On the Desktop
Linux in the news
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
Linux and the Palm Pilot. While the influx of Linux based PDA (personal digital assistant) devices is growing (see the Yopy, iPAQ and VR3, for example - LinuxDevices summarizes them all), most users of handheld systems are still using devices based on the Palm OS. In order to synchronize data between the handheld device and your Linux system you need tools that are called conduits. According to Palm's definition:
A conduit is a plug-in to HotSync® technology that runs when you press the HotSync button on a handheld cradle or modem. A conduit synchronizes data between the application on the desktop and the application on the handheld.
In other words, conduits should:
In the Linux world, the primary tool for synchronizing between a Pilot and a Linux desktop is the Pilot Link software. This package is a set of libraries and command line tools that work with the basic set of Memos, Todo List, Address Book and Calendar on the Pilot. These tools have been around for quite some time and the latest version, 0.9.3, should work well with most PalmOS 3.0 or earlier devices. The limitation here is that PalmOS devices that use a USB connector may not work with older versions of Pilot Link (see "Other Tools" section below).
While the command line tools in Pilot Link are reasonable, they aren't quite sufficient to make complete use of what the Pilot can provide. They were written mostly as test applications and then expanded lightly for general use. But managing individual records on the Pilot (such as deleting one specific Todo list item) can't be done with the command line tools. That's the bad news. The good news is the Pilot Link library (libpisock) actually does allow such management. All that is missing are tools that properly use this library.
Surprisingly, there aren't that many GUI tools around that take full advantage of libpisock. There are projects for both GNOME (gnome-pilot) and KDE (KPilot) that are in varying stages of development. JPilot is probably the most full featured and mature application, though some may argue that PilotManager may be better. Finally, XNotesPlus offers support for downloading Memos and the Address Book and limited support for database syncing. Besides these, one other command line tool worth noting is Syncal, which performs synchronizing of the Pilot calendar with the ical program.
GNOME Pilot. If you're using GNOME 1.4 (either the generic distribution or Ximian's) you should probably have the GNOME Pilot tool already installed. You have to look under the GNOME Control Center (gnomecc if you run it from the command line) to configure it to use conduits, though it's not clear how to use any of them other than the Backup conduit (which backs up all or some of the files from the Pilot). In any case, the first thing you need to do is select the Peripherals->PilotLink option to configure where your Pilot is connected and how to communicate with it.
GNOME Pilot uses a newer and unsupported version of the Pilot Link software, version 0.9.5 that may or may not be widely distributed yet. The setup wizard implies support for both IrDA and USB connected devices. After completing configuration you can then use any of the conduits presented under Peripherals->Pilot selection in gnomecc. These include backup, mail, memos, and even expense conduits. Tests with Ximian GNOME 1.4 showed that only a few of the conduits actually provided any configuration options. No information was provided on how to actually use those conduits.
The current developer's release is only 0.1.54, with 0.1.55 in prelease, so this project is obviously in early development. GNOME Pilot appears to use a client/server architecture where the gpilotd server is started and waits for connections from the Pilot cradle or from applications. It then opens the communications path on the other end. Conduits seem to be accessed via embedded applets inside particular applications (GNOMECal, for example), though this could't be proven at the time of testing.
Unfortunately, documentation is practically non-existant (unless you download the README with the source code) and the web site contains many broken links. If you're interested in following this project, you can subscribe to the gnome-pilot mailing list.
KPilot. This project takes a slightly different approach than its GNOME counterpart. First, the application is at least partially self contained. That means the configuration, memo, address and file transfer features are all part of KPilot and not embedded (at least in the 3.2.1 version) in other applications. While this makes the application a little easier to figure out (start KPilot to configure it instead of start gnomecc to configure gnome-pilot), it isn't completely apparent how to use it.
KPilot will HotSync address and memo files from the Pilot directly using the HotSync button on the main window. After the HotSync completes, the address records can be viewed and edited from within KPilot. The same is true for the Pilot's Memos. To access the Todo and Calendar databases from the Pilot you need to install external conduits which are provided with KPilot and configure them manually. When the next HotSync is performed the Todo and Calendar databases are written to a local calendar file that can be accessed and edited using KOrganizer as long as you use the same calendar file, which normally tends to be
$HOME/.kde/apps/korganizer/file.vcsLike GNOME Pilot, KPilot is built around a client/server architecture. The KPilot daemon, appropriately named kpilotDaemon, waits for connections from either side and can even launch the KPilot GUI when the HotSync button on a Pilot cradle is pressed.
There is more documentation available for KPilot than with GNOME Pilot. The KPilot users guide is launched in a Konqueror window when you select the Help->Contents menu option on the KPilot main menu bar. The documentation is sufficient to learn how to use KPilot, which certainly gives it a step up on the current GNOME Pilot release.
The current stable release seems to be 3.2.1, with 4.0 being actively worked on by the developers. Unfortunately, KPilot's web site forces you into using KDE 2.2 and the 4.0 version out of CVS which is not very end-user friendly unless you happen to have KDE 2.2 already installed. You have to dig around to find an RPM for the older 3.2 version.
JPilot. JPilot seems to have a strong following among some of the users queried. That may be because the program is a bit more mature and includes a complete set of features: calendar, todo list, memos and address book, all built directly into the application. In fact, the only real problem with JPilot seems to be the layout of the windows, which can be kind of klunky to use. There are diamond shaped buttons next to phone/email/fax fields, for example, that are mutually exclusive though no hint is provided as to their function.
JPilot, like both GNOME Pilot and KPilot, uses the Pilot Link libraries for communicating with the Pilot. Also like its two competitors, JPilot will synchronize the complete set of databases on each HotSync. This seems a little overkill if, for example, you only make updates to the calendar regularly. JPilot will display address entries using the name or company fields and sorting is always done alphabetically by those fields. The best feature just may be the ability to search in all databases for a given string - look under File->Find in the main menu bar.
While JPilot offers fairly complete sync and edit features for each of the four main Pilot tools, it does have a few minor flaws. First, there is no built in help system. The GNOME and KDE tools launch browsers to display help, but JPilot only provides simple "About" dialogs. That said, the online documentation on the web site is outstanding, including a complete HOWTO styled document that explains all the features as well as how to write plugins for the application. Another annoying but relatively minor flaw is that JPilot won't sync with a pilot that doesn't have a user name and ID installed. You have to run the Pilot Link command line tool intall-user to add these manually.
JPilot does not run on a client/server model. It is linked directly to the Pilot Link libraries. The process is asynchronous (as it is with the GNOME and KDE applications) so the application continues to function during the HotSync process.
Other Tools. There are a few other tools worth mentioning in this report.
The bad news overall is that pilot-link may or may not be supported any further. While gnome-pilot seems to use an upgraded version, there doesn't seem to be a web site anywhere with updated information on the status of the package and the pilot-unix mailing list is apparently dead. The last word from David Desrosiers, the most recent Pilot Link maintainer, was that Pilot Link was being rewritten to clean up lots of old cruft in the source and provide a cleaner distribution. Note that the SourceForge site for pilot-link is ancient - the project was moved away from there some time back and the new web site is simply a CVS dump of file activity.
DVD on Linux (Duke of URL). The Duke of URL has posted a DVD on Linux summary, explaining what DVD cards are supported and what graphical players are available. "You'll also want to check on various restrictions and missing features in each piece of software. I've noticed kernel 2.4.x seems to work best, and there are bugs in the kernel 2.4.1 which will prevent you from using your DVD drive with that particular kernel version."
Font anti-aliasing for GTK+ 1.2. This isn't user oriented, per se, but it is interesting to compare the current GTK+ 1.2 with the current Qt, which already handles anti-aliased fonts.
A patch was made available for GTK 1.2 that allows that GUI library to render anti-aliased fonts using the Xrender extension. Screenshots are available, but are difficult to see clearly. Havoc Pennington noted that similar patches always break GTK 1.2 internationalization (see comments) but that GTK 2.0, due out later this year, already has support for Xrender.
KDE 2.2alpha2 is out. The latest developer release of the version 2.2 for the KDE desktop has been released. There are many improvements in this version over the last alpha release along with the addition of the new Kooka scanning application.
GNOME Summary for May 27 - June 02, 2001. The latest GNOME Summary has been published. Highlights include a call for help for Gnotices (the GNOME news site).
Gnome-print 0.29. A new version of the gnome-print package for GNOME 1.4 was released this past week. This was strictly a bug fix release.
Minutes of the GNOME Board meeting 29 May 2001. The weekly summary of the GNOME Foundation board meeting has been posted.
Is Netscape Leaving the Browser World? (BrowserWatch). It appears, as this story reports, that Netscape will be cutting back on browser development. "Instead of continuing the battle against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape will instead focus on developing Netscape Netcenter as a Web portal, incorporating content from other Time-Warner publishing outlets."
GDM 188.8.131.52. A new release of the GNOME Desktop Manager (gdm) became available this past week. GDM is the tool that provides graphical logins to the GNOME desktop. This release fixes, among other things, a security problem where cookies could be used to bypass security.
And in other news...
Linux on an iPAQ (O'Reilly). This second installment on Linux and handhelds covers the Compaq iPAQ handheld. "For those who want to run a more familiar operating system, Linux can replace WinCE in the unit's 16 megabytes of flash ROM. While Compaq won't sell a unit without WinCE, they are contributing considerable resources to making Linux work on the machines."
Linux Not Ready for Desktop Move (AP). This AP Technology story says that the Linux desktop isn't being accepted yet because of a lack of a choice of applications. "'If we look at what drives people to select an operating system, it's not the operating system,' [IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky] said. 'Almost always, the things that drive them to select something is the availability of their chosen applications.'"
Linux on the Desktop: The Possibility Still Exists (Penguinista). This opinion piece says that the Linux Desktop isn't dead, with or without Eazel. "Why am I comparing Eazel's Nautilus to Konqueror in an article about the Linux desktop? The point is that, while it was good to have the additional support from Eazel, the Linux desktop can and will continue to improve without Eazel. The mistaken assumption that it will not arises from another false idea - that GNOME is the Linux desktop."
KDE Dot News changes servers. The KDE news server has been moved to a new home. Hopefully this will cure some of the problems people have had accessing the well followed news stream.
Company offers free Linux installs on desktops (CNN). CNN reports on one company's offer to install Linux for free to help push Linux onto the desktop. "With graphical interfaces for Linux beginning to look more like Windows, better stability, and improved networking hookups and security, Linux Centers is betting that more business and individual users will be willing to at least give it another look for the desktop."
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
June 7, 2001