Saturday, November 13, 2010

Using Rhythmbox

I haven't done much with digital music on Linux, at least in recent years. I also have a Mac Mini at home, and I own an iPod - so figured my music options were already covered. But I thought I'd give it a try under Linux.

I mentioned in my Fedora 14 mini-review that I'm really enjoying Rhythmbox, the default music management application for GNOME. The other day, I decided to install the MP3 libraries for Rhythmbox. This is one of those unfortunate areas, where MP3 music is not supported "out of the box" on most Linux distributions, including Fedora. That's because MP3 is patent-encumbered, so technically Linux distributors can't include it without paying a license.

But you can add MP3 support easily enough from a number of other places. You'll have to use your own judgment and preferences here. RPM Fusion has packages available for Fedora 14. Their Configuration page has instructions to get set up with their repository, then it's a matter of installing a few packages. On the whole, it's about as "difficult" to add MP3 support on Linux as it is for a Windows user to download and install iTunes; it's easy!

Now, when I plug in my iPod, Rhythmbox comes up, showing my iPod and all my songs. I get cover art, playlists, the whole deal. I can even play music I purchased from iTunes using my Mac! Right now, I'm listening to some of my favorite tunes, played directly off my 32GB iPod Touch.

Here's a screenshot of Rhythmbox, also showing part of my desktop. I have Rhythmbox running in a smaller window than usual, so I could grab the screenshot without covering the whole desktop.

What's really nice is that Rhythmbox adds itself automatically to the top panel. Click the icon to hide Rhythmbox, but keep the music playing. Click it again to bring up the window, maybe select a different song or playlist.

So where does that leave me? Our Mac Mini is well over 5 years old now. It's hooked up to our TV, and sometimes we use the Mac to watch videos from the Internet. But to be honest, mostly it's just there to act as a "gateway" to my iPod. And here's another secret: I haven't bought much from Apple's iTunes Store in the last year. I've switched to Amazon's MP3 Music Store. By volume, the vast majority of the content on my iPod is MP3, either purchased on CD and ripped, or purchased online through Amazon's MP3 Music Store.

My wife and I have been debating whether we really need to buy another Mac Mini when this one dies. Since Rhythmbox works so well, we're now thinking about just ditching the Mac altogether, and running all of our digital music through Linux instead.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fedora 14 mini-review

As you know, Fedora 14 released this week. I prefer Fedora as my Linux distro, so I downloaded the new version right away. Here is my mini-review.

I freaking love it.

Here is my slightly longer mini-review:

When I do an upgrade, no matter the operating system, I prefer to blow everything away and install the new version from scratch. I've done straight upgrades, and they run fine, but I find every upgrade leaves some "cruft" from the old system. So I always reformat and reinstall.

Backing up my data was pretty straightforward, just saved it to a USB hard drive. I had burned a Fedora 14 install LiveCD, but also created a LiveUSB version of the CD using LiveUSB Creator onto a spare USB flash drive. I installed from the LiveUSB, the default (GNOME) version. Your timings may vary if you use the LiveCD, or a different "spin" (for example, KDE).

Installation took 15 minutes, including reformatting my Linux partitions and answering the pre-install questions. Encrypting my hard drive was as simple as ticking a checkbox and typing in a password. Once you answer the pre-install questions, then click the button, the rest of it is entirely automated.

When the install is done, I rebooted, copied back my data, and I was back to work. From the moment I booted into the LiveUSB installer, to when I finished restoring my data, was probably 30-40 minutes.

From there, it was a simple matter to let the system install a few updates that came out in the days following the Fedora 14 release. But with Linux, you can continue to use your system even while it installs updates.

Graphics support
I mentioned in my Fedora 14 preview post that I'd been running the beta for a little while (via my USB flash drive) and noted that Nouveau now supports my nVidia GT218 / NVS 3100M graphics card. I get full features, too, including dual-monitor support. All without having to install the nVidia proprietary driver.

I'm still in love with this upgrade. The nVidia proprietary driver got the job done, but since it didn't install itself into the pre-boot environment (there's some technical info for you, there) my laptop never booted with the graphical screen. Instead, I always watched Fedora boot using a text-mode interface, blue progress bar at the bottom of the screen before the nVidia driver could take effect and the screen would flip into full graphics mode.

But now that Nouveau has better support for my Nvidia card, I get the graphical "F" logo during the boot. It's very nice. By itself, that was enough reason for me to upgrade.

GMail integration
Now, GNOME can integrate with GMail using Gnome GMail. It allows GMail to be selected as the default mail application for the desktop. Unlike other solutions on the net, Gnome GMail supports "To:", "Subject:", "body", "CC:", and "BCC: fields.

You have to install it (not provided as part of the default install?) but once there, it's easy to select GMail as my default mail handler under "System - Preferences - Preferred Applications". Click on an email address (say, in a web page, or in GNOME) and it brings up my web browser with a GMail "compose" window. There's a process to configure it for a Google Apps account, but I prefer to use my default GMail account for this.

Music player
I haven't used the new Clementine music player yet. I went into "Applications - Sound & Video" and got distracted playing with Rhythmbox, the default music management application for GNOME. I've known about this app from previous versions, but hadn't used it much. Right now, I'm writing my blog post while listening to great 80s music, streamed from Absolute Radio. So maybe I'll get to Clementine later. Maybe.

Other stuff
One other neat feature I noticed was when I started OpenOffice (now at version 3.3) it added a "Quickstarter" into my top system tray. So when I quit OpenOffice, the next time I need to open an office document, things start up almost immediately. If you don't want the Quickstarter there, you can disable it, or right-click and select "Exit".

Also, the GNOME file browser reverted from a spatial interface back to a browser navigational model by default. So when you open a folder, you don't get a new window, it just opens in the current file browser. This reduces desktop clutter, which I very much appreciate. You can always open up another file browser if you want to click & drag files to copy or move them.