On the Desktop
Linux in the news
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
A better cup o' Java in the morning Java on Linux has never been one of the OS's strong points. Sure, lots of vendors are using Java on Linux for embedded systems, but the desktop user seldom sees these systems. The desktop user mostly uses the Java runtime environment (aka Java RE) found in their browser. And typically, that environment lacks, to be polite, stability. Users often find their Netscape 4.x browsers locking up or crashing outright when running Java applets on various web sites. The problem has been so severe that many users simply disable Java, with the result being that many sites lack the visible information that users are seeking.
Fortunately, starting with Netscape 4.0, users have had the ability to use alternative Java RE plugins with their browser. These plugins replace the existing Java RE in Netscape, hopefully providing more stability. Newer browser alternatives including Mozilla and Konqueror also allow for using alternative Java environments.
Earlier this month the Blackdown team released a new version of the Java 2 RE Standard Edition, a complete runtime environment that can be used for standalone Java applications which also includes a browser plugin. The Java 1.3.1 FCS release notes say that the package is available in bzip2, Debian and RPM formats but the status page says only the first two are actually available. A search of archives on the mirrors page turns up no RPM packages.
$HOME/.netscape/pluginsdirectory (see the INSTALL file in the Blackdown distribution for complete details). Then all that's necessary is to tell Netscape to use the Java plugin. To do this, select Edit->Preferences to open the Preferences dialog window. Click on the Advanced category and make sure the "Enable Java" and "Enable Java Plugin" buttons are selected. The Plugin option won't be available unless Netscape sees the plugin when it starts up, so you may need to restart Netscape after installing the javaplugin.so plugin. The plugin also has a number of configurable options, such as use with proxies, which can be set using the JavaPluginControlPanel.html page found in the Blackdown Java installation directory. You can verify the plugin has been installed by using the about:plugins feature of Netscape.
Performance for the new plugin is hard to measure but overall the stability seems to be improved in the short time we've had to run with the new plugin. LWN.net examines many web sites each week and crashes with Netscape are common. With the new Java plugin installed those crashes have been noticeably reduced.
Blackdown, however, is not the only source for Java environments on Linux. IBM has a freely downloadable Java 2 environment as well. Installation instructions are available for this release. Registration is required in order to download the software and you need to agree to certain terms if you plan on redistributing the runtime environment with any software you sell or distribute.
Installation using the RPM puts the plugin under /opt (the Blackdown distribution, because it is a simple compressed tar archive, can be placed anywhere). After installing the RPM, you need to install the plugin, just as you did with the Blackdown version:
ln -s /opt/IBMJava2-13/jre/bin/javaplugin.so \ $HOME/.netscape/plugins/According to the IBM documentation provided, Red Hat 7.1 requires you work around an issue with the "floating stacks feature" of that release. The plugin will handle this automatically, but if you run the java virtual machine (aka "java") manually, you need to set an environment variable. The documentation states clearly how to handle this situation and the package includes wrapper scripts for dealing with the issue.
Testing We tested both plugins with some of the applets found on Sun's Applet Resource site. In the following, a "yes" note reflects a successful test, a "no" means the applet didn't work.
The tests showed that both plugins worked exactly the same, though checking the version of each shows they may come from different code bases:
For IBM's Java:
mjhammel(tty0)$ ./java -version java version "1.3.0" Java(TM) 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition (build 1.3.0) Classic VM (build 1.3.0, J2RE 1.3.0 IBM build cx130-20010626 (JIT enabled: jitc))For Blackdown's Java:
mjhammel(tty0)$ ./java -version java version "1.3.1" Java(TM) 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition (build Blackdown-1.3.1-FCS) Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM (build Blackdown-1.3.1-FCS, mixed mode)For Blackdown Java most failed tests popped up a window stating that the arguments for the applet "couldn't fit into locals", a java.lang.ClassFormatError. The same problem applied to the failed versions under the IBM JVM, but without the pop up window.
Interestingly, some tests with the IBM Java RE were run on a Red Hat Linux 7.1 system initially (until we could get them properly installed on the Red Hat Linux 6.1 system where Blackdown had been installed). Here, ImageTest failed on a Red Hat Linux 7.1 system with the IBM Java RE plugin when the rotating Tumbling Duke caused Duke to disappear. This didn't happen on the Red Hat Linux 6.1 box. Something wasn't quite right on 7.1 with IBM Java's image processing features.
KDE Report: LinuxTag 2001. KDE Dot News carried a report from LinuxTag this week covering that projects presence at the show. "The well decorated and overcrowded 24 square meter KDE booth and its crew enjoyed the feedback and interest of several thousand visitors, among which remarkably many stopped by to talk to the KDE women team."Mtools: KDE's answer. Last week we mentioned that mtools, the DOS utilities for Linux/Unix systems, has a GTK+ based graphical interface. A KDE fan wrote in stating that KDE has abstracted access to the floppy device, via mtools, using a URL of "floppy:/". This interface seems even more intuitive than the file manager method, though you'll always find users who would argue that point one way or the other.
KDE 2.2 Release Schedule Update. A new schedule for KDE 2.2 was published this past week. The updates push the release out another 2 weeks to address stability and security issues.
Konqueror Gets Text-to-Speech Synthesis. A text-to-speech system is being added to Konqueror, the KDE web and file browser, with the first trial version submitted to CVS. In this first version the new system requires manual selection of text and then manually running the speech synthesis tool. Later these steps will be more automated.
Kernel Cousin KDE #17. The benefits of a backported QRichText object from Qt3 into Qt2 has resulted in discussion of a new library for KDE to handle text, tentatively called libkofficetext. This and more are covered in the expanded Kernel Cousin KDE this week.
KDE Print framework. Michael Goffioul, author of the new print subsystem in KDE, has posted his slides on the subject which he presented at LinuxTag in Germany. The slides are now available in HTML format.
Minutes of the GNOME Board meeting. This week's GNOME Board meeting highlight was the formal agreement on job description, salary, and benefits for the executive director of the GNOME Foundation. The director has apparently been hired, though a name has yet to be released.
AbiWord weekly news #52. There were various bug fixes noted in this week's AbiWord Weekly News and the mailing lists noted the availability of an english-only thesaurus package along with an attempt at a source tree closing in preparation for the next release, but that attempt met with resistance due to a number of show stopping bugs still to be resolved.
Open-source OpenOffice for OS X faces uphill battle (ZDNet). OpenOffice's OS X port is in search of a project lead, according to this ZDNet report. "Hutinger said, it's not as though he's starting from scratch. ``Sun, Patrick Luby [a senior engineer at Sun and former manager for the Mac OS X port who is now working on the Solaris and Linux ports of OpenOffice] and his team have done a lot of the ground work, or should I say all the hard work. They have fixed all the problems with the current tool chain Apple is using.''"
KIllustrator name change. Seeking to resolve the issue with Adobe, KIllustrator's author has reportedly changed the name of the package to Kontour. According to a report from Heise Online (German language, with a BabelFish translation), Adobe won't try to prevent KIllustrator from being distributed as long as that project does change its name.
And in other news...
A Linux desktop is on the way (ZDNet). This ZDNet commentary provides a set of requirements for the Linux desktop, ranging from better configuration and application installation tools to more productivity tools and even Windows support, that are necessary in order for it to become viable in the marketplace. "While Kmail is nice, and pine will get you by in a pinch, we need a true tool on par with Outlook/Notes. No matter how much I love Linux, I still like Outlook for its integration. And while I have tried Evolution, Magellen and its offspring, none are ready for primetime. Evolution is getting close, but there is still a ways to go. And these tools need a backend server for Mail, Calendar, Address Book, and Collaboration. Until these ripen, a lot of people will never come over." Despite this particular quote, this is mostly a positive piece about the Linux desktop.
Libart API documentation. The libart library API has been documented. The documentation includes an example program under GTK+, however some parts of libart are currently missing such as micro tile arrays.
CFP: Unix and the desktop. The Netherlands Unix User's Group (NLUUG) is inviting submissions for talks on end user experiences and new developments related to the Unix desktop and multimedia applications.
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
July 19, 2001