History of Icons

History of Icons looks at the evolution of icons used for desktop, mobile, and web.  There are plenty of nostalgia triggering screenshots from a variety of systems.  Given that nobody could ever afford having all of those systems, I’m sure you’ll find interesting screens from computers you didn’t have or didn’t see.

WallpapersCraft – high quality desktop backgrounds

WallpapersCraft is a collection of high quality desktop wallpapers / backgrounds.  There are quite a few categories and tags.  The search works.  Tonnes of high quality wallpapers, available in a variety of resolutions.  And the site is very fast.  If you are in the mood for a new desktop background, I strong suggest you check it out.  Here is my new choice:

i3 window manager – a week later

A week ago I blogged about i3 window manager and my attempt to use it instead of MATE.  So, how am I am doing so far?

The long story short: I love i3.  It’s awesome.  But I still switch back to MATE once in a while.

What’s good about i3?  It’s super fast.  Even faster than a pretty fast MATE.  It’s keyboard navigated, and it only takes about a day to get used to enough keyboard shortcuts to feel comfortable and productive.  It’s super efficient.  Until I tried i3 I didn’t recognize how much time I spend moving windows around.  It is unexcusable amount of time spent needlessly.

What’s bad about i3?  It’s low level.  In order to make it work right with multiple screens, one need to get really familiar with xrandr, the tool I last used years ago.  If you are on a laptop, with a dynamic setup for the second screen (one monitor at the office, one at home, and an occasionally different project at client’s premises), you’ll need a bunch of helper scripts to assist you in quick change between these setups.

And then there is an issue of flickering desktop.  The web is full of questions about how to solve a variety of flickering issues when using i3.  The one that I see most often is the screen going black once in a while.  Sometimes it takes a second to come back, sometimes a few seconds, and sometimes and it doesn’t come back at all.  The more windows I have, spread across more workspaces, with more connected monitors – the more often I see the issues.  It’s annoying, and it’s difficult to troubleshoot or even report, as I haven’t found a pattern yet, or how to reproduce the problem.

With that said though, I am now about 80% time using i3.  I like the simplicity and efficiency of it.  It’s so good, that I work better even without a second monitor.  But when I do need a second monitor (paired programming, demos, etc), or when I have a projector connected, I switch to MATE.  That’s about 20% of my time.

i3 – tiling window manager

In the last few days my attention was unfairly distributed between a whole lot of tasks.  The fragmentation and constant context switching affected my productivity, so I briefly revisited my toolbox setup, in hopes to find something that I didn’t know about, forgot about, or have greatly underutilized.

One of the things that came (again) on my radar was terminal multiplexer tmux.  I’ve blogged about it before.  I used it for a while, but at some point, it faded away from my daily routine.  The two most useful features of tmux are:

  1. Persistent sessions, where you can work on a remote machine, detach your terminal, disconnect from the machine entirely, and then, at some point later, connect again and continue from where you left off.  With simpler workloads and reliable Internet connection, this became less useful to me.  When I do need this functionality, I use screen, which is more often installed on the machines that I work with.
  2. Terminal multiplexer, where you can split your terminal screen into a number of panels and work with each one like it’s a separate terminal.  This is still useful, but can be done by a number of different tools these days.  I use Terminator, which supports both horizontal and vertical screen split.  Terminology is another option from a choice of many.

I thought, let me find something that people who used tmux have moved on to.  That search led me, among other things, to “ditching tmux” thread on HackerNews, where in the comments a few people were talking about i3 tiling window manager.

Continue reading “i3 — tiling window manager”

Why are browsers so slow?

As a user of Opera browser in the good ol’ days, I share Ilya Birman’s pain

But I am not talking about rendering and scripts. I am talking about everything else. Safari may take a second or two just to open a new blank tab on a 2014 iMac. And with ten or fifteen open tabs it eventually becomes sluggish as hell. Chrome is better, but not much so.

… and this too …

What would you do today if you opened a link and saw a long article which you don’t have time to read right now, but want to read later? You would save a link and close the tab. But when your browser is fast, you just don’t tend to close tabs which you haven’t dealt with. In Opera, I would let tabs stay open for months without having any impact on my machine’s performance.

Wait, but didn’t I restart my computer or the browser sometimes? Of course I did. Unfortunately, modern browsers are so stupid that they reload all the tabs when you restart them. Which takes ages if you have a hundred of tabs. Opera was sane: it did not reload a tab unless you asked for it. It just reopened everything from cache. Which took a couple of seconds.

In fact, maybe it’s a good time to try out Opera browser again.  After all, the two primary reasons I’ve switched from it were:

  • Open Source.  This was back in a day when I was a zealot.  (Yeah, if you think I’m one now, you should have seen me in my 20’s.)  Now  I am much more calm about the licensing.
  • Rendering issues.  That was back when Opera had its own rendering engine and couldn’t quite keep up with all the changes on the Web.  Since then, Opera has dumped its Presto rendering engine in favor of Webkit (the same engine that Google Chrome, Chromium and Safari browsers are using), and then dumped Webkit in favor of Blink, which is like … erm .. new Webkit (?) or something like that.

So maybe it’s good enough in rendering department and I can have my performance and tab management back.  As Ilya mentions, no other browser came close to the tab management of Opera back in a day.  I frequently have a 30+ tabs open, and its only because that’s as much as Chrome can handle on my laptop.

Update: Tried out the latest version of Opera now for about half an hour.  I suddenly remembered another reason for why I’ve switched – fonts.  Default fonts configuration is far from optimal.  For multilingual pages (English and Russian) is more than horrific.  Oh well, I guess, I’ll have to wait some more.

How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros

Here’s a trip down the memory lane – “How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros“.  The article looks at some of the early Linux distributions, remember what was already in and what came later.  Complete with screenshots.

I don’t remember for sure which versions of which distributions I used in the early days, but Slackware, Suse, RedHat and Mandrake were definitely among those.  Slackware was probably my first one, when I found the floppies in the only book on Linux at my college library.  Then, somehow, I found RedHat (I think 5.1 or so) in one of the local computer shops.  Later I tried Mandrake and Suse, cause those were laying around at work.  But RedHat stuck with me ever since.  I think I’ve used pretty much every version, including the move to Fedora, CentOS, and even the Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which we had the licenses for at some of my early work places.

Fun times!

HexChat IRC Client

Well, apparently I’ve been leaving under a rock for the last few years.  When it comes down to IRC clients, I’ve been mostly using XChat.  Turns out, XChat has been abandoned for years, and it’s still around mostly because Linux distributions care so much about it that they patch it and ship it.

As with anything in the Linux world, there are plenty of alternatives.  And one of them was right under my nose all these years – HexChat:

HexChat is an IRC client based on XChat, but unlike XChat it’s completely free for both Windows and Unix-like systems. Since XChat is open source, it’s perfectly legal.

HexChat is often shipped right next to where XChat is or used to be.  For Fedora users, it’s as close as “dnf install hexchat“.

Conky – light-weight system monitor for X

Conky is a light-weight system monitor for X.  It supports all kinds of metrics – anything from CPU, memory and network, to emails, music players, and more.

It reminds me of the old days, before Gnome and KDE took over the desktop environments – I think everybody had something similar running as part of the screen background.

The installation on Fedora is trivial – conky is packaged and available with a simple “yum install conky“.  The configuration, on the other hand, is not so much.  GitHub repository provides quite a few fancy user configurations, but there was a change in configuration file format in the version 1.10, and things aren’t as smooth as I would like.

It’ll take a bit of playing around, but I’m sure I’ll eventually lose enough sleep over this to just give up and have something semi-decent on my screen.

Fedora 25

I’ve just upgraded my laptop to Fedora 25.  The upgrade process was a breeze (as per instructions from this article):

sudo su -
dnf upgrade --refresh
dnf install dnf-plugin-system-upgrade
dnf system-upgrade download --releasever=25
dnf system-upgrade reboot

About 2,500 packages (1 GB and some) were downloaded in about 40 minutes (yeah, our Internet connection could use a boost). Then rebooted and the upgraded kicked in. It took about another 40 minutes to run the process (I should get myself an SSD-based laptop next time).

The only thing I had to fix after the upgrade was the kmod-wl package, which provides the drivers for my wireless interface. Another reboot later all was good.

There were no major visual changes (I’m using MATE Desktop), but something felt a bit different.  After focusing on the differences for a few minutes, I think it’s the fonts.  Something is better, sharper, more polished.

Other than that, all is pretty much the same.  I’ll need to use it for a while to see if I can spot any changes.  Hopefully, at least a flickering issue that I got after some upgrade during the Fedora 24 life span is fixed now.  It was weird.  A particular application window would start to flick and refresh until clicked again.  Never figured out what it was. :)

Lumina Desktop 1.0.0 released

Linux Weekly News shares the announcement from the Lumina Desktop project about the release of the version 1.0.0.

sample-planet-menu

And while I’m still pretty happy with my MATE desktop, it’s nice to see people taking an effort into making things better.  Two particular features caught my eye in the release announcement:

Multiple-monitor support! Each monitor is treated as an independent entity – making it great for presentation systems which use a temporary monitor or for workstations which utilize an array of monitors for various tasks.

This is super cool!  Current iterations of Gnome and KDE do support multi-monitor setups, but they treat all monitors as a single work space.  Using multiple virtual work spaces is supported, but one can’t switch a work space on a particular monitor without switching the corresponding work space on all other monitors.  I haven’t tried Lumina Desktop myself yet, but from the announcement it looks like they support exactly that – switching monitor work spaces individually and not all together.

Personalize the initial settings for users with a single configuration file!

This is how things used to be in the old days (back when I was using AfterStep and the like).  A single configuration file is super convenient when you want to move your setup from machine to machine.  Both Gnome and KDE these days utilize numerous configuration files and GUI tools to manage them, which makes automating these setups with tools like Ansible very impractical.

I’m way too busy with work stuff these days to try a different desktop environment, but I will keep an eye on the Lumina Desktop Environment for now.  Maybe one slow Friday I’ll give it a spin.