0install feeds in transition

A heads-up to those who have been using the 0install application feeds I used to maintain for the OSR group at mojo.informatik.uni-erlangen.de: as I’m no longer employed there, the service has been disabled.

I’ve transitioned the feeds to http://hircus.multics.org/interfaces; the Git repository is now on Github. Currently only Skype (and its dependencies) and Eclipse JEE (and its Java dependency) have been switched over; the other feeds are still set to the previous hosting site. Please file bugs if you need need a particular application feed fixed, find a problem, or file an enhancement request if you’d like to see an app packaged!
Oh, and for those who saw the lightning talk at FUDCon:
$ su -c "yum install 0install-injector" $ 0desktop http://rox.sourceforge.net/2005/interfaces/ROX-Filer # to get the ROX-Filer file manager added to your desktop # or $ 0alias rox http://rox.sourceforge.net/2005/interfaces/ROX-Filer # to get a command-line launcher in your path 

A guide to Thunderbird for Gmail users

James Fallows of The Atlantic — a highly-recommended journalist and blogger, for those who have not come across his writing yet — recently re-expressed his dissatisfaction with Gmail’s new UI; and mulled switching to Thunderbird but worried about memory usage.


From Screenshots

As someone who did the same transition a while back, I remember going through that issue and then some. Memory usage, lack of integration with Google Contacts (exacerbated with the seamless contact sync of Android phones), a UI that makes it hard to manage multiple email accounts, and vertical space being taken up by the menu bar.

Thankfully, Thunderbird being extensible, there are setting tweaks and extensions for all of these; as James found them useful, I thought I’d re-share them here:
  • Memory usage – a well-documented problem; the solution is to not synchronize your All Mail folder.
  • Using Gmail folders – While you’re at it, Thunderbird’s auto-configuration for Gmail accounts does not use the special folders by default; you’d want to set them in Copies & Folders and Junk Settings. You’d probably also want to visit Server Settings and disable “Check for new messages” (so TB would use Push-IMAP instead of polling) and set the deletion behavior to “mark it as deleted” instead of moving it to Trash – remember that Google would archive your mail instead of deleting it. Optionally disable Message Archives in Copies & Folders – just use the web interface to find old messages
  • Drafts folder – an advantage of using Gmail’s drafts folder, instead of the local one, is that you can access drafts from other computers. A drawback, though, is that TB auto-saves regularly as you edit your message, and if you use an IMAP folder, it discards old drafts by moving them to trash. The Auto Save Drafts Folders extension let you adjust this behavior (in Copies & Folders); just use the local drafts folder for auto-saved copies.
  • Handling multiple inboxes – View->Folders->Unified. This really ought to be the default…
  • Contact syncthere’s an extension for that. It’s flawless for reading your Google Contacts; I’d not use it to edit contacts though, just in case some information gets lost due to mismatches in available fields
  • Compact menu – Firefox’s main menu has recently been reworked, but Thunderbird’s has not; you can use this extension if, say, you use a widescreen laptop and want to recover vertical space real estate.

Hope that’s of some use to some folks!

FUDCon: Fedora and Brownian motion

A really cool benefit of being at FUDCon is that, with many people representing various interests being physically present in the same room, there is a lot of ad hoc productivity. Perhaps a Brownian motion model of development-at-conference, in addition to the cathedral and bazaar models?

Kushal Das recounted yesterday on the per-chance work on updating the packaging for lekhonee-gnome (which I’m using at the moment to write this post). Christoph Wickert‘s barcamp session yesterday (on collaboration with other projects) ended up spilling over and merging into the next session on live media, with some interesting ideas emerging about improving the installation experience.
Today I approached Joshua Wulf to troubleshoot a problem updating the crowd-sourced Fedora book, and ended up looking into fixing the Avant Window Manager (decided in the end that it’s probably not worth putting too much effort since upstream development has stalled, but discovered a cool alternative in Cairo Dock).
In a distributed project, there is often a communication lag — things happen quickly if you catch the relevant people on IRC, but communication on mailing lists and bug trackers is by nature slower. And there is that je ne sais quoi that is physical presence that is missing in the ethereal world of the Internet — you look at someone’s computer, see they’re running an older version of Fedora because a crucial piece of their desktop is no longer supported, and start looking into solution.
Things do flourish in a community — as Hillary Clinton said, it does indeed take a village.

Org-mode syntax highlighting for GtkSourceView

If you’re an old-school Emacs user, and you are into GTD organizers, outliners, or would like a less messy way of generating LaTeX documents (from papers to presentations), you’re probably already familiar with Org-mode.

Org-mode is really quite tightly integrated with Emacs — so under normal circumstances there’s no reason to support it elsewhere. But at work we’ve recently had to collaboratively edit Org documents, and alas, Emacs’ Rudel no longer work reliably on newer Linux releases. We’re forced to use Gobby, which is a fine collaborative editor but is simply not Emacs. What is one to do?

I’ve thus started a GitHub project to create a language definition file for GtkSourceView (and, by extension, any editors on the GNOME desktop, including gedit and Gobby. Do check it out here — I’m adding support for language elements as I need them, and my schedule is rather busy these days, but feel free to file requests and/or enhancement patches (but if you do the latter, please include a statement licensing your contribution under the same MIT license you can see in the header of org.lang

More cnucnu release monitoring goodness

I just spent a few minutes clearing up Fedora’s Upstream Release Monitoring todo list — more packages will now get bugs filed against them on Bugzilla when a new version comes out, including gnucash, links (3 minor versions behind) and, surprisingly, Xaw3d, which has been resurrected on freedesktop.org after years of inactivity — we’re still packaging the old unmaintained version.

Note to self — figure out how to integrate the Python tool used by URM, cnunu, to keep track of non-Fedora software. My 0install feeds could use some release monitoring love…

If you have a laptop with Intel graphics and broken backlight control…

e.g. a Sony Vaio Y-series, where upon seeing the debugging data kernel developer Matthew Garrett (mjg) pronounced it “what an awful implementation — utterly broken”, there is hope yet.

Matthew has been working on native backlight control for a while, and for Intel hardware, there’s currently only one patch left to merge onto Linus’ kernel tree; it applies cleanly onto the most recent kernel release candidate (3.0-rc7).

Unfortunately, by default the ACPI subsystem will still be used if available, which is the sensible default. You do want to use the predefined backlight values whenever possible, not the raw values the graphics card let you set.

Ubuntu users have been resorting to Kamal Mostafa’s linux-kamal-mjgbacklight repository, which enables native backlight control, disable the ACPI video driver, and provide a patched GNOME Power Manager that can interface with the native backlight control.

The workaround I came up with is more lightweight — it just uses inotify-tools to monitor the brightness file, and apply an appropriate equivalent value to the native backlight control. Feel free to use this if you’re affected by a similar problem.

Try Thunderbird 5.0 now — without hassle

There are cases when getting a specific software from one’s Linux distribution is not the optimal solution — and I’m saying this as a package maintainer myself. The main ones are:

  • the distribution package might be out of date
  • legal reasons prohibiting the software from being packaged (e.g. Skype, Flash, Adobe Reader)

Note that the first point is not exactly a criticism — after all, distributors tend to be wary of introducing breaking changes in a stable release. For software in the second category, upstream often provides binary packages, but again, using a tarball requires users to deal with dependency resolution themselves, and even when Debian or RPM packages are provided, the packaging is often sub-par (upstream developers can’t be expected to be well-versed in the subtleties of each distribution’s packaging).

Enter 0install. Now installing, e.g. Thunderbird 5.0, is a simple process:


yum install zeroinstall-injector
0alias thunderbird5 http://mojo.informatik.uni-erlangen.de/interfaces/2011/thunderbird.xml

or use “Add New Program” from the application menu and provide it with the URL for the Thunderbird feed. This currently lets you easily select between Thunderbird 5.0 beta 2 and 5.0 final (for both 32-bit and 64-bit builds) as well as the distribution’s packaging (on RPM-based and Debian-based distributions as well as Gentoo), and will pull in needed dependencies (please report any problem here).

You can browse http://mojo.informatik.uni-erlangen.de/interfaces/2010/ and http://mojo.informatik.uni-erlangen.de/interfaces/2011/ to see other available feeds that I maintain (and 0install’s site for even more). Of note: Eclipse JEE, Maven 2.2.1/3.0.3, Skype and Tomcat.