Archive | April, 2008

Make your Internet surfing less annoying with Privoxy

Everybody gets annoyed by different things when they surf the Internet. Some people can’t stand pop-up or -under ads, others want better privacy options, and still others want and easy way to manage cookies. Privoxy is a terrific Web proxy for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows that can manage all those tasks and more.

Often used in conjunction with anonymity network Tor, Privoxy’s default settings will block most ads and other noxious content. Additional actions that can be defined by the user include GIF de-animation, image tag reordering, ad filter by size, and ad filter by link. Since visiting some Web sites can be difficult or impossible with Privoxy running, there’s a handy on/off toggle bookmarklet that lets you control the app right from your browser.

Shashank Sharma included Privoxy in a recent article about Web content filtering tools at our sister site, Linux.com. He writes, “Privoxy is a standalone application full of impressive features. It’s a breeze to install. Its default settings are ideal for most users…Privoxy, with its ease of use and impressive features, should suffice for any home user on most networks.”

When you’re ready to give Privoxy a try, be sure to also check out the popular add-on file from neilvandyke.org. It includes roughly 8,000 rules that improve block Web objects like spyware, tracking scripts, and sites that are advertised in spam.

Tools for your ultra-portable laptop

Our sister site, Linux.com, ran a great article this week about putting Puppeee Linux on an Eee PC. Author Dmitry Popov says that the lean, mean distro that’s based on Puppy Linux “provides an excellent combination of Puppy Linux’s nifty features and solid support for Eee PC hardware.” The article made me wonder what neat projects are being hosted at SourceForge that are aimed at ultra-portable computers. As it turns out, there’s quite a few.

Developers of Ubuntu Eee are working on making Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) run on the Eee. In addition to optimizing it for the ultra-portable PC, they also plan to ensure it looks good on the 800×460 screen that’s only 7″wide.

Other Eee PC projects in the works include jEeeConfig, a tool to configure the easy mode menu on any Eee PC, and Eee Applet for monitoring ACPI info. There’s even an ASUS-supported Eee community where users and developers gather to share ideas and work together to develop new apps for the Eee PC series.

The OLPC XO laptop has a lot of projects in the works. There are several games available, including XO-Falldown, XO Quiz, and FiftyTwo, which features a whole set of card games. Interested in developing your own games for OLPC? Give Boardwalk or Treenix a try.

If the XO’s native version of Linux doesn’t suit you, try SlackwareOLPC instead. Use Tablet Redux Software to turn your XO laptop into media player and PDA or tote your eBooks around with lapWiki.

I didn’t come across any projects geared toward the Classmate PC but if I missed them, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Ultra-portable laptops are the newest rage — and with good reason. They’re affordable, easy to use, practical, and run Linux without breaking a sweat. It’s great to see so many projects underway to enhance their usefulness even more!

Bacula project manager

Bacula is a popular cross-platform network backup tool that stores data on your choice of media — tape, CD/DVD, online disk, or USB device. Project Manager Kern Sibbald began developing Bacula more than eight years ago, although he didn’t consider it ready for public use until April, 2002. He says that although adoption of the tool has been slower than he initially expected, it actually worked out for the best in the end.

“I expected Bacula to be adopted by more people and quicker than it was initially,” says Sibbald. “I imagine that was because of the fact that it was new software with an unproven track record. The slower than expected start was actually a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me several years of working closely with users and their problems, thus permitting me to quickly recognize deficiencies and implement or redesign the most critical features.”

Interest in Bacula has grown steadily over the years, something Sibbald says can be attributed to several things. “First it is open source, while most network backup solutions are proprietary. Although there are a number of things that set Bacula apart from all other backup solutions, one that particularly strikes me is that it is the first and only backup solution to use an SQL server for its database (Tivoli does allow certain SQL queries of their database, but to the best of my knowledge it is not a full SQL server).

“In the open source world, Bacula is one of the two ‘enterprise’-class projects: Bacula and Zmanda. Bacula is open source, Zmanda is based on the open source Amanda project, but most all of Zmanda’s additions appear to be proprietary. Bacula is based on modern technology (daemons, multi-threading, C++, …) and is quite scalable running on the PlayStation at the low end and big IBM mainframes at the high end.”

What’s next for the Bacula project? Sibbald plans to focus on features that will particularly appeal to enterprise, and to incorporate professional support services as well.

LCS: Do You Take The Kernel For Granted?

I have the pleasure of attending the Linux Foundation’s Collaboration Summit this week in Austin, TX. Immediately, the first session, “State of Linux Roundtable – Kernel Hackers”, was quite thought-provoking.

I use Linux every day of my life, through devices I carry around and a variety of services I use online. I talk daily with engineers who write software for it, and companies who make money by selling its associated services. I even have the penguin tattooed on my arm. My life is more intertwined with Linux and FOSS than most, but I’m not a kernel hacker…no matter how loosely you define it. I haven’t built a kernel since 2002.

Do I take the Linux kernel itself for granted? Yes. I don’t talk about it with colleagues, I don’t evangelize it amongst my peers, and I don’t think of ways I can contribute to its refinement. If the past two years of trade shows and conferences is any judge, though, I’m not alone.

Is this good? In some ways, it’s a sign of the increasing maturity of Linux distributions; after all, they exist so that people can use Linux without having to worry about its underlying complexity. I’m no longer concerned about the kernel, and that means that I’m happy with what the distributions provide. The success of the Linux kernel has made me think about it less. That’s good, right?

At the same time, though, it means I’m not contributing bug reports. I’m not trying new kernels on unusual hardware and providing feedback. I’m not helping to lobby hardware vendors to open their specs and stick to them. Without a community of users helping them in these three ways, they can’t build the kernel they want to build. In short: I’m not a part of the solution, I’m just using it.

What FOSS software are you taking for granted? Is it unavoidable that the more successful something becomes, the less willing people are to help?

(Incidentally, you can hear me talking a bit about this today at the summit here.)

Four projects for capturing Internet streams

A SourceForge community member asked a great question recently in our forums:

“I need to record video streams. I’ve looked at several projects here but they seem to be geared toward a PVR stand-in. I’m looking for a simple app [like] Audacity for video…..Vidacity??”

Other forum members had some terrific recommendations and I thought I’d poke around a little more to see what else I could come up with.

Virtual VCR lets you capture audio and video streams right to your hard drive in .avi format using a tv tuner and video capture cards with WDM drivers. Its developers recommend using an MJPEG codec to compress the video during capture for fast, high-quality downloads. Virtual VCR lets you change channels right from the keyboard, detect dropped frames, and even set up a timed capture so you can record things when you’re away from the computer.

MP4LIVE is an option for capturing video on a Linux box. It encodes audio and video in real-time then writes to .mp4, and can even transmit to a network simultaneously. The app has thorough documentation and its developers have taken the time to offer several tips and suggestions to make using MP4LIVE as easy as possible. They also note that thought the native mpeg-4 encoder no longer works and recommend ffmpeg or xvid instead.

CamStudio records your computer screen and audio activity, then converts it into a Streaming Flash video (SWF). This project is a bit of a “work in progress” but it has a storied history and is actually a derivative of a program that ended up in the hands of Macromedia.

While it won’t work for video capture, Streamripper is a great app for capturing MP3 or Vorbis Internet radio streams from Web sites like Shoutcast and LastFM. Available for Win32, OS X, and Unix.