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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wacom Draw Tablet under X-Windows

Problems with Monitor and Draw Tablet Screen
I have been using my draw tablet for about a year in Linux. While Ubuntu now makes the installation as easy as a KDE/X-Windows session restart, I still have some problems. Over the years I have tried every option I can think of to get things "perfect" but nothing has quite worked. But I have managed a workable solution for when I draw, so I will share it.

If anyone knows a better solution that what I am have here, please feel free to comment.

My System
I use an Nvidia 9400 GT with my Dell 2407WFPHC and my Wacom Cintiq 12WX CRT. I also use the Nvidia provided graphical configuration program for my display. (The package is called nvidia-settings. The program shares the same name.)

Using the Nvidia program, I have the following options:
  • Disable
  • Separate X screen
  • TwinView
Let's talk about them.

Separate X Screen
This is pretty straightforward. X-Windows treats the displays like separate X-screens. But for me, this option has had major problem since KDE 3.5 until even now in KDE 4.3 (and every version of Xorg in between). X-Windows does indeed create an X-screen on each device. But when using this, KDE creates a session on Screen 0, but fails to create a session on Screen 1. I had hoped that KDE 4.3 would have added this feature, now that they have improved Multiple Monitor support, but no such luck yet.

On top of not KDE not opening/creating a session on screen 1, there is a pen-tool error between both displays. The pen-tool's movement is radically distorted with the cursor movement between the screens, making it completely unusable. No positions or orientations I have tried have fixed this even a little.

Xinerama (under Separate X Screen mode)
When using Separate mode, I can choose to enable Xinerama. Unfortunately that breaks Compositing, which means Alpha-transparency and other desktop effects are disabled.

But the real deal-breaker is the unusable cursor-movement with the pen-tool. There is a problem with the cursor jumping between the two displays after moving a percentage of the way across the screen. The distance roughly corresponds to the difference in resolution pixel size between my tablet and my monitor. So, depending on the positioning of each display in my Xorg.conf (left of, right of, below, above, etc), the areas of the screen where the cursor will jump to-and-from varies but the square area is generally the same.

This is, I believe, an unfortunately reality of Xinerama from what little research I have done on the subject. If my tablet were able to do a resolution like 1920x1200, like my desktop monitor, perhaps this would not be a problem. Sadly it is, and I have never found even the slightest hint of a solution or work around for this.

TwinView mode works great for multiple desktops in KDE. Using KDE 4.3, the system detects both displays and works very nicely. Compositing and all those lovely eye-candies are still present.

Unfortunately, the pen-tool error between both displays still occurs. The pen-tool's movement is radically distorted with the cursor movement between the screens, making it completely unusable. No positions or orientations I have tried have fixed this even a little.

Workaround Solution
The only workaround solution I know that does let me use my tablet with no distorted cursor/pen-tool movement is disable my monitor display and use the tablet as the primary display. This always makes me a little sad, but I live with it. I keep hoping one day this will be fixed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nifty Recovery Tool and KDE 4.3 Review Continued

So after using KDE 4.3 for a while, I am happy to report it is an excellent upgrade.

Possible Retraction
The problems I have been experiencing with KDE 4.3 on my system may be related to slowly failing hardware. I believe my motherboard may be going bad, which could be causing the shutdown problems.

KDE 4.3 Upgrade Problems - Not Hitting Everyone
KDE 4.3 may upgrade smoothly for some, especially if the user never changed many of the KDE configurations. For my brother, upgrading from KDE 4.2.4 to KDE 4.3 was smooth as silk. Flawless. He had left everything default in 4.2.4. I can only assume my prior problems were caused by a few problematic configuration files that were created while I used KDE 4.2.4 plus, and I do customize a ton in KDE.

There is another thing I forgot to mention, whichk I only found out about today. If your KDE 4.3 upgrade screws up and you don't get any desktop displayed, this fix may help:

Reboot and when GRUB is starting to load, switch into the Recovery mode and boot with that. Upon startup, you will be given a nice little Text GUI with several common options, such as root console, root console with networking, package manager, etc. I have never seen this option screen before but I was both surprised and delighted by it. This is no doubt an excellent helpful tool for new and even old-but-inexperienced users for recovery.

I have no idea how long this feature has been here, nor do I know if it is from the Kernel Devs, the GNU, Debian/Ubuntu or what.

I even got to test one of these options just today. When upgrading my VirtualBox Kubuntu KDE 4.2.4, it had the same configuration errors I had experienced when upgrading my main desktop. The X-Windows system started and KDE 4.3 went through its startup but in the end all I got was a mouse-cursor and a black-blank screen with nothing else.

Since I could not easily get to a virtual-terminal in the VM window (by using CTRL+ALT+F1 for example), I decided to reboot and use the recovery mode. That is when I discovered this new Text GUI window with options. Looking through the options, I decided to try 'xfix', not thinking it would work. Imagine my shock when IT FIXED IT. I don't know exactly what it did (I wasn't watching at that moment) but it definitely sets many (if not all) configurations of the GUIs/X-Windows back to default. But hey, it fixed it.

I don't really give Konqueror credit for the subtle but truly excellent upgrades it has been receiving for a while. To name a few I have noticed:
  • Auto-column (re)sizing
  • Easier/smoother sorting order changes in Icon mode
  • Better toolbar icons + functionality available
  • Better shortcut support (but that's a whole KDE thing now)
  • Better Ark integration and configuration
  • Transfer Management: Transfer start-stop-pause control of multiple file transfers, not to mention a more unified and convenient window-management for the transfer-statusbar subwindows.
  • Latest version of Konqueror supports inline renaming, just like old times.
  • More options for general configuration
Another piece of news worth noting: Konqueror restores all of my tabs upon restart-from-konqueror-crash, and I do mean ALL my tabs. That means, for example, restoring multiple tabs split into 8 or more sub-panes windows, in different view modes and sorting modes. That is Im-Freaking-Pressive.

I have never been able to Columns view, and it always breaks when I do, even mangling the program restart with a few residual error messages on the restart. But oh well, I don't use that mode. (I just wish I could remove that button from my toolbar!)

KDE 4.3 is definitely more stable. Though I thought KDE 4.2.4 was pretty good, KDE 4.3 is better. The small errors have been smoothed over, though I still occasionally have crashes with Gwenview viewing from within Zips files. I'm inclined to wonder if it is a combination of Gwenview and the KDE KioSlaves not jiving well together.

Again, the changes are subtle, but influential. I have noticed that the passive notifications and progress/statusbars now fit even more nicely and less obtrusively into the KDE system-tray icon for them. I am not if some of the Konqueror features I mentioned should be attributed to KDE or not. Either way, I like where things are going.

Remaining Problems

  • Shortcut keys: The default shortcut keys in konsole interfere with real work. But you can change these through the Settings -> Configure Shortcuts menu. My case is CTRL+S, which locks my console. I have seen this behavior before but never from Konsole.
  • Transparency: First, Good transparency was removed from Konsole. It was replaced with Alpha Transparency.... which has never actually worked 100% properly in KDE 4 to date. In KDE 4.2 I was able to find workaround to make it function more or less correctly. Now that workaround no longer fixes the problem, so I'm stuck with a butt-fuck-ugly konsole with a washed-out white undertone on EVERYTHING. To whomever screwed this one up, I hate you.
It is hard to believe that the transparency feature in Konsole went from great, to bad, to really bad.

There are a few features still missing from Gwenview, which does vex me. I am hoping to see them by the next major update. It seems to me that the rest of the more complex features have been implemented by now.

Missing features:
  • Key shortcuts for Beginning/End of the current image list (in the current directory or archive).
  • Option to enable automatic disregarding of changes without prompting.
  • Duplicate Detection plugin
  • Image counter: (Without using the thumbnail bar) shows your progress in the current list of images. Something like 53/100. This was very useful for me.
I am actually kind of surprised that Gwenview is only missing a few features before it is back to what it was before.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PulseAudio - A new system to solve many problems

What PulseAudio is, and why it is great for Linux.

Someone once asked me why PulseAudio is being pushed and I only had some vague ideas why. This article briefly mentions some new reasons I did know. I thought you might be interested:

I have been reading up on PulseAudio and like I said before, if it becomes the standard (and I think it will) it will be great and solve a lot of the problems in Linux. Sufficient to say, if PulseAudio can do all that I have ever seen listed on websites for features, it will be the end all of sound systems for Linux. :)

Just to name a few features PulseAudio has that I like:
  • Support for a far wider range of audio devices ( Bluetooth/Apple Airport)
  • Flat volume support (similar to Vista's audio controls)
  • On-the-fly reconfiguration of audio devices
  • Native support for 24-bit samples.
  • It will run on Windows, both natively if desired or through Cygwi.
  • Support for allow networked sound (between Windows and Linux)
These last two two features are things I have personally desired from a sound system. Previously I had never successfully enabled transporting of sound across a network from a Windows Machine to a Linux machine. (The occasion for wanting to do this was that I had a Windows machine in my room, running games which I was controlling from my Linux desktop via Synergy. I did not want to setup a second pair of speakers to hear the games. I wanted to have the audio from that computer piped into my main desktop speakers.)

About two years ago, PulseAudio was rather unsupported (maybe even broken), at least in Ubuntu. Maybe it was the programs... or maybe it was the kernel. I don't know. It could have been both. But now most of my programs run PulseAudio just fine. I remember the annoying problems I would have with OSS audio in the past. This transition to PulseAudio is much less of a problem for me.

I suppose a user must need to be somewhat advanced to experience the occasional difficulties with software audio protocol conflicts and difficulties. I can safely tell you that I definitely experienced more problems with audio 6 years ago when I began to seriously use Linux. I also experienced more when I was using a wider variety of software.

In the past 6 years I have been watching, there has been larger move towards supported ALSA in most applications, and now support for PulseAudio seems to be coming along nicely. The best part of PulseAudio is that, to my understanding, as long the application uses ALSA, ARTS or ESD, all of those are wrapped under the PulseAudio umbrella.

So if PulseAudio is actually working on your system, the system is backwards and forwards compatible, and all sound play nicely together. Well done, huh?

Of course, there is the issue that PulseAudio will have more overhead than systems like ALSA, which of course has more overhead than OSS. Personally though, I seriously doubt this is going to even be noticed on desktops with Dual-cores and even more so as Quad-cores become commonplace. Also, we are not talking about a lot of overhead here, especially when the system is not doing much.

KDE 4.3 and Konqueror's Neglect

KDE 4.3 Ain't So Stable (Yet)
KDE 4.3 was released yesterday. My advice to anyone considering trying it out right now: DON'T UPGRADE! If you are going to use it, do a fresh install, unless you know how to juggle config files. Edit: I did an upgrade of KDE 4.3 on my brother's laptop, and it went smooth as silk. KDE 4.3 works flawlessly for his computer, yet mine still had/has some issues. So your mileage may vary.

While any of you that know me are aware I am an avid Linux fan (though this is really about KDE, not Linux per se), the following post has some bad new to report.

KDE 4.3 is supposed to be a stabilizing release, focusing mostly on bug fixes (over 10,000 completed) and some feature updates. That may be, but I'm afraid my experience so far has been anything but stable.

1st: I installed KDE 4.3 from the apt-repositories. Then I restarted KDE/X-Windows. KDE proceeded to start, but never showed me my desktop, just a blank workspace. Obviously KDE 4.3 did not smoothly upgrade from KDE 4.2.4.

2nd: After 30 minutes of doing a fairly straightforward but advanced detection and fix, I was able to isolate a group of the problem files and repopulate my KDE configuration files. Things progressed smoothly until I encountered the next major bug: Exiting KDE.

KDE 4.3 will NOT, under any circumstances, Shut down the computer, Restart the computer, or Log out. It simply will not do it, no matter how many times you try. Luckily I know the manual shutdown command, but that's a pretty heinous error.

3rd: Konsole. The transparency in KDE Konsole is... wait for it.... even more broken than before. I have trouble believing my eyes on this one. I'm pretty shocked it did not get fixed. Even the WORKAROUND for the bug, that has been there for over a year, no longer works now. I guess this just gives me more impetus to get back to writing my own alternative virtual terminal, because God-Damn-it, we need one fucking badly.

4th: EDIT. I fixed the problem. It was a setting configuration, though it was really damned hard to find.

5th: Be forewarned this has some rather ranting moments, so I apologize.

Konqueror is without a doubt the best file manager I know of currently. But it has been pretty broken since KDE 4.0.

Even by KDE 4.3, it still have issues, plus some new bugs. For me, the most apparent bug in KDE4 Konqueror is the utterly awful way Images are handled within it (opening, previewing, mouse previewing). Since one of my primary hobbies is collecting images, this has been a constant colossal pain in my side. I keep waiting for that be fixed but it has been 18 months now. That's pretty f**king unacceptable. (Can you tell I'm mad?)

On a less rage filled thought, Konqueror is in serious need of being updated from QT3 to QT4. Namely it needs the standard QT4 navigation bar, and god-damn-it would be nice to have meta/information panels like Dolphin does. Actually, even though I don't use Dolphin because of its imposed limitations, I like several things in it.

But there is good news. At least, partially. The KDE team has been planning to add these exact updates for a while now. It would just be nice if they actually did it.

Cursory Review of KDE 4.3
  • Konqueror Gestures are back. I did miss these, but ironically now I don't so much need them if I have my new mouse with 5+ buttons.
  • Better Ark integration (with more menu support too).
  • Support for more formats and a few small bug fixes.
Gwenview (changed from version 2.2.4 to 2.3.0):
  • Bug Fixes: God Almighty I hope the bugs are really fixed. They were simply AWFUL at points (way too frequently) and they should been fixed a long time ago. Really, they should have been. No excuse. Should have been done months ago.
  • Plugins: In case you did not know (like most KDE 4 users), you have to install the kiki-plugins package to enable the plugins for Gwenview. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed since the prior version.
    It is still missing the most important plugin for me: Find Duplicates Images.
  • Sidebar: Better hiding and restoration interface.
  • Thumbnail Bar: Now it can be vertical, which I prefer. Nice.
  • On a personal note, though Gwenview is still missing a few features I consider crucial, I really do like all the new features that have been added.

I sometimes ask myself, "Should you try using KDE 3.5 again?" The answer is mostly no. The biggest problems (that I know of) for KDE 4 has been Gwenview and Konqueror, which are two programs I use constantly, and they are usable, just not fully-functioning. If I look beyond that, KDE 4 is a great system. I can live with the small little lack of eyecandy in Konsole. Even in KDE 4.2.4, when Plasma would crash, it would do so very gracefully and almost immediately restore itself with no noticeable ill-effects.