How to extend a lithium ion laptop battery life?

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by Erlik

lithium ion laptop batteryA sad fact about lithium ion laptop batteries is that they degrade over time. A laptop battery that lasted 4 hours 3 years ago probably won't last much more than 2 hours now. When this happens to a Nintendo DS batterythat you can replace for $10 it is not a major problem, however with a lithium ion laptop or netbook battery that often cost more than $100 to replace it is a major inconvenient. Another problem is that often a laptop's lithium ion battery has an unique shape, so even finding the proper replacement battery can become a problem. All this means that it pays to take steps to maintain your laptop's lithium ion battery from the start.

Why does a lithium ion laptop battery degrade over time?

The reason is quite simple. The way a lithium ion battery works is by moving lithium ions and electrons from one electrode of the battery to the other. The electrons move trough your your laptop circuitry to power it, while the lithium ions move trough some fluid to balance the electrons movement. If the lithium ions can't move through the fluid then the electrons can't move through your computer either. The problem is that the fluid that allows the lithium ions to move from electrode to electrode degrade and dry over time. As it becomes more and more difficult for the lithium ions to move it also becomes more and more difficult for the battery to power your laptop.

What makes the fluid containing the lithium ions degrade?

The fluid containing the lithium ions will naturally degrade over time at room temperature, but there are several factors that will accelerate the degradation. The first one is heat: the hotter the laptop battery the faster the fluid gets dry. The second factor is charge cycles. When you recharge your laptop battery this generates significant heat in the battery and helps degrade the fluid. Leaving the battery constantly charged also has a negative effect on the life of the fluid.

What can I do to ensure the life of my laptop lithium ion battery when purchasing it?

Always buy your battery or your computer from a source with an high volume of trade. If the battery or laptop that you just purchased spent a year in the store's storage room it is probably already degraded.

Do not buy a replacement battery years in advance unless you are persuaded that you won't be able to buy the proper battery by the time you need it.

If you purchased a replacement lithium ion battery that you do not intend to use right away leave it in it's sealed packing and store it in a dry place in your fridge, this will reduce the fluid degradation tremendously.

If you can purchase a laptop that uses a lithium ion polymer battery choose that, as the polymer batteries degrade more slowly. With these you can expect 5 years of useful battery life instead of 3 for a normal lithium ion battery.

How to protect my laptop lithium ion battery when using it.

The first time you charge your laptop 's lithium ion battery let it charge overnight, then when you use it the first time have it discharge completely. This will ensure that your battery is properly calibrated.

If you will use the laptop on mains power for an extended period of time (several days or weeks) use the battery until it is about 60% charged, remove the it from the laptop and store it in a cool, dry place such as a basement. If you can store the battery in a sealed package you can keep it in the fridge.

Once every two month or so have the battery discharge fully to recalibrate it. At some time I had an IBM laptop that did this automatically.

Never leave your laptop or it's lithium ion battery in an hot place like the trunk of your car during the summer!

Can I fix a degraded lithium ion battery?

If your laptop 's lithium ion battery has seriously degraded already you can try to charge and discharge it completely once or twice, as this sometimes helps to recalibrate it. If this doesn't fix the problem then the battery is permanently degraded and you will need to purchase a replacement battery.
image cc by playerx

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Friday Fun: Linux OS Market Share by Twibbon

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2009 by Erlik

One of the big problem of Linux is that it is difficult to estimate its market share. Web metrics give vastly different numbers based on the methodology used: from 2.11% for W3counter to 0.99% for Netstats. I thus propose a fun way to gauge the relative importance of Operating Systems: by Twibbon.

What the hell is a Twibbon?

A Twibbon is a little logo that you can add to your Twitter profile image to show your support to a cause, country, browser or operating system? You can have a look at my Twitter profile for an example. On the Twibbon website you can see how many Twitter users support the same cause as you, and thus conclude how important it is. Why only count Twitter users? Because Twitter is in with the hip people, anybody who is or will be somebody is on Twitter. These are the influencers, the people that matter! So without further ado let's see how the Twibbon numbers compare:

As of 23 July 2009 the Twibbon score for each operating system are:

I'm Linux: 94 supporters
I'm a PC: 124 supporters
I'm a Mac: 476 supporters
I use iPhone: 16 supporters

As you can see the most popular operating system is by far MacOSX followed by Microsoft Windows and Linux. The iPhone does not yet have many supporters, but I expect this to grow. Just for fun let's translate this into percentages and compare with the Netstat numbers:

Linux: 13% Twibbon market share, 1% Netstat market share
Windows: 17% Twibbon market share, 88% Netstat market share
MacOS: 67% Twibbon market share, 10% Netstat market share
iPhone: 2% Twibbon market share, 0.6% Netstat market share

This is absolutely not scientific of course, but it indicative of something: despite it's huge market share Windows does not seems to have lot of fans. If Netstats's numbers were actually correct (I doubt they are) and Windows was generating has much enthusiasm as MacOS it should have 4189 supporters. It should have 8272 supporters if it had the same level of support as Linux.

What this shows is that Windows is currently coasting on its past market share gains and on its dominance in the enterprise and the retail channel. If the young hip Twitter generation of today had shaped the computing landscape it would be vastly different from the one we know. Most of these don't seem to find Windows very interesting, but are willing to support MacOS or Linux.

In the end this is not much more that a bit of Friday fun, but maybe it is cause for a bit worry at Microsoft's headquarters and a bit of rejoicing in Cupertino and in Linux Land.

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Miro 2.5 released

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009 by Erlik

This is just a quick post to announce the release of Miro 2.5! There are numerous improvements to this famous video aggregator, the most noticeable is that Miro now starts and updates feeds faster. This is probably the most important update as on my netbook Miro took about 10 seconds to start and about a full minute to update my feeds! (I have a lot of feeds)

Another feature that netbook users will appreciate is the possibility to download videos from YouTube for offline watching. This is a neat way to avoid the performance problems linked to the playback of full screen flash videos on netbooks. Granted, there are Firefox extensions that do this too, but it is very practical to have the videos organized in the Miro library.

Another noteworthy feature is that Miro now has better support for audio feeds. Audio podcasts will now be present in the Miro guide, so they should be easier to find. Previously Miro was more of a video aggregator, but this update puts it on an equal footing with iTunes.

You can download Miro from here and have a look at the release notes here. Note that it looks like Miro's Ubuntu repositories are not yet updated. You can either build the application from source or wait for the update to hit the repositories.

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The Linux Kernel and Open Source Drivers

Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 by Erlik

There has been a lot of talk about the Linux kernel and Open Source drivers this week. Most of it was about Microsoft that released drivers under the GPL V2 for inclusion in the Linux kernel. As pointed out by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols this was planned for a long time and will benefit Microsoft as much (if not more) than Linux. The only important thing this shows is that Microsoft is ready to embrace the GPL if it serves it's business interests.

Much more interesting is the discussion on Phoronix about the case of the new VIA Chrome 9 DRM (Direct Rendering Manager). The gist of the story is this: VIA has a binary 3D driver for it's Chrome 9 IGP, but they want that some of the code (the DRM) is entered into the Linux kernel. The DRM code is open source, but not the driver itself. Now without the driver the DRM is useless, meaning that if it is accepted the kernel would contain some code whose only purpose would be to run VIA's binary driver.

This raises a lot of issues: how would this code be maintained? What if the kernel part of the code needs to evolve and updates to the driver are required? What about security? VIA could solve some of these issues by providing a complete documentation of the binary Chrome 9 driver, but currently this documentation is not available: critical pieces are missing.

Not designed for Open Source

The problem is that VIA did not design their product with Open Source in mind. What happened is that instead of developing their own technology from scratch they actually licensed another company's technology for use in their product. At the time they did not plan for open source drivers and agreed that the third party's code would have to remain secret. This probably did not matter a lot a few years ago, but since then the market share of Linux has grown a lot, and now VIA is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

If they can't release their drivers as Open Source they can't include it into the kernel, but to open source their driver they need the permission of the company that own the technology that they licensed. That company probably has no interest in Open Sourcing its technology, so VIA is stuck. They could probably rewrite some of the driver themselves, but it would cost a lot of resources. Intel is experiencing the same issue with their Poulsbo (mobile) driver: they used third party technologies that they can currently not release as open source. AMD encountered similar issues with their documentation efforts: some information licensed from third parties has to be cleared before it can be released.

Back to the kernel and the Microsoft

This bring us back to the kernel and Microsoft. Any Open Source driver that is incorporated in the kernel enjoy several advantage in the Linux world: it works out of the box and it is maintained pretty much forever. This is why Intel 's integrated graphics are so popular with Linux users. The chips do not offer great performance but a "full feature" open source Intel driver is shipped with all distributions, while AMD and Nvidia Open Source drivers are currently much more limited. If you want to get full performance and all features with these graphic chips you need to install a binary driver that may or may not work with your specific distribution and hardware.

So Open Source drivers are better and will help sell hardware to the Linux community, but Open Source is not something that you can add as an afterthought. You need to ensure from the start that all the technology that you intend to use can be released. This needs to be specified in contracts with all third-party technology providers and needs to be taken into consideration at all stages of product development. This requires some effort on the part of the hardware manufacturer. Now ask yourself this question: would Microsoft have released their virtualization drivers as Open Source if they could have been included in the kernel as binary drivers? Probably not! (especially if as some suggest Microsoft had little choice)

By requesting an open source driver (or the documentation to build one) as a prerequisite for the inclusion of the VIA DRM in the kernel the Linux community not only ensures that the kernel remains portable and secure but also encourages device manufacturers to ensure that their products are "Open Source compatible" and to eliminate third party technology that can't be released. It is possible that rejecting VIA's DRM would cause some pain to current VIA users, but it would give a strong message to device manufacturers: Plan Open Source support in your products and you will gain access to the kernel, remain closed and you will be at a disadvantage. This does not mean that all binary drivers are bad, sometime there is no other way to make hardware work, only they should not expect to be considered as first class citizens in the Linux world.

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Image cc by Henrique Vicente

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Glassbuntu: design a dark crystal Gnome theme for Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

Posted on Monday, July 20, 2009 by Erlik

SlicknessX, Glass Icons and Debian Glass

The Gnome user interface used by Ubuntu and Linux Mint allows a huge amount of graphical customization, but these features are rarely used. Part of the problem is that to make an aesthetically appealing theme you need to blend various elements: windows decorations, widgets, icons, backgrounds. Although many of these are available online, it is not easy to find some that work well together to deliver a consistent look.

To allow you to easily design a kick-ass theme for your Gnome, Ubuntu or Mint desktop I started this series of posts. in each I will suggest various windows decorations, widgets icons and background that follow one unique theme and blend well together. I will then suggest a few ways to combine them to make an aesthetically pleasing desktop. This weeks them is Glassbuntu: design a dark crystal theme.

Dark glass window decorations and widgets

SlicknessX: This gtk theme comes with one interesting feature: the glass effect actually spans both the windows title and menu bars. The effect is quite interesting on large windows but can sometimes look strange on narrow ones. the drop down menus also benefit from the glass effect, making this theme very slick indeed.

Smoked Glass: If you would prefer to have your title bar and menu bar clearly separate, this gtk theme is for you. The title bars only have a slight glossy effect, but this is more than made up by the superb tealish effects on the menu bar, which clearly stands out. In this theme the title bar is very much overshadowed by the menu bar, so I would recommend it if you use your menus a lot.

Wii Black: The Wii console menus are a superb example of a crystal / glass theme, so it is no surprise that it would become the inspiration source for a gtk theme. What has been changed here is that the theme is much darker, with aqua highlights. The glass effect is more subtle than on the two previous themes, so this is easier to fit into any desktop.

Dark glass icon sets

Glass icons: This gnome icon theme is designed to make it look like your icons are made of transparent glass. The advantage is that this icon set blends itself with almost any color. The inconvenient is that if the rest of the theme is not very colored the desktop may look too monochromatic.

Darkglass icons: these stylized, colorful icons may not be to everyone's taste, but they succeed at one thing: adding a dash of color to a dark theme.

Wallpaper suggestions

There are too many wallpapers that would fit this theme to make any kind of exhaustive list, but here are two suggestions to get you started:

The Debian glass wallpaper will complement nicely any dark glass theme for which you may want a lighter background. It also adds a dash of red to the desktop, something that may bring some balance to a lightly colored theme.

If you would prefer a dark background I would suggest Gnome machine. The exterior of the wallpaper is dark to allow colored icons to stand out, but the center will give the desktop nice blue highlights. This brings balance to the desktop and avoid that the center of the screen become too dark compared to the edge where the icons are.

Blending it all together

SlicknessX, Glassicons and Debian glass: this combinations give a very classy, black, white and gray desktop. The Glass icons complement well the gray of the slicknessX widgets. The lighter Debian glass wallpaper allows the nice window decorations of SlicknessX while bringing a touch of color to the desktop.

Smoked Glass, Oxygen refit and Gnome machine

Smoked Glass, Oxygen refit and Gnome machine: The theme is really built around Smoked glass. To complement the teal menu bar and widgets I chose to combine a greenish icon set, Oxygen refit with the blue of the Gnome machine wallpaper. Since this theme is very dark the colors of the menu bar and icons really stand out, ensuring that this theme is still very readable.

These are of course only a few of the possible combinations: part of the fun of theming your Gnome, Mint or Ubuntu desktop is playing with all the elements to design a combination that works for you. In the next installment we will look into the Apple universe with Macbuntu: design an OSX inspired Gnome theme for Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

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The Free Netbooks are Coming

Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2009 by Erlik

Last month I explained why Android smartbooks would end up being free. It seems that my predictions were not optimistic enough: free netbooks are already starting to appear! Techradar reported yesterday that Virgin will be offering free netbooks with some of their contracts in the near future. Let's look at the offer in more detail.

The Virgin Freedom netbooks

The machine offered by virgin is at best an average netbook by today standards: Atom 1.6 Ghz, 1 Gb of ram, 10 inch screen, 120 Gb HDD and a 3 cell battery that should be good for 2 hours of usage. The machine will be available in black or red and will come with Windows XP. There are a few signs that Virgin cut corners where it could: 120 Gb HDDs and 3 cell batteries are mostly a thing of the past on modern netbooks. I would have preferred that Virgin invest in a larger 6 cell battery rather than in a Windows XP license (Linux would run great on such a machine) but given the price I won't complain. This netbook however may not be the right one for you.

The deal

To qualify for the free netbook you will have to sign a 2 year ADSL and telephony contract. I don't know Virgin's prices but I expect this to be a commitment of more than $1000 on the life of the contract, so you should give it some thought before jumping on this offer. Also keep in mind that other service providers may soon offer lighter smartbooks or better offers to avoid loosing too much market share to Virgin media.

Conclusion: the free netbooks and smartbooks are coming.

Virgin media is a new player in the broadband business and need to work hard to attract new customers, so other operators may not follow with free netbook offers right away, but I expect these offers to become more and more common. With the arrival of cheap smartbooks and Linux distributions that are more netbook-optimized like Moblin, ChromeOS and Jolicloud the price of entry level netbooks should fall enough to allow fully subsidized netbooks in the near future.

Read more in the netbook category

Image CC by Howad Gees

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Linux is not an Operating System

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by Erlik

Last week Google announced their intention to release an operating system based on Linux. The reaction of some people on reddit was: "No, another neutered, watered-down, crapitized "linux". Linux will once again be viewed as a sub par, 'specialized' OS." Well, this is not possible because Linux is not really an operating system, it is a kernel. And it is actually very successful as a specialized operating system's kernel. Let me explain.

Linux is not a operating system

The term Linux actually refers to the Linux kernel. This is not in itself a full blown computer operating system but a bunch of drivers an code to make other programs run. The beauty of the Linux kernel is that most of those drivers are modules that can be added or removed from the kernel as required. This means that you can use the Linux kernel as the foundation for a lot of very different operating systems: You can build full blown desktop operating systems with advanced graphical user interfaces and immense packages repositories that give access to an ecosystem of thousand of applications. You can also strip it down to a very specialized kernel with only a few module that is suitable to run a home router or file server. Incidentally Linux has been way more successful in the later function.

Linux success in devices

Linux has been very successful in devices, as it is very easy to build a specialized operating system based on the Linux kernel. My Dlink home router runs a Linux based operating system designed by Dlink. My Emtec Movie Cube runs a Linux based operating system designed by Emtec. If you have an Android phone you run a Linux based operating system designed by Google. When you search on the Google search engine the processing happen on another Linux based operating system designed by Google for an entirely different purpose. The objective of Linux is not to be an operating system, it is to be a kernel that everyone can freely use and customize to create it's own operating system. It would not have been possible to release many of the devices I mention above at a reasonable price if their operating system had to be purchased or built from scratch. Linux's usefulness goes way beyond the desktop or even the server.

Ubuntu and Fedora are Linux based Operating Systems

Since anyone can create it's own operating system based on the Linux kernel, why not create a full blown desktop operating system that we can use instead of Windows or OSX? This is where distributions like Ubuntu or Fedora come into play. These take the Linux kernel and add the elements that will make desktop operating system like a windows manager to create a GUI or a package manager to install and update applications. Even if both these operating systems are based on the Linux kernel they can be very different in the end: One may use the KDE window manager and one may use Gnome. One can use RPM packages while the other use DEB packages. Ubuntu and Fedora are actually two different operating systems and are not fully compatible, even if both are based on the Linux kernel. Linux is not the operating system, Ubuntu (or Fedora) is.

The case of Mint and Ubuntu

Since the source code for an operating system based on Linux must be released, it is actually possible to create an operating system not directly based on Linux but based on another distribution. Ubuntu is based on the Debian Linux-based operating system, and Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. This helps maintain some compatibility as most Debian packages will work on Ubuntu and Mint. In this case it could be argued that the operating system is Debian, and that Ubuntu and Mint are just derivatives. If you see it that way there are only a few successful Linux based desktop operating system: Debian, Fedora, SUSE and maybe Slackware, Mandriva and Android.

Back to Google ChromeOS

ChromeOS will be an operating system that will use the Linux kernel, but not be based on any existing Linux distribution. This will be a new Linux distribution, a new operating system. Will it be more Limited than Ubuntu or Fedora? Probably at first, but Like all Linux based operating system users will be able to create their own versions, their own derivative operating systems. Developers will probably be able to adapt and recompile open source programs to run on ChromeOS and soon it will be another member of the big family of Linux based operating systems. Will it be the same as Ubuntu? probably not, why create a new operating system if it is to reproduce the functionality of an existing one?

ChromeOS will use Linux for what it is the best: be the kernel of an operating system customized and optimized to a specific function. For ChromeOS it means being the best possible Netbook operating system. For Ubuntu it means being the best desktop operating system. For Red Hat it means being the best server operating system. For Android it means being the best Smartphone operating system etc... That is probably the greatest strength of Linux compared to closed source operating system, when fighting Linux you don't fight one operating system, you fight a dozen.

Read more in the Linux category

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An interview with RVM, developer of Smplayer

Posted on Sunday, July 12, 2009 by Erlik

Last week I did a review of the excellent media player for Linux and Windows Smplayer. This week the developer behind this great Mplayer front-end granted me an email interview:

TNM: Where did the idea of creating Smplayer come from?

RVM: I'm a linux user and I have always used mplayer to play videos, and I was very happy with it. But sometimes, when I had to use Windows I also wanted to use mplayer, but using a command line application on Windows is really hard. Also some people asked me to recommend them a video player for their Windows machines and I would have liked to recommend mplayer but the front-ends available at that moment were very simple (for example I missed options to configure the subtitles). It was a little disappointing.

So it was then when I started to think about the possibility to develop my own front-end.

I knew a little bit about the Qt libraries, so I began to implement smplayer on linux using that toolkit.

TNM: Why did you choose to use Mplayer as your back-end rather than make you own player based on FFMPEG?

The initial idea was always to create a front-end for mplayer.

TNM: How are your relations with the Mplayer team, do you perceive each other as competitor?

Not at all. I don't think the mplayer team can think on the front-ends as

Sometimes during the development of some feature I find some problems or bugs in mplayer, which I report to the mplayer mailing list and usually the mplayer developers are so kind to fix the issues very fast.

TNM: Why is there no OSX version, is it just because you don't have access to a Mac or is there something else?

Yes, that's it. I don't have access to any Mac so I can't provide packages for it. Anyway other people managed to compile smplayer on it, but unfortunately there's the problem that the video is not embedded into the smplayer window, because it seems the mplayer option -wid doesn't work on Mac OSX .

TNM: Any new Smplayer features in your plans?

Currently I'm adding support for TV (mainly dvb-t). This is a feature that will only work on linux, because as far as I know mplayer doesn't have support for dvb on Windows yet.

TNM: Thank you a lot for this interview!

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How to disable the splash screen of Firefox portable 3.5

Posted on Friday, July 10, 2009 by Erlik

I have recently upgraded the installation of Firefox portable that I use at work from version 2.0.18 to the brand new version 3.5. I am very happy with the increase in performance, but this created an issue: the Firefox portable splash screen that I had disabled previously was back!

It was easy to disable the splash screen of old versions of Firefox portable: just start Firefoxportable.exe with the "- nosplashscreen" argument. Well, that does not work with Firefox portable 3.5 anymore! After some research I finally found out how to remove the splash screen on new versions of Firefox portable, it is just a bit more complicated:

1) On the drive where you installed firefox portable, go to the folder "FirefoxPortable\Other\Source"

2) In that folder you will find a file called "FirefoxPortable.ini", open that file with notepad

3) Locate the line with "DisableSplashScreen=false" and replace it by "DisableSplashScreen=true" like on the screenshot below.

4) Save the file and copy "FirefoxPortable.ini" to the "FirefoxPortable" directory (where you should find "FirefoxPortable.exe"

5) Restart Firefox portable 3.5, the splash screen should have been disabled!

Note that this is explained in the readme file in the same folder as "Firefoxportable.ini", but that file is not easy to find! For me it is important to disable the splash screen of Firefox portable because I don't want everybody around me to notice that I use that instead of the "company approved" browser (IE 6.0). I also wanted to upgrade Firefox to version 3.5 because it is much faster than Firefox 2 when rendering Javascript heavy pages like Gmail or iGoogle. Now my problem is solved!

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What ChromeOS is (NOT)

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 by Erlik

As Devin Coldewey pointed out on a recent CrunchGear post, many people seems to be getting over-exited about the new Google ChromeOS. I think that many bloggers are making more of ChromeOS than what it actually is. Maybe it is time to sum up what Google's new OS is and what it is not!

What ChomeOS is:

- It is a Linux distribution: If you consider that Moblin with it's Linux kernel and clutter window manager is a Linux distribution, then ChromeOS with it's as-yet-unnamed lightweight Window manager is one too. Like any other Linux distribution it will be open source, and we can even expect that other distribution will be based on it the same way that Ubuntu is based on Debian.

- It is a netbook operating system: One thing that is clear is that ChromeOS will be optimized for a netbook form factors and usage model. It is close in concept to the original Xandros OS of the first EEE PC or gOS: have a few applications installed locally and do the rest trough the cloud. The main difference is that thanks to the development of Google Gears the cloud computing experience should be more palatable to end user than before. If you look at the list of partners Google has for ChromesOS, you will notice that most of these have a strong presence in the netbook market.

- It is mainly an ARM based operating system: Look again at that list of partners. Qualcomm, Freescale and Texas instrument are in, Intel is out! These three are manufacturer of ARM based chips and have a big interest in seeing ChromeOS perform well on these chips. I think that x86 compatibility is there to help the OS grow some market share with current netbook owners, but that the majority of new machines sold with ChromeOS will have ARM based chips inside.

- It will be sold on store shelves: Yep, the aim of ChromeOS is to help sell cheap machines capable of browsing the web (thus generating revenue for Google). Google and it's partners will certainly push for these to be sold at Best Buy and co, although the machines should ideally not be in the PC aisle to avoid confusing consumers.

- It will be good for Linux: One of the biggest things that is hurting Linux now is it's market share. Since it represent only about 2% of the market (W3counter) many software, game and hardware manufacturers dismiss Linux as a niche market and do not invest resources in porting their products (or drivers) . This is in a large part balanced by the Linux community, drivers are written by people who want to make their hardware work, applications are developed and games are created. There is however a limit to this: blockbuster games need to be developed by game studios and drivers should be written before the hardware is released, not after. If Linux based platforms such as ChromeOS gain a bigger market share the whole Linux community can expect better support from commercial software publishers and device manufacturers.

What ChromeOS is not:

- It is not a cloud only OS: It seem that even if Google does not use Gnome or KDE it should be possible to port most Linux application to ChromeOS, so eventually I expect a full application ecosystem to emerge. This will probably take several years tough. You should also take into account that thanks to Google gears it will be possible to run web applications like Google docs off-line, so maybe local applications won't be needed.

- It is not a Microsoft killer: Even if it will be possible to write local applications for ChromeOS the primary focus of the OS is web access on companion devices such as netbooks. This means that initially there will be less games and commercial applications available for ChromeOS than Windows. Because of this I suspect that most people will want to have their main desktop computer on Windows. ChromeOS will probably hurt Microsoft sales only to netbook manufacturers. Since Microsoft is not making much money out of these anyway I don't think it will affect their bottom line that much.

- It is not ready: Google expects the first devices featuring ChromeOS to be available in the second half of 2010. Even if the first beta versions of the OS are available this year this means that ChromeOS is very far from being finished. By the time it hist the shelves Windows 7 and other netbook oriented Linux distributions like Moblin and Jolicloud will probably be selling already and will compete with ChromeOS.

image cc by toprankonlinemarketing

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Google to release Linux based ChromeOS

Posted on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by Erlik

The blogosphere is aflame with news that Google finally decided to go after Microsoft and release it's own Linux based Operating System targeted at netbooks: ChromeOS. The frenzy was started by a post on the official Google blog were

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The media player battle heats up: VLC 1.0 released

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 by Erlik

On Monday I published a nice review of Smplayer in which I explained why it was my favorite cross-platform media player. On Tuesday the people behind VLC decided to challenge this by releasing a new and improved VLC, the much awaited version 1.0. Things sure do move fast in the technology field! It is still too soon to say if this new VLC release will really challenges Smplayer's position as my favorite media player or if it simply narrows the gap between the two applications, but what is sure is that it does improve on previous versions.

New VLC features

Version 1.0 of adds a few important features. The first is the addition of several HD codecs:

· Blu-Ray Linear PCM
· Dolby Digital Plus
· AES3
· TrueHD
· Real Video 3.0 and 4.0

This should allow the playback of a decrypted Blu-ray image stored on your hard disk. Since I don't have a Blu-ray player I will not be able to test this, but it is very nice to see progress being made toward Blu-ray playback on Linux. The major remaining hurdle is of course the decryption process, but at least the codec work is done. The support of the Realvideo codecs is also a nice addition, although I am not sure these are widely used.

Another nice feature is the support for MTP devices. This should allow VLC to access media files stored on a portable media player that was designed to synchronize with Windows Media Player such as the creative Zen vision.


Does this means that VLC is displacing Smplayer as my favorite media player? It remains to be seen. VLC now has the advantage for the number of supported codecs and the number of features, but for me Smplayer still has the advantage of a nicer UI and better keyboard controls. What will be a major factor is performance: historically VLC has always been behind Mplayer in term of performance, but recently they have narrowed the gap quite nicely. Although it is not very important on modern desktop computers performance can be most critical on netbooks with limited processing power. I will perform some benchmarking and publish a more complete shootout of both players in the coming weeks to settle the question, so stay tuned.

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A Review of the Smplayer Media Player for Linux and Windows

Posted on Monday, July 6, 2009 by Erlik

Smplayer on UbuntuFor me the the best free media player for Windows and Linux is mplayer. It is not only a very fast player, but it also offers a ton of advanced options. The one thing that it lacks is a good graphical user interface to access all the power it has under the hood. Several GUI front ends have been written for mplayer, but in my opinion there is one that stands head and shoulder above the others: Smplayer.

Smplayer Installation

Smplayer is very easy to install on Ubuntu (and Linux Mint) as the author provides deb packages for all versions of Ubuntu since gutsy (7.10). The packages are in a PPA repository that you can add to your Ubuntu sources list to automatically receive updates to both Smplayer and Mplayer. Note that the application is also present in most Linux distribution's repositories and that you can always compile the latest version of the program from the author site. Packages for Windows are also available there. These include all the prerequisites for the program such as mplayer and QT in addition of Smplayer itself.

Playback Control

The playlistOne of the huge advantage of Smplayer is the amount of control that you get over the playback of your video files. You can easily build and save playlists with all the features you would expect from a modern player like shuffle or repeat. Seeking is extremely easy: not only can you use a seek-bar but pressing the left or right arrows on your keyboard will jump the file 10 seconds and the up and down arrows will jump one minute. It is a feature I can't live without anymore, as it is much faster and easier to seek with the keyboard than with the seek-bar. One extra nice feature of Smplayer is that if you close it your position in the file you were playing and its settings will be restored the next time you open that file. Zooming in the picture is also extremely easy, just pressing E or Q will zoom in or out by small increments. Thanks to this it becomes a cinch to adjust a video file in 3/4 to a 16/9 screen.

The Smplayer Interface

I am a big fan if the classic media player interface which Smplayer mimics: menus on top, video window in the middle and playback controls on the bottom. Most videos are viewed full screen however and in this case you can control the playback with an auto hiding control bar at the bottom of the screen. For it's widgets Smplayer uses QT 4, which is a good choice in my opinion. The application will look its best in a KDE environment, but does not look out of place on Windows or on the Gnome-based Ubuntu. Note that Smplayer does support themes and that a Gnome theme is available if you really can't stand the QT look.

The video equalizerAdvanced Options

There area plethora of advanced option that Smplayer let you access easily. You get a graphical video equalizer, several de-interlace modes (including the excellent yadif), post-processing options and a bucketload of video filters. Smplayer can also take advantage of XV / XVMC video acceleration on Linux / Ubuntu (if your video driver supports it) and of DirectX acceleration on Windows. Fully accelerated video decoding is not yet available however (see here for a more detailed explanation of video decoding acceleration). Sound-wize you can adjust delay to solve synchronizations errors and use a few useful filters like volume normalization. Subtitles are supported and you can adjust their size and delay. Power users will appreciate the option to send command line style arguments to Mplayer directly.

Codec Support and DVDs

Since Smplayer is based on Mplayer it can read most video and audio files out of the box. All common formats are supported: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, Xvid, H264, Flv, MKV, Avi, Mov, mp4, Ogm, Mp3, AAC, Ogg etc... There is a codec pack (Win32 codecs) to enable support for more formats. Smplayer can also read DVDs and the author recently added the ability to navigate them using the traditional DVD menus (this is still experimental). On Linux / Ubuntu you will need libdvdcss to be installed to view encrypted DVDs but once that library is present it worked fine for me.


In my opinion Smplayer is the best media playback solution on Ubuntu, followed by VLC and Totem. On Windows there is more competition but I still Find Smplayer to be the most practical solution thanks to the advanced features and because of the extensive codec support. Definitely recommended.

UPDATE: the developer of Smplayer was kind enough to grant me an interview that you can read here.

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Tech-no-media update: june 2009

Posted on Friday, July 3, 2009 by Erlik

Wow, June what a month! No only is it the start of summer, it also was the real start of this blog. This is the first month where I got significant traffic on Tech-no-media: I have cleared the 25,000 visitors per month mark for the first time!

The site also got a visual upgrade: I finally made a real top banner for the site and I overhauled my twitter page. I am also pretty much finished with the advertising experiments. In the end I decided to focus on Adsense and on selling squares trough Technorati engage. I put up some project Wonderful ads but won't collect from them: I will reinvest that money in PW ads to promote the Blog. I am also removing the Amazon sidebar widget: it does not work as well as text links and takes a lot of space. Finally I m giving an unused square of advertising to Free Software Daily. I quite like that site and my stories get promoted from time to time, so I may as well send some traffic their way.

I am also getting better at finding out what you want to read. The most popular post for this month were:

1) Taking Gloria out for a spin: A review of Linux Mint
2) An interview with Clem from Linux Mint
3) Microsoft reminds us that Windows is f*cking expensive
4) Linux Netbooks: back to the facts
5) PR disaster alert: Asus attacks on Linux

So, I guess you like Linux, netbooks, reviews, interviews and editorials.

Well, rest assured that I have more of these coming soon. Next week I will start a series of post on Gnome themes for Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Each post in the series will showcase a window decorations, widgets, icon sets and wallpapers on one topic and show a few examples of how they can be blended together.

I will also publish more reviews of free or open source software and try to get more interviews of developers. The interviews are somewhat out of my control (people need to accept them) but I'll try my best. I'll probably continue to write one or two editorials per week. Since Tech-no-media is mainly an opinion blog these are the backbone of the site, but I will try not to overload the blog with them.

As usual the tutorials are published on Tech-no-media's sister blog From Windows to Linux for the average Joe Recently I published "From where do you get Linux" and "How to download and burn a Linux Mint or Ubuntu live CD". This should be pretty obvious for most of you, but these can be legitimate question for a new Linux user, especially a non technical ones.

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Should you upgrade to Firefox 3.5 ?

Posted on Thursday, July 2, 2009 by Erlik

As you have certainly heard the Mozilla foundation released a brand new version of Firefox this week. So should you upgrade to Firefox 3.5 right away? let's have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of upgrading.

You should upgrade to Firefox 3.5 because...

- There is a new "porn mode", sorry, "stealth mode" that will let you surf without leaving any traces on your computer. This feature was first introduced by Google Chrome and it is nice to see it implemented in Firefox too. This is not a game changer for me however.

- It is faster! Following benchmarks done by the Mozilla foundation the Javascript engine of Firefox 3.5 is twice as fast as the one of 3.0. For those of you not in web development the Javascript engine is what executes most web applications like Gmail, Google docs etc... in your browser. Pages like Schmedley uses it a lot of it and actually require a recent browser with a fast Javascript engine to run acceptably. Note that the engine of Google chrome is even faster.

- It uses less memory! Although most of the progresses on memory usage were made when Firefox 3.0 was released the new version continues this trend. Benchmarks realized by Unixmen show that Firefox 3.5 is the browser that uses the less memory. This is a high advantage of Firefox 3.5 for those on older computers that have 512 Mb of memory or less.

- Is supports video and audio without the help of a plug-in. Currently most online videos require you to install the flash plug-in to be viewed. Firefox 3.5 is the first browser to natively support online video without the help of a flash plug-in, something that can be important for netbook user. The problem is that it only works for online video that is encoded in the Ogg Theora format. Currently Dailymotion is the only major video sharing site that supports this format, but it could prove useful in the future if more sites start to support the format.

You should NOT upgrade to Firefox 3.5 because...

- Not all extensions support the new version of the browser yet. If you use a lot of Firefox extensions it is very probable that at least some of them will not yet be compatible with the new browser. Firefox will warn you if some of your extension are not supported and will download updates if required, but if you require some extensions that are not actively updated you should probably wait a bit before jumping in bed with Firefox 3.5


Unless you depend on a lot of extensions I suggest that you upgrade to Firefox 3.5 as soon as possible. The new version is stable and is faster than Firefox 3.0. Add to that a few interesting new features like stealth mode and the advantages of upgrading quickly outweigth the inconveniences.

Read more in the internet category

image cc by Firefoxrockfestival

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Linux Netbooks: 3 paths to a bright future

Posted on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by Erlik

Last week I made a summary of the current state of the Linux netbook market. Today I will show you that Linux netbooks are at a crossroad. They can reach a bright future and a significant market presence through 3 different paths: the smartbook path, the cheap path and the power path. I will explain how each path will lead the Linux netbook to market dominance in a specific niche.

The smartbook path

As I explained previously Qualcomm, Nvidia and other manufacturers of ARM based processors are releasing processors powerful enough to power a netbook. This is effectively starting a war with Intel and it's Atom processor. Netbooks based on ARM designs have many advantages over Atom based ones: they will be much lighter, have longer battery life and cost less. Even if these processors are less powerful than the Atom, they have acceleration circuits for video decoding, so with the right driver they should still be able to play HD video better than an Atom based machine.

This is entirely to the benefit of Linux, as the ARM based processors can only run Linux, Symbian or Windows CE. Since Windows CE is rather a bad product with poor third party application support Linux alternatives like Android or the ARM versions of Ubuntu and Xandros should be able to get a large part of the market. Linux may be coming late to this market however: The netbook version of Google Android will probably not be ready until next year, and the ARM versions of Ubuntu and Xandros are still new and unproven. It is probable that the first machines will come with Windows CE, but that these will be replaced by Linux based machines next year.

The cheap path

As Caitlyn Martin pointed out recently, the price of entry level Linux netbooks is dropping to incredible lows! You can now get a basic Linux netbook for less than $200. The original Sylvania GNET is now selling for around $179 on Amazon. Last week I pointed you to other excellent deals on Linux netbooks. As these little machines become more and more commoditized the prices will have to drop, and the price of the Windows license will be harder and harder to justify. This will be especially true for subsidized netbooks, as the network operators will want the cheapest option possible and may not see much added value in Windows.

Microsoft has no intention of lowering it's prices, in fact most rumors suggest that Windows 7 starter will cost twice as much as Windows XP to OEMs. This means that the netbook manufacturers will be forcer to increase the price of their Windows based products. This will widen the price gap between Linux and Windows based netbooks even more. If you add the fact that Linux netbooks require less resources than their Windows counterparts to deliver a smooth user experience you have a situation were Linux based netbooks will be ideally placed to sell as cheap companion machines. Windows netbooks on the other hand will look more and more like expensive and underpowered mini laptops. Cheap subsidized netbooks have another advantage: since the 3G network operators have their own "Brick and Mortar" shops this will create an extra outlet for Linux netbooks on which Microsoft has little control.

The power path

The two paths above are nice if what the buying public wants is a companion machine, but a lot of people would prefer to have a netbook that could replace their notebook. Microsoft however has been kind enough to provide a trump card to Linux in the power user market too. You see, Microsoft has put a lot of unreasonable restrictions on the hardware that can be sold with Windows 7 starter edition. This mean that Windows based netbooks are very limited in HDD space, memory and performance. Microsoft is doing this to try to push consumers toward much more expensive machines featuring pricier editions of Windows 7.

The result however is that Linux based netbooks can be much more powerful than their Windows equivalent. Archos recently released in France an Ubuntu netbook with a 500 Gb HDD and 2 GBs of ram. Because of Microsoft's restrictions such a powerful machine could not be sold with Windows 7 starter or Windows XP. This means that for the mini PC enthusiast that wants a powerful machines with lots of local storage the only option is in fact Linux! This has the added advantage that power users mostly shop online, removing the "Brick and Mortar shop" barrier is mentioned last week.


As we have seen there are a lot of ways for Linux netbooks to assert their superiority to Windows based machines, but there is work to do. For the smartbook path to realize the ARM compatible Linux distributions will have to be more polished than Windows CE, feature a lot of extra software and be available soon. The cheap netbooks will need to be sold in the high street as well as online, something that is not the case now. More power Linux netbooks need to be released, as the Archos is currently available only in France. On the whole I am optimistic though, as the failure of one path does not necessarily means the failure of the others! There will be at least one path that will successfully lead Linux netbooks to their bright future.

Read more in the Linux category

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