USB or Removable Media Formatting in Linux

USB Drive-02.jpg

I am working on another project and whilst doing so, I was reintroduced to a kind of irritating problem with Desktop Linux. Nothing huge, just annoying enough. Formatting Removable or USB media. This is one area where I agree with the statement that Linux is not as easy to use as Windows. The Linux solutions work but it seems to lack some elegance.

Method #1: The Terminal

Before you start issuing any Format commands, be sure you know what the device name is. The way I prefer is by inserting the drive into the computer and and run in terminal:

dmesg

You’ll see a lot of text and toward the end look for something that reads like:

[109951.128820] sd 6:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg3 type 0
[109951.128995] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] No Caching mode page found
[109951.128997] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
[109951.135052]  sdc:
[109951.136745] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk

That tells me that the device name is sdc and I know that it is mounted under /dev. So this USB drive is /dev/sdc

to verify run:

df -h

If your computer mounted the drive you can take a look at the listing. Somewhere you should see the last drive you plugged in along with the Size of the drive, How much is Used, How much Available, Use of drive as a percentage and where if anyplace it is mounted. In my case:

Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdc        7.5G  946M  6.6G  13% /run/media/cubiclenate/XFER

For the following examples, replace the “X” with your particular drive letter.

Next you need to ask yourself, do you wish to share the contents of this drive with non-Linux machines. If the answer is “yes” than you will need to format in FAT or NTFS.

Format with FAT or in this case VFAT

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX

Format with NTFS (New Technology File System), more common since Windows XP

sudo mkfs.ntfs /dev/sdX

If this drive is just for you and your Linux buddies, go with a Linux file system. They are “better” in many ways.

Format with EXT4 File System

sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX

Or, if you are feeling it, go with XFS

sudo mkfs.xfs /dev/sdX

This process isn’t hard just not as straight forward to a new user and if you don’t spend your life in the terminal, these commands can easily be forgotten.

Method #2: Quick USB Formatter

A more graphical, KDE Plasma, friendly feeling option is this USB Format application. This is not in the Official openSUSE repositories.

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

What is nice about this application is that it is very straight forward. After installation, just typing USB will bring this up in the menu / quick launcher as “USB Format”. The executable is located here:

/usr/bin/quickusbformatter

USB Format-01

The interface is very straight forward, you select the device, in this case /dev/sdc and it will NOT allow you to select your system drives so there is no shot at making a mistake here. You can select the file system but XFS is not an option. There is a field to type in a label if you so choose as well.

Downside to this interface is that you can’t manage the partitions should you want to delete or add partitions on this drive. Also note, I am not able to format anything in the build in SD Card reader. If these are not a concern then this may be a fine solution for you.

Method #3: Gparted

Perhaps my preferred method for managing storage medium is Gparted. This is the Gnome Partition Editor and is one of the finest pieces of software I have ever used. It just does everything I need to do in a nice, intuitive, easy to use and extremely powerful tool for managing disks. It is described as an “industrial-strength” application for for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them.

Gparted is available for both Tumbleweed and Leap, to install:

sudo zypper in gparted

This “do everything tool” for your disks will require root privileges and rightfully so. You can create space on disk for new operating systems, or even copy the file systems.Gparted-01-sdc

This has access to all the drives on the system, mounted or not. Also note that modification to SD Cards, as expected, is also not an issue.

Gparted-05-SD Card.png

This application is fantastic in how you an resize and move partitions around on a drive. The designers have taken great care in paying attention to the finer details of disk interaction.

After you are satisfied with the disk modifications, you commit to the changes by a check box labeled “Apply All Operations”.

Gparted also removes all ambiguity in what is supported with each file system. There is a great report you can review under View > File System Support.

Gparted-02-File System Support

Final Thoughts

Managing USB or Removable media isn’t exactly the most straight forward if you are new to Linux. This might not be true for all distributions or desktop interfaces but my experience on KDE Plasma over many years has been as such. Maybe it shouldn’t be a straight forward process as a user should know what they are doing before they start making any changes to any pieces of hardware and maybe it is also a non-issue as most removable media is already formatted and ready to go.

If you have any other thoughts on interacting with removable media. Please share, I am interested in knowing if there are other or better options out there.

Further Reading

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

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

Advertisements

CrossOver Linux Use and Review on openSUSE

CrossOver Logo

CrossOver Linux recently released version 18.0.0 (2018) which was another fine release with no regressions. I have been using CrossOver Linux (at the time CrossOver Office) since 2005. At the time, I imagined that within a few years would Linux be as ubiquitous on the desktop as Windows or Mac. After all, I bought a boxed copy of Mandrake Linux in the store which sat right next to SUSE Linux. There seemed to be a lot of momentum behind it. Now, in 2018, Linux has seemingly infiltrated every other use case, servers, phones, Internet of Things but doesn’t seem to be have as much traction on the Desktop.

This may come as a surprise but there are still 3rd party applications of which I require that I cannot run in Linux. Although, I think there are fewer now than there used to be, I still find I need a Windows compatibility layer. I can do much of in with Wine, but CodeWeavers makes it so much easier to manage.

Installation

There isn’t a repository that you can add (as far as I know), so you will have to download the RPM directly from CodeWeavers. That can be done here:

https://www.codeweavers.com/products/crossover-linux/download

I like to neatly tuck them into an rpms subfolder in my Downloads directory.

sudo zypper install ~/Downloads/rpms/crossover-18.0.0-1.rpm

Your version may vary, of course as updates and improvements are ongoing.

The fantastic feature of Crossover is that every application can be installed in it’s own bottle, the first exposure to “containers” I have ever had on Linux or any system for that matter. It is a great way to test applications without the risk of interfering with other installed applications.

CrossOver Linux-01-Main Window.png

The process to Install Windows Software is easy, intuitive and requires little explanation. If the application is supported by CodeWeavers or a Advocate, it is no more difficult than searching for the application. Selecting the name of it and Continue.

CrossOver Linux-02-StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy

If the application is not supported by CodeWeavers or an Advocate, it’s still not difficult to install; as long as you have a decent knowledge of your Windows application. Keep in mind, it may or may not work at that point.

CrossOver Linux Usage

I use CrossOver almost daily, which is in contrast to using it daily some few years ago. I tend to use LibreOffice more now than Microsoft Office but I also don’t really use office products as much as it once had. The application I use most is Rosetta Stone. I have been using it on and off for several years, now I am using it to help with home educating my kids. It’s easy for any of us to use and somehow enjoyable enough to keep us consistently using it.

I tend to use Microsoft Office, mostly for Excel. As much as I like the LibreOffice Equivalent, there are just some usability features that I appreciate more in the proprietary product. I also keep it around for when I am forced to use SharePoint. As far as versions go, I much prefer Microsoft Office 2007 over 2013. The look and interface changes on 2013 feels counterintuitive, specifically when dealing with files. I’m sure it makes perfect sense for someone but just not for me.

Screenshot_20181109_081742

Games

The games I have played using CrossOver Linux, at least semi-frequently has been Descent 3 and Warcraft II Tides of Darkness. Warcraft II takes some tweaking to use as it requires the CD-ROM or at least a mounted ISO for it to load as a form of copy protection but works quite nicely. The game that I am probably most excited about is Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy-01

It runs so incredibly smooth; far better than how I remember it running on that Pentium in the late 90s. And no… I don’t play it in windowed mode pictured above. When playing it again for the first time, it brought a smile to my face when the cut scenes played and provided a kind of choose-your-own-adventure element. Since it has been so long since I have played this, plus other things, it is almost like I am playing it again for the first time!

The next game I am excited to be able to play is Freespace 2. I didn’t purchase it when it came out in 1999 as I kind of fell off the video game train at that time. I did enjoy the previous incarnation, Descent: Freespace. They mostly got me because of “Descent” in the title. Well played, Interplay, well played.

CrossOver Linux-03-Freespace2

I only just started playing this game and I already feel like I am all thumbs trying to remember all the keyboard commands. Regardless, it is as much fun as I remember the first being and I look forward to the time I will be able to unwind playing this.

Overall Reliability

Since the beginning of my time using CrossOver Linux, it has been a fantastic tool for giving me the freedom to run the applications I want on the operating system I want. It hasn’t been without its bumps but the tools they provide help very much to dig in and find out what is missing to get applications working. The supported applications seem to work as well or better than described. Interestingly, when Office 2007 was the current office suite offering from Microsoft. I found that ran better through CrossOver on Linux than it did naively in Windows. Granted, I was and still am a bit biased.

These days, it seems like most of the bumps have been ironed out for many of the applications. At least, the applications I want to run. The only application that seems to provide some difficulty is Microsoft Office 2013, the last version I purchased or ever plan to purchase. It seems to either be a little slow at times or the updater gets stuck. Since I don’t like how it looks or works, I tend to just use the 2007 version instead.

The only application just out of reach each year, forcing me to fire up a VM, is TurboTax. I try it again come tax season. It didn’t work last year or the year before… close but not quite. Maybe this year will be different.

My Involvement in the Project

In 2010 or so, my need for Windows applications increased for job reasons. Initially, I was back and forth between Wine and CrossOver Linux as my solution. It quickly became imperative, for the sake of my productivity that I needed to get and keep specific Windows applications running with high reliability. I became more and more familiar with how CrossOver handled Windows Libraries so I started to learn what was needed and kept notes on the additional software requirements needed by some applications. By 2013, I was all in, now learning how to make CrossTies for applications that were important to me and submitting them for the benefit of other users, rating applications and starting to do Beta reports on newer versions. I learned how to do Beta testing, rate applications and so forth. It is just good fun, really.

What is fun, is that you do enough for them and they give you things and make a big deal out of it.

Final Thoughts

CrossOver Linux is a tool I use regularly. I don’t use it as much as I once did so the original goal set out by the company to be a stopgap has been incredibly successful, from my point of view. I don’t see me stopping my usage of CrossOver anytime soon. If nothing else, for the gaming. It just works better than standard Wine. I am glad I have invested into this company and I am glad they continue to contribute towards Linux and the open source.

If you have any interest in this, I do highly recommend you check it out. CodeWeavers does a fantastic job and has great customer support. It is a finely polished product that makes easy work out of installing Windows applications in Linux (as well as Mac and ChromeOS). It’s certainly worth kicking the tires with a free 14 day trial. At the very worst, you won’t use it but are likely have a good experience in trying it.

External References

CodeWeaver’s Blog Version 18 Release

CodeWeavers.com Compatibility Rosetta Stone 2

CrossOver Linux Download

GoG.com Freespace 2

GoG.com Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

LeoCAD | Free LEGO® CAD Software on openSUSE Linux

LeoCAD-00-Title.png

CAD is not only what I do for my profession, I also do it for fun. For personal projects, I have been having a great time with using FreeCAD, a very capable and feature-full parametric modeler. With a recent resurgence of Legos in my house and falling into some web-searching rabbit holes, I stumbled upon this Lego CAD software called LeoCAD. I am currently using the AppImage on openSUSE that works fantastically well. I’m sure it will work on any modern Linux Distribution. It is also available for those “other” platforms. It can be downloaded from here:

https://www.leocad.org/download.html

The nice thing about AppImages is that there is nothing to do to install it. I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run LeoCAD.

LeoCAD-01-Permissions.png

Um… Why?

Beyond the cool factor of creating Legos in virtual space or loading up those childhood models and modifying them in ways that you didn’t have the parts for as a child, there are lessons you can teach kids with this software.

LeoCAD-02-Invader.png

LeoCAD is not only an extremely enjoyable toy but it is a great tool for teaching my kids the principles of Assembly, Sub-Assembly and Master Assemblies and the some understandings of spacial relations. At the very basic level, using LeoCAD to create, you are putting pieces together to create a very basic “assembly” or model.

LeoCAD-03-Invader Cockpit Partial.png

To put together a model you create it, much like in real life, piece by piece. There is an extensive library of parts from which to choose. You can search through by category or use the part numbers to more rapidly locate what it is that you need. Those parts can be colored from what you see in the pallet which are, from my understanding, actual Lego colors. Here is a fun fact. On Legos that are made in the 1990s-ish or newer, will have a part number molded into each part on a “non visual” surface. If your eyes are older… you might need a magnifying glass.

Another very cool feature of LeoCAD is the ability to order steps on a model. If you have a desire to create your very own instruction booklet, that can be done with LeoCAD.

LeoCAD-04-Invader Cockpit.png

Once you have created a Sub-Assembly, or as LeoCAD calls them, “Submodel” you can bring each Assembly / model in together in a “Master Assembly”.

LeoCAD-05-Invader Ship.png

Any assemblies or Submodels can be treated like any other Lego part. Objects are objects whether they are individual pieces or Submodels.

For whatever Submodel Tab you have selected, you can view the parts used by selecting: Submodel > Properties… then select the “Parts Used” tab. This gives you a complete list of all the individual pieces you have used in your model. If you so choose, you can take this list and purchase the necessary pieces to build your creation.

LeoCAD-07-Parts List.png

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to export this list into a spreadsheet, so that does complicate matters somewhat.

If you want to download some Lego Sets to spin around LeoCAD, check out the Ldraw site. You will need to know the set number to look up to get the CAD files. If you would like to look at this the previously pictured Blacktron Invader, from 1987, see here.

Lego Project

After some playing with LeoCAD, my boy and I began talking about what we should build. We are both fans of Star Wars and he liked all these old 1980s themed Lego space sets so we decided to put two of them together and made a “Blacktron AT-ST”. It was a good way to go head-first in really learning and understanding this software and it’s quirks.

LeoCAD-10-Blackktron AT-ST.png

Just building the model in LeoCAD took about a week of work. That was a few hours here and there. Much of the time spent was learning how to effectively navigate the software and fine the proper parts in the library. The actual assembly process of the pieces is pretty intuitive. You do have to play with the snap points when doing less common assembly angles but it is in no way difficult. This was probably a bit too ambitious for a first project but it was completed. There are a total of 428 parts divided into 24 submodels one of which is the Master Assembly (submodel) that all the individual models assemble into.

We took the parts list and went through the Legos we had to determine what was on hand, then we put the rest into a “wishlist” on Bricklink.com where we were then able to order the parts necessary to build it. My boy used this an entry for a craft project for the local county fair. It was fun for the both of us. Maybe me more so than him but this application along with the resources through the Internet is essentially a childhood fantasy come reality.

Blacktron AT-ST-01
Blacktron AT-ST

I want to note that this is not in any way an original design. This is heavily based on an actual licensed model and essentially recolored to look like it could fit with the rest of the Blacktron theme. Now, it is just another Lego model toy on our Lego table.

What I like

Assembling Legos in the virtual space, although not as satisfying as the snap of the genuine article, is fun and can really allow you to flesh out some ideas somewhat rapidly. The benefit is, you can take that virtual model and turn it into a real model.

Another thing I like to do with LeoCAD is documenting changes I make to a design. If I come up with an idea, I like it, I can make it in the LeoCAD and date stamp it. This way, I have the freedom to make the changes to the real model and I have a point I can go back to as a reference.

LeoCAD is very fast and snappy using only the Intel GPU. I have run it on my AMD GPU as well as and I am sure it is performing better but not so much that I can tell the difference.

LeoCAD-11-ColorsIt is easy to change the colors of parts of the Legos and if you are doing a virtual prototype, it is much easier to swap out the colors of parts on LeoCAD than it it is with Actual Legos.

There are all kinds of 3D models to download, look at and modify to your hearts content from Ldraw.org. If you need to look up set numbers, use this resource: brickset.com.

What I don’t Like

There isn’t much to not like about this software. There are only two issues that I have with it. There is no way to export the Bill of Material / Parts list to any kind of file. Even a way to export to CSV would be fantastic. As it stands today, you can copy only one cell at a time. Hopefully there will be an export feature in the future.

There is no collision detection between parts and pieces. So, it is possible to bury parts within parts. Some kind of “align” and “orient” option would be great too when assembling components.

Lastly, and really, least important, the UI is too light. I would prefer a dark theme. Not a big deal but it would be nice.

Final Thoughts

LeoCAD is not only a great tool for teaching the concepts of Computer Aided Design but it is an incredibly fun toy with which to play. I didn’t realize what kind of fun-spiral I could fall into. LeoCAD is an incredibly useful tool to teach CAD and many CAD concepts.

If you have a passing interest in Legos or CAD or both, this is worth checking out. Opening up Lego models from your childhood, spinning them around and modifying them like you would have done so many years ago is a great way to spend a weekend where the weather isn’t cooperative. Being able to create, modify and document your ideas is fantastic but the best part about LeoCAD is, at no time will playing with these Legos pose any risk to your feet.

Further Reading

LeoCAD Site

LDraw.org, open standard for LEGO® CAD programs

LeoCAD on GitHub

BrickLink.com Lego® Marketplace

Brickset.com, Lego® Set Guide

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

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

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

Installation

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

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

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

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

Franz AppImage Download

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

Setup

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

Franz-01-Start Screen

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

Franz-02-Create Account.png

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

Memory Usage

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

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

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

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

Application Usage Experience

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

~/.config/Franz/

Franz-06-Operation.png

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

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

Franz-07-Reload Menu sm

What I don’t like

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

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

What I Wish It Would Do

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Related Links

Franz Main Site

Ubuntu Pit article on Franz

Franz from openSUSE Software

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE — Fall Time Blathering

HP_TouchPad_Title-2.png

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

Plasma Mobile Experience

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

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

The HP Touchpad

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

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

How Useful Could It Be?

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

HP Touchpad with Plasma Mobile and openSUSE

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

Now What?

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

Further Reading

Halium for HP Touchpad Project on GitHub

HP Touchpad Specifications

Open Build Service

Halium Project

open QA

openSUSE Tumbleweed Home

HP Touchpad in 2018

Plasma Mobile installation on Nexus 5X

KDE Kontact Personal Information Manager

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

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

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

Installation

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

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

sudo zypper install falkon

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

What It Does Well

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

Falkon Browser-01-Start Page

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

Falkon Browser-04-openSUSE

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

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 11.png

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

Falkon Browser-02-Preferences 2.png

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

Falkon Browser-06-Library

What It Doesn’t Do Well

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Use It

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

Falkon Browser-07-Gsuite.png

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

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

What I Wish It Would Do

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

References

Download Falkon Browser

Falkon Browser Project Page on GitHub

Plasma Browser Integration

W3M Browser

More about the QtWebEngine

Falkon from openSUSE Repositories

Smart Card Security Device Integration Instructions

FreeCAD 0.18 Pre Release

FreeCAD-Pre.18-09-Title Mod.png

In my continued excitement to use FreeCAD at home, I downloaded the latest Pre Release of FreeCAD to test it out. For starters, I like the new look of the start page. It has a nice clean and even more welcoming feel to it. It shows little previews of recent CAD documents too which is a fantastic touch.

I had some real work to do with it in modifying a design and it worked very nicely. It is extremely easy to update a design with FreeCAD. I have a few criticisms but they might be based on what I am used to using as opposed to a problem with FreeCAD. What is important is that I was able to update the design and print the parts and put them to work.

Downloading and Running

To download the pre-release, visit their GitHub page, at the time of writing it was, FreeCAD_0.18.14796.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage.

I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run FreeCAD.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-02-Executable

No special work is needed to run this AppImage, no installation or anything of that nature. It’s kind of nice but it also has its drawbacks. I generally prefer the openSUSE software management system to automatically take care of my software but I’ll make an exception in this case.

First Run

The new Start Page looks great. I really appreciate the tabs and how they have separated out the information into sections. The first tab shows you your recent documents and some example parts.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-05-Start Page.png

The Help Section is more than just a help getting started but gives you a great snapshot about your current FreeCAD Setup: General documentation, Workbench documentation, getting help from the community and available addons for FreeCAD.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-07-Help.png

You can click on the different available addons and read more about them and install them. It will even indicate what addons are installed from this screen.

The third tab shows the “Activity” of this FreeCAD project. I appreciate how much work is going into FreeCAD, to make it a better product.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-06-Activity.png

Modifying an Existing Part

I have a Home Education Command Center where I created some parts to hold the Geography Maps in place. After some time of using my first revision of parts, it became apparent that they were not meeting expectations. I took the previously design parts, modified the necessary dimensions based on the usability failures I experienced with the first design

FreeCAD-Pre.18-03-Reworking part

I had to not only make the whole part taller and wider with more overlap for the holder to map interface. When increasing the size of the base part, the child features adjusted as expected which is a great sign for the quality of the parametric modeling “intelligence” of this software. I have only one criticism with the sketch mode. I often have to redo lines because I am unable to make coincident constraints stick to where I want them to stick. It’s not bad but just mildly irritating at times.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-04-Reworking part.png

The resulting update was complete in short time and I was happy with how it looked. The rounds and chamfers calculated to look exactly as I expected.

Exporting for Printing

Since the whole purpose of creating this part was to print it and a mirrored version of it off, I needed to export the model as an STL.

As a note, when exporting the part to STL, you must select the last feature on the model tree then go to File > Export…

There is a drop down where STL file type is an option.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-01-Exporting

If you do not select the last feature, it will export up to the feature you select in the tree when it makes the calculations.

Assembly Module

I thought I’d give the Assembly module another shot as I was not able to get it to work under the official release. This time, the module loaded in without any issues. I became very excited at this point. Here is what I did to install it, instructions adapted from the Assembly2 Module GitHub page:

On other Linux distros you may try to install manually via Bash and git but I use openSUSE Tumbleweed as my daily driver and this is how I installed it:

In order for the Assembly Module to work, there are some more python software packages that are required. To install them, oen up a terminal and enter:

sudo zypper install git python-pyside python2-numpy

Next was to install the Assembly Module from GitHub. This is installed within the User home directory.

First will be to create the necessary directory for the modules. If the directory doesn’t already exist.

mkdir ~/.FreeCAD/Mod

Change to that directory

cd ~/.FreeCAD/Mod

Then perform the cloning operation from GitHub

git clone https://github.com/hamish2014/FreeCAD_assembly2.git

That’s all there is to it. Run FreeCAD and you should see the assembly module.

You may want to periodically update the Assembly Module. Since you have already performed the cloning, you will need to pull for updates to get the latest version:

cd ~/.FreeCAD/Mod/FreeCAD_assembly2
git pull
rm *.pyc

It’ll give you a nice little output of the updates and your done.

I will cover the Assembly Module at a later date as I need to learn how to use it properly. I am still working on an assembly and will subsequently work on the assembly drawings for another project.

What I like

There are MANY things that I like but most notably as a comparison of Official v.17 to Pre-.18 are the incremental improvements happening within FreeCAD. Even though this is a Pre-Release, there are already many improvements over the official .17 release. Most notably, the start page and the reintroduction of the Navigation Cube.

FreeCAD-Pre.18-08-Navigation CubeThe navigation Cube is a fantastic way to see what your orientation is around the part. I know that there are other CAD packages that use a similar tool but my regular proprietary package I use professionally does NOT have this feature.

The part design module seems to have become more intuitive and it’s ability to automatically adjust dependent features seems to have improved dramatically.

What I wish it would do

Thankfully, FreeCAD is under active development so it is only a matter of time that these little paper-cut issues will all be resolved. One issue I have, from a usability standpoint, the select to recompute function doesn’t always recompute recursively through the tree. I might also suggest that selecting the base node to have it all recomputed or have the recompute option default to top level if nothing specific is selected.

Some of the geometric constraints don’t seem to work as expected so I do have to delete and redraw some of the lines in order to complete the sketch. When doing this, it often makes child features, like fillets and rounds fail and it can be a challenge to figure out which one has failed.

Final Thoughts

As I continue to use FreeCAD, I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the project. They are really doing a fantastic job of making a professional level parametric modeler, among other CAD functions, that can really enable the regular folk to do some real CAD work. I will continue to follow this project and use it whenever possible to perform the various problem solving activities I do. I can only hope that there will be continued momentum behind this such as other large open source projects.

Links

FreeCAD Project Home

FreeCAD Pre Release .18 Download

FreeCAD Assembly Module GitHub Page

openSUSE Tumbleweed

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

My favorite system information tool is the KDE Plasma Information Center or kinfocenter. It tells me all the fun little bits about the computer. My second favorite tool is called neofetch. Neofetch is a command-line system information tool that displays an aesthetically pleasing output of information about your operating system, software and hardware. It shows the basic information about a system in Bash.

For information on the project, visit their GitHub Page.

Installation

Tumbleweed

This is available in the main openSUSE repository for Tumbleweed so installation is easy:

sudo zypper in neofetch

Leap 15 Install

sudo zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/utilities/openSUSE_Leap_15.0/ Utilities

sudo zypper in neofetch

It takes very little time to install with three other dependencies required.

The application is pretty straight forward, just run it:

neofetch

It’ll give you your system information.

neofetch-01.png

The information, by default, is displays alongside the operating system’s logo in ASCII art. It can be configured differently, if you wish. I don’t know exactly how neofetch is fetching the this information but it is pretty cool display of information in the terminal. I particularly appreciate the ASCII Tumbleweed symbol.

It was a welcome surprise to see how many packages, rpm and snap, are installed in the system as well as the uptime. These are fun numbers and it would be fun to dig into the source code on this application.

There are some additional options you can play with, take a look at the man page:

man neofetch

Final Thoughts

That’s it, just a quick, fun system info tool to use in the terminal. It is practical and easy to use. If you are managing multiple machines and want to get a quick account of information remotely in the terminal, this would be a good choice. How often will you use it? Not sure, but it is still nice to have.

Resources

Neofetch on GitHub

More Fun Terminal Applications

Windows 7 Registry Cleanup

ICanFixIt

I don’t often do any tech support on Windows computers. In fact, I do my best to avoid it as much as possible but there are these seemingly unavoidable moments when I have to work on a Windows machine. In many ways, I think it’s good for me as it keeps me appreciative of the Linux technology of which I have become accustomed. It also helps me realize that those little nitnoid annoyances in Linux are nowhere near the annoyances of using Windows.

In my opinion, since its inception, the registry on a Windows computer has seemingly been the Achilles Heel or weak point, often prone to corruption. Since my days on Windows 98, I would have issues with the registry and I became a pro with using Norton tools to maintain my Windows system. It would also get me increasingly annoyed with the system which eventually brought me to using Linux.

Back to my Windows problem… When trying to install some software for testing on a particular Windows machine, it would just refuse to install. Not only would it refuse to install but it would also delete the installer file, so I wasn’t able to try it again until I transferred this rather large file back to the computer. I found this very bizarre. The “expert” I consulted was no help, there was no error report, at least, nothing that would be helpful. I could not find a way to get some sort of verbose output on the failed installation. My lack of expert help and impatience to do research coupled with my “fond memories” about my past experiences with Norton lead me to first try a registry cleanup.

Boy-howdy is there a lot of shady looking “fix-your-computer” free software out there. It seems like you are out swinging in the breeze, navigating through a sea of unknown to find something good and not make things worse from the myriad of utterly dangerous-to-install software. After some searching, I found a piece of software that didn’t look shady but rather really quite legit, called CCleaner

https://www.ccleaner.com/

ccleaner-logo.pngIt was like a bastion of hope in a sea of dodgy, advertisement-riddled promises of making your computer 500% faster. CCleaner was very clear about what it did and how they made money. I didn’t need their premium product, just something to patch this system well enough to conduct the software tests.

Not a very big download, thankfully, and it installed without any issue and no enticement for anything other than its own offerings. Upon launching CCleaner, the controls are very straight forward, I just had to “Scan for Issues” than “Fix selected Issues…” It even gave me the option to save a backup registry, in case the whole thing blew up, but the reality was, this was my last ditch effort before wiping the whole system.

CCleaner-00-Registry

The cleaning process was MUCH quicker than I expected and once it was done, I thought I would give the machine a quick reboot, of which was successful. I once again transferred this software that I still needed to test and tried the installation once again.

Success!

I was able to test the software, take my notes and make the recommendations. Unfortunately, not long after the test, the Windows machine started acting up again and I had to wipe it and have Windows reinstalled anyway but CCleaner gave me the few extra days necessary to complete this necessary task.

Final Thoughts

Wow, am I glad I don’t pay for Windows! I am truly amazed people are okay with using it. I guess if you are okay with shelling out cash for software to maintain the machine or “experts” to administer it, it is fine but that is not acceptable arrangement for me. This experience reinforces why I really believe in owning your technology and your technology not keeping secrets and telling you what it is doing. This further bolsters my reasons for using Linux. I appreciate how it tells you what it is doing and makes it easy to get into the nuts and bolts of it when necessary.

After this experience, I am even more grateful for openSUSE Linux. If I could only install openSUSE on that rather beefy hardware… one can dream.

Resources

ccleaner.com

openSUSE.org

A Very Basic Reference for Zypper on openSUSE

terminal-iconZypper is a great package manager tool and easy to use. Although I don’t have as much need for my notes as I once did, I like to keep them as a reference for me and a place to point to others. I find as I became more and more used to using it in the terminal it becomes second nature but you have to start somewhere. The manual,

man zypper

is a great, well written and complete reference but can be a bit overwhelming for someone brand new to openSUSE. The openSUSE wiki is also a great reference but it is geared more toward those with more experience, as it should be. This is just a very basic reference written to my inner 8th grader or for those that want to dabble or give package management in the terminal a try. After all, the terminal is not something to be afraid of, it is something to embrace and use as often as possible.

Zypper | Basic Reference

…because the terminal is a great place to live.