Wednesday, 12 November 2014

2014 - The end of the year, the Internet and my preferred LINUX Distros

It is November already and we've had an interesting year.  Not a great year for writing with my health still in a mess and deteriorating despite everything I do to try to stay on top of things, but still interesting.

One of the biggest changes was the introduction of a partial version of the National Broadband Network in Australia.  It is unfortunate that the incoming government decided to strip away much of the infrastructure innovation, but fortunate that we even got what was left - a mix of the old and new ideas. 

Anyway, after close to two months on the new system I am convinced that even at lower speeds the Internet just got useful.  We lost our privacy but gained function.  The televisions in the house where I live are simple LED types, High Definition, but not smart.  However, connect them to, in one case, a WD LIVE box (cheap enough at OfficeWorks) and in the other case, a ChromeCast, as well as connecting them as monitors to a couple of old computers and a television is turned into a great entertainment system, far exceeding anything offered by Austar or Foxtel.

A monthly subscription to a movie network online at a price a fraction of some of the alternatives means an amazing number of movies out there to watch at any time.  Add to that the stuff available on YouTube legally these days, by virtue of adverts inserted strategically.  It is fascinating stuff and far better than most of the free to air TV can offer.

Of course, this all comes down to accessibility.  At last count in this house there were three tablets, three smart phones, five laptops and two desktop computers all able to access the Internet.  An NBN account with modest speed and unlimited data was definitely a good decision.

On another topic, I've been involved with a number of Linux distros as they have been developed over the years since I first converted to Red Hat in 1997.  Some distros I tried and liked, others not so much.  Some were excellent at certain things and not so good in other ways. 

Over the last few years I have used Linux Mint and Zorin OS for different things.  For normal day to day work I prefer Mint KDE.  Clem has got it almost right, though the latest version, Mint 17, is a bit flaky.  For some reason the Mint team has screwed up the graphics capabilities and the multimedia.  Also with Mint, networking is really crappy.  I had to mess with it over and over and never quite got it to do what I wanted.

So when it came to creating a home multimedia centre, I went back to the latest release of Zorin OS, version 9.  There are a lot of things I don;t like about Zorin,  I hate the themes, I really dislike that it is so difficult to set up and change things that should be simple, and are simple in Mint KDE.  But aside from the ugly window design and the crappy customization experience, it does have the slickest, sweetest network configuration.  Zorin's file manager is just plain ugly.  It recognized my external USB hard drives as CD/DVD drives and will not allow opening them in file manager as part of the right click menu.

But unlike Mint 17 KDE, Zorin plays multimedia videos in pretty well all formats.  And it also comes with ImageMagick in the repository, which means graphics can be manipulated from the command line or from bash scripts.  Sadly trying to do this in Mint is a painful process, and Mint doesn't even have ImageMagick in it repository.  It does have something called GraphicsMagick, which is like a poor substitute and fraught with errors whenever I have tried to use it for actual work.

Installing ImageMagick in Zorin is simply a matter of clickin it in the software centre,  IN Mint it sometimes takes half a dozen attempts to get rid of the rubbish they have installed, and get ImageMagick installed and up and running.

Zorin OS 9 has played every video format I have tried it with so far in either its installed video player, or VLC, which I had to install.  Once in a while a broken flv will throw an error but it still plays.  Mint 17 on the other hand is forever forcing me into player roulette.   At one time I had six different players installed just so I could get most formats to play.  Zorin played all the wmv files that choked Mint 17.

I think the next thing to try with Zorin OS 9 is to install XBMC and see if it works well as a more dedicated multimedia centre.

So when it came to