How to replace Xscreensaver with i3lock in Manjaro XFCE

Manjaro, like any other XFCE- based distribution, relies on Xscreensaver for its screen locking / saving needs. Xscreensaver was created in 1992, and that’s exactly what it looks like, making every log on an unpleasant flashback to the dark ages of Fvwm and Gnome 1.0.

So I started looking for an alternative, and finally found i3lock, a simple but elegant screen locker that goes really well with Manjaro, especially if you set the background color to black.

To use i3lock for automatic locking with xfce4-power-manager, you have to trick XFCE first into supporting it. Theoretically you could modify the xflock4 script, but your changes might be overwritten with the next XFCE update, so I decided to mask i3lock as slock, an even more minimalistic locker which is supported by XFCE. All I had to do was to create an executable file called slock in /usr/bin and enter the following text:

#! /bin/bash
i3lock -c000000

From now on, typing ‘slock’ will trigger i3lock with black background. After uninstalling Xscreensaver, xflock4 will now fall back to slock, with “lock on lid close” and all other xfce4-power-manager settings still working.

What’s still missing now is a real screensaver option, i.e. running i3lock after some idle time. This can be achieved using xautolock. To lock your screen after 7 minutes, add the following command to Settings / Session and Startup / Application Autostart

xautolock -locker xflock4 -time 7 -corners 0-00

The “corners” option tells xautolock NOT to lock your screen when the mouse cursor is in the upper right corner of the screen, which is a good way to prevent locking while watching movies.

This little guide is for Manjaro Linux XFCE, but it should work pretty much the same with vanilla Arch + XFCE or any other XFCE based distro, like Xubuntu, Mint XFCE or LMDE. And you should be able to get it to work for LXDE or Cinnamon, too, if you use xfce4-power-manager.

Firefox 28 Nightly “Australis”

Screenhot by getaustralis.com

Almost a year after the first mockups, the new Mozilla design paradigm “Australis” finally made it to the Firefox Nightly build. Time to leave the safe Beta channel behind and take a deep dive into the future (a stable Australis release can’t be expected before spring next year).

The most obvious change is the rounded tabs, resembling Thunderbird or Firefox for Android (they don’t look like Google Chrome at all, in my opinion). The menu button has moved to the right and now contains a collection of icons instead of classical menu entries. Extensions can also be moved here from the navigation bar, the separate extension toolbar at the bottom has been removed.

Preferences unfortunately have not changed much, but after 10 years you probably know were to look for a setting. Advanced options like about:config and userChrome.css are still available, too, so the simplification of the UI does not mean a loss of features or flexibility.

Sadly the new Firefox generation still has differences between Windows and Linux versions, there are different texts, icons and keyboard shortcuts, and I really can’t understand why tabs in title bar still don’t work on Linux, it was 14 versions ago that the feature was first introduced in Firefox 4 for Windows, and Chrome and Opera have been doing it for years … but, as always, there’s an extension for that, HTitle hides the OS window decorations (officially just for Gnome 3, but “Legacy Mode” works for Cinnamon and probably for other desktop environments, too).

The other addons I’m using work fine with Australis, too, like the Moment start page, WOT, AdblockPlus, FireIE (Windows only), Disconnect, HTTPS Everywhere, and so on. Some icons are not yet placed perfectly in the navigation toolbar or the menu, but extension developers have plenty of time to fix these glitches until the stable version comes out. The current Firefox Nightly is surprisingly stable for a pre- alpha version, all web sites work perfectly and performance is great, especially startup time on Linux with Pipelight plugins has improved a lot.

Overall Australis is something to look forward to, for my part I’ll stay on Firefox Nightly for the time being, and I hope the changes really make it into Firefox 28, which would mean they would be released into the stable branch by next March. Even if you don’t like the new UI there’s no need to be afraid, the extension Classic Theme Restore reverts to the “old” Firefox 4+ interface.

Cinnamon 2

cinnamon2

Soon LinuxMint will release version 16 “Petra” including Cinnamon 2.0, which, unlike Cinnamon 1.x, doesn’t have any dependencies to Gnome. So the Mint- Team finally can stop caring whether a given Gnome version goes into the next Ubuntu release or not, or if there’s a different Gnome version in Debian.

For Arch and Manjaro users, the new Cinnamon has been available for a couple of weeks already, about time to try it out. Installation is simple, the “cinnamon” package from the Arch repos will install everything you need.

I created a new user profile for testing Cinnamon, so it would be easier to roll back to XFCE afterwards, but this shouldn’t be necessary. After the installation Cinnamon started without problems, the standard settings (Gnome icons and wallpaper) can be changed in the Settings Center, where you also can download new themes directly inside the widgets, same as in KDE (the screenshot shows the “dk-cinnamon” theme). Wallpapers, icons and GTK themes can be changed individually. When using the settings manager, you should definitely switch to “Advanced Mode”, simple mode hides a lot of useful settings like e.g. keyboard shortcuts.

Talking about keyboard shortcuts, Cinnamon shares the Gnome “Feature” of ignoring your .Xmodmap configuration, an absolute no go for owners of Lenovo laptops with their messed up keyboard layouts. Fortunately this can be fixed by a simple workaround, you only have to add a manual entry to the Session Startup:

sh -c "sleep 10;xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap"

All other configuration works as expected, moving panel widgets can be a bit tricky at times, but that’s something you usually do only once anyway. Compared to XFCE, Cinnamon offers more visual effects and configuration options (z.g. Alt+Tab or switching between virtual desktops), and a more modern start menu widget, that can even be opened by keyboard shortcut (on the other hand I prefer Whisker’s approach to favorites …). The Cinnamon lock screen looks much better than XFCE’s Xscreensaver, too, even if it doesn’t support classical screensaver animations, and Cinnamon power settings are a good replacement for  XFCE Power Manager. The “Nemo” file manager is not really my cup of tea (same as  Nautilus or Thunar), of course I know how to use them if I have to, but none of them will replace Double Commander as my default file manager any time soon. Panel applets can be downloaded directly, too. I didn’t try  Desklets but if you like a big analog clock and weather data on your desktop here’s your chance to achieve this without installing KDE.

Not that there was anything wrong with my XFCE setup, but overall Cinnamon 2 is really damn compelling. It has more eye candy and runs as fast and stable as XFCE  – so I think I’ll be staying in that new Cinnamon home directory for a little longer ;)

HTC Desire X NON-SENSE Edition

Just a little more than a year old, my HTC Desire X has already been abandoned by HTC as  a “2012 model”, meaning there will be no more updates, and there was never a big choice in custom ROMs for the phone. So what to do to get a little fresh air into that stuffy Sense environment ?

The most ugly part of the sense UI, the lock screen, is most difficult to replace, at least if you’re using a WIFI certificate with forced authentication. This combination doesn’t go well with any of the free lockers, so € 2,25 fee for Widget Locker are a good investment, even if you don’t want widgets on your lock screen.

The other important component is the launcher. There are many good light weight launchers, but most of them don’t support customizing individual icons, which is a no go with Sense, because apps like Phone or Camera are not changed by the icon theme. Nova Launcher has the most options while at the same time retaining a good performance, but unfortunately it drains the battery or my phone. Holo Launcher HD is a good alternative, offering almost as many customizing settings while being much more economical on resources.

And Holo launcher works great with the Holo Icon Theme, a huge collection of simple, colorful Android 4.3/4.4 – style icons. The wallpaper on the screenshot is part of a Kitkat Theme, or you can just download wallpapers from the internet and add them through the gallery app. The Wetter.com (4×1) clock / weather widget completes my new phone UI, that doesn’t look like HTC Sense at all.

These are just examples of course, the choice of wallpapers, themes and widgets is virtually unlimited. With a little time and maybe some Euros for apps you can refresh any Android phone, even without software updates or custom ROMs.

Pipelight – run Windows browser plugins on Linux

There is general agreement that browser plugins like Flash or Silverlight are a thing of the past. Ever since Apple refused to support Flash on the iPhone back in 2007, it is clear that the future is pure HTML5, and browser vendors are starting even now to disable plugins by default.

Reality, however, is a bit different. All legal (commercial) music and video streaming services depend on plugins, and so do most of the available web games. This is a constant annoyance, especially on Linux, where Flash (except in Google Chrome) is frozen on the sluggish 11.2 version and most other plugins like Silverlight, Quicktime or Shockwave are not supported at all.

This gap is closed by Pipelight, a project that aims to support Windows browser plugins by running them through a special, modified WINE version. In version 0.1 they supported Silverlight only (solving my long time Lovefilm on Linux problem), the new version 0.2 supports flash, too, and at least theoretically it should be possible to support any other Windows browser plugin in the future.

Installation is simple enough, at least on Manjaro or any other Arch- based system. You just type ‘yaourt pipelight’ in a terminal and after some minutes of building (the package depends on wine-browser-installer which takes a while to compile) you are done. When you next start up Firefox, a WINE initialization popup will appear and after that Silverlight should be working out of the box (if you still get those “your browser is not supported” errors, you might have to look into modifying the user agent, which can be done with an addon like UAControl).

If you want to enable flash, too, you have to run some more commands:

sudo pacman -R flashplugin
sudo pipelight-plugin --create-mozilla-plugins
sudo pipelight-plugin --enable flash
sudo pipelight-plugin --enable silverlight

The removal of ‘flashplugin’ is necessary because otherwise Firefox will for some reason still use the Linux plugin as long as it is available. Disabling it is not a option, because enabling / disabling always affects BOTH  plugins. After running “WINE Flash Install” on the next browser start the installation is complete.

Running on WINE doesn’t have any impact on performance, though, when running Flash Benchmark 08 on my Lenovo S400, Pipelight Flash 11.9 reaches 12 FPS on “Ultra” settings, exactly the same result as Chrome Pepper Flash. In comparison, the official Flash 11.2 already fails on “High” level with 21 FPS, which is A LOT slower and really makes a difference when playing high end Flash games or watching HD videos.

So if you are not happy with your Flash performance in browsers that are not Chrome (including Chromium, by the way), or need Silverlight on Linux, give Pipelight a try.

Manjaro – Arch for the rest of us

Manjaro aims at creating “a user-friendly Linux distribution based on the independently developed Arch operating system”. This approach has made Manjaro the first Arch- based distro to not only enter the Top 10, but actually outrank Arch on Distrowatch.

So, how does a user-friendly Archlinux feel, and how does it compare to other end user centric distributions like Linux Mint ?

The installation of Manjaro 0.8.7 XFCE was easy and intuitive, and all the hardware of my Lenovo S400 was correctly recognized (at least after I switched from Kernel 3.04 to 3.10, which has become the default in version 0.8.7.1). In a little over 1GB the ISO contains all necessary software, Firefox, Thunderbird, the Gimp, LibreOffice, VLC and lots of others. The XFCE Desktop is elegant and functional, and uses Whisker menu instead of the slightly dated XFCE default menu. Just like Ubuntu or Mint, Manjaro has a graphical Updater and package manager but I still prefer the “classic” command line tools. For Arch and Manjaro that means  pacman and yaourt (which is included by default for AUR access).

If you don’t like XFCE, there is also an Openbox version, and “Community Editions” for all common  desktop environments and even Enlightenment. Unlike Archbang or Bridge, the Manjaro team is maintaining separate repositories, but updates are frequent and changes are kept to a minimum, so that AUR compatibility is ensured.

Due to the rolling release nature of Arch, Updates are much more frequent than in Ubuntu- based distributions, and you never have to do a big “distribution upgrade” that breaks everything or even reinstall every few months (like in Mint). There can be a small delay before a new Arch package is moved on to the Manjaro repos, but that also means that the really bad bugs have usually been fixed.

Overall, Manjaro is a keeper. The perfect compromise between a user friendly every day distribution, and “bleeding edge” Arch appeal. Give it a try, you might like it :)

Diaspora revisited

After one year as community project, Diaspora has just released version 0.2 – time to revisit the project that has been aiming to be “a better Facebook” since 2010.

The new release offers various improvements, the most remarkable probably being a new single message view that includes comments again and an automatic preview for links.

diaspora020

Compared with pump.io, Diaspora has lots of nice features, you can preview posts, use Markdown for formatting, search for users and tags, follow tags, block single posts or users, mark posts or your whole account as NSFW and share web pages or pictures with the bookmarklet or Firefox addon.

After a couple of days with the new Diaspora I’m fully reconciled. A lot of bugs have been fixed and the new set-up as  community driven non- profit organization is probably the way the Diaspora project should have been organized in the first place.

There are still some glitches with Federation and comments on shared posts are still not merged with the original post (two things pump.io does exceedingly well), but the overall experience is really pleasant and the community is still (or again ?) more lively and diverse than in other alternative social networks.

I don’t know if Diaspora is a better facebook yet, but for me it’s definitely worth considering again. And please don’t judge it by the performance of joindiaspora.com or diasp.org – other, smaller pods are running much better, so pick your favourite from podupti.me or diasp.eu/stats and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.