type in:

lsblk

Just as a note, I used “grep sd” because the snap packages clutter things up.

I do want to emphasize that you really need to know your system and what drives you have already attached. I know that I have 3 separate devices so “a“, “b” and “c” will already be claimed by my root, home, and bay storage.

Once you have determined the drive, in my case, I have sdd so I would replace sdX with sdd in the statement below.

sudo sh ./Ventoy2Disk.sh -i /dev/sdX -s

Where “X” is the last digit of the drive.

In this case where -i is to install and -s is to enable secure boot support.

Using Ventoy

The only thing you have to do at this point is drag and drop an ISO of a Linux distribution that you would like to install on a machine. In my case, I would like to install openSUSE Leap 15.2, so that is what I have put on the USB drive.

That is all there is to it. Now you can take this USB drive and install to your hearts content on as many systems as you would like. It should be noted that not every ISO is compatible with Ventoy. I am going to make second note here and say that this is the only way to easily install Windows 10, not for me but doing tech support. So, Ventoy is a life saver.

Update

Lets assume you already have Ventoy installed, you can update the Ventoy USB drive very simply.

sudo sh ./Ventoy2Disk.sh -u /dev/sdX

Final Thoughts

Ventoy is a fantastic utility, especially if you are regularly or even semi-regularly installing operating systems on machines. Setting up Ventoy is not difficult, so long as you understand the The installation is not difficult, so long as you understand the particulars. Since this isn’t something I would do every day, this little blathering is another note to future me and hopefully it works well for present you.

References

https://www.ventoy.net/

Microsoft Edge Browser on openSUSE Linux

I am not one to jump on any bandwagon or get excited over anything unless I have good reason. I don’t generally get too excited about browsers. I have found them frustrating, to say the least. In the beginning of the last decade, Google Chrome came onto the scene in spectacular fashion. It was light, fast and lean. It felt like a breath of browser fresh air. I loved it. Then the bloat came. To keep our definitions straight, I consider bloat to be anything that causes significant loss of system performance or makes using your system less enjoyable (not software installed you don’t use, that can be plucked out). Chrome became that in spades. For the last 4 years or so, it has been a slow, crashy, system-interfering browser, therefore, I have been using Firefox and Falkon as my go-to browsers. I only used Chrome for work and use it sparingly now.

My contentment with the browser scene has been rather low as of late. Firefox has been nice due to the privacy features and container tabs which is not yet (if ever) available on Edge. Since that is a required feature for for me on safe web-browsing, I don’t see Edge knocking Firefox off the top of my browser mountain.

Bottom Line Up Front, Edge is good, it’s real good. I am nothing short of impressed by how it performs. This browser may still be in the “Dev” channel, but it is shockingly good.

Installation

Installation is easy, assuming you are familiar with the process in openSUSE. Start off by downloading the RPM from here:

Microsoft Edge Download

The Beta is not yet available. What is available is the Dev Channel version of Microsoft Edge, in a nutshell, this is the weekly update of the application and is not yet considered “stable.” Knowing this, I will be forgiving of any little oddities.

Since I run openSUSE, that is the version I selected. with the little drop down arrow. Should you be running a different distribution, you will have to adjust the installation process accordingly.

Read through the license terms and if you agree, select “Accept and download”. Take note of where you download the RPM file. Personally, I have a folder ~/Downloads/rpms where I keep such loose-leaf packages.

If you would like to avoid the terminal (which I don’t understand why anybody would), the method of graphically installing it is to use YaST Software. This is easily done with a right-click on the RPM and selecting Open With > YaST Software.

It should be noted that once the process is complete, you will have a new repository labeled, “microsoft-edge-dev”. This under-development browser will be neatly placed in the correct category in your menu as well.

This was a very painless process and surprisingly short. So far, I would give this a thumbs up in the good experience department.

First Run and Impressions

I have mixed feelings about the initial run of Microsoft Edge. It is a clean first impression that lets you know immediately that you can customize it. In short, it looks modern and what you would expect from a newer application.

After you accept with the option of sending usage data or not, you are then given three options for how you would like the browser to start: Inspirational, Informational and Focused. This was a delightfully welcome surprise to have such start page options.

I went with Informational but I think I will likely switch it to Focused in the near future as I find some of the information… irritating… Every time you start a new Tab, you will be presented with one of these three screen layouts. This can be changed in the settings later if you so choose.

I was greeted with a Microsoft Edge Dev Channel page. This was quite interesting, really, as it gave some insight as to how to get involved while making it clear that they are listening to users.

Edge Browser 08 Welcome to MS Edge LinuxI do like seeing a specific column, welcoming Microsoft edge users for Linux. They give you a list of known issues with the browser too. I like this very open approach that Microsoft is doing with the development of the Edge browser. This is almost strange and foreign to me. It is very welcoming but I can’t help but wonder. Has Microsoft truly turned over a new leaf and they do indeed ♥️ Linux or are they really a creepy old guy telling you he has ice cream in his basement? 

Regardless of my presupposition and admittedly tainted attitude due to my historical dealings with Microsoft, I like what I am reading, nay, I ♥️ what I am reading, how they are presenting the software and the project to the open source. Is there going to be telemetry? Probably, but how much is acceptable? I don’t have an answer to that nor am I exploring that immediately. I am of the belief that I should have the option of giving or not giving usage data. 9 times out of 10, I will give the organization or company usage statistics to help improve the software. I just happen to be annoyed if I am not given the option. 

On a side note, my almost unhealthy obsession with the openSUSE project is a bit annoyed with how they cased “openSUSE”. I’ll let you look and see why.

The next stop on my Browser Journey was to look at my system settings and see what options are presented. My immediate and well deserved reaction was to be pleased with the layout. I find this to be far more welcoming than the Chrome default.

The difference here is that your menu is persistent on the side. It made it very clear as to where to go to make the adjustments. I will give Edge a nice underscore and highlight on promotion of customization. No options were hidden. I also want to give someone a nice pat on the back for the dark theme. Very nicely done. Although, I would have preferred a theme that took more from the desktop for better visual integration, as is what is offered by Chrome, but this is acceptable.

I appreciate that they have a focus on family safety. I don’t actually know how they implement this and it seems as though the options are tied in with the Bing search engine. I am pleased to see that Microsoft is putting such emphasis on the safety of kids and even if it is not the best available, it is at least a covered effort and I whole heatedly approve.

I am happy to see that when calling up the computer’s proxy settings, it pulled up the KDE Plasma module. Not that I do much with proxy configurations anymore but I do know that this is necessary for some people. 

The next part of my Browser Journey was to try out some websites that I frequent. Now was the time to serve this browser a “hot supper” of sites and observe. My list was everything from multimedia heavy sites, to forums, social media and the like.

Very importantly, the site “CubicleNate.com” seems to render just fine. I didn’t notice any unwelcome behavior with it. For all half a dozen or so people that actually visit the site will be please to know that the Edge Browser works fantastically well.

I went to see how to change the default search engine for the browser and I noticed that “CubicleNate” has an entry and I am not sure how that happened. Perhaps the browser picked up on the search function within my site. More exploration on this is necessary.

I left the provider at Bing for the time being. Changing it to CubicleNate would be pretty useless though, kind of cool… I suppose. I am wondering how it was added to the list, how the browser was able to parse the website and add it without any user effort.

A real neat feature of the Edge Browser is this “collections” system. It looks to me like a modified implementation of the bookmarks but that is a bit more friendly looking and easier to decipher what each website is as it has a thumbnail of the thing adjacent the site name.

The setup has a nice walk-through when you start using it. I am not super crazy about the Pintrest integration but I know a lot of people that would be very much into it. The collection system seems to have a lot of potential for making the organization of a lot of information more efficient. I don’t know that I would use this as it is locked into the Edge Browser system and I am not one to be locked into anything. Regardless, I see the value in this very much.

I have a concern about how it would perform, long term. I wonder if it would bog down significantly as you use load it up with data. I might be making foolish assumptions but it is something to note.

It was time to try out the collections system. Adding to the collection is as intuitive as adding a bookmark with any other browser. It just happens to have a more friendly feel to it. I like this rethinking of the bookmarks and adding additional features and functionality to it.

I have created a category called “Awesome Websites” which is actually pretty meaningless but I just wanted to give it a spin and get some impressions about this Edge Browser exclusive feature.

Performance

The performance of this browser is surprisingly peppy. It is as though they super charged Chrome. I am not one to tout the performance of a browser. I have become underwhelmed in my browser experiences and therefore lukewarm on any browser.

I don’t know what Edge uses internally for multimedia. I don’t know if the codecs are baked in our of it uses system libraries but I can say with incredible confidence is that everything I tried works and there isn’t any hint of screen tearing when watching videos. Seeing that it looks great is important.

Memory Usage

Not a very scientific test, I ran Edge for a few hours and opened up 28 tabs. I had YouTube, Facebook, Instagram open as I know they are incredible offenders of chomping up copious amounts of precious RAM. The result of having it open and taking it for a spin for several hours, the browser only took up about 800 MiB. I am not sure why it is so much less than Chrome but I was very impressed. This is not what I was expecting at all. I need to do more testing in this regard but so far, I am very happy with it.

What I Like

The installation process and package manager integration couldn’t be any better. I have already received updates to the browser and Zypper didn’t have a single issue with it. I certainly wasn’t expecting issues but you never know. The bottom line is, topenSUSE is a “first-class” Microsoft Edge citizen!

The Edge Browser is a high performance application. It is shockingly lean and fast. If I had to choose between Chrome and Edge, I would choose Edge. The performance and memory usage is not insignificant. I need more time on the browser to give a better performance evaluation and do some side by side tests against my current Firefox preference. Since Microsoft has made openSUSE a first-class citizen means that I am going to do my part to give them a hand in usage reports and the like.

The settings interface may be my favorite I have seen. It is laid out as such that it makes sense to navigate. There isn’t any digging to get to what you want to customize. This does support the claim that it is an easily customizable browser. I say, well done! 

What I Don’t Like

Although you are given a very nice dark theme, it is not my favorite. Also, since I am into the green highlights, I would prefer the theme integrates better into the desktop. This is the only spot that Chrome has an slightly higher mark.

This is a mixed opinion, but I wish there was more in the Edge browser extension repository. You are essentially directed to the Chrome store for things where Edge is lacking. The upshot is, you have access to all the Chrome extensions. Edge is based on the same Blink web engine as Chromium / Chrome in effect, reducing the technical burden on development and opening up a world of extensions. My biggest concern is that the market seems to be drifting to a single browser engine and doesn’t look good for the future of Firefox.

I am not currently able to log into my Microsoft account, which was a known issue. It would be nice if that was working but I am willing to bet that this will be fixed. When this is fixed, I am certainly going to see how well all the associated services work.

This is a nitpick, but the letter casing on “openSUSE” was wrong on the documentation… yeah, I’m certainly grasping at straws to come up with a fourth thing I didn’t like about Edge.

Final Thoughts

I will keep Edge on my system and expand my testing of it. I want to see how it performs on lesser capable machines next. My experience on my Dell Latitude E6440 running openSUSE Tumbleweed has been spectacular. It far exceeded my expectations and will be watching this further develop. The fact that Microsoft is now building Edge for Linux is great and I am also extremely pleased to see that they have made openSUSE a first-class citizen.

Regardless of any apprehension one may have with using a browser built by Microsoft, I highly recommend giving it a spin. At the very worst, you won’t like it and remove it from your system. I think you will be impressed with the performance and resource usage. this is not the Internet Explorer of days past. I truly believe that Microsoft has done a great job on this and they are certainly raising the standards for browsers on Linux.

References

Microsoft Edge Download
openSUSE.org
Firefox browser
Falkon browser

FISH | Friendly Interactive SHell on openSUSE

BASH has been good to me and I have enjoyed my time with BASH very much. I have learned so much about the inner workings of Linux through the terminal and BASH has been there my whole experience. “Tab” completion has been a marvelous gift to the terminal user experience. I have never had a complaint about BASH and therefore never looked elsewhere.

On the episode of BDL from 17 Oct 2020, I was told to try FISH as it would change my terminal life. I didn’t really believe it but proceeded to install it anyway. I also wasn’t ready to commit to it so I modified a profile in Konsole to use Fish instead of Bash. Typing in one solitary command and I was sold.

Installation

The installation of FISH takes but one step. In the terminal type:

sudo zypper install fish

If you just want to try it, you can just run fish from the terminal and you are immediately in it.

Difference

Fish helps you along, give you hints, pressing tab gives you options and defines the options which removes the ambiguity in the commands. On the surface, this doesn’t look any different, that is, until you do what you would normally do in the terminal and see the difference. This may not be the greatest example but it essentially shows the improvements in the interaction.

As you start typing fish predicts the command based on your executed command history. In a sense, it learns and predicts your inputs which is very handy. Think about all the different things you do in the terminal. How many times have you reviewed your history to remember the exact syntax of a command you previously ran. This will make that process so much more enjoyable.

What is absolutely fantastic about FISH is how easy it is to configure. Simply run:

fish_config

and you are presented with the ability to easily configure your options graphically. At the same time, you are able to view the config file and manually input changes as well.

Switch to Fish | Bash is out

Lets say you are running Konsole for you terminal emulator. Changing it to use FISH instead of BASH is as simple as going into Settings > Configure Konsole

Under Profiles, select the default profile and “Edit” it.

The command should be changed to /usr/bin/fish

If you would like to check before hand to see if that is indeed the installed location of the FISH executable, run this in terminal to be sure:

which fish

Switch to Fish on openSUSE

To make the changes system wide, that is also an easy process. As root run the following command

chsh -s /usr/bin/fish

Additionally, you can change your user account default shell in this way, where in this case “cubiclenate” would be your user name.

chsh -s /usr/bin/fish cubiclenate

Keep in mind that user accounts may still be using BASH depending on how they were set up. Since the terminal should be a personal choice, it is totally understandable that the user accounts could vary.

Final Thoughts

I have been totally fine with using Bash, I started on csh in the HP Unix days, when I went to Linux, I was introduced to Bash and I thought it was pretty great. What I appreciated was the tab-completion on commands. I had heard about Zsh and Fish but since I didn’t have a problem with Bash, I had no desire to change my shell. The interactive nature of FISH makes using anything in the terminal so much better and dare I say, “fun”. Maybe instead of “Friendly” the F in FISH should stand for “Fun”. I really enjoy the terminal a lot more and I believe that making this the default shell for not just openSUSE but all distributions would also make the terminal far less scary for more people to use.

Reference

OSTechnix – Install Fish
fish on software.opensuse.org
3 Ways to change a user default shell

Noodlings | Inspiration Is Around You

21st Noodling of jam packed excitement… not really.

This is the 21st hot-pocket-sized podcast that won’t scorch roof of your mouth.

I have a small collection of vintage or near vintage gaming consoles. I lean mostly in the Nintendo party as I think they have a great grasp on what is fun. I don’t always agree with many of their business practices but the entertainment they have provided is multi-generationally successful. In order to lower the wasted time of hooking these systems up to enjoy and better organize their presentation, I built a Gaming Rack that was inspired by watching a YouTube channel called Retro Recipes. Seeing how nicely laid out and easily enjoyed they were set up, I made the decision that I must adapt this idea to my little world.

I’ll address this in greater length in the future but suffice to say, the creation of this Gaming Rack has made coexisting with lots of tech in the common areas of my house so much better. The big win was a place to keep all the tablets, handhelds and mobile devices so that they don’t linger in the kitchen or on the dining room table. They have a place to sit and charge and it is pretty fantastic.

The primary item of note here is, you can find inspiration all around you. The final result of my gaming rack, largely, isn’t anything like what I saw on the Retro Recipes channel but the purpose and intent is very much the same. I appreciate inspiration from wherever it materializes.

Modern Computer in a Commodore 64 Shell

The Commodore 64 was my first computer and there is something about the classic, beige bread-bin shape that brings a kind of retro-excitement. I have many fond childhood memories of flicking the switch on the side of the case where I was greeted with that “Ready” prompt and the blinking cursor on the light gray field… You see, I had a 13 inch, wood grain black and white TV that I mostly used with this fine machine. Only on special occasions did I get to enjoy it full color on the family TV in the living room. When I did though, that blue screen would fill the room with near endless possibilities of electric joy and hours of entertainment. There hasn’t ever really been an experience quite as exhilarating, as a child then when I learned how to input those load commands and hear the 1541 disk drive come to life with the warm sound of heads seeking over the spinning disk. To this day, when I use that disk drive, it takes me back to those bleak winder days where I would cozy up to a mug of hot cocoa and Commodore 64 delight.

WTTR.in | Weather Forecast in the Terminal

I have had an affinity for all things terminal in my old… or middle age. Not that I have ever spent all that much time in the terminal back in the 80s and 90s but as I transitioned into the Linux world, I started to enjoy the terminal and wanted to learn it.

What I am most interested in by this is the quick and efficient retrieval of the weather forecast. Since this is a terminal application, the actual limitations are few of what can access this information. The Commodore 64 with a text only web browser should be able to view this and certainly any other computer that came after it. In effect, this makes nearly any computer built, still quite relevant for modern tasks, or at least, it certainly helps keep computers useful.

Being able to access weather data quickly in the terminal is far preferred over using a web page as this is much quicker and does not gobble up internet bandwidth and cast a net of trackers at you.

I was made aware or rather re-aware of this information by some of the folks over at The Otherside Podcast Network.

Rickroll in the Terminal

When I was watching a YouTube channel “Adrian’s Digital Basement“, I noticed a dancing dude on some kind of small device in the background, on his wall of interesting things.

You know, I am seeing a pattern of me snooping on YouTubers…

I took me a bit of searching to realize that this was the “Rickroll” and out of curiosity, I had to see if it was available as a terminal command. Sure enough, this absolutely is a thing in the terminal and I had to Rickroll myself!

I found the project on Github, ran the commands and got an incredible laugh out of it. In an effort to not lose this again, I made a quick blathering about it on CubicleNate.com

There is nothing of any real value on this at all.

BDLL Followup

Talk on application preferences. What I got out of this was the push to use fish instead of bash for my shell. Fish stands for “Friendly Interactive SHell” So, calling it fish shell is a like ATM Machine.

In short this truly revolutionizes the terminal interface. This takes the terminal from good to awesome. The bottom line of what makes this awesome, and I will create a blathering post about this later, is that it holds your hand in using commands in the shell. It has parsed the man pages so when you start entering a command and press the tab key, it does more than just display what command you may be entering, it gives you the options and descriptions of what it is, continue to press tab and you will cycle through the similar commands. It’s

openSUSE Corner

Introducing the Open Build Service Connector

Open Build Service Connector is built around bookmarks of packages. Individual packages or whole projects can be checked out directly from within Visual Studio Code, similar as to how you would with osc.

This works well with the openSUSE project philosophy of collaboration which is at the heart of all things openSUSE and fundamentally built into the Open Build Service.

Node.js, OpenSSL, Mesa Update in Tumbleweed

Some of the major package updates in the last week of snapshots include newer versions of the Linux Kernel, Node.js, OpenSSL, Mesa, Apparmor, ImageMagick, AutoYaST and many others. Several CVEs and bug fixes have been addressed and the Mesa graphics library updates to support Intel Rocket Lake platform

Tumbleweed Roundup

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Speech Synthesis (1984)

I think we often take for granted about how well speech-to-text and text-to-speech works these days on rather small hand held devices. I know that I have become unreasonably upset with my mobile when it didn’t translate anything or translated what I said poorly. I have to stop and look back in time at the history of speech synthesis and compare it to the size and limitations of the machines in 1984 at the commencement of commercially available solutions for speech synthesis.

Although not covered in this episode of Computer Chronicles, there was an application called “SAM” which means, Software Automatic Mouth, published in 1982 by “Don’t Ask Software”. I played with it a lot on the Commodore 64 and what I found out more recently was that this really taxed the little 64kib machine which is why it had to blank the screen when speaking.

SAM on the Web

The applications for speech synthesis in 1984 were a bit of a stretch in some ways. I’m not sure if it was the large awkward microphone or the obvious shoehorning of it’s usage for checking your stock portfolio but it did seem a bit clunky. Other uses, like the speak and spell, I thought was good but a camera or my car speaking to me is not really something I would appreciate today.

Could you imagine your camera telling you that you need to use a flash when taking a picture at a wedding?

The Speak and Spell is, in my opinion, is one of the best examples of a fantastically well executed consumer product. Though I don’t enjoy my Speak and Spell much as an adult, it is fun to pull it out from time to time and see how poorly my spelling still is after so many decades on this planet.

If speech synthesis is of any interest to you, I recommend watching this and seeing formative years of computer speech synthesis to gain a bit of appreciation on where we are today. Maybe you totally appreciate it but I know that my attitude falters from time-to-time and it’s good to look back and see how far we have journeyed.

Final Thoughts

Inspiration is all around you, it is just a matter of you taking the time to pause for a moment and look for it. There are truly creative minds out there, freely sharing ideas that you can apply in your life to make things just a bit better. Pause and appreciate the bits of inspiration throughout computing history that have made our tech lives so very interesting and fun. For a nerd, this is truly the best time to be alive.

WTTR.in | Weather Forecast in the Terminal

In the spirit of using this site as my public facing notebook. I sharing with you and future me, what might be, the most beautiful terminal based weather forecast application wttr.in. Rather than babble endlessly about all my reasons for my love for the terminal, I am going to link you here to my Tmux blathering.

There is nothing to install, unless you don’t have curl but that is pretty standard fare on a modern Linux distribution. If you do not have curl, please consult your distribution instructions on getting it installed as with openSUSE it is there automatically.

I also want to note, most people, normal people, will just glance at their phone and be done with it. I, however, am not most normal people as the mobile form factor is not my favorite place to do anything.

How to Use It

Since there is nothing to install, this is a down and dirty on how you use it. You can get all the details by going to the project GitHub site and learn much more about its extended features, extensive options, and details of its inner workings.

The easiest way to view this weather information can be done just by navigating to the the website which will display the information in your browser. This is not personally interesting to me but possibly the best options available for viewing the weather.

http://wttr.in/

The more fun way to view the weather is right there in the terminal. Open you favorite terminal emulator or drop down into a TTY and it works.

This is all you have to do and it will just give you weather information.

curl wttr.in

It will use your IP to get the weather near you. For most people, this will probably be good enough.

For those that use a VPN may find that this doesn’t work for them. In this case you will have to specify the specific location where you want the weather forecast. Spectacularly, you can use the city name or the postal code. For example

curl wttr.in/kalamazoo

works just as well as

curl wttr.in/49001

Something of note, cities in the USA or across the world are not exactly unique. If I wanted the weather of Portage, MI and just typed

curl wttr.in/portage

I would get Portage, Indiana, presumably because it may be geographically closer to my location than Portage, Michigan. To be more specific, the appropriate syntax is this:

curl wttr.in/portage+michigan

Display Units

WTTR.in is set to default to your regional unit format but this can be over ridden. This can be done with adding ?u for USCS used in the United States or ?m for the rest of the world. An example of how that would be used to get metric in the United States.

curl wttr.in/kalamazoo?m

Final Thoughts

What is very cool about this, up to date weather information is readily available to any computer with a terminal, internet connection and curl which is what makes this very interesting and useful to me. It is a service that does not limit or wall off anything. It is there to be used.

I am only scratching the very surface of this incredibly versatile terminal weather application. It should be noted that because it is a terminal application and is extensible, you can very much make it more than just a basic text-based output. For my purposes, today, this is all I want but with a little imagination, marvelous things can be done with it.

This small blathering is very much for me, as I do recall this application from years back but have since forgotten the details about it. In my not so recent searching for terminal weather applications didn’t present this information so this is my gift to you and future me.

References

WTTR.in Project GitHub Page
Tmux Desktop on openSUSE Linux
Terminal Weather in the Browser

Noodlings | No Linux for 10 Days

20th Noodling, just like the previous, delivered inconsistently!

The 20th cookie sized podcast, but not one of those oatmeal raisin type of cookies, more like something with chocolate chips.

Chinese food containers are a feat of clever engineering. Most people just toss them in the bin once they are done with them but if you stop to look at how they are folded together from wax coated paper, you have to smile and marvel at the ingenuity of this clever, nesting box.

Element | Matrix Chat Client

The Element client makes using Matrix quite enjoyable. Previously, using Matrix was a bit of a lack-luster, almost a science experiment kind of feel to it. Sure, it worked but it didn’t have the polish and great user experience I have using Telegram. I can say, with much confidence, using Element feels like a real product. It feels just as good as any other messaging client. It is still early days for me so it’s still all new and exciting.

Send and Receive Text Messages SMS with Element

Amiga Fast File System Return to Linux Kernel

A component of the Linux kernel for the Amiga Fast File system had been broken that deals with the basic permission bits, protection bits in Amiga OS. The Linux Kernel would only set bits but never delete them.

Max Staudt is the developer that noted this issue and submitted a fix “for good” such that this won’t be an issue in the Linux Kernel any more. He said, “…Linux a nd classic AmigaOS can coexist in the most peaceful manner.”

Linus Torvalds appears to have agreed and the code made it into rc4 of version 5.9 which is slated to be release this month, October 2020.

This is great news for those of us that are vintage tech enthusiasts.

VisualBoy Advance

I was in a situation where I was away from home for an extended period of time. As a result I was separated from my old tech which means authentic hardware to do the more retro style of gaming that I enjoy. While away, I had a hankering for some GameBoy fun to unwind at the end of the day. The application I found, which I ultimately installed from the Snap Store was VisualBoy Advance. The big take away on why this is a great application for playing GameBoy and GameBoy Advance games is the ease of use and how highly configurable it is.

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 Black Screen Repair

Power outage left me with a computer where the LED on the side would show activity but there wasn’t even a flicker on the screen itself. It was out, completely black, no light whatsoever.

Ultimately the issue came to a faulty power supply which tells me that I need to take the time to put in some sort of UPS to protect it in the future. This isn’t the first time I have had issues with this computer as a result of power fluctuations.

No Linux for 10 Days

In my time away from my normal life, I was in a situation where I was without Linux for almost two weeks. I hear of people that consider time away from tech as being “refreshing”. I wouldn’t consider that the case at all but it was enlightening. Using “analog” methods for recording information is super inefficient but it did force me to work on my hand writing as it is atrocious.

Secondly, having to use Windows 10 to do “digital work” was so frustrating, I will say, the points of frustration were not all the fault of Windows 10 but it did make me greatly despise using tech. It confirmed that if Linux went away and I was forced to use Windows 10, I just wouldn’t.

BDLL Followup

There was a discussion about the perfect distribution that dominated the majority of the the conversation. I can easily say that openSUSE fits as the perfect distribution. There isn’t much I would change about it. The only thing I can think is a little polish in Tumbleweed as such that it becomes real easy to do distribution updates, preferably, using Zypper.

openSUSE Corner

openSUSE + LibreOffice Conference

Going on now is the openSUSE + LibreOffice virtual conference. There is one day left but you have to register before participating as to keep out spammers. There are two virtual rooms where talks are given and a workshop room to hack on LibreOffice. Thinking about this, there is an element missing from the event. There isn’t a virtual hall way to get lost in and have random conversations about of topic subjects. Maybe Next time?

It’s nice to see that virtual conferences are still happening. Just because the world has hit a rather large bump, not all the wheels have fallen of of the wagon.

Join our team and help us improve the openSUSE learning experience!

openSUSE is a project that has many parts to it and with the very lively and thriving community, some things can become untidy. The project has multiple distributions, although Leap and Tumbleweed get more of the mind share, things can become a bit overwhelming for someone new to start poking around the openSUSE spaces.

This is why a group of volunteers have taken up the task of improving the learning experience for users regardless of their experience level. We want to make sure that new users can best identify solutions for their requirements and experienced users have the detailed documentation that is easy to access and update.

Any help is welcome for writing, editing, peer-reviewing, video production and testing.

Tumbleweed Roundup

  • 20201008 moderate 90
    • MozillaFirefox (80.0 -> 81.0.1)
    • inkscape
    • kdeconnect-kde
    • libzypp (17.25.1 -> 17.25.2)

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Super Computers (1984)

Oldest computing machine is the abacus

Massive Parallel architectures was the key feature of these massive super computers. It is interesting to see that the super computer technology of this time is essentially the architecture that would later be adopted by the average home computer, to include your mobile device.

These computers were rated at over 100 million calculations per second. I wanted to get some kind of a baseline comparison to a modern Threadripper but getting actual “calculations per second” isn’t a thing with modern benchmarks. I would be interested in see how one of the old Cray super computers of the mid-1980s would compare to the average gaming desktop computer of today. It’s worth a wonder.

Parallel processing was a big thing with these super computers but the rate of improvement had slowed down and the discussion boiled down to the next breakthrough coming in changing the way things are done and different algorithms to take advantage of greater speed increases.

It was initially by government grants that breakthroughs in super computers came about and once better understanding and more applications were developed for the super computer did the commercial applications jump on board to better simulate a 3D world for testing such as the automotive and oil industry. Ultimately, making the process of being profitable much quicker.

Barriers at the time is building better algorithms to map on a computer’s architecture while at the same time, modifying the architectures to work with the algorithms. There was such a massive number of changes and experimentation in this time. The US and Japanese manufacturers were competing against each other at the super computer level. Both governments investing in the private sector to help with R&D costs. Really a spectacular time in the history of computing.

Final Thoughts

Take some time to appreciate some of the marvels around you. Even something as ubiquitous as a to-go container has an incredible story behind it. Someone or many someones spent many hours engineering the shape and the design of the thing as well as the many hours or perhaps years it took to perfect the manufacturing process. We often take for granted the wonderful luxuries we have.

Send and Receive Text Messages SMS with Element

What makes Matrix uniquely different from other messaging platforms is the ability to have bridges to other chat services. Matrix has all the signs of being the great chat unification platform that adequately reduces complexity in communication. Element feels complete, well polished and is enjoyable to use so using Element as my front-end, I should be able to access many of my various chat platforms that I am in quite nicely.

I will describe the process to set up a SMS Matrix bridge utilizing the appropriately named project SmsMatrix. The instructions on the GitHub project page are adequate and I want to supplement that with some more explanation and my experience in using it.

Bottom Line Up Front: The SMS Matrix bridge is fantastic. Although I am still in the early stages of using it, I truly believe it will streamline my SMS communication and it will hopefully reduce the likelihood of missing incoming messages in the future.

Step 1 – Create Bot account on Matrix

As per the project GitHub readme, there is currently there is no end-to-end encryption implemented in this SmsMatrix so it is advisable to use our own Matrix server. Since SMS itself is not a secure form of communication and since I don’t have the wherewithal nor desire to do this, I will happily use the Matrix.org server for the time being. This could change in the future.

My first step is to create a matrix account for my “Bot”. To do this, I navigated to element.io to create a new account. On the initial page there is a button to “Try Element”, select it.

The top option, and the one you should select is “Open in your Browser.” It is advisable to set up the bot using Element as it is is very straight forward and easy to do.

Next you will need to create the account for your bot. I recommend it is something you understand well and while you are at it, go ahead and store it in your password manager, Bitwarden, because what else is there really?

Once you verify via email the Matrix account, you will have to decide how you wish to safeguard against losing access to encrypted messages. Here you can generate a Secure Key for this bot. Although it isn’t really necessary for this purpose, due to the lack of end-to-end encryption with SmsMatrix, you will have to do that or enter a security phrase. Either way, you can store that information in Bitwarden, once again.

Go ahead and leave that browser window open, for the time being. You may want to refer back to it at some point. At least, I did.

Step 2 – Install SmsMatrix

This has a sub-step of setting up F-Droid. If you already have F-Droid installed, skip down a bit. This is necessary since SmsMatrix isn’t in the Google Play store and I want to keep it updated and not think much about it. Alternatively, You can just install the SmsMatrix APK.

To install F-Droid is pretty simple. Navigate to the page and select the blue “Download F-Droid” button on the home page.

There are a few steps involved in making F-Droid work on your system but it is straight forward. Download the APK, side-load (install) it, you will be required to set the permissions of your mobile device to allow it. Once installed, open up F-Droid and search for SmsMatrix in the store. If you find that I should add that information here, let me know.

Step 3 – Configure SmsMatrix

The configuration of SmsMatrix is very straight forward. Use the Bot Username and Password previously set up. Since you use the convenient Bitwarden password manager, this step will be no problem at all.

Enter the Homeserver url, which, in my case is the matrix.org server.

Enter the Devicename, which can be whatever you want.

Finally, I left the SyncDelay and SyncTimeout just as it was by default.

Select “Save” and you are done. Wait for your next text message to arrive and you will be pleasantly surprised, 12 seconds later!

Step 4 – Profit

Profit from the convenience, that is. When you receive your next text message, the bot will create a chat with your user account, place it in the “People” section, and rename the account to the phone number or contact information if you have it in your address book. Within that chat, you are able to respond to the message, just as you would any other Matrix chat and the message will send out to the recipient.

Another fun little note is that if you change or update the contact name, the next SMS you receive, the bot will update that account name. I found that to be very slick.

What I Like

All SMS messages you receive are right there in your list of direct messages in the People section. Sending a message to an SMS recipient or a Matrix recipient is no different from your perspective. It quite literally doesn’t matter and to the other end of the SMS, they will not know the difference.

What is such a slick feature is that SmsMatrix will update the chat, automatically, to whatever the contact is in your address book. I was amazed to see this and was pleasantly surprised by this fantastic feature.

This bridge makes SMS so much more accessible. I don’t like to actually have my phone in my hand or near me much of the time. When I arrive home, it tends to get plugged into the charger and set in the corner of the kitchen on the counter and often forgotten about unless there is a rare occasion of a phone call… which is often just a robocall.

What I Don’t Like

I don’t see a way to initialize a text message from Element to an SMS recipient. I tried several things, unsuccessfully such as [phone number]@smsbot:matrix.org but that didn’t work. As far as I can figure out at this time, the only thing I can do is respond to an SMS conversation. This is sort of unfortunate as it does require me to use my phone just a bit more than I would like. I truly have no idea how you would implement access to the address book and start a conversation but it sure would be a welcomed addition. Element / Matrix is real close to just replacing the need to use my phone or some other web interface to access my SMS so it doesn’t make for a complete interface but it is so very close. Once you get the conversation going, you are golden.

There is no message history, available through the Element client. Based on how SmsMatrix initializes the chat, I don’t see how you would anyway. Not a deal breaker but combine that with the need to start the conversation from the phone, it does make for a bit of context loss in the conversation thread.

After establishing the SmsMatrix bridge, should I send a message from the phone, SmsMatrix won’t show that message in the Matrix conversation thread. This could be a problem, depending on how you end up using SMS from that point forward. This also makes the bridge just a bit… fiddly or at least not exactly a solid-feeling experience.

Final Thoughts

I have only been using Element for a short while on openSUSE and so far, I am quite happy with it. I have not yet found anything irritating about it. It is a bit more spartan than Telegram as it doesn’t have all the fun little things like gifs and the breadth of stickers. What makes Element / Matrix so exciting is the bridging capability and the SMS Bridge, although, not perfect it is really quite fantastic. I will just have to make sure that I use the mobile Element client to respond to messages and resist using the SMS application

I have shamefully been using messages.google.com for messaging from my desktop to send SMS. I can say now, that I am no longer using it. I suppose I can keep it bookmarked for those occasions where I have to initiate an SMS but once a conversation is established, using Element would be the way to go.

Assuming that Element / Matrix isn’t too resource intensive, I think this might be my modern day solution for a unified messaging platform. I will see as I continue to use it, and add more bridges. I am incredibly optimistic that I will be able to make my communication on the various platforms much easier and hopefully, leave fewer messages unread. Next step, Facebook Messenger. I don’t particularly enjoy Facebook Messenger, the interface is awfully slow and cumbersome. If that works well, I will most certainly espouse the glory of Matrix… some more.

References

https://matrix.org/bridges/
Element | Matrix Chat Client on openSUSE
https://element.io/
https://f-droid.org/

Element | Matrix Chat Client on openSUSE

All the kids have been talking about the wonders of Matrix as the future of decentralized, secure communication. I have known about it, seen bridges being used in the openSUSE discord and Telegram rooms. Most of my experience has not been great, generally there were significant delays. I have used a few clients, Riot.im on a web client, which I didn’t care for and I also used Quaternion a Qt based client but I have had issues with the encrypted messages bit. I found the user experience to be rather… lack-luster at best. Mostly, I found the whole thing quite confusing. Accessing new rooms wasn’t self-evident, understanding what Matrix is and isn’t was confusing and I therefore found it frustrating to use. My experience, has been that I really preferred Telegram for communication.

A revived curiosity came about when I heard of the splendors of Matrix being espoused by the folks on Destination Linux; Noah and Ryan especially. They really pushed the idea that this is the future of communication. I still mostly dismissed it, thinking that my Telegram experience was satisfactory. Then I heard Noah talk about how Matrix has revolutionized his communication workflow. Matrix has opened up functionality of which specifically, he described how he can text message, as in SMS, on Matrix. Now I was truly intrigued and decided that it was time to look into this once again. I could endure the pain of learning this to eliminate my SMS frustrations.

I know I could use the Element web client for Matrix but I don’t like web clients. If I have to have a browser open to use an application, I do not like the experience, it feels disconnected. Now if you wrap that web app in something like electron and make it feel like a part of the system, that changes things. They feel more complete like a real application and give me what is quite important an icon in my system tray that notifies me of activity. The emphasis here is, I want a system tray indicator of messages or activity. Any communication application that doesn’t give me this is immediately on the chopping block with a need to be replaced. Element meets my criteria and the process began again for using it. I checked the openSUSE Software Repositories and Snap Store, but it wasn’t available. It does, however, exist as a Flatpak (at the time of writing).

Setup Flatpak and Flathub Repository

The first step is to set up Flatpak and the main repository Flathub to get access to the Element-Desktop Flatpak. Generally speaking, Flatpak is set up on most distributions. At least, most distributions don’t make it difficult to get going if not already configured for you.

Though I am gearing this towards using openSUSE, there are instructions for other distributions available. You can go here for the Quick Setup for openSUSE or stay here and I’ll provide the quick, down and dirty ways to get it going. For those that prefer the click around and install, navigate here for the click to direct install method.

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

or you can use the more fun method and install it in terminal

sudo zypper install flatpak

Next, add the Flathub repository, in terminal, as root run this. If the Flathub repository is already set up on your system, it will not add another (see the --if-not-exist bit on the command).

flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

Optional Additional step is to install the Discover graphical application explorer backend so you can graphically explore and install Flatpak applications.

sudo zypper install discover-backend-flatpak

Now you are set with installing Element or any other Flatpak for that matter.

Installation of Element

I am presenting three methods of installing Element on openSUSE. Though, the third method my make the previous instruction of setting up the Flathub repo redundant.

Method One – Terminal

The quick and easy way to install Element is from the command line because the command line is awesome.

sudo flatpak install im.riot.Riot

Unfortunately, Flatpak application names are kind of silly in comparison to Snaps but I am sure for good reason. Read through and agree with the changes.

Method Two – Graphical with Discover

The graphical way may indeed be less confusing. Since Discover, the KDE graphical application explorer has been pretty great as of late, I recommend it for exploring Flatpak applications. It is as simple as searching for “Element” and you will get the green and white logo at or near the top of the list, selecting it and install.

The nice thing about Discover is that you can scroll down and see the source of the package. If there was another source for Element available, you can very easily select the source repository. It’s a real nice feature of Discover.

Method Three – From the Flathub website

Finally, You can also use the install file from the Flathub website where you will be provided a *.flatpakref file that some application managers like Discover can unpack and utilize.

https://flathub.org/apps/details/im.riot.Riot

I didn’t actually test it but it should work… maybe… if it doesn’t, be sure to let me know.

With whatever method you choose, it installs and integrates quite nicely into your menu and is immediately executable. There is no funny business to be had, weird hacks or changes that are necessary to run the thing. It is simply, install and go.

First Run and Impressions

When I started up Element, I was greeted with the login screen. It has a clean and modern feel to it that looks like time was taken to give the right visual appearance.

Since I remembered my Username and Password using my brain-backup, Bitwarden. Next you are going to have to authenticate your session. If you have created a passphrase on your other session of Element, this is where you can enter it. If you haven’t done this, you can verify it later. I skipped this step for now so I can show you a really cool way you can verify your session.

After skipping this, you are presented with your Matrix session. Since I have been using it for a little while now, I have a few contacts and rooms to which I am connected. You are also given a notice that you need to verify this session.

Since I had been using Matrix on Quaternion, I didn’t think much of getting it all set up, but I was quite wrong. So it appears that I have not had any messages encrypted using Quaternion, it was all out there in the open. Since I wanted to ensure that my session is verified and has encryption enabled, I had to go through the process.

The method that I think is rather unique and easy to accomplish is to use the interactive emoji verification. Since I started with Element on the mobile client, for reasons, I begin the process on the mobile client to verify my Desktop session. To get there, go into your Settings > Security & Privacy > Show All Sessions. There you will see the sessions logged into Matrix.

Selecting the session titled “Element Desktop (Linux)” with the adjacent red shield icon will reveal some options. You are given two options to verify the “Not Verified” session. Manually Verify by Text and Interactively Verify by Emoji. The mobile will give you a spinning circle and ask you to “Please wait…”

On the Desktop Client you get a focus stealing Incoming Verification Request pop up in the application. Which is what you want to be able to have trusted end-to-end encrypted messages. A new dialog will display informing you of the incoming verification request.

Once the two devices have made their handshake, you are asked to confirm the emojis are in the same order on both sessions. Easy to do, hold the mobile up adjacent the monitor and observe that they match. I just happen to find this method to be clever and amusing.

That is it, you now have your desktop and mobile Element clients. This makes your security all green and your sessions trusted.

It would be advisable to set a passphrase or generate a security key for you encryption key. I did this in the mobile application and copied it to my Bitwarden for safe keeping. You can also use a Security Phrase as well. This will just help you should you log into Matrix from another Element client.

My original intent was to go into how to set up bridges to other services, and the like, but I am already bumping up against my self-imposed word limit. So, I am going to separate out and make a kind of series of blatherings about Matrix chat using Element. This is enough to get you going with your mobile and desktop machines having properly setup and trusted clients. Now, it’s time to do some searching for rooms to have conversations. I’ll figure out how to bridge my other things another time and get back to that place of a centralized communication client I once enjoyed about a decade ago.

What I Like

The Element client makes using Matrix quite enjoyable. Previously, using Matrix was a bit of a lack-luster, almost a science experiment kind of feel to it. Sure, it worked but it didn’t have the polish and great user experience I have using Telegram. I can say, with much confidence, using Element feels like a real product. It feels just as good as any other messaging client. It is still early days for me so it’s still all new and exciting.

I have previously talked about in on of my noodlings how it would be nice to consolidate all these different messaging services like the good ol days of MSN, Yahoo and AIM rather than have all these different chat clients scattered about. I don’t use MSN, Yahoo or AIM anymore but I do have several others. I find the breadth of available bridges rather astounding.

What immediately interests me most is SMS and Facebook messenger. Those are both services I loath using. I would consider using IRC as I can see the utility of being able to stay on top of chats going on there and possibly Discord and Telegram but I don’t think it likely that I will be replacing Telegram or Discord anytime soon. openSUSE does have Matrix bridges into the Telegram groups and Discord rooms so no more work needed there. I will be playing around with these.

Most importantly, I appreciate that there is a dark theme so that you aren’t forced to stab you eyes with the painfully bright light hues. This is essentially a minimum requirement for me at this point. If I cannot get a dark theme, I don’t want to use it (Ahem, Hangouts).

What I Don’t Like

Understanding how this whole encryption thing works, and how your credentials are stored on the main Matrix server. I understand that your key is encrypted at your end and stored on the Matrix server but what exactly does that mean, I am not sure. I thought the benefit of Matrix is that it is all decentralized.

It took me a bit of time to get my head wrapped around what Matrix was vs Element. I would hear, “Matrix is the protocol not the client” and I didn’t quite grasp it. I also don’t like it that some clients just don’t work that well. Now that Element is here, I can see it as being the main client to be used, maybe even universally. Parts of the setup of Element / Matrix are a bit dubious but much of that has been cleaned up quite nicely.

Next Steps

Where to, from here. Now that I have a client for Matrix that is pretty darn great, I am going to explore the other possibilities. I see a lot of potential in simplifying my life with communication. I loath using Facebook Messenger and the way I am using SMS has not been ideal. Matrix has the possibility of removing two irritations of mine and I look forward to making this happen. I have decided to break out the bridges to their own discovery experiences and will blather about those in the future.

Final Thoughts

Matrix is now a highly polished, accessible experience for secure communication on the Internet. It is a decentralized system but also has a centralized hub for simplicity of connectivity. It really appears as though they have the little papercuts worked out and have really made available a great system to be used by any.

It’s still early days for this Element Client but things are looking pretty good. I don’t expect I will get friends and family on it anytime soon as it is a bit more work than Telegram but for those other tech enthusiast out there and for simplicity of my communication platforms, this looks like the ticket. The real question is going to be, how reliable this and the bridges are to use long term.

Do I recommend Element as a Matrix chat client? Absolutely. I look forward to its continued use.

References

https://flatpak.org/setup/openSUSE/
https://software.opensuse.org/package/flatpak
https://element.io/
https://matrix.org/bridges/