Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Create Your Own GNOME Background Slideshow

One of the cool new features in the fresh GNOME 2.28 desktop environment is the ability to use a set of multiple images as your background, images that will transition between eachother at set timeframes. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there's not an easy, in plain view, way of creating your own sets, with your own pictures.



So, I tried to find out how they were created by going to their source directory, which is /usr/share/backgrounds. All the wallpapers were there, but the Cosmos set had a separate directory, as I was expecting. Inside are, obviously, all the pictures that will loop on your desktop once you activate the set, but the key piece of our little puzzle has to be the background-1.xml file. Before we begin editing it we need to operate as root within the folder. To do that, simply open a Terminal, type sudo nautilus, enter your password and a new folder window called root will pop up in a few moments.

Now click on "File System" on the left, navigate to the /usr/share/backgrounds directory and create a new folder. Don't forget to name it according to whatever theme your pictures might have, in my case, "jewel". Proceed inside the folder (sounds fancy, right? :D ) and leave the window open as it is.

The next step is to select the pictures that you want included in the set and copy them. You don't need to open another root nautilus, simply navigate to your pictures directory as you normally do, select the files and copy them. Go back to the administrator-ran "jewel" directory and paste those babies in there.

What's missing now is the xml file to tell GNOME how to handle the images. A bit of a disclaimer first: I know NOTHING about programming, advanced web design or any other thing that has to do with coding. With that out of the way, it's obvious that I stole the background-1.xml file from the "cosmos" folder that was already in there. Go up a level, copy it, go back to your folder, paste it, and rename it to, say... background-2! Thumbs up! :D

What you need to do next is open the file in your favorite text editor. I use gedit, so right click on the file, select "open with" and gedit. I didn't want to mess with the transition speed settings, so it's best to leave them untouched. What we need to change are only the paths to the images. There are two sections for each image: static and transition. In the first static section, replace the path right next to with the path to your first image. To easily copy a path, right click on an image, go to Properties and there it is, in the Location field. You will only need to replace the filename manually. In my case, I replaced this line: /usr/share/backgrounds/cosmos/cloud.jpg with this line: /usr/share/backgrounds/jewel/jewel-01.JPG. In the transition section, you can see that there are two paths, one that leads to the first image and the other that leads to the next image in the set. This part instructs GNOME to transition between the first and the second image in your set. The next section is again, a static one, in which you need to type the path to the second image. The following, "transition" section needs the paths to the second and third image. Hope you're still with me here! :) Now go on replacing the paths until you run out of images. Be careful though, the last section, before the line, has to be a transition between the last image in your set and the FIRST one, so it can loop. You can then remove the extra sections. Sections begin with either or and end with or .

Very important! Be very careful with lower, upper-case characters. Be sure to write the filenames exactly as they are in your folder. I was quite dazzled on why my xml won't work until I realized my images had a .JPG extenstion instead of .jpg. :)

Now save the XML file, right click on your desktop, go to "Change desktop background" and simply drag the XML file inside the Background window. You can also click the "Add" button, select "All files" right above the "Open" button and navigate to the XML file and open it.

A picture is worth 1000 words, right? Well, in this case, the following 15 FPS video is worth 3975000 words! So, instead of having a picture for every step described above, here's a video! I don't even know why I bothered to write the whole thing. Oh well... :) Enjoy!


So... that's pretty much it, folks! Have a great day and come back! I will try to post more than one article/light year from now on. :)

UPDATE 08.12.2009

Ah... the beauty of Linux... I was almost certain that there would be an easier way to flip through a bunch of wallpapers in GNOME. How right I was. The awesome Linux Journal's Shawn Powers posted a "Tech Tip of the Day" showing off a program called Drapes that does just that. So, without further ado, here's the video:








UPDATE 02.07.2010

Ah... the beauty of Linux... I really have to express that feeling of admiration yet again, as one of my readers have created THIS awesome piece of automaton. You just input the path to your pictures, a delay time and the script does its magic, creating a fully functional XML file which works just like the one you would modify by following my tutorial. Thank you very much, Mr. Mike. The Force of Open Source is definitely strong in you. :D


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quick Tip: Update Shortcuts in Ubuntu's Main Menu

Installing and running most applications in Ubuntu is a piece of cake, no doubt about it, but sometimes, some programs refuse to appear in the Applications menu without you having to restart the session (logging out and back in). Such is the case for Sun's awesome VirtualBox virtualization software. Today I will present you with a relatively quick way to make it appear in the menu without the session restart hassle. There are probably other (better) ways to do this, but it's what I use. Don't shoot me if it's not the best approach. :)

So, after you have installed VirtualBox, go to System --> Preferences --> Main Menu, make sure the "Applications" entry is expanded (click on the little arrow on its left if it's not), go to the "System Tools" menu and there you'll see VirtualBox with a checkmark next to it. Now simply uncheck it, wait a few seconds, and check it back again and voila, you now have the extra "System Tools" entry in the Main Menu, hosting Sun's VirtualBox.

As for some of you words are becoming obsolete, here's a video showing the above steps:




Thanks for tuning in, have a great day!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tasks and To-Dos with Glista 0.4

If the memory of humans could be measured in removable media and the best would be a BluRay disc, mine would be somewhere around a floppy. Needless to say, I use my phone's reminder function a lot, especially for important stuff with set deadlines. For other "things-to-do-sometime-in-the-future" I want to use a Task manager application that is as simple as possible. I don't want to set alarms, I don't want to receive an email three days before the cat's litter box is empty, I just want a window in which I can type stuff to do and then "check" them once they're done. As I wasn't really *craving* or in dire need of such software, I haven't actually dug up the web in search of one, so I simply stumbled upon Glista while browsing through the latest deb packages on getdeb.net.



I do hope you have a solid broadband Internet connection, as Glista comes in a whooping 37.8 (almost 38!!) KB .deb package for Ubuntu users. For Gentoo, you can get the ebuild package and, for any other distros, the 134 KB source package is available and ready to be compiled. The size of it alone was a strong indication that this was what I wanted.

Once installed, it found a comfy place inside the "Office" category also bringing along a nifty looking icon. After you launch it, Glista will be "kept alive" through a system tray icon, so clicking X on the main window won't shut it down completely. The interface is dead simple: four buttons on top, the main section in which your tasks will be displayed and a text-entry field at the bottom, followed by a "plus" sign. To save a task, type it in the field, click the plus and BAM! it's there. Quick and easy.

All the tasks are alphabetically arranged, so you'll find the ones you need quite rapidly. I wish though, that there was an option to arrange them by date. Once you complete a task and place a checkmark in the box on the right, the text will become strikeout and the item will move at the bottom of the list. To delete an item, select it and press the big red button (I love big red buttons). All the done tasks can be easily removed with the broom icon.



Sometimes, a couple of words won't be enough and some tasks require more in-depth explanations. For that purpose, Glista allows you to add notes to your tasks by clicking the first icon on top (the clipboard). An extra, larger, text field will appear to let you type in whatever you like. Oh, URLs will automatically be highlighted for easy opening, so that's nice. When you're done, just click the x at the bottom of the text field and it's attached. To view a note, double click on the clipboard icon that appears next to each task that has such extra info.

If you tend to create a lot of new tasks, a bit more organizing is needed, and placing tasks in categories is the first step towards that. Glista keeps it simple: if you want to create a category, go to the add task text field, type it in, place a colon and then type the actual task. Example: "Groceries: Peanut butter jelly!", in which case "Groceries" will become a new category, and "Peanut butter jelly!" will be a task inside that category. So every time you begin a new task with "Groceries:" that task will be added to the Groceries category.



Well, that's pretty much it. What did you expect? 3000 words for a 37 KB app? Jeeeez. :) Anyway, if you want a truly BASIC (keep that in mind) task application, use Glista. If, otherwise, you need pop-ups and reminders and a monkey tapping on your head when you need to renew your car insurance, look elsewhere. I hope you found the article helpful (or at least enjoyable) and I wish you an awesome morning/afternoon/evening/night!

Download Glista from the official homepage, or get the deb package from getdeb.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Distro Hoppin`: PCLinuxOS 2009.2

I know, I know, it's been a while since the latest release of PCLOS, but I didn't have the chance to test it up until now. Did I enjoy it? Will it find a permanent place in my CD Wallet-of-Fame? Embark on this new epic edition of Distro Hoppin' and find out!

PCLOS 2009.2 is shipped to you as a 690 MB ISO via worldwide servers, ready to be burnt on a single CD. The main edition comes with the not-so-recent-but-oh-so-responsive KDE 3.5.10 so I went with that. The Live environment booted in about 1 minute and 30 seconds - a decent wait - and, happily, the resolution was set at my monitor's native: 1440x900. I immediately reached for the "Install" shortcut on the Desktop and, a few moments later, I was asked to remove any unused video drivers (PCLOS comes with out-of-the-box support for a bunch of GPUs), an automated process once you accept. The rest of the installation is identical to Mandriva's, meaning you won't have any trouble going through the steps. It took about 15 to 20 minutes to get PCLOS on my HDD, after which I restarted the system, removed the disc and chose to boot the new system from the beautifully designed GRUB. Before taking the plunge, have a look at the Crash Test Dummy I call computer.

  • Pentium 4 @ 2.4 GhZ
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce FX5200 with 128 NVRAM
  • Samsung WriteMaster DVD-RW

The desktop presents itself with an elegant, out-of-your-way wallpaper and a single, thick panel on the bottom. There are initially six shortcuts icons on that panel: the Main Menu, Home, Control Center, Administration Center, Synaptic Package Manager and Firefox. Next to those, workspace selection, the application switcher and the notification area, featuring a nice, easy-readable digital clock + calendar, the Klipper clipboard tool, volume control, network manager and a nifty little arrow that allows you to pull the whole panel off the screen in case you ever need more vertical space.



The theme itself looks good enough, what I don't like is the Vista-like window control buttons. They are nice and all, but come on, why copy? Anyway, that's not a reason to diss PCLOS, so let's carry on, shall we? Who would've thought that KDE 3.5.10 will still be used so late after the 4 series was released... But here it is, boldly setting a solid bridge between the user and the OS. The sheer speed of it, the responsiveness and stability still manages to surpass KDE 4.3.0, at least on older machines.

One of the first things I've tried was my multimedia keys on the very basic (cheap) A4Tech KL-23 keyboard that I have. I was so sure they would work, but my certainty was shattered when realizing the harsh truth: they DON'T work. I've tried configuring the keyboard shortcuts but PCLOS wouldn't want to pick the signals from the keys. I did a bit of digging with the help of my good friend, Google, and stumbled upon this post from Yet Another Linux Blog. (). So I opened Synaptic, looked for KeyTouch and there it was. Once installed, I had to choose the keyboard model and lo and behold, the (approximately) exact same model was in the list! Yuppi! Still, I could only use Play/Pause, Next and Previous, the volume keys were still dead. Fortunately I found a plugin for controlling KMix, downloaded it, expanded the archive, ran the "make" command and imported the .so file into KeyTouch, allowing me to configure the volume keys the way I wanted. Certainly not an out-of-the-box experience, but it wasn't too hard to figure out either.



Speaking of sound and music, the version of Amarok included is 1.4.10. As I am more of a Rhythmbox fan, I fired up Synaptic yet again and was amazed to see the LATEST version of Rhythmbox (0.12.5) available. But, upon downloading the packages, a few errors led me to think there was a problem with the server hosting the repositories, so I went into Synaptic's settings and chose another one from the large stack. Sure enough, everything returned to normal after that. Seeing such an up-to-date application, I wondered what a full system update would do, as Firefox was a bit lagging behind. As expected, there was a large quantity of updates waiting, so half an hour later it was done. And, again, total satisfaction as I launched the brand new Firefox 3.5.3 with all its goodies.



Kopete did a pretty good job at handling my Yahoo account but I was tired of seeing the old version notification from Yahoo whenever I would connect, so I did yet another search for my good ol' friend, Pidgin. Bam! another pleasant surprise: Pidgin 2.6.2. I was starting to really like this distro.

Another application that I use a LOT is Dropbox (awesome online storage service with sync and share capabilities), but I knew that support for KDE was problematic. Fortunately, before trying out the complicated tutorials around the web, I remembered seeing something about Dropbox on the PCLOS homepage. What? Dropbox available in the repositories? You HAVE to be kidding. Nope, they were not. I installed Dropbox with just a few mouse clicks and the app got its entry in the Internet --> Remote Access category. Nice!




Among the bookmarks set by the team in Firefox, one especially caught my attention: App Store. Hmm... sounds interesting. This place allows you to easily install different programs through a nifty little feature recently implemented in PCLOS: apt-url. Sure, the "store" is still rather empty but it works as advertised. Click Install, type in the root password and let Click2Install do the rest.

One of the icons that are present on the Desktop is a folder called "Utilities", that contains a handful of useful... err utilities. :) One can add various locales to the system, create Live Remasters, install PCLOS on an USB drive, repair the bootloader, install the latest OpenOffice.org suite (you have Abiword on the default installation), etc.; overall, a great collection designed to ease some of the tasks that need to be performed on a fresh install. Flash and Java come pre-installed for a complete WWW experience, while MP3s and popular video formats will also play just fine, no extra work involved.



My Canon A550 digital camera was picked up by DigiKam and, though the first few times I couldn't access the pictures on it, once the system was fully updated, it was all working fine. The HP Deskjet 3845 printer is also fully functional (within the limitations that seem to come with every Linux OS) and the HP 2100C scanner scans flawlessly with the help of Xsane. Even the Huawei 3G modem was detected by PCLOS. For a bit of a more interactive fun, PCLOS has a lot of small, casual games but you can also look for and install some of the "big" titles like OpenArena, which worked great on my low-end graphics card.

Final say

I've always felt that PCLOS was receiving too much hype for what it was worth, but man was I mistaken. I love living on the bleeding-edge of software and PCLinuxOS 2009.2 certainly caters to that. This distro deserves its own CD-R. :)

Pick a mirror and download PCLinuxOS 2009.2 from here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Distro Hoppin`: moonOS 3

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie... Ah, I love that song. What I also love are Linux distributions that try to make computing a bit less serious and add a bit more “life” into it. moonOS, that recently reached version 3, is one of those distros that can light up your office days. Based on the latest version of Ubuntu (Jaunty Jackalope), moonOS 3 stands up from the crowd by using the artful Enlightenment desktop environment. Ready to download in a 691 MB Live ISO, moonOS 3 can also be taken for a spin straight from the CD without messing your partitions setup. If you do like it and decide it's deserving of your precious GBs, you are, of course, able to permanently install it.

But first, let me introduce you to the specifications of the beast that is my PC. :)

  • Pentium 4 @ 2.4 GhZ
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • Asus ATI AH3450 with 512 VRAM AGP
  • Samsung WriteMaster DVD-RW

Booting the Live environment is quite fast, no complaints there. But being the serious Distro Hopper that I am, I obviously chose to first install moonOS 3 to the HDD and then dive into the experience. Either you used Ubuntu before or you didn't, the installer is super easy and straight-forward. A few steps and you're done, regardless if you choose to use all the space on the HDD or decide to put moonOS alongside other OSes.



Once you are past the pretty bootsplash design, you get to the gorgeous and functional login screen, that unlike Ubuntu's, you can simply click on your username inside a list on the left and only type in your password. But it's quite possible that you checked the autologin box during install, in which case you won't see that screen at all and start straight from the desktop. Well, not exactly, cause the first time you boot moonOS, the Assistant will come up, asking a few questions such as whether you want to enable a root account or if you want “fortunes” inside the terminal.

A few seconds later, Enlightenment loads up and you're ready to explore! The wallpaper is an absolute pleasure to look at. With floral motifs, wavy lines and optimistic greens, your eyes will love it. On the top left of the screen, you'll find a “module” containing three huge icons (Home, Root and Desktop - you'll find the Install to HDD shortcut here) on top of an overview of all the partitions, mounted or not. The three icons are very useful, as Enlightenment, by default, won't let you place any files on the “real” desktop. Right-clicking will open a list with favorite applications, while the left click gives you access to a bunch of app and configuration menus. On the bottom of the screen, a panel (or shelf) allows you to switch between the four workspaces, access the main menu, check the time, increase/decrease the volume or switch between open applications. The right-hand side is occupied by a “dock-like” panel hosting app shortcuts, a nifty calendar, the battery meter and the Trash. It would've been nice if moonOS could actually detect whether you're using a laptop and display that battery meter in those cases only, as it is pretty useless to me. Of course, a right click + remove this gadget easily takes care of that. :) Like all the menus in the system, the dock is nicely animated as you hover the pointer over the shortcuts.




But, as I was opening different applications, I noticed that there are some serious graphical glitches. That's what I get for buying an ATI card. I deserve this! To my defense, this was the best I could get for my ancient AGP slot, so don't judge me too hard. Anyway, at least there are official drivers available for Linux, so I grabbed them, installed them and restarted the computer. Thank God (or any other deity), everything was working fine after that. Well, almost everything... Let me elaborate on that. This “HD” capable graphics card also has the ability to stream sound through the HDMI cable. Problem is, the drivers package also includes sound drivers so, somehow, they messed up the perfectly working on-motherboard Realtek sound device. The result? Stutter and high CPU usage whenever I was trying to listen to a song or watch a YouTube video. And that's not a moonOS issue, mind you, it affects all other distributions on which I have installed the proprietary driver. But, fortunately, digging on the Internet led me to a solution: blacklisting the ATI sound device; all seems to be in perfect order now. Phew!

Enlightenment is a very good desktop environment, but I do have some grievances with the default configuration. First of all, the focus follows the mouse, so if you have two windows open, like an OpenOffice document and an IM window, and the document is on top, moving the pointer above the IM window will “channel” the keyboard input to that. You might find yourself passionately writing a hateful email to your imaginary friend, knock the pointer to the conference you're having with your boss and... DISASTER! :) Then, to bring a window on top of another, clicking inside it won't work, you have to click on the titlebar. But, a trip to the focus settings takes care of all those problems. :) Being as configurable and customizable as it is, you can't really complain too much about Enlightenment.




But let's take a look at the software included in the default moonOS installation. First of all, MP3s and most video formats (including Flash in Firefox) play out of the box. Speaking of Firefox, 3.5.2 is not the latest, but I'm glad that it's from the 3.5 series. Pidgin 2.6.1 lets you voice- and video-chat with your XMPP buddies and also solves the Yahoo connection problems and XChat takes you directly to the official Ubuntu help IRC channel. Exaile handles all your audio files, but the non-functional Last.FM and Shoutcast Radio plugins were a big issue for me, so I had to install Rhythmbox. And how did I do that? moonOS borrows a few things from Mint, including the awesome software manager, here named moonSoftware. User reviews, comprehensive categorization and screenshots make choosing the right piece of software a pleasant task.




We also have OpenOffice 3.1.1 (complete with an inspired splash screen), Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0.0.23, an awesome virtual keyboard and per-application volume control. Thunar 1.0.0 handles file management in a lightweight, yet complete, manner and, to make things easier, the developers have included the “Open Terminal Here” and “Open Folder as Root” scripts in the context menu.

If you happen to get bored with all the green, there are dozens of cool looking themes online, easily accessible via the “Settings → Look → Themes” menu.




Screenshots are an important part of a Distro Hoppin` article, and I was quite disappointed to see that the PrtScr button does not link to the screenshot taking app. But, again, the highly customizable Enlightenment allows you to create key bindings for almost anything that crosses your mind so I simply linked the PrtScr key to the gnome-panel-screenshot command and the ALT+PrtScr combination to the “gnome-panel-screenshot –delay 5” one and I was set. Still, this definitely should've been added by default.

The resource consumption manages to stay within normal limits and 512 MB of RAM should be enough for day to day activities.

As good as the song?

Though you're probably tired of all these Ubuntu-based distros, don't hesitate to give moonOS 3 a try. The Enlightenment desktop environment has matured a lot and can provide a solid production platform if you're willing to forgive its bugs here and there. Also, a big plus is the fact that you can tinker with it in so many ways to best suit your computing needs. Last but not least, it's simply b e a u t i f u l, without asking for a monster machine.

Download links: moonOS 3 and MD5.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Customize SUSE Linux to the Bones with SUSE Studio

With hundreds of different distributions, each targeting various niches and users, Linux is undoubtedly a very prolific kernel. Being the distro hoppers that I'm sure you are, finding a Linux operating system that could fill almost all your computing needs is the obvious goal.

Many feel that they could create a better distro, but few have the skills (or time) necessary to put their ideas into practice. Sure enough, there are some Linuxes out there that let you create "remasters", but what if you would be able to do all the configuration online, in several quick, easy steps and then download your very own, highly customized distro to the HDD or share it with the world? And most importantly, other than some general Linux knowledge, you basically don't need any other real skills. But enough with the introduction.

Coming from Novell, SUSE Studio is the name of this interesting new project. Before getting too excited, I should tell you that you will build on top of a SUSE OS, be it OpenSUSE or SUSE Linux Enterprise, so don't think that you can take Ubuntu, mix it with a teaspoon of Fedora and spice it up with a bit of Slackware. Regardless, this is the easiest way to create a personalized, yet stable and powerful, Linux.




The first thing you need to do is create an account, ask for an invitation and pray that it will get approved as soon as possible. Once that's accomplished, you can start building the distro/appliance. Step 1: choose the base template, ranging from the micro JeOS, all the way to a full-blown KDE 4 environment. KDE 3, GNOME and IceWM are the other options. 64-bit processors are more and more widespread, so you'll be happy to see support for the superior architecture. Naming your "baby" is the last step on the first page.




The software selection area displays all the available software in OpenSUSE's 11.1 repositories. You will find almost everything you need in there, and if you don't, you can add third-party repositories and even upload RPM packages to be installed on your system. Cool! On the left-hand side of the screen, you have the current state of your Live CD/DVD: total packages selected, used space and download size. This last one is the most important as you will know when you get over the 700 MB CD ISO limit. If you're lost and don't know what software to choose, you can check the "Always install recommended software" box in the recommended category. In my case, I ended up with a 1.01 GB DVD image. There's also a handy search function, enabling you to find specific applications throughout the repositories.



The "General" configuration tab allows you to enable the firewall, configure the network, create users, set passwords or choose the timezone. Next, upload your favorite logo and choose backgrounds for boot, loading and login screens to really make it your own. At this point, I was starting to feel like I was in a Role Playing Game, creating my mighty character. :)



Reading EULAs (End user license agreements) is one of my favorite past-times ever and, upon discovering that SUSE Studio lets me create one from scratch, I became euphoric. OK, I am obviously joking. I have never read an EULA in my life (and neither did you, don't judge me!), but yes, SUSE Studio gives you the ability to add one in your distro. For server functionality, configuring a MySQL database would be the next step. I skipped it altogether, to then find myself inside the "Desktop" tab. Not much to do here, except opt for automatic login for one of the users and, if necessary, add autostart programs. Beware though, you will have to know the command for launching each program. Usually, it's dead simple, like for Pidgin, the command is simply pidgin, or for Firefox... firefox.



If you're creating a virtual appliance or a disk image for VirtualBox, you can set the RAM and Virtual Disk sizes in the The "Storage & memory" screen. If you just want the ISO, don't bother with these settings. The same goes for the "Scripts" section; unless you know what you're doing, just move along.


But say you also want your most important documents to be copied over to a fresh install of your new distro. Easy as pie! The "Overlay files" tab lets you upload single files to specified directories, that will appear in your installation. If you have a folder, simply create an archive out of it, and SUSE Studio will extract it during the installation process.



Finally, select the format of your distro/appliance and click "Build". My 1.01 GB DVD ISO was complete and ready for download after 45 minutes. Three hours later (sucky servers + sucky Internet connection = 1 GB in 3 hours) I successfully booted the OS into VirtualBox. All my favorite applications were there, Pidgin popped up at start-up and my cat (Pinky's the name) earned his geek bragging rights for the day by appearing on the login screen of a Linux distro. Oh, if you choose to create a disk image, you can "Testdrive" the OS right from inside the browser. Awesome, awesome stuff.

The End

SUSE Studio is great in many respects, but especially if you need to deploy a customized desktop or server on multiple machines. Configure it once, use it as many times as you need. Sure, if you don't like SUSE, you won't like the custom distro either. I'm not much of a fan myself, but I do find the whole idea interesting and, more importantly, useful.

Apply for an account right here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Writer's block? Try Textroom!

In a world full of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, StumbleUpon and countless other online timewasters, it's extremely easy to let your mind wander to places totally unrelated to actual work. Maybe you're a blogger, maybe you're a short story writer, maybe you are a news editor; whichever the case may be, you NEED to write. I usually do my text editing in simple programs, like Gedit and I've been pretty happy with it so far. Until I met TextRoom.


TextRoom aims to squeeze the last bit of productivity out of you. But let's begin with how you can put your procrastinating hands on this baby. Direct your browser to the project's homepage and choose from the four packages available in the downloads section: .bin, .deb, .exe (rejoice, Windows users!) and .tar.gz. As I'm currently running Ubuntu 9.04, the obvious choice was to get the 386 KB .deb file. The installation was quickly over and TextRoom was patiently waiting for me in the "Office" section of the "Applications" menu. When I first opened it, a black page covered the whole screen and all I could see was a blinking cursor and an elegant gray bar at the bottom. As simple and minimalistic its interface is, TextRoom strikes you with a polished, professional look. Can you say Qt 4.3.2? Yep, TextRoom was created on top of that platform, and you really can't go wrong with Qt.

So I was telling you about that bar on the bottom... The first thing that attracted my attention was the realtime word count on the left. *Over-excitement warning* FINALLY!!! A text editor that has word count in plain sight! Praise the Heavens! OK. So, after performing a small victory dance around the desk, I returned to the computer and started looking for other cool features this editor may have. On the same bottom bar, you have the filename in the center and the current time on the left. That's all. Besides the text, all you have is these three elements. You and your creativity can finally be together, without any intruders.


But is this really all that TextRoom offers? Nope. Pressing F1 will pop up the keyboard shortcuts panel, from where you find out that you can change the fonts, underline words, insert time or date, go fullscreen- or windowed-mode, undo, redo and other basic functions. CTRL+P takes you to the "Options", revealing even more coolness. You can set Word Count Targets and the program will actually display your progress in both "current word count / target word count" and percents. Cool! One can also set deadlines by selecting whichever future date in the graphical calendar or enable a time limit, at the end of which, a pop-up will appear on screen and announce you that you're out of time. Autosaving is another useful feature. Speaking of saving, the formats supported by TextRoom are .txr, HTML and .txt.



As much as I enjoy using this editor, there are still a few things that are missing and could be added. First of all: spell-checking. Typos can easily go unnoticed by a hurried writer, so a discreet highlight or underline won't do much harm to the elegant interface. Secondly, you still can simply exit fullscreen and go Facebooking or YouTubing. An option to keep one locked in the fullscreen mode for a set period of time would be a great cure for the world's most procrastinating procrastinators.



There is also a small bug that I've noticed. The default bottom bar is a bit thinner than what you see in the pictures. Activating the word count target increased the width of the bar by a few pixels and unfortunately, it didn't return to its normal size once I have removed the target. Moreover, though there is an "enable sound" option, TextRoom is totally silent, even when reaching a time limit. Hm.

A few more words...

I just love simple text editors and TextRoom raises the bar a bit higher, leaving me no choice but to use it as my main "canvas". Sure, I still have to copy and paste the text, once it's done, into a spell-checking capable program, but it's a small sacrifice I'm willing to make. If you're a writer and all you need is to write text, without any fancy formatting, give TextRoom a try. Maybe it will help you get over those nasty writer's blocks quicker.