My Blog: Apps & Tech 📱

I’m not just a creator but also a huge fan of apps and technology. Here, I write about tech that I’m personally excited about.

What Operating System is That?! banner image

What Operating System Is That?!

Wednesday, 04 November, 2015

📜 Archived

During the last month or so, a remarkable number of people have asked me, “what OS is that on your laptop”? When I got my new laptop, I have put quite some time into setting up my personal Arch Linux installation and apparently I am not the only one to appreciate its looks and workflow.

The sad part of the story is that I cannot give a simple answer, because it is, in fact, a compilation of various software packages, themes and configurations, that make it what it is. This is why I have decided to write a blog post which allows others to replicate my “desktop experience”.

Desktop Environment

I cannot even specifiy a particular desktop environment, because even that consists of modules from various projects, most of which are located in the “GTK camp”. Most of the time I, point people to elementary OS, if they want something “similar” out of the box, because I use Deepin WM, which is a fork of their window manager and elementary’s dock Plank, which make up the most relevant part of the desktop. Readers of my blog or Google+ followers know that I have been quite keen about the elementary project - and I still am! I just consider Arch the most attractive distribution for me personally due its rolling release model, “DIY philosophy” and the amount of packages available in the AUR.

The panel on top is Budige Panel from the Solus projectes. The new version features Raven, a sliding panel with calendar, music player and sound widgets as well as an overview of missed notifications, which is both beautiful and highly functional. I really like the whole budgie desktop experience and can recommend trying Solus, if you do not need a window manager with “fancy window and workspace overview” modes.

Look and Feel

Regarding look and feel, the Arc GTK theme and the Numix Circle icon set are most notable. Not only are these the (imho) best-looking, flat themes in the Linux world, but also are both astonishingly complete, that is, almost every app installed has a a corresponding Numix icon and Arc looks functional and consistent with all sorts of different apps. There is even an Arc Firefox theme, which makes Firefoox look 100% native. I might mention at this point that I have created an eclipse theme that is supposed to match Arc as closely as possible.

Software

A “representable excerpt of my everyday software stack” is listed below:

  • Nautilus (file manager)
  • Gnome Terminal (terminal emulator)
  • Kupfer (command launcher)
  • Firefox (for general web browsing)
  • Chromium (as “webapp runtime”)
  • Geary (mail client)
  • California (calendar)
  • Gnome Contacts (contact manager)
  • Go For It! (productivity, sorry for shameless self-promotion…)
  • Corebird (twitter client)
  • Okular (PDF reader)
  • Sublime Text (text editor)
  • Lollypop + Spotify (music players)

You might ask yourself, what I mean by “webapp runtime”. I prefer to think of websites like Google+ or Facebook Messenger as apps, rather than websites. Thus I do not want them to clutter my browser tab list, but interact with them as if they were native applications. This is done by creating .desktop files with mLauncher, which execute chromium with the --app=url parameter and specify the corresponding icon.

My favourite tool on any Linux desktop is the Kupfer command launcher for which I have written a few plugins myself. To enable multi touch (up to 4 fingers) gestures on my Thinkpad t450s, I run xSwipe and I use xbindkeys to define keyboard shortcuts.

If you wonder, why I use KDE’s PDF reader on a GTK setup I can understand you. Basically, I need it for “academic reasons”: Okular’s highlighting functionality is unbeatable. I read a lot of scientific papers and I rely on the ability of using differently coloured markers. Morever it plays nicely together with LaTeX in regard to biderectional search and it is well integrated into KBibTex, which I use to organise my references. Also if you set your KDE settings to match the GTK theme and disable the toolbar, Okular actually looks quite clean and well integrated.

Session and Login

The whole desktop session is initiated via startx using my custom .xinitrc, which is based on a snippet from the Arch Wiki. If I want to lock my screen, I use i3lock for which I have created a .desktop file with mLauncher, aswell.

Conclusion

The above is far from being complete. There are many settings and details that I might not have mentioned in the post. Feel free to ask, if you encounter any questions or problems.

Enjoy customizing your Linux desktop ;-)

Desktop Touchpads for Linux: Logitech T650 vs. Apple Magic Trackpad banner image

Desktop Touchpads for Linux: Logitech T650 vs. Apple Magic Trackpad

Monday, 03 November, 2014

📜 Archived

Working “on the road” a lot I have grown used to touchpads and have developed a slight aversion to mice (the gadgets, not the animals).

Due to that I caught myself sitting around with my notebook even when I was at home where I could be spending time at my desk with a docking station, a proper keyboard and a bigger screen. So I decided it was time to replace my mouse with a modern touch device.

My requirements were as follows:

  • GNU+Linux compatibility (of course)
  • Ability to recognize a multitude of gestures
  • Appealing haptics, design and build quality

After some research it turned out that the most promising canidates appeared to be the Logitech T650 and Apple’s Magic Trackpad.

Look and Feel

Both devices are a pleasure to interact with, as they have big glassy surfaces and a “valuable overall feeling” to them. The Magic Trackpad feels a bit sturdier as it is mostly composed of metal parts. Moreover it looks somewhat more “modern” whereas I considered the T650 to be a better match for the other components of my setup. Mechanical clicks on the T650 require a decent amount of pressure which can be tedious after a longer usage period.

Connection

The Logitech T650 comes with its own dongle consuming one of my valuable USB slots. It was recognized after plugging in the dongle and turning on the device. As long as one sticks to Logitech products it is possible to connect up to six devices to that dongle using the Unifying Device Technology which is being brought to Linux by the Solaar project.

This policy of urging customers to buy more and more products of a particualar brand by using proprietary interfaces that are desigend to exclude or obstruct competitors’ products is often associated with Apple. In this particular case it is actually the other way round: The Apple Magic Trackpad uses the well established Bluetooth technology for connecting to the computer. This was achieved in less than a minute on Xubuntu 14.04 by pairing the device via the Blueman applet using the PIN 0000.

Gesture Recognition and Setup

The first thing to do with the T650 for Linux support is a firmware upgrade, because otherwise not even “tap to click” is functional. Unfortunately the software required for that procedure is only available for Windows, which was the first obstacle for me. Gestures get interpreted in the device’s hardware which then sends key events that are meant to trigger (Windows 8 specific) events. By mapping these keys to meaningful commands in the XFCE system settings I was able to make use of the built in gestures, which are limited to two and three finger swipes as well as (somewhat uncomfortable) edge swipes. I was not able to manage software like Touchégg or Ginn to recognize  “real gestures” using both the synaptics and the evdev driver.

The Magic Trackpand on the other hand sends events that can be properly interpreted by Touchégg. I am using the synaptics driver for gestures of up to two fingers as it provides the smoothest scrolling experience and best integration with certain applications and Touchégg for dealing with everything that involves three or more fingers. For that purpose one must disable synaptic’s 3 finger recognition. This can be achieved by setting TapButton3 and ClickFinger3 to “0” via the synclient command (temporary) or a specific xorg configuration (permanent). Up to 5 fingers are being recognized and I have used swipe, drag, pinch and (double) tap gestures so far. KWin, which I use as window manager provides a lot of “fancy gimmicks” like smooth workspace switching animations and the “Present Windows” effect (comparable to OSX’s “Exposé”), which feels very natural when triggered by multitouch gestures.

Power

The T650 has a built-in battery. While this has the advantage of being rechargeable, it comes with the downside of being hard to replace (Never forget that batteries are wearing parts!). The Magic Trackpad is powered by 2 AA batteries which means that a regular battery change will be necessary. I cannot judge about the runtime as my testing period is not long enough, but both are reported to run for several weeks when used on a regular base.

Pricing

The Magic Trackpad is about twice as expensive as the T650, which is to be considered when comparing the two. I am lucky to get my mine used for a lower price, because a friend of mine has no need for the one that came bundled to his iMac.

Conclusion

The Magic Trackpad outperforms the T650 in almost every category I consider important. On the other hand you could save $30 if the aforementioned disadvantages of the T650 are not relevant to you. Moreover it must not be left aside that both devices may perform different on the platform they were orignially designed for. So if you are not using GNU+Linux exclusively but dual boot to OSX or Windows 8 then you may choose to buy the corresponding device so you can get the most out of your touchpad.

Some Additional Information about Touchégg

If you do not like to write configuration files by hand you may want to have a look at Touchegg GCE which offers a graphical frontend to set up Touchégg gestures. Moreover it is advised to build Touchégg from source if you want to use pinch gestures, because your distribution may not package the newest version where a pinching related bug has been fixed.

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