The laptop, Day 2: More Win [Linux FTW]

Desktop-may30So lots more win since yesterday.

Pictured here, in a screen cap of my Desktop, you can see VirtualBox OSE, running a legit copy of Win XP. In the lower-left is a network share from my desktop computer across the room. In the upper-left is some icons for a game I installed last night using WINe.

The laptop has been named on the network — I admit that I was half-tempted to name it “OMG” after so many tweets reading “OMG THE LAPTOP”, but I decided on “Escherichia”, the genus of  “Escherichia Coli” (E. Coli), a neat bacteria we used in labs at school. (This may seem strange at first, but the workgroup is named “BACTERIA” and the desktop is named “Bacillus”, a different genus of Bacteria. Mel’s HP Mini is named Posey. Different naming convention. :) )

It’s been really good so far. Here’s today’s crop of Good & Bad:

The Bad

DVD Playing (D+)

So far, this is the only thing that hasn’t worked out so far. It’s questionable whether or not it will be resolved at all, from what I’ve been reading on the forums. Newer versions of Ubuntu have had slightly more success, but it’s kind of a tough feature to get working. The main reason is that the DVD decoding codecs necessary to do proper DVD playing are proprietary; you normally have to pay a licensing fee. In Windows, this fee is embedded into the cost of the software, but the issue remains unresolved in the Linux world.

Possible solutions include: upgrading to a newer version (8.10 or 9.04) in the future. I would  need to find out what hardware lacks support in future versions so that I can find workarounds. I could also just play DVDs in a virtualized XP. I could download a DVD-ripping application, rip them to mpeg or some other format that I can play, and watch them that way.

Honestly though, it’s not a HUGE deal — I don’t really use my computer for watching DVDs. Still, it is an unresolved issue.

Firefox Sluggish (n/r yet)

I just noticed this while writing this post. At the moment, I’m not doing much on the laptop: two tabs open, Rhythmbox playing music, and a terminal window open. Typing text happens as I would expect: quickly. But if I make a mistake, I have to wait a substantial delay when backspacing. It takes a second or two before it reacts, and when it does, it does it in bursts.

It might be related to the Firebug plugin — I know we had a problem similar to this on the Desktop a while back. It could just be the version of Firefox, or something else entirely. I don’t know. I can’t seem to find the “disable Firebug for  this page” button anywhere. I’m *pretty sure* this is a browser issue and not an OS issue, but we’ll see.

Poor Design in placement of A/C plug and DVD-ROM (B)

The plug inlet for the AC cord is about 2″ away from the DVD tray, and both are on the same side of the chassis (right side). If the AC is plugged in and you want to open the DVD tray, you have to rotate the AC plug so that it’s pointing upwards. Not a HUGE deal, but kind of a minor inconvenience. I don’t use disc media very often though, fortunately.

The Good

Connecting to my Windows Shares (A-)

This was kind of a roundabout fix, but it wasn’t too tough. I had to reach out to Google, which is why it wasn’t an A+, but once I found the correct place to look, the rest of the solution was really easy.

To join a windows workgroup, and gain access to its shares, you need to set the “Domain” in “Manual Configuration” under network settings. Once you do that, a window pops up and tells  you to log out and login again — once you do that, it works! Just go to Places -> Network -> Windows Network, and that’s it!

Transferring data to and from the Windows shares was completely transparent after that. You can add shortcuts to certain shares, if wanted.

Setting Up WINe (A)

Once I loaded WINe through Add/Remove…, it’s actually fully-functional. You can run any windows program simply by typing “wine <program>.exe” from any terminal. If you want to install a game, just pop in the CD, and type “wine setup.exe” from the CD’s directory. Simple.

Getting Civilization IV to work, however, was a little more challenging because it requires Microsoft’s DirectX libraries.

Setting up DirectX for WINe (B-)

I could not have done this without the international community support system for open-source projects.

Specifically, this webpage: Setting Up DirectX 9.0c on Linux using WINe.

This site gives step-by-step instructions, with links, to everything you need to do to get DirectX working in WINe. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t have figured out some of the stuff on my own.

I credit this as a positive experience because it turned out successfully with the assistance of the global community; That’s part of the whole Linux experience; No computer is an island. The official Wine Website also has some great reviews and additional information about getting other games, applications, and more, working in WINe. (As well as telling you whether or not it will work at all).

The end result? I can play Civilization IV at full resolution (1650×1090), with sound, networking support, and full 3-d  graphics acceleration. It looks better emulated on this Linux Laptop than it does played natively on my Windows Desktop. WINe FTW!

Video Codecs (A)

Video codecs are necessary to play video files — they’re sort of the “language” of the different formats. You also need codecs to play mp3′s, wma’s, ogg’s, and other music formats. Fortunately, the linux community has developed some solutions for it. You have to step outside the default repositories, to do it.

Enter Medibuntu.org.

On that site, you’ll find a bunch of quick how-to’s for adding additional repositories with some goodies that are not canonical. Including the codecs mentioned above, and some other codecs necessary for playing DVDs (libDVDcss2, libDVDRead3, etc.). It’s a must-have.

On a side-note: Some solutions suggested switching from the gstreamer libraries to the xine libraries — I have played with doing that in the past and have had mixed results. For the time being, I’m sticking with gstreamer.

Customizing Buttons (A+)

This was a cool feature. You can bind any key or key-combination to different preset commands. Setting it up is easy: click on System->Preferences->Keyboard Shortcuts

For example, there are some specially marked keys for volume up, volume down, skip track, play/pause track, stop track, the “Windows logo” button, the “Windows menu” button, and others. I have my “Windows logo” button bound so it opens the Applications menu in the top left. I have the volume buttons bound to the volume control, and the song-track controls bound to Rhythmbox. I’m listening to a song by New Order right now, and if I hold “Fn” and press F12, it skips to the next shuffled song: “The Quickening”, by Bad Religion.

Some more obscure, but still useful functions: the ~ key opens a terminal window, the Windows Menu key opens the Tracker Search tool, Alt-Tab is bound to the “window picker” (it’s a feature I’ve typically seen on macs… you’d have to see it to understand), and Alt+= and Alt+- are bound to “zoom in / out”.

What’s Next

Under advice from a couple friends, I’m going to try and get the “Windows Guest Additions” extensions loaded for Vbox — apparently that will allow for greater transparency / integration with Vbox. Cool stuff.

Update: Had to upgrade to a newer version of VBox because the old one was no longer supported by Sun. The installation process was kind of a pain because the old version needed to be completely purged before the new one could be installed. Google helped, particularly this site. :)

I’m going to try and get a couple more games loaded (Elder Scrolls IV, some old games, and maybe Doom III. We’ll see what this laptop is capable of!). I’m also going to load the 32-bit Firefox and see if I can get Flash player working for it.